At this time of year, we're used to tracking which college basketball players will stay or declare early for the NBA draft.
For the first time, we also have to track which seniors will stay for an extra season.
Seniors will be allowed to return next season, due to a one-time rule change because of COVID-19. For some teams that relied on seniors this past season, like Oregon, Creighton and Wisconsin, those decisions could change the entire outlook of their 2021-22 seasons. It's going to be a bit weird.
More than any other year, figuring out the next champion will be a challenge. That could also lead to some betting value. BetMGM released its odds for the 2022 NCAA champion shortly after Baylor beat Gonzaga on Monday night, and here are six teams that stood out in no particular order:
Alabama stands out as a team that can win it all if its seniors return. Will John Petty and Herbert Jones return? Probably not. But if they do, look out. The Crimson Tide will be adding guard J.D. Davison, the 13th ranked player in the class of 2021, according to Rivals. A lot of talent will return even if no seniors come back. Alabama was the top-ranked No. 2 seed in the tournament, and will largely be forgotten because it lost in the Sweet 16. It's a good team that could be great. It might be worth holding a 2022 title ticket early in the offseason.
Last year, Gonzaga opened as a +800 favorite. It didn't take long into the season before Bulldogs bettors felt pretty good about that ticket (though those tickets ultimately ended up being losers due to one bad night). The same could happen next season. Gonzaga will lose great talent, most notably likely lottery pick Jalen Suggs, but Gonzaga has gotten to the point in which it isn't fazed by losses. Chet Holmgren, a 7-1 center who is Rivals' No. 1 ranked player in the class of 2021, reportedly will commit to Gonzaga. Drew Timme will likely be back too. Gonzaga has also become a top destination on the transfer market. If you bet Gonzaga early, it's unlikely to be a stock that will go down in value.
The Wolverines might be in the national title conversation for a while, as long as Juwan Howard doesn't get lured away to be an NBA head coach. (He'll have some offers soon, right?) Michigan could conceivably have some of its seniors return. Hunter Dickinson is a star already and seems likely to return. Franz Wagner could return for another season if he passes on the NBA for another year. And Michigan has three McDonald's All-Americans coming in (the rosters were picked even though the game wasn't played), most notably No. 8 overall recruit Caleb Houstan. Even if Michigan doesn't catch a break with Wagner or some of the seniors deciding to play another season, the Wolverines will probably be a top-10 team. If a few more players return, they would be everyone's preseason favorite.
The only problem is UCLA's Final Four run and great Final Four game against Gonzaga is that put them on the radar for 2022. That will drop their odds, though the Bruins could still be an enticing value. Johnny Juzang's NBA decision looms, and perhaps Cody Riley will have pro thoughts too. But if they return and Caleb Smith, who missed most of the season with a knee injury, chooses to come back for an extra senior year, the Bruins will be loaded. Whoever is back will be joined by five-star recruit Peyton Watson. UCLA is also a top contender for undecided Jaden Hardy, the No. 2 prospect in this year's class. UCLA's Final Four run as a No. 11 seed was a bit fluky, but the Bruins could be a No. 1 seed a year from now.
The Ducks have a little bit of everything you like in a strong future bet. They have a reliable coach. They had a nice tournament run, but not so good their value in the betting market will evaporate. There is some returning talent, and they add five-star center Nathan Bittle. And in this weird year, they have some valuable seniors who could return and instantly turn them into Final Four contenders. Chris Duarte and Eugene Omoruyi have decided to move on, but LJ Figueroa and Amauri Hardy could stay. Even if they don't, Oregon could be a fun long shot in 2022.
Everyone's favorite team to hate is going to rebound in a big way. Maybe rebound all the way to a championship. Only one team has multiple five-star recruits coming in. Duke has three. The Blue Devils will add the No. 3, 6 and 20 recruits in the nation, according to Rivals' rankings. Duke is also considered the frontrunner to land No. 4 overall prospect Patrick Baldwin Jr., who has not committed yet. The 2020-21 season was bad for Duke, but that means a better number on them to win it all in 2022. Also, Duke was unlucky in close games this past season and due for some regression. The Blue Devils were better than their record, are adding the best recruiting class in the nation and that class could get even stronger. The only bad part about betting Duke to win it all might be rooting for Duke to win it all.
Here are the top 36 teams in BetMGM's 2022 title odds, released on Monday night:
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