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November 28, 2021

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Running through college hoops’ top title contenders

Seton Hall

Michael Owens / Associated Press

Seton Hall’s Myles Powell, left, drives to the basket against Xavier’s Naji Marshall during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in Newark, N.J.

With football season concluded, the sliver of the sports betting calendar headlined by college basketball is upon us. For the next month and a half—leading up to and running through the NCAA Tournament—college hoops rules the big screens and odds boards at local sportsbooks.

That means it’s time to get acquainted with the primary national championship contenders. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook currently has 16 teams at odds of 30-to-1 or less to win the title. Here’s a short overview of each, and why you should look to either bet on or against it going forward.

Arizona (30-to-1): Behind the versatile trio of Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion and Josh Green, the Wildcats have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. But they’re prone to prolonged defensive lapses, one of which resulted in a blown 22-point lead in a recent loss at rival Arizona State. Verdict: Bet against.

Auburn (18-to-1): Coming off of a Final Four season, Auburn already had a lot of acclaim before it also became the last standing undefeated team in a power conference. But the 15-0 start was misleading: The Tigers played a weak schedule and will continue to be exposed as they start to face tougher competition. Verdict: Bet against.

Baylor (12-to-1): The Bears are rightfully the top-ranked team in the country, but it’s not a winning strategy to buy on a team at the peak of its market value. Baylor has gone 4-1 in games decided by six points or less, meaning some regression could be in store. Verdict: Bet against.

Dayton (12-to-1): Sophomore forward Obi Toppin is averaging just short of 20 points and eight rebounds per game, and he’s far from a one-man show. The Flyers are stacked with more talent than most realize, their only two losses came in overtime (to Kansas and Colorado), and they have a legitimate chance to go undefeated in Atlantic 10 Conference play. Verdict: Bet on.

Duke (8-to-1): As usual, Duke is one of the youngest teams in the nation, and that has translated to some inconsistency. The Blue Devils have enough talent to win a sixth national championship under coach Mike Krzyzewski, but backing them requires paying an inadvisable premium in sportsbooks. Verdict: Bet against.

Gonzaga (8-to-1): The betting market has a tough time properly pricing outliers, and this year’s Bulldogs are truly that: They lead the nation in point differential, winning by an average of 22 points per game. Gonzaga could encounter trouble when it faces better teams in the NCAA Tournament, but bookmakers can’t make the numbers high enough against its West Coast Conference schedule. Verdict: Bet on.

Kansas (7-to-1): The Jayhawks have a lethal inside-out combo in point guard Devon Dotson and center Udoka Azubuike but lack shooting threats. They’re also about to enter one of the toughest stretches of their schedule, including road games at West Virginia and Baylor before the end of February. Verdict: Bet against.

Kentucky (30-to-1): The Wildcats are getting by on name recognition alone. This is not a vintage Kentucky team—it struggles to hit 3-point shots and might not have a single NBA Draft lottery pick on the roster. Verdict: Bet against.

Louisville (14-to-1): Chris Mack is further separating himself as one of the best coaches in the nation in his second year at Louisville. The Cardinals aren’t as flashy as higher-ranked teams like Duke and Kansas, but they’re incredibly solid and minimize mistakes. Verdict: Bet on.

Maryland (25-to-1): Having reached the Sweet 16 only once in eight years under coach Mark Turgeon, the Terrapins are perennial underachievers. They look headed for a similar fate this year behind a plodding offense. Verdict: Bet against.

Michigan State (14-to-1): No team is more complete than the Spartans, even though they’ve suffered five losses. Coach Tom Izzo’s squads traditionally peak at the end of the season, and he has had few squads better than this one in his 25-year tenure in East Lansing. Verdict: Bet on.

Oregon (25-to-1): Coach Dana Altman is still tinkering with his new-look team, which features former UNLV big man Shakur Juiston at the forefront. When Altman figures out his optimal lineups, watch out, because no other school in the Pac-12 Conference can compare. Verdict: Bet on.

San Diego State (20-to-1) The market has finally caught up to the undefeated Aztecs, who have gone only 2-3 against the spread in their past five games. They’re vicious defensively but lack the scoring punch to merit laying large point spreads. Verdict: Bet against.

Seton Hall (18-to-1) There’s not a player in the nation more exciting to watch than senior guard Myles Powell, who’s averaging nearly 22 points per game. And though he doesn’t have a ton of help offensively, Seton Hall makes up for it with swarming defense. Verdict: Bet on.

West Virginia (16-to-1) The Mountaineers’ full-court press is as hellacious as ever, with Miles McBride and Jermaine Haley hounding opposing guards with help on the back end from center Derek Culver. No one will want to draw West Virginia’s bracket come March. Verdict: Bet on.

Villanova (30-to-1) The Wildcats are overrated because of recent success (they’ve won two of the past four national championships) and good fortune (they rank eighth in the nation by kenpom.com’s luck metric). The Wildcats should be a contender again in a season or two, but this is a rebuilding year. Verdict: Bet against.

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.