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Duke Falls in Latest 2019 March Madness Odds; Villanova & Gonzaga Climb

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in College Basketball

Updated May 8, 2018 · 11:04 AM PDT

Phil Booth celebrating Villanova's 2018 national championship with fans and teammates.
Phil Booth (L) will try to lead Villanova to its third title in four years this season. Photo by Steve Elliott (public domain).
  • The final freshman commitments and NBA draft declarations have changed the outlook for the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
  • Only one of the two favorites (Duke & Villanova) is good value in the current March Madness futures.
  • Gonzaga’s odds took a huge leap. Is everyone overrating the Zags?

Even though zero basketball games have been played in the meantime, the 2019 March Madness futures have shifted since early April.

Why? Several reasons …

  • the last big recruit from the 2018 class committed (Romeo Langford to Indiana);
  • a five-star prospect reclassified from 2019 to 2018 (Joey Baker to Duke);
  • a host of last year’s stars either declared for the NBA draft or decided to return to school; and
  • the early betting action has motivated sportsbooks to move certain teams up and down.

Bettors looking for value should be particularly aware of the following changes in the early odds for the 2019 NCAA basketball championship.

Duke’s Odds Got Longer

“Didn’t you just say that Duke added another five-star recruit to next year’s team, which already had the top-three recruits in the country??”

Yes. Their average odds nonetheless took a modest drop from +570 to +600.

In reality, this has nothing to do with sportsbooks’ perception of Duke as a title team. They didn’t look at Joey Baker’s early arrival in Durham and think, “Now the pieces don’t fit!” (Though Duke is stocked with wings, Baker is a solid prospect and his jumper will provide valuable floor spacing for Mike Krzyzewski.)

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The drop has everything to do with the early betting action. When you see a team fall despite getting stronger on paper, it means the sportsbook is not taking many bets on that team and is now trying to encourage more wagers. (It’s the same reason college and NBA point spreads change as tip-off approaches. If there is equal betting on either side of the spread, the sportsbook has no risk.)

Maybe my advice to stay the hell away from Duke had a bigger effect than I realize. Whatever the reason, don’t throw your money at Duke yet; their odds remain unreasonably short. Coach K has the best recruiting class (in a thoroughly underwhelming year) and … very little else.

[D]on’t throw your money at Duke yet; their odds remain unreasonably short.

The Blue Devils don’t have an Anthony Davis-level freshman who will simply outclass everyone, nor the veteran leadership to hold everything together in March. They have a bunch of really good prospects who may or may not coalesce into a Final Four team, and that’s not worth betting on now at +600.

Gonzaga’s Odds Jumped Two-fold

Online sportsbooks had Gonzaga, on average, at +1900 in early April. The Zags are now +1000. That’s a massive, Hamidou Diallo-at-the-scouting-combine type of leap. It takes their implied probability from 5% to 9.1%.

Only Duke, Villanova, and Kansas have shorter odds.

Just as Duke’s odds fell because of a lack of action, Gonzaga climbed because people were betting them hard at +1900. Those bets are hard to justify. There’s no reason to like Gonzaga more now than a month ago.

Yes, it’s all but certain that Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura will be back, but that was already pretty certain after Tillie stunk it up at the 2018 NCAA Tournament. We knew Gonzaga was going to have an elite frontcourt in April, and we still know that today.

What they didn’t have then, and what they won’t have all season, is a championship-caliber point guard. Heading into his senior year, Josh Perkins has not developed as expected, and his low-ish ceiling will hold Gonzaga back from being a true title contender.

Most people remember Butler’s back-to-back finals teams for Gordon Hayward … and Matt Howard … But guess what point guard Shelvin Mack is doing now? … [G]etting ready for his sixth season in the NBA.

It’s a common refrain come March that you need elite guard play to win it all, and lack-thereof was one of the things that doomed Michigan in the 2018 title game. The fact that the Wolverines made it as far as they did with Zavier Simpson playing point guard doing his best impersonation of a point guard is a g****mn miracle.

Most people remember Butler’s back-to-back finals teams for Gordon Hayward (2010) and Matt Howard (2011). But guess what point guard Shelvin Mack is doing now? Oh, not much, just hangin’ out, getting ready for his sixth season in the NBA

Six years from now, Josh Perkins is going to be fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio in the Turkish Super League.

I make no bones about being a Gonzaga fan, so I hope I’m wrong. But I’m not wrong.

Villanova is Already Rising

Villanova took a small jump from +830 to +800, even though Donte Divincenzo and Omari Spellman have yet to decide whether they are staying in the NBA draft.

Since neither are sure-fire first-round picks, odds are that one will be back. Adding either to a roster that, at minimum, features Phil Booth and Eric Paschall (two seniors who played significant minutes on last year’s title team), Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (two sophomores primed to take on bigger roles), plus Jahvon Quinerly (a five-star point guard and the heir apparent to Jalen Brunson) and Cole Swider (just the no. 32 prospect in the nation; no big deal) makes Nova the team to beat.

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So the takeaway is that Villanova’s odds are likely to get even shorter before the season starts. The way the Big East is shaping up, there’s a good chance they absolutely steamroll the conference and enter the 2019 NCAA Tournament as a no. 1 seed.

[B]ank on [Villanova’s] odds being shorter than +800 in a few weeks and over the course of the season.

In sum, I would bank on their odds being shorter than +800 in a few weeks and over the course of the season.

If you want to back Villanova to win it all for the third time in four years, do it now. There’s no fluctuation in their odds across sportsbooks right now; all the big dogs have Jay Wright and company at +800. So, instead of line shopping, check out the sportsbook reviews to figure out which online betting site fits your unique needs.

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