Best/Worst Bet for 2018 National Championship in Sweet 16?

The 2018 edition of the Sweet 16 has a nice balance of blue bloods (Duke, Kentucky, Kansas), perennial powers (Villanova, Gonzaga), and huge surprises (Loyola-Chicago, Clemson, Nevada).

The current national championship futures at Bovada, one of our top betting sites, install Villanova and Duke as the overwhelming favorites.

TEAM ODDS IMPLIED PROBABILITY
#2 Duke (Midwest) +325 23.5%
#1 Villanova (East) +450 18.2%
#4 Gonzaga (West) +700 12.5%
#5 Kentucky (South) +700 12.5%
#3 Michigan (West) +800 11.1%
#1 Kansas (Midwest) +850 10.5%
#2 Purdue (East) +1600 5.9%
#5 West Virginia (East) +1600 5.9%
#3 Texas Tech (East) +2200 4.3%
#5 Clemson (Midwest) +2500 3.8%
#7 Nevada (South) +2500 3.8%
#7 Texas A&M (West) +2500 3.8%
#9 Kansas State (South) +2800 3.4%
#9 Florida State (West) +4000 2.4%
#11 Loyola-Chicago (South) +5000 2%
#11 Syracuse (Midwest) +6600 1.5%

 

The Worst Bet: Gonzaga Bulldogs

To find the worst option, all you have to do is scroll down the list until you hit a team that doesn’t have a realistic chance of winning the national title. It doesn’t take long. It’s Gonzaga, third on the list, at +700.

Gonzaga is a good basketball team with solid depth, an improving defense, and the capability to beat you in a number of ways. If Killian Tillie (12.9 PPG, 47.9 3P%) isn’t hitting over 90% of this threes (like he did in the WCC tournament), fifth-year senior Jonathan Williams (13.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG) might be shouldering the load. If junior point guard Josh Perkins’ (12.4 PPG, 5.3 APG, 39.8 3P%) shot isn’t falling, redshirt freshman Zach Norvell (12.7 PPG, 36.8 3P%) might sink a dagger triple.

That said, the ceiling for this team is not terribly high. That showed in their regular-season matchup with Villanova in New York. The Zags were simply overmatched, falling 88-72. They lost almost every facet of the game, including the rebounding battle to the undersized Wildcats.

Gonzaga’s overall rebounding numbers (39.8 RPG, 14th in the nation) are inflated by playing against overmatched, unathletic competition in the WCC. Just imagine what’s going to happen if they have to face the likes of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams in the Elite Eight?

Overall, Gonzaga went 3-3 against tournament teams in the regular season (excluding their win over #16 Texas Southern), beating Texas, Creighton, and Ohio State, while losing to Nova, Florida, and San Diego State.

Squeaking past UNC-Greensboro and edging Ohio State again does not prove that they have taken the necessary steps since the Villanova game to be a legitimate threat to the truly elite teams.

The Best Bet: Kentucky Wildcats

Short weeks ago, it would have been unthinkable that John Calipari’s Wildcats would be the best value in the Sweet 16. But here we are. After complaining about his team’s draw — which placed them in a region with #1 overall seed Virginia and set them up for a potential Round of 32 meeting with Pac-12 champion Arizona — coach Cal now has the smoothest of roads ahead.

Not only will Kentucky face a #9 seed (Kansas State) in the Sweet 16, they will then meet either #7 Nevada or #11 Loyola-Chicago in the Elite Eight. None of those are easy games. Easy games don’t exist at this stage. But they are unquestionably easier than every other team’s route to the title.

On top of that, Kentucky has the luxury of playing its regional in Atlanta, nicknamed “Catlanta” because of how well the UK fanbase travels there. These are going to feel like home games for the Wildcats, even if they wind up facing Sister Jean’s Ramblers in the Elite Eight.

But it takes more than a lucky draw and effective home-court advantage to be the best value bet. You need to actually have the capability of beating top-flight teams when the Final Four rolls around. Kentucky has it. While they were under .500 overall against tournament teams this season, they were 5-1 in the last six of those.

The Wildcats struggled to make all their puzzle pieces fit early in the year. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t even a starter back when they lost at home to UCLA in late December. But he’s barely come off the court since early February, and deservedly so, averaging 19.4 PPG and 6.9 APG over his last nine games. He’s also hitting at nearly 42% from beyond the arc, giving the Wildcats — who can struggle from distance — a real perimeter threat.

Gilgeous-Alexander has solidified himself as a 2018 lottery pick and should give bettors confidence that the Wildcats’ offense, which only ranks 20th in efficiency on KenPom, can actually keep up with the likes of Villanova and Duke on any given night.

SGA won’t have to do it all himself, either. He’s surrounded by future NBA talent in the form of Kevin Knox (15.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and the underperforming Hamidou Diallo (10.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG), who suddenly found his game with 22 points and eight rebounds against Buffalo in the Round of 32.

If Kentucky gets Jarred Vanderbilt back, great. All the more reason to buy their stock. If not, Cal’s team still has the potential to beat anyone in the nation. They completely outplayed Tennessee for the majority of the SEC title game with Vanderbilt in street clothes. (See video, above.)

When you factor in the likelihood that Kentucky emerges from the South region, their +700 odds start to look awfully appealing.

AlexanderP

Alexander is the MTS editor-in-chief. Frank, Alex, and Geoff brought him in when they realized that their betting expertise far surpassed their grammatical abilities. He loves overanalyzing college basketball trends. Talking to him during the first weekend of March Madness is like talking to a wall. A very focused wall, but a wall nonetheless.