A year after Kris Jenkins stomped on the Tar Heels’ hearts, North Carolina found itself back in the championship game, this time trying to defend a three-point lead to preserve a national title. In case you somehow haven’t heard the result of the game in the last 24 hours, I’ll spoil it for you: UNC succeeded, besting Gonzaga 71-65 to win the school’s sixth championship.
It goes to show that, in this era of teams built around one-and-done players, there’s still room for veterans to chase those Rs: redemption, revenge, reclamation, whatever you want to call it. Not only are teams like UNC held together by a stronger bond, but they’re all chasing the same championship goal, rather than separate goals based around the NBA Draft.
That’s why any look ahead towards next year’s championship game has to start with the losers of this one. The Bulldogs are in a similar spot UNC was last season, with many of the key cogs from this season eligible to return next year to try to avenge an ugly loss. Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins will get the “should they stay or should they go?” treatment from NBA scouts, but a tough L like that makes returning all the more likely.
North Carolina will also be right back in the mix behind Joel Berry and Theo Pinson. Sure, programs like Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke will reload with one-and-done talent and clog up the top of the odds board as well. But seeing how this year’s Final Four was all veteran-laden teams, three of which had made deep tournament runs the year prior, look to programs like Arizona and Florida to make a lot of noise next year.
The roster picture will become clearer in a few months when we know which players will declare for the NBA Draft and which will return for another season. Xavier won’t be sneaking up on teams as an 11 seed next year if Trevon Bluiett returns to lead the Musketeers, and Oregon could look the same as this year’s Final Four team or vastly different depending on whether Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and/or Jordan Bell make the leap.
But working with limited knowledge of each player’s future, here are the early favorites for next season.
Odds to win 2018 NCAA Championship
- Gonzaga Bulldogs: 10/1
- North Carolina Tar Heels: 11/1
- Arizona Wildcats: 12/1
- Duke Blue Devils: 12/1
- Louisville Cardinals: 12/1
- Kentucky Wildcats: 15/1
- Villanova Wildcats: 15/1
- Florida Gators: 18/1
- Kansas Jayhawks: 18/1
- West Virginia Mountaineers: 20/1
- Wichita State Shockers: 20/1
- Florida State Seminoles: 25/1
- St Mary’s Gaels: 25/1
- Michigan Wolverines: 30/1
- Oregon Ducks: 30/1
- Xavier Musketeers: 30/1
- Butler Bulldogs: 40/1
- Indiana Hoosiers: 40/1
- Michigan State Spartans: 40/1
- Virginia Cavaliers: 40/1
Photo Credit: Rich Grassle/IconSportswire.