The glow of Monday's brilliant NCAA Championship Game between Duke and Wisconsin hasn't even faded yet, but it is never too early to look ahead at what is to come. Oddsmakers have released odds for next year's title. Haters will not be happy - Kentucky is favored yet again. More accurately, they are co-favored with North Carolina and Virginia. So, it's obviously way, way, way too early to seriously consider these odds - there are plenty of unsigned top commits still, and players haven't declared for the draft yet. We can't let facts and logic get in the way of our fun, though, so let's look at where the intriguing value lies at this point - and where it really doesn't.
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Kentucky (+1000): They just keep rolling. Most teams would be decimated after losing what this team will lose - Cauley-Stein, Towns and Lyles are locks to go to the draft, the Harrisons likely will go, too, and Booker, Johnson and Lee are flirting with the possibility. All in all, they should lose five to seven players. It just doesn't matter to Calipari, though. Someone will stay - Booker is my bet at least, and Johnson and Lee are likely, too. Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress will still be around, too. And then they add the No. 1 recruiting class in the country yet again. This price is too low given the uncertainty of what the team will look like, but we know they will be good yet again. Very good.
North Carolina (+1000): This one makes sense. They made it to the Sweet 16 this year and would have gone further if Wisconsin didn't stand in their way. Most of the team is back, and Marcus Paige should be much-improved at the point next year. Solid team. Strong coaching. Dangerous.
Virginia (+1000): I have done very well the last couple of years by being skeptical of the Cavaliers when the pressure is on. I am in no hurry to change that. That being said, The team returns most of their big pieces - and potentially all of them that matter if Justin Anderson skips the draft. They are going to be very good defensively. Tough team, but I just can't trust them.
Maryland (+1200): Wisconsin and Michigan State showed how tough the Big Ten is when the lights are brightest, and Maryland could look to do their part for their new conference this year. I'm pleasantly stunned that Melo Trimble is back for another year. He's fantastic and will only be better with another year under his belt. There is some nice talent around him. There is also an excellent recruiting class coming in. Most notably, five-star center Diamond Stone will be a huge presence in the middle. This team should be right up there with the favorites.
Iowa State (+1500): I love this price. Sure, Iowa State looked lousy in a first-round upset at the hands of UAB. You need to look past that, though. Remember, Duke lost their opener to a No. 14 seed last year, and they rebounded fine. This is a very deep and talented team, and they are keeping much of that talent around. Most notably, Georges Niang made the somewhat surprising decision to skip the draft to come back and have a better season - or at least a better finish to it. They are also adding three nice transfers to the roster. Good team, and very good value - at least relatively - here.
Gonzaga (+2000): This price is just plain too low. Kyle Wiltjer, who was spectacular and underappreciated last year, will be back for his senior season. Domantas Sabonis skipped the draft to return. Kevin Pangos graduates, but Josh Perkins, who missed last year with a broken jaw, is ready to emerge and could be special. Great coaching. Amazing frontcourt. Promising guards. Last year was a strong year, and I expect more from them this year.
Duke (+2500): Tough spot for the champs. Okafor and Winslow are obviously gone. Quinn Cook graduates. Tyus Jones should stay for another year, but he'll be a lottery pick now, and I don't know if he can resist that. That means that the four best players could be gone. The recruiting class is strong, but it's only two players at this point. This will still be a tough team, but I am not sure they can overcome what will be lost to make themselves relevant. Needless to say, though, I like this price a whole lot more with Jones than without him.
Michigan State (+4000): This one is intriguing, and I like them as a longer shot (I also like Michigan at the same price, but anyone who has read my stuff for a while already assumes that that is the case). The Spartans lose Travis Trice and Branden Dawson. That could hurt. The rest are back, though. More significantly, a couple of pieces that are being added could really fill the gaps. Eron Harris, a high-scoring guard, transferred from West Virginia, and will be eligible next year after practicing with the team all year this year. He could make the absence of Trice very easy to take. Five-star forward recruit Deyonta Davis brings his big body and pointy elbows to town next year and could crash the boards in the Dawson role nicely, too. This team has the chance to be better than last year's - and remember, they just played in the Final Four. I like the value here.
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