It won’t be long now. College basketball conference play is in full swing and the best are starting to separate themselves from the rest. It’s been an interesting season so far as three teams have held the No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25.
The preseason No. 1, March Madness runner-up North Carolina, is now 13-6 and unranked. Houston (17-1) is the current No. 1, followed by defending national champ Kansas (16-1) and No. 3 Purdue (16-1). The Boilermakers have spent the longest time in the top spot (four weeks) this season.
So, who will it be? Will it be another blueblood like the Jayhawks or is it finally Gonzaga and Mark Few’s year? Could there be a dark horse lurking in the background?
The Cougars, who went to the Final Four two years ago, are the overall betting favorite at +550. Kansas is next on the board at +800 at the online sportsbooks. The Jayhawks are No. 2 in the nation but did suffer their first loss of the season this week. More on that in a moment.
Purdue is listed at +900 and No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 UCLA are given +1000 odds. Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats is doing a great job of making Bama a basketball school too. The Bruins are 16-2 thus far this season.
Houston returned Marcus Sasser (16.9 ppg) and Tramon Mark (10.3) in the backcourt and welcomed five-star freshman Jarace Walker (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) to the fold. The Cougars are the top-ranked defense in the country allowing just 53.3 points per game.
Not Gonzaga’s Year?
Gonzaga, which saw its 76-game home winning streak end this week, is now actually a longshot to win it all. Gonzaga is listed at +3400. The Bulldogs are currently ranked sixth though that may change after a 68-67 loss to Loyola-Marymount on Thursday night.
Regardless, Few still has another roster full of talent with Player of the Year candidate Drew Timme (21.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Julian Strawther, and Rasir Bolton.
Surprisingly, North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky are all unranked at the moment. Still, oddsmakers list all three blueblood programs between +4500 and +5000. UNC is given +4500 odds and both Duke and Kentucky are listed at +5000.
Kentucky is just 12-6 overall and 3-3 in SEC play. The Wildcats were blown out by then No. 7 Alabama and then lost their next game to South Carolina. Head coach John Calipari’s squad has recovered somewhat. They upset Tennessee 63-56 just last week. Kentucky still has remaining games with the Vols again, No. 25 Arkansas twice, No. 16 Auburn, and Kansas.
You always have a shot when you play good defense. Tennessee (+1600) ranks second defensively behind Houston. The Vols allow 54.3 points per game. Tennessee has also proven itself worthy this season. The Vols beat Kansas 64-50 earlier in the year.
Virginia (13-3, ranked No. 10) is always among the best defensive teams in the nation. Currently, the Cavaliers are ninth in the nation allowing 59.9 points per game. That’s why they are given +2000 odds to win it all.
Don’t Sleep on the Sleepers
Speaking of Kansas, the Jayhawks were upset this week by in-state rival Kansas State. The Wildcats are no joke. At 15-2, they are ranked No. 13 in the country. KSU has wins over ranked West Virginia, Texas, Baylor, and Kansas. The Wildcats are serious longshots at +5000, but their Big 12 schedule will surely prepare them for the rigors of March Madness.
TCU (14-3, No. 14) is another Big 12 team that could find itself going deep in the NCAA tournament. Mike Miles averages 19.1 points per game and the Horned Frogs have wins over Baylor and Kansas State already. At +3000, they are a bit higher on the board than Kansas State.