Early 2019 March Madness Odds Favor Duke, Villanova

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski running a huddle.
Will Mike Krzyzewski turn the top three recruits in the country into a national champion in 2019? Photo by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (flickr) [CC License].
  • The 2019 national championship futures are out at the big online sportsbooks. 
  • Should Duke and its #1 recruiting class be the early favorite?
  • Which teams are being undervalued at this stage?

The first set of 2019 March Madness futures have been released and familiar names are at the top: Duke, Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky, and UNC comprise the top five, while Virginia is feeling the impact of its brutal tournament exit.

Duke is the Early Favorite

Duke is the early favorite (+570 average odds) even though its entire starting five is likely turning pro. The Blue Devils return a couple promising pieces, including Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden, but the real reason they’re up this high is because Coach K landed the top three recruits in the country: RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson.

Don’t use last year’s Duke team — which started four freshmen — as evidence that you can’t win a title with one-and-dones. Grayson Allen’s would-be game-winner in the Elite Eight hit every part of the rim.

Play last season 100 times and Duke would be a Final Four team in about 50 of them.

If arguably the greatest college basketball coach in history keeps assembling the most talented roster, eventually Duke is going to win another title, whether they are led there by freshmen, seniors, or something in between.

That doesn’t mean they are good value at +570, though. At this stage, no team is good value at +570. Barring a Kentucky-with-Anthony-Davis type regular season, you will be able to wager on Duke at something close to +570 if/when they reach the Round of 32.

Given the potential that Duke’s supremely talented puzzle pieces won’t fit together perfectly, especially at the start of the season (Barrett, Reddish, and Williamson are all 6’6 – 6’7 forwards), it’s smarter to wait.

Advice: Now is not the time to tie-up your bankroll on the Blue Devils. But if you really want to get your money down now, the March Madness futures at Bovada’s sportsbook have the best payout (+600).

Villanova Isn’t Far Behind

BIG EAST AVERAGE 2019 TITLE ODDS
VILLANOVA +830
BUTLER +9000
SETON HALL +9000
ST. JOHN’S +9000
XAVIER +9000
CREIGHTON +22500
GEORGETOWN +22500
MARQUETTE +22500
PROVIDENCE +22500
DEPAUL OFF

National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and soon-to-be lottery pick Mikal Bridges are gone, and versatile center Omari Spellman is likely to follow them to the pros. That’s a lot to lose. But the cupboards are still relatively full at Villanova, with 2018 Final Four MOP Donte DiVincenzo probably coming back, joined by Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, and five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly.

Villanova has established itself as the most successful program in the country over the last five years. They’ve won four of the last five Big East titles, two national championships, and over 88% of their games in that span. They were the best value at the start of last season and, at +830 average odds, they might be the best value for 2019, as well.

Advice: As soon as it’s confirmed that DiVincenzo, Booth, and Paschall are all returning, don’t hesitate to put a little on Jay Wright and the Wildcats. The best payout for Nova, at the moment, is at BetOnline’s sportsbook, which has the reigning champ’s 2019 national championship odds at +900.

The UMBC Loss Is Affecting Virginia’s Odds

BIG EAST AVERAGE 2019 TITLE ODDS
DUKE +570
UNC +1300
VIRGINIA +1900
CLEMSON +6500
MIAMI +6500
NC STATE +6500
SYRACUSE +8300
FLORIDA STATE +9000
LOUISVILLE +9000
VIRGINIA TECH +9000
NOTRE DAME +16300
BOSTON COLLEGE +35000
GEORGIA TECH +55000
WAKE FOREST +55000
PITTSBURGH OFF

Tony Bennett and the then-#1-ranked Virginia Cavaliers suffered the most embarrassing loss in college basketball history when they fell to #16 seed UMBC in the 2018 tournament. “Lost” is a polite way of putting it. They were spanked by 20 (74-54), and no one is going to let them forget it.

Their average odds to win the 2019 title are +1900, despite returning most of the key members of a team that went 31-3 overall, had the best defense in the history of KenPom, and dominated the ACC from start to finish (17-1 conference record). They beat UNC twice. They beat Clemson twice. They beat Duke on the road.

The narrative that Virginia’s style of play precludes a title run is just plain false.

The loss of Deandre Hunter right before the tournament proved costly. They still should have run UMBC off the court, but they didn’t; they had an off night — a really off night. It can happen to anyone.

The narrative that Virginia’s style of play precludes a title run is just plain false. Remember Loyola-Chicago? Remember Syracuse? Remember how both of those teams rode their stifling defenses to great heights in the 2018 tournament? Loyola plays a packline D, just like Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers. It’s a system that can and does win in the postseason. With Hunter healthy, plus Ty Jerome, Jack Salt, and Kyle Guy returning, Virginia is going to be just as good as last year.

Advice: Both BetOnline and Bovada have the Wahoos at +2000, which carries a 5% implied probability, significantly lower than Duke, Kansas, Villanova, Kentucky, and UNC (see chart at top).

There is absolutely a 5% chance that Bennett wins his first championship next year. There is no preeminent talent in this year’s freshmen class, no one who is going to dominate on the level of an Anthony Davis or Carmelo Anthony. A team with one elite NBA prospect (Hunter) plus a bunch of veterans who know their system to a tee will have as good a shot as anyone.

Arizona Is a Disaster

PAC-12 AVERAGE 2019 TITLE ODDS
OREGON +2800
UCLA +3600
ARIZONA STATE +6500
ARIZONA +10700
STANFORD +22500
USC +22500
UTAH +22500
WASHINGTON +22500
OREGON STATE +35000
COLORADO +55000
CALIFORNIA OFF
OREGON STATE OFF

How the mighty have fallen.

Sean Miller and Arizona were one of the favorites heading into last season. Then Miller was embroiled in the recruiting scandal, his team bowed out of the 2018 NCAA Tournament in the first round, DeAndre Ayton and Allonzo Trier turned pro, and every single one of their 2018 recruits jumped ship.

Arizona lost its final commitment of [2018], as … Brandon Williams announced he was decommitting from the Wildcats …” — Jeff Borzello, ESPN. 

The Wildcats now sit at +10700 to win the 2018 title, and that’s about right.

Advice: Don’t go thinking that, because of the name Arizona, there is value in that moneyline. This team is going nowhere next year, apart from the middle of the Pac-12.

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Sascha was a hockey player in his youth. He gave that up to do something much more practical: become a lawyer. He gave that up to do something much more enjoyable: write about sports. SBD's editor-in-chief since 2014, Sascha edits and writes about anything and everything you can possibly put odds on. He's happiest when those things are the NFL and college basketball, though. In his spare time, Sascha likes watching Jeopardy with his wife, building train sets with his son, and pretending he's still an athlete, not necessarily in that order.