Way-too-early projections are always tough but they’re nearly impossible in the transitional world of college basketball. The best freshman are only on campus for one season and the transfer rate is at an all-time high. Getting a clear picture of what rosters will look like in November is extremely challenging. Trying to figure out how well these teams will be playing next March is like shooting fish in a barrel … if the barrel is ocean-sized … and you don’t have a gun.
But let’s give it a shot, nonetheless!
Below are two groups of odds. First, I set out ten of the favorites to win the title (not necessarily the top ten – don’t freak out Jayhawk nation), then run through five long shots who are offering nice value in the coming season.
Current odds from Westgate Las Vegas are also included at the bottom of the page for comparison.
The Wildcats are the champs and next year’s edition should be even better. Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu are the only key players not coming back. Nova will have an early season edge in experience and chemistry over the other contenders.
The 2016 class is Duke’s highest-rated freshman class ever. This is the same school that won a national title with four freshman leading the way in 2014. Grayson Allen has announced he is returning for his junior season and Amile Jefferson will likely be given a medical redshirt. Point guard play is a question but the Blue Devils will be very good.
Tyler Ulis is probably turning pro but he hasn’t ruled out coming back to Lexington. If he comes back, he’s the best player in the country and UK is the new favorite. Without him, the Wildcats have another loaded freshman class and will certainly win a lot of games.
Michigan State: 18/1
MSU has some solid contributors coming back but it will be more dependent than ever on the freshman class. The good news: Tom Izzo has his best incoming class ever. The bad news: it’s never been his style to win with freshman leadership.
Eventually, Dana Altman will get the Ducks to a Final Four, and this may be the year. If everybody comes back, it probably will be.
X only loses one significant contributor and adds two four-star recruits. The Big East is going to be loaded at the top and the Musketeers will be right in the mix.
Incoming transfer PG Nigel Williams-Goss is a dark horse candidate to win next season’s Naismith Award. The Zags lose a ton (seniors Kyle Wiltjer and Eric McLellan are gone and Domantas Sabonis has said he’ll declare for the draft) but also have great players coming in, like McD’s All-American Zach Collins. Mark Few will have his team in peaking in March once again.
In his rookie season, Coach Greg Gard proved he learned a lot from his mentor Bo Ryan. The Badgers peaked in March and made a surprising run to the Sweet 16. The nucleus of the team is back and Wisconsin is poised to battle for the Big Ten crown again.
Year two of the Shaka Smart era in Austin should be better than year one. The Horns have their second solid recruiting class in a row coming in and will have an outstanding leader in senior guard Isaiah Taylor. The returnees should also be chomping at the bit to get back to the tourney after the heart-breaking loss to Northern Iowa.
The Bruins were arguably the biggest disappointment in college basketball this season, but it won’t happen again. Two of the top nine recruits in the country are heading to Westwood and there’s plenty of talent coming back.
Long Shots with Value
Seton Hall: 50/1
Kevin Willard appears to be staying in place. If Isaiah Whitehead does the same, the Pirates belong on the contenders list.
St. Mary’s: 60/1
The Gaels were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament after a terrific season. Randy Bennett has all major contributors coming back and this squad will be focused on keeping momentum into March.
Virginia Tech: 60/1
Toward the end of the season, Va Tech had the most enthusiastic fan base of any non-NCAA Tournament school in the country (sorry Nevada, you’re second). Coach Buzz Williams has quickly turned things around and the Hokies are ready to contend in the ACC.
Mississippi State: 75/1
There’s been a lot of commotion during Ben Howland’s one season in Starkville. Despite that, the Bulldogs started playing defense as one toward the end of the season. A great freshman class is coming in. Once they buy into Howland’s system, they’re going to be terrific.
There is a ton of athleticism and offensive talent on this roster. The Trojans will have the ability to simply outscore most opponents. If Andy Enfield can find a way to get these guys to commit on the defensive end, watch out! USC will be able to hang with any team in the nation.
Westgate Las Vegas odds to win March Madness 2017:
Michigan State: 12/1
North Carolina: 15/1
Seton Hall: 50/1
Mississippi State: 100/1
St. Mary’s: 200/1
Virginia Tech: 300/1
(Photo credit: adamglanzman (flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)