If you thought it was difficult to predict the Men’s College Basketball champion once the brackets came out, it is even harder to do so in the preseason. From a betting perspective, an argument can be made to place these futures bets before the season starts. The odds that are available for the top teams in the country now will certainly be higher than these same teams’ odds in March. However, placing these bets now certainly comes with some risks. There are a number of things that derail a season, like injuries, lack of development of younger players, or even a tough draw in the tournament.
There are some fascinating trends when using preseason data to predict future champions. Since 2000, there have been three national championship teams that were not ranked in the AP preseason top 25 (2003 – Syracuse, 2006 – Florida, 2011 – Connecticut). That is the same number of eventual national champions who have started the season ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll (2004 – Connecticut, 2007 – Florida, 2009 – North Carolina). When taking out the three unranked teams who became champions, the average preseason ranking of all eventual national champions was 4.64. This is what makes college basketball so unique. Fans of teams in the top five would say they have the best chance to cut down the nets, while fans of teams not ranked before the season can also claim it is their year. We will take a look at the best bets to be this year’s champion in men’s college basketball. Here are the odds to win the 2020 Men’s College Basketball National Championship (odds courtesy of FanDuel).
Michigan State (+700)
The top four of the AP preseason poll is loaded with the most high-profile “blue bloods” in the sport (Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke). Michigan State is the favorite to be not only the best of the “blue bloods,” but the best team in the whole sport, and rightfully so.
The Spartans are ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll for the first time in school history. They return two starters and a number of key reserves from last year’s Final Four team. Michigan State is led by senior point guard Cassius Winston, who is the preseason favorite to win Player of the Year. Head coach Tom Izzo projects to have a rotation of 10 players who are all extremely versatile. The Spartans will have no problem playing big or small and can match up with anyone in the country. One blow to their outlook is starting shooting guard Joshua Langford is out until at least January with a stress injury in his foot. He missed the final 26 games of last year with the same injury and the team was still able to overcome it.
As always, Michigan State plays a brutal schedule that will serve them well come March. They open the season at Madison Square Garden against No. 2 Kentucky. They also face Duke and Seton Hall before conference play begins.
Michigan State is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their last national championship. That year, the tough-minded Spartans were led by a senior point guard named Mateen Cleaves. How fitting would it be if Coach Izzo could wrap his arms around another senior point guard in Cassius Winston as they celebrate yet another national championship. Michigan State is every bit deserving of their preseason No. 1 ranking and is a great bet to win it all.
Louisville begins the season ranked number five in the AP preseason poll. Head coach Chris Mack is looking for his first-ever Final Four bid and he certainly has the talent this year to break through. The Cardinals return three starters, including six of their top seven scorers. These six players accounted for 76% of the team’s scoring last year.
Small forward Jordan Nwora is another leading contender for Player of the Year. He is joined in the frontcourt by Dwayne Sutton, who was in the running for ACC Most Improved Player last year. Senior guards are always a good thing to have, and Louisville welcomes grad transfer Lamarr Kimble at point guard. Kimble averaged 15.6 PPG for St. Joseph’s last year.
Louisville has the experience and depth necessary to be a national championship contender. There is no doubt they will be tournament-ready in March after battling the elite of the ACC all year. At +1700, Louisville is great value to cut down the nets in March.
The Big Ten is shaping up to be the deepest conference in the country this year. The Terrapins have the roster to not only challenge Michigan State for the conference championship, but to chase the school’s first national championship since 2002.
Maryland returns four starters from last year’s team that lost a heartbreaker to LSU in the Round of 32. The Terrapins beat four ranked teams last year, with a roster composed of mostly freshmen. Freshmen accounted for 51% of the team’s minutes and 47% of the team’s scoring a year ago. Those freshmen gained invaluable experience and are back as sophomores to show how much they have developed. Their most talented sophomore is power forward Jalen Smith, who bypassed the NBA Draft last year. As is a theme with the other two selections, Maryland is led by one of the top senior point guards in the country in Anthony Cowan Jr.
Maryland is deep, they have good balance in their backcourt and frontcourt, and can disrupt anyone on the defensive end with their length. Head coach Mark Turgeon has quietly done a solid job at Maryland, posting five seasons of 20 or more wins. He has taken four of his last five teams to the NCAA tournament. Look for this year to make it five of six, as they are certainly poised to make a deeper run than last year.
Washington is unranked to start the 2019-2020 season and is projected to finish third in the Pac-12 Preseason Media Poll. Since the same number of preseason unranked teams as preseason No. 1 teams have won the championship since 2000, I felt compelled to look outside the top 25 for a legitimate contender.
Washington is the defending Pac-12 champion and now add one of the most talented freshmen in the country in Isaiah Stewart. The Huskies are a nightmare to prepare for, as head coach Mike Hopkins brings the vaunted two-three matchup zone over from his Syracuse days. Washington is extremely long and athletic on the back end of the zone and will force most teams to shoot over the top to beat them. In March, when there is less time to prepare for teams, Washington’s zone is very hard to simulate in practice. They are as good a team as any from outside the top 25 who can win the whole thing. At odds of +5000, they are too good to pass up.