The NCAA Tournament is exactly one month away as the First Four tips off on March 13. The field is about as wide open as it has been in years as there isn’t one clear-cut favorite for the title. Let’s take a closer look at the betting odds and see who is the best bet to win March Madness.
Duke (+500) and Michigan State (+550) are basically co-favorites but a lot has changed since the Blue Devils beat the Spartans 88-81 in Chicago. Grayson Allen powered Duke in that game with 37 points, but the senior has been wildly inconsistent this season. Freshman Marvin Bagley III has emerged as the star of the team. The Blue Devils have also lost five times this season as they can’t seem to iron out their defensive issues. The Spartans have lost twice since their meeting with Duke but it isn’t like they’re winning games convincingly. Interestingly enough, though, they are No. 2 in the rankings while Duke is just No. 12.
Next in line are Villanova (+700), Arizona (+1100), and Kansas and Kentucky (+1200). Villanova might actually be the best team in the country as the Wildcats have been the No. 1 team the longest. However, their defense can be a little loose and they depend a lot on the three-point shot, so if that’s not falling, Villanova tends to struggle. Kansas and Kentucky have been two of the biggest disappointments of the entire season, combining for 11 losses between them. The Jayhawks, normally one of the best bets in March, have dropped three of their last six. Kentucky has lost three straight and five of eight.
One of the biggest surprises in terms of the betting odds is seeing Virginia at +1600. The Cavaliers are clearly getting very little respect as they’re actually the No. 1 team in the country now. It’s the first time they’ve been ranked No. 1 since 1982 but the oddsmakers aren’t impressed. They might be the best defensive team in the nation, which can carry them a long way into March.
Arizona might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft in Deandre Ayton – if he comes out – and we know just how far a star can carry a team in the tournament. The oddsmakers believe this team has a good shot as it’s fourth in terms of the odds even though the Wildcats are ranked No. 17 as of this moment.
Purdue (+1800) is a team some view as offering good value even though the Boilermakers have lost back-to-back games. The two setbacks came against No. 14 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan State by a combined four points, so there’s nothing egregious about that.
Wichita State (+1800) is a brand that has improved its image over the last few years, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2015, but the general perception is that the Shockers are a long shot to win it all. Winning multiple games in the tournament is doable for this team but losses at Temple, at Houston and at home to SMU make it hard to believe that Wichita State is built to get to the Final Four and beyond.
And don’t forget about the defending champions from North Carolina (+2200), who have been wildly inconsistent. The Tar Heels are 3-3 in their last six and 9-6 in their last 15. They are bad defensively but showed what they’re capable of by beating Duke last week. With Roy Williams, who has won three NCAA titles, they are always a threat for a run in the tournament but the consistency hasn’t been there with this team.