NCAA title odds: Oklahoma, UCLA among five best under-the-radar bets for 2017-18
Oklahoma and Texas A&M should bounce back into national relevance after down seasons
College hoops season is months away, but now is a good a time to start separating preseason contenders from pretenders before the season sneaks up -- when we have our heads turned, paying attention to the NFL and college football.
So if you're looking to wager a little cheddar before the preseason hype mars your betting vision or waters down the odds, now is as good as time as any. Here are five to watch, and worth considering a bet on today (odds courtesy of Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas).
Wichita State | National title odds: 25/1
There's excellent value in Wichita State at 20/1. The Shockers find themselves in a new conference -- the American Athletic -- after leaving the smaller Missouri Valley. They'll go from facing Illinois State and Drake to Cincinnati, SMU and Tulsa -- and that only will strengthen the profile. As the saying goes: "To be the best, you have to beat the best." The Shockers will have more opportunities vs. quality foes in conference play, and consequently increase their chances at a potential top seed come Selection Sunday.
Led by Landry Shamet and Shaq Morris, Gregg Marshall returns all five starters from a 31-5 team that just missed another Sweet 16. If they can dodge the same bracket as Kentucky for the umpteenth time, there's a real possibility for a big run in the Big Dance. Jump on the Shockers' bandwagon while good seats are still available.
UCLA | Odds: 40/1
OK, OK, the detractors are groaning -- and it's totally understandable. Lonzo Ball's gone, as is leading scorer T.J. Leaf. The run-and-fun Bruins offense could be a shell of the the 2016-17 club. But there's plenty of reason to think that will not be the case.
This time last year, no one really what Ball would do. And a year from now, we may talk about the rise of incoming freshman Jaylen Hands in a similar way. He's a five-star point guard who may be a tad more athletic than Ball. The 6-foot-2 playmaker isn't a pass-first guard like Ball, but he has a knack for attacking the rim and making winning plays.
With Hands and Aaron Holiday out front, the Bruins also are adding five-star small forward Kris Wilkes, UCLA again will be young, fun and fast in 2017. There is enough talent for Steve Alford's team to play itself into Pac-12 title contention a second straight season.
Xavier | Odds: 60/1
A six-game skid just before the Big East conference tournament seemed to doom Xavier last season. But Chris Mack and the Musketeers marched on, beating DePaul and Butler in the Big East tourney -- doing enough to draw a first-round NCAA pairing with Maryland -- then promptly stomping all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to Gonzaga.
Next season, Xavier should pick up where it left off. Mack returns potential All-American candidate Trevon Bluiett, playmaking guard J.P. Macura and point man Quentin Goodin, who got extended run as a starter after Edmond Sumner was lost to injury. Xavier may not be the best team in the Big East, but with Bluiett, Macura and Mack, the Muskateers have a decent shot at making another run. And at 60-to-1, betting on them is a smart play.
Oklahoma | Odds: 80/1
The post-Buddy Hield Sooners went 11-20 and missed the NCAA Tournament a year after advancing to the Final Four. But Lon Kruger has his crew primed for a big season in Norman.
Hopes for returning to national relevance rest on the shoulders of five-star freshman phenom Trae Young, a local recruit who chose the Sooners over Kansas. Young is a point guard with big-time court vision and big-time range as a shooter. Young has the keys to the offense after the departure of Jordan Woodard, and he figures to have his foot on the gas pedal deep into March.
Texas A&M | Odds: 100/1
Texas A&M was mostly irrelevant in 2016 after a "growing year." The Aggies went 16-15 and 8-10 in SEC play. Not great.
The bright side: Texas A&M returns four of five starters and boasts a bona fide lottery-quality player in Robert Williams, who turned down a chance at millions to boost his draft stock. With Williams and big man Tyler Davis, the Aggies have as formidable a front line as any SEC foe.
The only question mark is at point guard, where Admon Gilder (who is better equipped to play off the ball) spent a lot of his efforts at last season. If 2017 signee T.J. Starks or redshirt freshman J.J. Caldwell can take the reins, Gilder could be free to drop 3s. If A&M get a positive answer at the point, it could launch the Aggies into SEC contention and provide good value at 100/1.
|San Diego State||100/1||200/1|
|East Tennessee State||1000/1||1000/1|
|New Mexico State||1000/1||1000/1|
|Florida Gulf Coast||2000/1||2000/1|
|Mount St. Mary's||5000/1||5000/1|
|North Dakota State||5000/1||5000/1|
|South Dakota State||5000/1||5000/1|
|Cal State Bakersfield||5000/1||5000/1|
|FIELD (All others)||300/1||300/1|
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