If you’re just catching up with college basketball now that the calendar has turned to March, prepare to hear one phrase a lot the next few weeks.
There is no dominant team.
The bracket will still have four No. 1 seeds and someone will cut down the nets at the Final Four in Atlanta. But there’s no clear-cut favorite heading into the NCAA tournament. All of the top teams are flawed.
As conference tournaments get into full swing, it’s worth taking a look at which league has the best shot to win a men’s basketball championship, with help from the championship futures odds at BetMGM:
Favorites: Oregon (+3000), Arizona (+3000)
Don’t forget: Colorado (+4000)
Early in the season, the Pac-12 looked great. The conference piled up plenty of non-conference wins and looked like it was back after some down years.
Now? Arizona can’t shoot it well enough. Oregon isn’t very good on defense. Colorado has lost three in a row. Resurgent UCLA is a great story, but come on. Unless something turns around fast, or Oregon’s Payton Pritchard simply carries his team for a few weeks, the Pac-12 isn’t getting a title this year.
8. Mountain West
Favorite: San Diego State (+1000)
San Diego State is the only reason to get excited about the MWC, but their long undefeated run put them on the title map. A recent loss to UNLV was shocking and struggling to put away Colorado State on senior night wasn’t a little troubling, but SDSU is a balanced team that has been trustworthy most of the season. The Aztecs have a shot.
7. Atlantic 10
Favorite: Dayton (+800)
Obi Toppin and the Flyers got on everyone’s radar with a great showing at the Maui Invitational, and haven’t left. Dayton has two losses all season, to Kansas and Colorado. Both were in overtime. Thanks mostly to Toppin the Flyers are highly efficient on offense, particularly inside the 3-point line. In another season we might downgrade Dayton’s chances, but it’s not like there’s some unbeatable blue-blood standing in the way this year.
6. Big Ten
Favorites: Michigan State (+1500), Maryland (+1500)
Don’t forget: Michigan (+2500)
If you want to put a lot of chips on the table, the Big Ten is your place. The Yahoo Bracket Big Board projects 10 Big Ten teams to be in the field. Covering about 15 percent of the 68-team field isn’t the worst play.
But do you trust any of these teams to be great? Maryland has been fading fast, and a blowout loss to Rutgers this week was another step back. Preseason favorite Michigan State has been solid but has seemed all season like it’s a player short of a title run. At least the Spartans are playing better and are generally a blue-chip stock in March. Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan have had their moments, but none looks capable of winning it all.
By volume, the Big Ten — unsurprisingly the top conference in KenPom’s ratings due to its depth — looks like it can win a championship. But none of the individual teams stand out.
Favorite: Kentucky (+1000)
Don’t forget: LSU (+8000)
Kentucky didn’t look great early on without many stud one-and-done players. But with Immanuel Quickley developing into a star and Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans capable of big nights, the Wildcats’ guard-oriented lineup looked pretty good ... until a total home collapse to Tennessee in the second half on Tuesday. It’s impossible to depend on anyone this season.
There’s no other great SEC contender, thanks in large part to Florida being one of the most disappointing teams in the nation this season. LSU and Auburn each have the explosiveness to put together a winning streak, but both took pretty bad losses on Wednesday night to underscore their flaws.
4. Big East
Favorite: Seton Hall (+1200)
Don’t forget: Creighton (+3000)
The Big East might not have one great contender (who does, though?) but three pretty good ones.
For a Seton Hall breakdown, read Pete Thamel’s. The Pirates are good. Creighton is also a top-end team with a fantastic offense, and we’ve seen Villanova in the winner’s circle before. The Wildcats are playing very well since a three-game losing streak in early February. Even Butler is a threat with a good defense. All four of those teams should be No. 5 seeds or better, and in this type of field any of them can make a run.
3. West Coast
Favorite: Gonzaga (+600)
Don’t forget: BYU (+6000)
Gonzaga is the obvious reason the conference is this high on this list. It has lost twice all season and has the most efficient offense in college basketball, according to KenPom. We all know about the Bulldogs.
But don’t forget BYU. BYU is one of the two teams to beat Gonzaga, and did so by 13. It has lost seven games, and five were by five points or less or in overtime. The only lopsided losses came to Kansas and Gonzaga. BYU is an exceptional 3-point shooting team and is a nice sleeper to make a run.
Favorite: Duke (+800)
Don’t forget: Florida State (+2000)
The ACC season is symbolic of college hoops as a whole this year.
The conference isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. Duke is inconsistent. Louisville is good but not quite as good as everyone hoped before the season. Virginia’s offense fell off a cliff, though the Cavaliers have rallied and will be in the tournament. Florida State might be the best team in the ACC, but is it NCAA championship good?
The ACC is always a factor in the tournament, however. Maybe Duke’s strong advanced metrics are an indicator it’s better than its recent results have shown. Perhaps Louisville plays up to those preseason expectations. And if all else fails, North Carolina is always a threat to win a championship ... (checks notes) ... OK, cancel that.
1. Big 12
Favorite: Kansas (+450)
Don’t forget: Baylor (+600)
If there is one great team in college basketball this season, maybe it’s Kansas. It is outpacing everyone by a significant margin in efficiency ratings. The Jayhawks haven’t lost since Jan. 11, when Baylor beat them 67-55 in Lawrence. Guard Devon Dotson and center Udoka Azubuike have All-America cases. Kansas is the only team to rank in the top 10 in adjusted offense and defense on Kenpom. If you had to pick one team to win it all, Kansas is going to be it.
Baylor also spent most of the year looking like a Final Four team, though it has lost two of four and needed overtime to beat Texas Tech at home on Monday. The Bears are still dangerous if they can start to find their way again at the Big 12 tournament next week. Texas Tech, which almost won a title last season, is still lingering. West Virginia played well early but has cratered lately.
The Kansas-Baylor combination seems like as good of a bet as any this season. And wouldn’t it be fitting in a wild college basketball season if Kansas and all their off-court controversy cut down the nets?
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