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2018 March Madness Odds are Sweet on Duke

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in College Basketball

Updated Apr 8, 2020 · 7:10 PM PDT

Kentucky coach John Calipari yelling
John Calipari appears to orchestrating another midseason turnaround at Kentucky, winning six in a row and three straight over teams ranked in KenPom's top 30. Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire.
  • The national championship odds for the 16 remaining teams vary drastically, from +320 to +7000.
  • Does the betting value lie with a favorite like Duke, a longshot like Syracuse, or somewhere in the middle?

With the March Madness field narrowed to 16 teams, time is running out to capitalize on the college basketball futures market; the national championship game is less than two weeks away.

The 2018 tournament has been chaos: history was made when #16 UMBC knocked off #1 Virginia. TVs were screamed at when #3 Michigan State, a pre-tournament favorite, couldn’t hit a shot against #11 Syracuse’s infuriating zone. And more brackets were busted when #1 Xavier blew a late lead to #9 Florida State.

The end result is upheaval in the national championship odds tracker. The remaining powerhouses (Duke, Villanova) are now at extremely short odds, while mid-range seeds (West Virginia, Kentucky) have gone from afterthoughts to a puncher’s chance. Where does the value lie for bettors?

The Favorites: Duke & Villanova

Duke is now the outright favorite. The Blue Devils’ odds have been nearly cut in half since Selection Sunday, moving from +600, on average, all the way to +320. They are slightly shorter than Villanova (+370), not because they have looked any better on the court (both teams have been dominant), but because they have an easier path than the Wildcats, facing #11 Syracuse in the Sweet 16, whereas Nova meets #5 West Virginia.

While +320 is too short for almost any team at this stage, there’s a lot to like about Duke right now. They routed this same Syracuse team by 16 points in late February, and also won by double-digits at Clemson (their potential Elite Eight opponent) less than a month ago. If they face Kansas instead, Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. are going to be an absolute nightmare for the Jayhawks’ undermanned frontcourt, while Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval are good enough to give Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman trouble in the backcourt. It’s all setting up pretty nicely for a trip to the Final Four, at least.

[T]here’s a lot to like about Duke right now. They routed [Syracuse] in late February, and also won by double-digits at Clemson (their potential Elite Eight opponent).


There’s also a lot to like about Nova’s matchup with West Virginia, too. Veteran point guard Jalen Brunson is going to shoo away Bob Huggins’ press like it’s no more than a pesky gnat, and if the Mountaineers aren’t generating turnovers, they have slim hopes of outscoring Jay Wright’s top-ranked offense. They are still a tougher matchup than Syracuse, though, and after the Orange, Villanova will meet either #2 Purdue or #3 Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders and their fourth-ranked defense would be an extremely tough matchup. They have the athleticism to stay with the likes of Mikal Bridges, and a clutch, experienced point guard (Keenan Evans) who can get them a bucket when they need.

If you want to ride a favorite, Duke is the better option. The best payout currently available has the Blue Devils at +350.

The Second Tier: Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky & Michigan

Kentucky took one of the biggest leaps in the title futures, moving from +1800 before the tournament to +650 entering the Sweet 16. Not only have they played up to their massive potential — especially point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s turned himself into a lottery pick by posting 49 points, 13 assists, 15 boards, and seven steals in the first two games — they have the easiest path to the Final Four: a Sweet 16 meeting with #9 Kansas State followed by an Elite Eight game against the winner of #7 Nevada and #11 Loyola-Chicago.

Kansas (+710), on the other hand, faces #5 Clemson, a team that was once ranked 11th in the nation and is now playing arguably better than it has all year. If they beat the Tigers, they will have the good fortune of drawing Duke in the Elite Eight, assuming Syracuse doesn’t pull off a miracle. As mentioned above, that’s a terrible matchup for Kansas. They would need at least two, maybe three, Udoka Azubuikes on the court to deal with Bagley and Carter.

[Compared to Kansas, Gonzaga, and Michigan, Kentucky has] the easiest road, the highest ceiling, and [is] playing the best.

Gonzaga (+700) vs. Michigan (+800) is the mostly likely Elite Eight matchup in the West region. It’s hard to like either of them at odds this short. Michigan may get obliterated in the post by Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, just like North Carolina, and they’re not deadly from deep like most Jon Beilein teams.

Gonzaga is currently getting a ton out of redshirt freshman Zach Norvell (21.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG in the tournament) and it’s hard to see that continuing, especially if they do face Michigan down the road; Charles Matthews would smother the Zags’ emerging backcourt star. Gonzaga is a top-15 team, for sure, but not a title-winning team. They don’t have the elite guard-play.

Kentucky is the best option out of this quartet. While they have the shortest odds, they also have the easiest road, the highest ceiling, and are playing the best basketball. Some sportsbooks are offering a little more value than the others, with Kentucky at +800.

The Best Longshot: Texas A&M

Bettors after a bigger payday need to focus on the left-hand side of the bracket, which features the South and West regions. It’s a near certainty that either Duke, Villanova, Kansas, Purdue, or Texas Tech will come out of the East/Midwest, and their average odds are all +1900 or shorter. Texas A&M, however, is at +2500 and has a reasonable draw.

Don’t forget how good this team looked early in the season, when they were ranked as high as no. 5 in the polls; they beat West Virginia by 23 on a neutral court and crushed USC by 16 on the road. They fell off the map after losing five straight in SEC play, but the first three of those came when Admon Gilder was injured, and the latter two were a one-point loss at Kentucky and a 13-point loss at Tennessee.

You can’t excuse all the Ls on their schedule, by any means (especially the 93-81 setback to Miss. St at home) but there’s a lot more good than bad on their resume.

You can’t excuse all the Ls on [Texas A&M’s] schedule … but there’s a lot more good than bad on their resume.

Looking at the road ahead, they will have a distinct frontcourt edge in their Sweet 16 meeting with Michigan. Their 21-point win over North Carolina in the Round of 32 was no fluke. Tyler Davis and Robert Williams overwhelmed UNC’s bigs and should do the same to Mo Wagner and Michigan, especially on the glass.

They’re still a longshot to win it all, but a run to the title game is certainly in the realm of possibility. If they do, and you have a wager on them at +2500, you will be able to jump on the other side and guarantee yourself a profit.



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