Examining The Favorites In The NCAA Tournament

There are nine teams that Las Vegas has priced on the first tier of programs likely to win the NCAA championship on April 3 in Phoenix. In an earlier commentary, I mentioned to you that I was able to invest in Duke at 10-1 earlier in the season when the Blue Devils were struggling and the market was ripe. That looks like value now, as the Blue Devils are currently the 6-1 betting favorite. For those of you looking at the futures for the first time, here is a brief primer on the other eight teams. Their NCAA futures odds are in parentheses. 

 

Kansas (7-1): The NCAAs are a point guard’s time and the Jayhwaks have one of the best in Frank Mason, the 5’11” senior who can run the show and still drop in twenty a night. What Kansas does not have is a long bench. Josh Jackson and Devonte Graham are good all-around players, but foul trouble in one game puts Kansas in serious trouble.

 

North Carolina (7-1): The Tar Heels are as good offensively as anyone in this tournament and Justin Jackson is the kind of all-around talent that can deliver big. Defensively, North Carolina isn’t great. And while their size is an asset, the frontline isn’t as imposing as we’ve seen from this program in the recent past.
 

Villanova (15-2): The #1 overall seed is undersized, although that same flaw didn’t stop them from winning it all last year. Josh Hart is another player capable of a magical March run that carries a team. Villanova played in a good conference and also played well outside the league. The biggest problem is not size, but whether this team is so good that you see them as a repeat champion.

 

Gonzaga (15-2): All the pieces are in place, from length to depth to a championship-caliber point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss. But it’s really simple—how much do you trust the Zags given their history of coming up short in March and that they haven’t played real competition since December?

 

Arizona (9-1): On paper, there is much to like about the Wildcats. They have size, three-point shooting and an outstanding all-around player in Allonzo Trier. They’re also well-coached and one gets the feeling that Sean Miller has to have a breakthrough one of those years—why not the year the Final Four is in his home state? But before you rush off to bet, take a close look at five games Arizona played against Oregon, UCLA, Gonzaga and Butler—the Wildcats went 1-4 in those games.

 

Kentucky (11-1): As usual, the talent level is there—De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe, to go with a long bench. John Calipari’s record in March is solid and he seems due to join the ranks of multi-national title winners. But as usual, the talent is also very young and Kentucky frequently played below Vegas expectations throughout the season.

 

UCLA (12-1): There is no more electrifying player in this entire tournament than Lonzo Ball. Down low, T.J. Leaf and Thomas Welch can match up with anybody, both scoring and rebounding. And if you think you’ll pack your defense in tight to stop Ball off the dribble and the big men? Just watch Bryce Alford, a 46 percent three-shooter who lights it up the way his daddy did thirty years ago this March when he led Indiana to a championship. But about the father, a certain Steve Alford—he’s been coaching a long time and never had a real contender. Can he steer these talented Bruins all the way through.

 

I enjoyed a profitable run through the conference tournaments and netted (+153) betting units last week. I intend for these next three weeks to be even better. Join me on my March Madness program for game-by-game betting action throughout the NCAA Tournament.