Before you know it, teams will begin their conference tournaments and Selection Sunday will be upon us. That means March Madness is on the horizon. As teams battle through their conference schedules, the best are beginning to separate themselves from the rest.
It’s been an interesting season as only three teams have held the No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25. Two of them are still among the favorites to win this year’s national title. Like any year, what many college basketball fans are excited about are the Cinderellas. Fans and bettors alike love underdogs come tournament time. Are there a few out there that could eventually claim a national championship?
Anything is possible in March.
We’re No. 1
The preseason No. 1 was March Madness runner-up North Carolina. The Tar Heels stumbled a bit early in the season and are now 15-6 overall. UNC is 7-3 in ACC play, but the Tar Heels are unranked and find themselves a +4000 longshot to win a seventh national championship.
The only other teams that have been ranked in the top spot this season are Houston (18-2) and current No. 1 Purdue (19-1). The Cougars, who played in the Final Four two years ago and made the Elite Eight last year, are the overall favorite on the futures betting board at +650. Houston, now ranked No.3, has the second-ranked defense in the country. The Cougars allow just 54.2 points per game.
The Boilermakers took over the top spot once again after Houston lost to Temple last week. Purdue is listed at +1000 to win it all. Head coach Matt Painter’s team has a lone one-point loss to Rutgers this season.
Not Just a Football School Anymore
The No. 2 team in the country is Alabama. Yes, the Crimson Tide can play basketball too. Head coach Nate Oats has turned the program into a perennial championship contender. The Tide is 18-2 with losses to ranked UConn and Gonzaga.
Alabama can fill it up with talented Brandon Miller (19.5 ppg) leading the way. The Tide rank 12th in the nation in scoring averaging 83.2 points a game and are winning games by an average margin of 14.5 points. Alabama is second on the board behind Houston listed at +950 to win the NCAA tournament.
Defending national champion Kansas is 16-4 and currently ranked ninth in the nation. The Jayhawks have lost three straight in Big 12 play dropping games to Kansas State, TCU, and Baylor. All three programs are ranked in the AP Top 25.
Despite the losses, the Jayhawks are fourth on the betting board given +1200 odds to repeat as national champs. Right behind Kansas is Arizona, which is ranked No. 6 and is 18-3 so far this season. The Wildcats are listed at +1400, which happens to be the same odds given to Pac-12 rival UCLA. Arizona just recently beat the No. 8 Bruins 58-52. UCLA, with consecutive losses to the Wildcats and USC, is now 17-4 this season.
Not Gonzaga’s Year?
Gonzaga, which saw its 76-game home winning streak end this season, is now actually a longshot to win it all. Gonzaga is listed at +3500. The Bulldogs have dropped to No. 14 in the AP poll after the 68-67 home loss to Loyola-Marymount last week.
Regardless, head coach Mark Few still has another roster full of talent with national Player of the Year candidate Drew Timme (21.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Julian Strawther, and Rasir Bolton. The Bulldogs might be able to fly under the radar heading into March Madness.
It’s almost hard to believe, but perennial powers North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky are all unranked at this point of the season. We’ve already mentioned the Tar Heels. The Blue Devils are in their first season without Mike Krzysewski as their head coach. Duke is 14-6 overall and is a longshot to win it all at +6000.
Kentucky is also 14-6, but the Wildcats have won four SEC games in a row, including an upset of No. 4 Tennessee. The Wildcats are given +3500 odds to win March Madness.
You always have a shot when you play good defense. Tennessee (+1400) has the best defense in the nation. The Vols allow just 53.7 points per game. Tennessee has also proven itself worthy this season. The Vols beat Kansas 64-50 earlier in the year.
Virginia (15-3, ranked No. 9) is always among the best defensive teams in the nation. Currently, the Cavaliers are ninth in the nation allowing 60.3 points per game. That’s why they are given +2500 odds to win it all.
Just ahead of Virginia on the board is Texas (16-3), which allows 66.8 points per game (90th). The Longhorns lost head coach Chris Beard but have rallied to win five of their last six games to pull into a tie for the Big 12 lead. Texas is listed at +2000.
TCU (16-4) is a game behind Texas in the Big 12 standings. The Horned Frogs are also given +2000 odds and are another defensive-minded team. TCU ranks 37th in the country allowing 64.3 points per game. The Frogs just recently beat Kansas 83-60.
Don’t Sleep on the Sleepers
The Big 12 is full of talent. The highest ranked Big 12 team is Kansas State at No. 5. The Wildcats are no joke. At 18-3, KSU has wins over ranked West Virginia, Texas, Baylor, and Kansas. The Wildcats are serious longshots at +4000, but their Big 12 schedule will surely prepare them for the rigors of March Madness.