Unlike the debacle that was college football, college basketball has been a little more proactive and seems to have things sorted out ahead of the season. Games are set to begin Nov. 25 with schedules getting ironed out over the next month. There were questions about a lack of non-conference games, but numerous tournaments popping up, a lot of them created by schools, will help.
Gonzaga has maybe taken the biggest approach to non-conference games, likely to take away the bias of them playing in the weaker WCC. And even if COVID-19 cases come about, which it undoubtedly will, it looks like an NCAA Tournament is all but guaranteed.
THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
With rosters set, futures odds shouldn't change much ahead of the new season. Baylor and Villanova were early favorites to cut down the nets, both at +800 to win the National Championship, as they return the majority of their Top 25 teams from last year.
However, I'm not sure those odds are favorable for the public. For starters, a season with COVID-19 will only lead to weirder results. That's been the case in college football where Oklahoma had back-to-back football losses for the first time since 1999, among many other things.
In times of COVID-19, the favorites to win should have a little heavier odds than usual (at least +1000). Most recently, Michigan State was +700 and Kentucky was +800 last year. Either way, I'm not touching Baylor or Villanova unless the odds drastically change. In addition to staying healthy and managing COVID-19, they still have to win six-straight games in the NCAA tournament. I like Villanova as a team with Collin Gillespie in his senior season surrounded by Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and the same goes for Baylor, who may have the best defense in the country led by Mark Vital. Yet, similar to most years, it's not profitable to bet on the favorites.
Instead of looking at the national picture, it's better to look at things by the conference. This is best seen in Villanova's ridiculous +125 odds to make the Final Four compared to them at +250 to win the Big East. Don't ask how that makes sense, but that's what the numbers are. Villanova's main competition in the Big East is Creighton, who was part of last season's three-way split (Seton Hall included). Similar to Villanova losing Saddiq Bey, Creighton lost one its best players in Ty-Shon Alexander. I still like Villanova a tad more, partly because it's won the Big East outright five of the last seven seasons.
Baylor is favored at +185 to win the Big 12, but I don't like betting against Kansas to win the conference. You get plus odds with the Bears, but they always have the Jayhawks in their rear-view mirror and that's how they eventually lost by two games last year.
For bigger plays to win the National Championship, I like Illinois +1500, North Carolina +2500, Tennessee +3500 and Memphis +10000. Again, these numbers could be better, but you're at least getting more for teams that are bringing back loads of experience.
Another bad number is Illinois at +300 to reach the Final Four, which no one should put money on. You could probably bet them on the money line in their first four games and receive more money. Obviously, the matchups are unknown, but +300 odds isn't outstanding for a team that last made the NCAA Tournament in 2013. I'm also passing on projecting a Big Ten winner, because there's a decent chance any of the five top teams could win it and that's why it was a three-way tie last season.
Instead, I prefer North Carolina, who is coming off a down season, yet has plenty of tournament experience and success under Roy Williams. I think at +2500 to go all the way is a decent gamble. The Tar Heels should dominate the frontcourt with Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot, while newcomer Caleb Love takes over in the backcourt.
Speaking of the ACC, I think Virginia at +230 is as good as it gets to win the conference. While I like UNC, it's supposed to be a down season for Duke and the other team in question is Florida State. I think COVID-19 helps the Cavaliers even more because they never change their style of play and that benefits any new players. Sam Hauser adds a stretch-four to the mix, while Kihei Clark and Casey Morsell provide experience on the perimeter. Even in what was a down season for Virginia last year, it went 15-5 in the ACC, winning 11 of its final 12 games.
I'm not sure one team stands out in the SEC, including Kentucky, which is rarely said. Tennessee is almost on the same level in terms of odds at +275 to win the conference (UK is +270). While the Volunteers couldn't string together more than two wins at a time in SEC play, they return four starters, including John Fulkerson, who was hitting 20 points fairly often late in the season.
The Wildcats are talented, but they have a lot of new guys and that could only make things more difficult after a weird offseason. LSU (+350) also return a decent amount of talent, but South Carolina (+1200) may be the best long-shot pick. It feels weird to back the Gamecocks to win the SEC, but none of the top teams are hands-down dominant and they have some of the best talent in the conference led by A.J. Lawson and Jermaine Couisnard.
It's definitely crazy to back Memphis to win the National Championship, but at +10000, you don't have to put much down to get a big return. Yes, Precious Achiuwa is gone, but the Tigers add a tower in the paint in Moussa Cisse, while Landers Nolley is immediately eligible after averaging 15.5 points at Virginia Tech last season. They had tons of hype last season, yet it's kind of the opposite this year even though the team may be better and more experienced. If you hate risk, Memphis is a decent +350 to win the AAC, slightly behind Houston (+175) and SMU (+325).