By Thomas Casale
Best Picks to Win 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship
(For the latest Odds, connect to Sportsbook.ag)
Football season may be right around the corner but it’s never too early to look ahead to March Madness. The early odds are out to win the 2018 Men’s Basketball Championship. Here’s a look at some of our favorite bets:
Michigan State (7-to-1)
The Spartans saw their odds drop from 20-to-1 to the betting favorite after G Miles Bridges (16.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG) announced he will be returning for his sophomore season. With Bridges coming back, Michigan State will return 78% of its scoring and 81% of its rebounding from last season’s team that lost to Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Along with Bridges, F Nick Ward (13.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG), G Cassius Winston (6.7 PPG, 5.2 APG), G Joshua Langford (6.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG) and G Matt McQuaid (5.6 PPG) also return. The Spartans were young, battled a ton of injuries and were wildly inconsistent last season, yet Tom Izzo still got them into the tournament and won a game. The bottom line is Michigan State was going to be a serious National Title contender even if Bridges declared for the NBA Draft. Now with their star returning and with one of the best coaches in the country, the Spartans are primed to make another title run.
Duke lost a lot of key contributors from last season’s squad that got upset in the second round by South Carolina but as usual, Coach K has more talent on the way. Gone are Jayson Tatum (16.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG), Luke Kennard (19.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG), Amile Jefferson (10.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG), Frank Jackson (10.9 PPG) and Matt Jones (7.0 PPG). Those are big losses but Duke has a loaded 2017 recruiting class coming in, headlined by the nation’s top-rated G Trevon Duval, G Gary Trent, Jr. and F Wendell Carter. Grayson Allen (14.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.5 APG) returns for what seems like his 10th year in Durham. The Blue Devils opened at 14-to-1 but their strong recruiting class pushed their odds down. Coaching is a big factor in March and with another talented team, Coach K and Duke should once again be a favorite to win it all come tournament time. If you like Duke, you’ll get more favorable odds betting them now than you will after the season starts.
Kentucky lost in the final seconds to eventual National Champions North Carolina in the Elite Eight. Like Duke, the Wildcats lost a lot of firepower to the NBA from last season’s team but once again welcome in the nation’s top recruiting class. Kentucky’s top three plays – De’Aaron Fox (16.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.5 APG), Malik Monk (19.8 PPG) and Bam Abedayo (13.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG) – are gone. To replace their production, John Calipari brings in a ridiculous six five-star recruits in C Nick Richards, F Jarred Vanderbilt, F Kevin Knox, F P.J Washington, G Hamidou Diallo (Not a signee, but this will be his first time playing in a Kentucky uniform) and G Quade Green. Like always, the Wildcats will be very young and extremely talented. Expect Kentucky to get better as the season goes on, which means their odds will drop closer to tournament time. Arguably the most athletic team in the country with more depth than a year ago, the Wildcats will be very dangerous during March Madness.
Florida made a surprising run to the Elite Eight last year but the Gators aren’t going away. When you look at all the talent Florida has returning, the Gators are the best value on the board at 28-to-1. Florida was dealt a blow when F Devin Robinson (11.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG) bolted for the NBA but the Gators still return a strong nucleus that features G KeVaughn Allen (14.0 PPG), G Chris Chiozza (7.2 PPG, 3.8 APG), C John Egbunu (7.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG) and F Kevarrius Hayes (6.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG). Head coach Mike White also signed a top 10 recruiting class that includes four four-star prospects. The SEC put three teams into the Elite Eight last season and the conference looks to be even better this year. Florida should benefit from playing in a tougher conference come March. Few teams in the country have a better mix of guards and frontcourt players than Florida. They’ll be a tough team to deal with once again in the NCAA Tournament.
Miami is an interesting team heading into 2017. Last season the Hurricanes finished second in the ACC behind North Carolina but then got blasted in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament by Michigan State. If Miami can learn to play with more consistency, it can be dangerous. The Hurricanes have talent. Miami returns four key players in PG Ja’Quan Newton (13.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.4 APG), G Bruce Brown (11.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG), F Anthony Lawrence Jr. (6.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG) and F Dewan Huell (5.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG). Head coach Jim Larranaga also welcomes in three five-star recruits. The jewel of the class is G Lonnie Walker. Walker tore his meniscus but is expected to be ready some time in November. The projected future first-round NBA pick is Larranaga’s most highly touted recruit in his six seasons at Miami. The Hurricanes always play stingy defense under Larranaga. Now with the addition of Walker to team with Newton and Brown, Miami has three guards to spread the floor and improve an offense that finished 276th in points scored (69.0 PPG) last season. Teams with good guard play have the potential to make a run in the tournament and Larranaga has been to a Final Four with George Mason. Miami has the ingredients to be an intriguing value bet this year.