College hoops is here again, and the season begins with more of a clean slate than any in recent memory. Yes, the Kentucky Wildcats are the prohibitive favorites, and for good reason. Even without their incoming freshman class which includes the likely #2 pick in the 2015 Draft (Carl Towns) they’d be the preseason #1. They return Willey Cauley-Stein, the Harrison Twins and Alex Poythress and have so much depth that Coach Cal is reportedly toying with the notion of playing “two shifts” of completely different players to form a bizarre ten-man rotation.
And therein lies the intrigue in this college basketball season. That is a pretty ridiculous chemistry experiment to attempt, and if the past five years tell us anything, it is that is CAN work brilliantly or it can completely implode. The past five Kentucky teams have been just as talented. They’ve all been deep. They’ve all been young. So is one or two years of extra seasoning provide the maturity to finally live up to the hype?
And in the event the wildcats falter, and the pressure will be enormous, who can step in and cut down the nets? Let’s take a look at some of the best plays as well as a few longshots.
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NCAA BASKETBALL BEST BETS PREVIEW:
This is an interesting season. All 15 of the players on the First, Second, and Third Team All-American rosters last year are GONE. That leaves a ton of room for emerging stars. And you can bet there’ll be one or two that lead their team to Indianapolis in March. Here’s a few of my favorite values. While I like Duke, North Carolina, Wisconsin and the usual cast of characters, here’s a few god values based on the moneyline possibilities.
Louisville Cardinals +2500 – The return of Montrez Harrell was one of the more surprising announcements of the offseason. Also returning is point guard Chris Jones and Terry ROzier who could be the breakout player replacing Luke Hancock and Russ-diculous Smith. Rick Pitino seems to overachieve in March and with this team, a slight “over achievement” could lead to cutting down the nets. At 25-1, they provide some nice value. They will get toughened up in a deep and difficult ACC (their first season in the league) and will be plenty ready for March.
Villanova Wildcats +4000 – The Wildcats surprised many all season long, only to bow out early in the NCAA Tournament. But perhaps they were just a year ahead of schedule. They should win a good but not great Big East and could very easily and could be a top 2 seed come tourney time. They return Arcidiacano, their veteran point guard, as well as three other starters, Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu. This team is largely intact from last season and I think an extra year of playing together gives Jay Wright’s club a great shot to make a deep run.
Gonzaga Bulldogs +2500 – I know. I know. It’s Gonzaga the ‘little engine that couldn’t’ come tourney time. Their schedule is too soft, they aren’t deep and athletic enough to win in March, Mark Few can’t win the big game. Blah blah blah. This is one of the more quietly talented teams in recent Gonzaga history, and depth shouldn’t be an issue. They should be able to approach 30 wins and get into a top seed line. The return Kevin Pangos for his fourth year (it feels like he’s been here forever) and former Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer will be eligible to join Gary Bell and Prezmek Karnowski. They’ll get early shots against UCLA, Georgia and Arizona. Win two of those three and you could be looking at a #1 seed in the Tourney.
Nebraska Cornhuskers +10000 – Is Nebraska winning it all? Unlikely. But at 100 to 1 you can snag a veteran and talented team that has a chance to challenge for the Big Ten title in a year of transition for some usual powers. On paper, this team is only behind Wisconsin in league play. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State all have big question marks. Nebraska needs to find some shooting, but Terran Petway is a player to watch in the National POY races.
Iowa State +4000 – I still think last year’s UConn squad was really lucky Georges Niang got hurt in the Sweet 16. This team could have gone to the Final Four last year. DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim are HUGE losses, but Niang, Dejean-Jones and Hogue give them a nice core to build around. The Cyclones will be very good and defensively tough again this season and a long-shot team to keep an eye on.
BEST SHOT TO CHALLENGE KENTUCKY:
Arizona Wildcats +650 – I love the blend of size, talent and coaching at Arizona. They’ve been so close to breaking through under Sean Miller the last three years. With another stellar recruiting class joining a veteran team, I have them as the top contender to the other Wildcats.
BOOM OR BUST:
Let’s go with a pair of teams in the ACC. IF Jahlil Okafor really is the National Player of the Year some are projecting the freshman to be, then he will Quinn, Sulaimon and freshman Tyus Jones could be a fearsome lineup. Just like last year’s fearsome lineup with Jabari Parker that lost in the first round to Belmont. Likewise, North Carolina has a POY candidate in Marcus Paige, but with all the nonsense swirling around Chapel Hill, this could just as easily blowup in a bad way.
Keep an eye on Harvard, Notre Dame and Xavier all earning single digit seeds in March.
I’m not sold on Virgina being able to repeat last year’s surprising success or Texas being able to make that big leap into Top 10 territory. Likewise, I think the assumption that Ohio State can quickly adapt to life without Aaron Craft might be a little optimistic. Plus there are still MAJOR offensive questions with Thad Motta’s club. I’m also not sold that UCLA can recover from the mass talent exodus including the surpringly departure of Zach Levine.
MY FINAL FOUR:
Enjoy the college hoops season. It’s one with a TON of questions and a ton of room for emerging superstars and awesome story lines. And it all tips off tonight! Good luck everyone – wager smart and well, and I look forward to another great season together!