Find previews and picks for the college conference tournaments, including the Pac-10 Tournament, Big 12 Tournament and the Big East Tournament.
Duke, Ohio State and Kansas are the only teams to head the AP Top 25 poll but at different times this season, you could have made an argument for Pittsburgh or Texas as the nation’s best college basketball team.
For the second straight season, the general consensus among most college basketball observers is that there are a few very good teams but none that rate a step ahead of the rest.
With this season’s March Madness fast approaching, it appears as though bettors and sportsbooks are looking at a similar set of candidates.
“This does well for us because it spreads out the money at the future book,” Jeff Stoneback, sports book manager at the Mirage in Las Vegas, told Covers.com. “We’ll have a lot of action on multiple teams, rather than everyone loading up on one team.”
Kansas, with a deeper and more experienced club than last year led by the Morris brothers, is listed at between +350 and +450 depending on where you shop. The Jayhawks are vying for the top of the futures board with Ohio State, which replaced one superstar, Evan Turner, with another in Jared Sullinger, and might be the country’s most well-rounded team.
The Jayhawks are +350 at the MGM, while Ohio State goes off the board at +400. Sportsbook.com oddsmaker Michael Perry has those prices flip-flopped.
“I have thought Ohio State was the best team ever since I saw Sullinger play a few games,” Perry told Covers.com. “They have been around the block, played in plenty of big games, and that’s why we have them as the favorite to cut down the nets in Houston.”
Most oddsmakers have Duke in a similar price range. The defending champion Blue Devils, who will rely on battle-tested seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, might lack depth and rely heavily on outside shooting, but they faced the same criticisms last year.
“Many bettors subscribe to the ‘What have you done for me lately?’ theory and with Duke winning the national title last year, they have been a very popular choice to win it all again,” Perry said.
Covers Expert Ted Sevransky isn’t bothered by Duke’s recent troubles. The handicapper picked the Blue Devils to win the championship for a second consecutive year.
“The defending national champs,” Sevransky wrote in his column, “deserve to be the favorites to win it all on the first Monday of April in Houston. Duke has what it takes to win it all.”
The good news is, if you don’t like any of the favorites, there are plenty of others to choose from. The bad news is, most of them have either a serious flaw or have tapered off after peaking early.
Pittsburgh (+600 to +800) has been a trendy pick over the past several seasons, but the sometimes offense-challenged Panthers have yet to reach a Final Four under Jamie Dixon. Under Rick Barnes, Texas (+500 to +600) has long been fool’s gold to a futures bettor, notorious for flashy starts and monumental late-season meltdowns.
Even so, history has shown that teams find their stride around this time of the year and have their share of breaks, they have a chance to bring home a national title and give longshot bettors some serious cash.
For instance, the 2003 Carmelo Anthony-led Syracuse club came off at +4000 before the tournament and delivered for its backers.
Here are a few teams mentioned by oddsmakers Perry and Stoneback as having the potential to duplicate that feat:
Purdue (+2000): The Boilermakers had more time this year to adjust to the loss of Robbie Hummel to injury. With two excellent players in JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore and a solid defense, Purdue fits the prototype of a team capable of making a run.
North Carolina (+2000): The Tar Heels have won nine of 10 and their win over Duke on Saturday wrapped up the ACC regular-season title. With Kendall Marshall emerging at point guard, North Carolina has at times looked like the club that ran over the tournament field two years ago, perhaps college basketball’s most recent truly dominant team.
Kansas State (+3000): The Wildcats were picked as Top 5 team in the preseason but struggled most of the year. However, led by star Jacob Pullen, the Wildcats have won six straight, including a road win at Texas.
Arizona (+5000): Somewhat under the national radar, coach Sean Miller has returned the Wildcats to national prominence with a 25-win season and one of the country’s top all-around talents in Derrick Williams.