In a couple of short weeks the football season will come to an end, and many casual bettors will suddenly discover that college basketball is being played. The season starts in November, but betting volumes increase dramatically as we draw nearer to March. Before all the bandwagon jumpers turn their attention to college basketball, and by extension to college basketball championship futures, this is a good time to check in on those futures to see what is interesting, and where there might be some value (odds to win the NCAA Championship are from BetOnline ):
Kentucky (+550): In Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox they have the most terrifying backcourt in the country. They are 6-0 already in the SEC and have absolutely dominated league play so far , and it would register as a shock if they were to lose to an SEC foe between here and the start of the NCAA Tournament. There is a huge contest looming, though - they host Kansas on Jan. 28. They'll need to make a statement in that game - unlike they did in losing to UCLA and Louisville. I will inevitably have a different opinion one way or the other after that game, but right now all I'll say is that they aren't the top team in my books, and beating the heck out of all the SEC teams won't change that. I see no value here.
Duke (+650): This just shows you how much these prices are driven by the public betting sheep who like to back the popular teams, because at this point this price is insane. They have lost at Florida State and Louisville in their last two. Coach K is out of action due to back surgery, and his status going forward isn't 100 percent certain. Crucial player Amile Jefferson is out with a bone bruise. Grayson Allen is only barely hanging onto his sanity. This team has the potential to be the best in the country, but at this moment they are just impossible to even consider trusting with your money long term at this price. Truly terrible value.
UCLA (+700): If I had to pick my tournament winner right now it would be UCLA, so I like the price here. They are deep, they can shoot like crazy, the top-end talent is scary, and their offense is extremely efficient. They have been tested by a fairly tough schedule , capped by that win at Kentucky. Their lone loss came late and by just two points at Oregon. No shame in that. This is a very good and dangerous team, and they have shown real signs that there is still plenty of room to grow for them.
Villanova (+800): They are the defending champs, so we know they can perform in March and into April. They had that loss at a very good Butler team but then bounced back and have played some of their best basketball of the year since. The coaching is good. So is the talent. They have impressive wins at Creighton and Purdue. There is a lot to like, and I do like the team. I just don't quite love them. I can't put my finger on why, but perhaps it is because repeating is extremely hard and I'm not convinced that this is the team that is going to do it. I'm a skeptic.
Kansas (+900): They had a somewhat concerning loss in their opener against Indiana and then rebounded by winning their next 17 in a row. It's been against a reasonably solid schedule , too - and they dealt Duke their first loss. They have an absolutely brutal three-game stretch coming up starting on Tuesday - a West Virginia, at Kentucky, and at home against Baylor in eight days. Right now I like this team second best after UCLA, but I reserve true judgment until after that gauntlet. If you like them, though, maybe jump on this price now - if they were to sweep those games there is no way you would be able to get anything like this price.
North Carolina (+1000): Overrated. That's the word that comes to mind when I see this price. They rebound well, and they beat Florida State soundly recently, but they have three rough losses on their record and not enough big wins to overcome that. I am just not a believer.
Gonzaga (+1400): They are in very good shape to go unbeaten on the season. They are overwhelming teams with dominance on both ends of the court. They have excellent talent and one of the best coaches out there. There is a whole lot to like. And then there is the one problem - they haven't played anyone. They played Florida and Arizona, but I am not in love with either of those teams. And they won't play anyone - aside from a solid St. Mary's team, but they have already beaten up on them once and the Gaels are not nationally elite - until the second round of the tournament at the earliest. Talk about a leap of faith. My inclination is to trust them and see some mild value here as a result, but I have been burned by my admiration of this team several times in the past, so the right move is probably to move on.
Creighton (+2800): This is proof of just how cruel sports can be. As recently as Monday morning I would have argued that there was serious value here. There is a lot to like about this team. But then they played Xavier. They won the game, but lost superstar point guard Maurice Watson Jr., who was leading the nation in assists, for the year to an ACL injury. Now there is no value at all in this price, and unless they have a stellar backup in the wings they aren't going to offer value in the future, either.
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