It seems like just the other day I was jumping off of my couch in complete awe as UNC’s Marcus Paige hit an off-balance three to tie the National Championship with less than five seconds remaining. I would have referenced Kris Jenkins’ much more famous game-winner that followed and gave Villanova the title, but I’m pretty sure I blacked out for that one.
In reality, that was more than three months ago, and although Jenkins’ shot will forever live on in college basketball lore, my boss tells me I have to move on and write some odds for next year’s March Madness tournament.
Making early predictions is always fun, especially in college basketball. It’s just so easy to predict what will happen every step of the way. I mean, come on, who didn’t see second-seeded Michigan State falling to fifteen-seed Middle Tennessee? If you didn’t believe Texas A&M could erase a 12-point deficit in less than 30 seconds, then you should look into studying probabilities a little more intently. And ya, Syracuse didn’t belong in the tournament, but once they received their berth, it was a sure-bet for them to dance their way to the Final Four.
Ok, maybe all of those results weren’t that obvious, but here is a look at the 2017 favorites who are sure to come through, along with their odds to cut down the nets in Phoenix.
Just for the record, I had Michigan State winning it all last year, so read on at your own risk.
Destined to Dance
Duke Blue Devils: 10/3
No one expected Brandon Ingram to return to Durham for his sophomore year. But the recruiting class Coach K is bringing in will have people asking, “Brandon who?”
Harry Giles looks like the next Anthony Davis, and Jayson Tatum possesses enough athleticism for an entire team. Sprinkle in two more recruits that are in the top-12 of their class (per Rivals) and you’ve got yourself one hell of a team.
Oh ya, Grayson Allen is back too.
Kentucky Wildcats: 9/2
Will a Coach Calipari team ever not be pre-season contenders?
Newcomer De’Aaron Fox will assume Jamal Murray’s role as sharpshooter. Isaiah Briscoe’s withdrawal from the NBA draft will provide the team with some leadership, albeit from a sophomore. Add in three more of Rivals’ top-15 recruits and Big Blue Nation looks reloaded and ready to go, yet again.
Oregon Ducks: 10/1
If you don’t call the west coast home, you probably didn’t hear much about Oregon last season until they were awarded a number one seed heading into the tournament.
A tough loss to Oklahoma, or should I just say Buddy Hield, in the Elite Eight ended the Ducks’ season a little prematurely and it looked like 2016-17 would be the start of a rebuild. But Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey surprisingly announced that they will be returning next season. The Pac-12’s leading shot blocker, Chris Boucher, will also be back, giving Dana Altman some toughness defensively.
Altman’s Ducks have never been able to get over the hump and this may be a do-or-die year for Oregon.
Kansas Jayhawks: 12/1
Unfortunately, we will not have the pleasure of seeing how big of a clock Wayne Selden Jr.’s uncle could wear around his neck this year, as Selden declared for the NBA draft.
Despite losing three of their better players, Kansas was able to land Harry Giles’ top competition for the no. 1 pick in next year’s draft: Josh Jackson.
The 6’7″ guard looks eerily similar to Andrew Wiggins. Can Jackson shoulder the load and help Bill Self get back to the third week of the dance?
North Carolina Tar Heels: 12/1
Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige are now in the NBA, but the Tar Heels were a very deep team last season.
Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry II will all be returning to Chapel Hill next season, and their presence gives North Carolina a good shot at avenging their heartbreaking finish to the 2015-16 season.
Villanova Wildcats: 22/1
Since 1993, only the Florida Gators (’06-’07) have repeated as National Champions. Nova is losing Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Asking Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins to take this team back to the Final Four may be too much of a load. We’ll see how much big-game experience matters come March.
Michigan State Spartans: 28/1
Last season notwithstanding, Tom Izzo is a March magician. But losing Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, and Deyonta Davis is just devastating.
Even if this is Izzo’s best recruiting class ever, they won’t be able to hang with the likes of Duke and Kentucky.
Wisconsin Badgers: 28/1
Greg Gard will head into his first full-season as head coach of the Badgers, and will have the luxury of a pretty loaded roster. Wisconsin is returning basically all of their key contributors from last season, including Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Ethan Happ.
The Badgers entered the tournament as a no. 7 seed, and were able to book their ticket to the Sweet 16 after a victory over no. 2 Xavier.
All signs are pointing to this team being better than last season, and their chemistry will give them an early advantage over the Spartans in the Big Ten.
Louisville Cardinals: 35/1
It was odd heading into the madness last March without Rick Pitino, as the Cardinals served a self-imposed postseason ban.
Although Louisville did not land any huge recruits, and lost Chinanu Onuaku, Coach Pitino is confident in the guys he does have.
Would you dare count Pitino out? Didn’t think so.
Arizona Wildcats: 40/1
Despite losing their top-two scorers from last season, as well as big-man Kaleb Tarczewski, the surprising return of Allonzo Trier paired with landing
three two top-25 recruits allows Arizona to remain relevant.
Indiana Hoosiers: 50/1
Some are looking to OG Anunoby as an early Player of the Year candidate, but will he be able to make up for the loss of Yogi Ferrell?
Xavier Musketeers: 50/1
The Musketeers return their top-three scorers from last season, but will need someone to step up in the front court, as Jalen Reynolds and James Farr are both gone.
UCLA Bruins: 60/1
Lonzo Ball, a top-five recruit in this year’s class, looks as good as advertised. It will be interesting to see how he fits in with Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton. The biggest question is whether Ball will still be a Bruin when his brothers are ready for college.
Virginia Cavaliers: 70/1
Malcolm Brogdon was the heart-and-soul of this team, and he led them in scoring as well. Replacing a player of his calibre will not be easy.
Texas Longhorns: 75/1
It’s Shaka Smart’s second season as coach of the Longhorns, and the havoc is setting in. Texas may not have any flashy names, but did Smart ever have any at VCU?
(Photo credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Flickr: 06) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)