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March Madness will have some extra meaning this season. We didn’t get one in 2020.
The college basketball season starts on Wednesday, after a long, long offseason. This season is sure to have many more interruptions than usual, but to most fans all that matters is being able to fill out a bracket in March and watching the NCAA tournament.
While there will be plenty of games on Wednesday, it’s fun to already start thinking ahead to who will cut down the nets at the end of the season. Here are some of the more interesting bets in the futures market among the favorites, middle tier of blue bloods and long shots:
Who should we trust among the favorites?
There is no clear favorite this season. That creates value among the top tier of teams.
There are four teams at less than 10-to-1 odds. Gonzaga and Baylor are +800 and Virginia and Villanova are next at +900. You won’t see many seasons in which no team is lower than 8-to-1.
Among that group, Gonzaga stands out. They have some big-time talent coming back in Drew Timme and Corey Kispert. They add a five-star freshman guard in Jalen Suggs, the highest-rated recruit in program history. Mark Few is one of the best coaches in the game. The Bulldogs are always going to pile up a great record in the West Coast Conference and that makes them the easiest bet for a No. 1 seed. Gonzaga has never won the championship before but this is a great opportunity. And if you think Gonzaga is the best team in the nation, 8-to-1 isn’t bad.
Pick: Gonzaga +800
Will one of the blue bloods rise up?
It’s weird we’ve gotten this far into a story about favorites to win the college basketball title without mentioning Kentucky, Duke, Kansas or North Carolina, among others.
The lack of can’t-miss freshmen one-and-done prospects means expectations for those traditional powers is a bit muted. But we all know they still have talent. And by the final Monday of the season, the same handful of teams always seem to be vying for the title.
Kentucky, Duke and Kansas are similar. They all have good classes coming in, as usual, even if there’s no Zion Williamson-type freshman this year. There are solid players coming back for each team. Kansas’ Marcus Garrett is the best player returning among any of the three teams.
Duke stands out at +1400. It’s rare to see the Blue Devils getting those odds, the same as Creighton. The Blue Devils have some talented sophomores like Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore, and the recruiting class is deep. It’s hard to believe they won’t be in the mix by March.
Pick: Duke +1400
Is there a long shot worth a play?
It’s always fun to take a team further down the odds and have a season-long rooting interest in a potential Cinderella. Imagine having a Dayton ticket last season ... until the season got canceled that is. And given how unpredictable this entire season will be, this might be the right year to take a team getting huge odds.
Tennessee, with a good mix of veterans, is interesting at +2500. Michigan and Arizona State have intriguing talent for a +3500 shot. But the Longhorns at +3000 might be the most viable underdog bet.
It might be foolish to trust that this is the year Texas puts it all together, because Shaka Smart’s tenure at UT has been mostly disappointing, but the talent is there to take a step. There is depth in the frontcourt and the backcourt, and if five-star freshman Greg Brown makes an instant impact Texas could be a team that nobody wants to see in March. Kenpom.com is aggressive on Texas, placing the Longhorns No. 9 in its preseason rankings.
It’s far from a sure thing that the Longhorns will break through years of mediocrity to win a title, but that’s why it would pay well.
Pick: Texas +3000
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