With college football in the rearview mirror, conference play in college basketball is in full swing and it won?t be long until brackets are announced on Selection Sunday.
Future odds to win the NCAA Tournament are ripe for picking, as it?s a good time to take value on clubs whose price is sure to drop as the postseason approaches.
|Odds to Win National Title
| North Carolina
Here is a look at 11 contending clubs, with their opening and current odds at William Hill, and where the value lies:
DUKE (9/2): Whenever you can get a better price than the opener on Duke, the Blue Devils are usually worth a look. They have a standout starting cast and the most decorative active coach in the game, so they can never be counted out.
The concern is the lack of depth and inside presence that has felled Duke in recent seasons. The Devils have more of what they do best, with a wealth of shooters and slashers, but they could be pushed around by more physical teams in the postseason. I?d probably pass on them at this point.
KENTUCKY (11/2): This price is still a relative bargain on an ultra-talented Kentucky team that has dominated most of its opponents and suffered close losses to UCLA and Louisville.
I suspect the Wildcats will enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the short favorites to cut down the nets, likely at 3/1 or leaner, so this is likely the best remaining price we?ll see on them.
UCLA (8/1): As their opening odds suggest, not much was expected from the Bruins, who returned four starters from last season?s 15-win team.
But a couple of key recruits can change a program?s fortunes in a hurry, as they are proving with freshmen TJ Leaf and Lonzo Ball, to go along with the solid veteran cast. This team has the makings of a Final Four contender, and still provides value at this reduced price.
KANSAS (17/2): At this point, it?s difficult to peg the Jayhawks, who haven't faced a high-caliber opponent since the first week of the season. This is likely why their price hasn?t changed. They lost to Indiana in a classic season opener before beating Duke by two points in their next outing.
Freshman Josh Jackson is talented enough to lead Kansas to a title, and senior guard Frank Mason III is a proven leader and winner. I would take a wait-and-see approach on this team and evaluate further as the season wears on.
NORTH CAROLINA (9/1): The high-scoring Tar Heels are always a threat to go deep in the postseason, but they have some cause for concern. First, most of their early-season wins have come against meager competition and they have lost to their toughest opponents, Indiana and Kentucky.
Despite returning a solid core, they lack a true playmaker with the departure of longtime point guard Marcus Paige, who was adept at setting up his teammates for opportunities. North Carolina is led in assists by Joel Barry, who appears more comfortable as a natural scorer. This is a tempting price, but I'll pass for the time being.
VILLANOVA (10/1): The defending national champions are potent and loaded again, led by Kris Jenkins, the living legend who hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer in last year's title game. Their core includes forward Josh Hart, who seems as if he?s led the program in scoring for about a decade.
But Villanova's one key departure is a significant one, as poised and play-making point guard Ryan Arcidiacono has moved on and he was the catalyst of the postseason run. Sophomore Jalen Brunson has done an admirable job thus far, but he he?s a bit of score-first mentality and it remains to be seen if he can fill the leadership void when the stakes are high.
BAYLOR (18/1): Expectations were meager for the Bears, who lost one of the most dominant front courts in the country and underachieved last season despite their wealth of talent.
But Johnathan Motley, a backup most of last season, has proven to be one of the best combo forwards in the country and Baylor?s poise and morale appear improved. Even so, this adjusted price doesn?t provide enough incentive on a club that I doubt has a realistic shot at the Final Four.
GONZAGA (18/1): Coach Mark Few has a tournament-tested club and a history of postseason success, but the Bulldogs won?t sneak up on anybody this year.
Last year, they struggled during the regular season but got hot late and made a Sweet 16 run, providing equity on massive longshot futures wagers. But the value is stripped at this meager price for a team that is unlikely to go further than it did last year.
OREGON (20/1): The Ducks have a 13-game win streak heading into this week, and they have proven again to be a dangerous team when at full strength.
Even so, they are a step below the top-tier teams in the country, which makes it difficult to find value in a futures wager for them to win it all.
LOUISVILLE (25/1): The signature, swarming defense of Rick Pitino?s clubs always translates well to the postseason, which makes the Cardinals a threat on an annual basis.
But their lack of firepower is a major concern, as they rank in the bottom third in the country in most major categories. This is too big of a flaw to consider Louisville, even at this tempting price.
PURDUE (50/1): I'd love to see Tom Izzo get his hands on a monster talent like rugged forward Caleb Swanigan, who appears to be the next Draymond Green in training, and a gifted 7-footer like Isaac Haas. If he this year?s Purdue roster, Izzo?s team would be favored to reach a Final Four.
I've said all season that I firmly believe Purdue has a top-five team talent-wise and one of the strongest starting units in the country. But under Matt Painter, the Boilermakers too often perform below their talent level and have trouble closing out tight games. I?d still be tempted at this huge price based on the raw talent alone.