By now, many of you have probably seen all of the way-too-early predictions that your brain can handle. I’ve seen my share of them myself, and they all most certainly need to be processed with a grain of salt. The game of college basketball drastically changes when the realism of players not living up to expectations, players getting hurt, schemes not working, teams getting in trouble, and so on kicks in. It doesn’t make it any less fun to predict and read this stuff, of course, and Vegas has now gotten in on the action with their annual pre-season odds.
The Westgate Sports Book in Las Vegas has released their odds of college basketball teams making it to the Final Four, and they gave UNC 9-2 odds to go to Minnesota. They also gave them 18-1 odds to win the national championship, which gives them the 5th highest odds in that regard (Duke and Kentucky’s odds are tied). Following the loss of Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, Roy Williams brought in five-star players Nassir Little and Coby White, as well as Rechon “Leaky” Black to fill in the void and hopefully help his team get to the top of the college basketball mountain once again. It won’t be easy, and the teams that are ahead of them in Vegas’ list are a big reason why.
To probably nobody’s surprise, Duke was given the best odds of reaching the Final Four and winning the national title. Coach K managed to bring in a slew of big-time recruits, including Zion Williamson, Cameron Reddish, and R.J. Barrett. The Blue Devils made it all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to Kansas, thanks to a missed buzzer-beater by Grayson Allen. Their 2-3 defense managed to keep their season afloat throughout most of the season, and it’s reasonable to wonder if K will be able to get his new guys to buy in on that side of the ball, or if they will succumb to the fate that many Duke teams have in the past.
Kentucky is tied with the Blue Devils for first in Vegas’ release, after recruiting five-star players Ashton Hagans, EJ Montgomery, and Immanuel Quickley. The Wildcats lost their usual collection of players to the NBA Draft, including Kevin Knox, who was arguably their best player this past season. Kansas is also in the mix as a title favorite, followed by Oregon and Nevada. It is worth noting that Kentucky will play the Tar Heels in their non-conference schedule, and so it will be a great test for a team that will likely take a few games to find their stride.
Vegas’ odds for UNC to win it all really only has as much meaning to it as you give it. The way I look at it, the Heels have the foundation that they need to keep themselves relevant in any conversation about who will make it to the Final Four. They have the talent, they have the experience, and they have a Hall of Fame coach that is going to push them to their limits in order to get the most out of them come March. To be clear: getting to Minneapolis will not be easy. There is a lot of obstacles that the Heels must overcome in the non-conference schedule alone, and they have to find a way to get the most that they can out of the incoming freshmen in order to have any chance of getting it done. What I do know for certain is that November couldn’t get here soon enough.