It’s March, and the NCAA Tournament is only 2 weeks away. There is a ton up in the air surrounding college basketball, and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out. One of the most fun things about this time of year is that we all get to try and figure out what will happen, often to our dismay. There are a lot of teams out there with title aspirations, and we will get into a few that I like the most to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
Let’s talk about Duke. The Blue Devils are currently around +240 to win the championship, way above Gonzaga (+700) in second. This is due to their incredible athleticism and overall success this year and the news that Zion is expected back before the tournament. I absolutely love taking this team as the favorite and letting it ride. There are a few reasons why this team is a great candidate to just steamroll their opponents on the way to the National Championship. The two things that stand out to me the most are their athletes and their style.
When I say their athletes, I am mainly talking about their 4 key freshmen who have taken the college basketball world by storm this year. One display of this athleticism was in their win over Louisville. Now, why is a 2 point, come from behind victory against a decent opponent reason for me to back the big favorites? They were SO dominant in the last 10 minutes of that game that I cannot wait to see how they play when the season is on the line. These kids went to Duke to win a National Championship in one year, and if they play with that sense of urgency, they can run every single team out of the gym. The playstyle also leads me to this team. They rely heavily on length and good defense, and they do not rely heavily on shooting. Now, it’s not bad to have a good three-point shooting team, but I believe that it provides more inconsistencies. Duke has been this good all season long as a relatively bad shooting team. What that tells me is that they will not struggle to recover from a bad shooting night like other top teams can and have before. I think this Duke team is built NOT to get upset and they are also built to beat great teams. Duke is my only solid Final Four team I have penciled in at the moment because no one in their bracket will scare me away.
The rest of the field is very interesting, but there are a few names that pop out to me. I don’t think that these odds will change too much leading into the tourney, so I will likely hold back until seeing a bracket and picking the one or two with better paths.
This pairing is all about talent. Both North Carolina (+1500) and Kentucky (+1400) are two blue-chip programs with a lot of talent on their roster. We have seen both teams win big games against top 5 teams and show that they can compete with the best in the country on any given day. For UNC, I would still like to see Nassir Little implemented into the game-plan more. The Wildcats have been much better at being consistent this year than in most, but they seem to pop down the stretch, so I am in if they can avoid Duke’s quadrant.
Michigan (+1600) is my other favorite top team because of their team chemistry and fundamental play. I always struggle to really latch onto these teams most years, but the Wolverines have caught my eye even in the winter watching them thrash multiple good teams by 30 points. The Wolverines are incredibly balanced when it comes to scoring, and they have really shown a team upside that is uncommon.
I have two teams with odds over +3000 in Purdue (+3300) and Marquette (+5000) that I don’t mind taking to hedge on later. Both of these teams have one thing in common: an elite scoring guard. There is always a guy or two that makes a name for himself in the NCAA tournament. Markus Howard is 5th in scoring, and he shoots 42.1% from 3 on over 8 attempts per game. Carsen Edwards is not quite as efficient as Howard, but he shoots at an even higher clip. Both of these guys have surrounding crews good enough to win if they can have an all-tournament performance and I think they will have the platform to do so in their offense.