The 2018-19 NCAA Basketball Champion Will Be ...

Rainman M.

Thursday, November 1, 2018 1:05 PM UTC

Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 1:05 PM UTC

College basketball is finally back. So let’s already think about the end of it. Read on for a preview of top teams and players and insight into some future bets worthy of your consideration.

There are three key criteria that bettors should look for when deciding which team to invest in for an NCAAB Championship future. The last four champions have been balanced, ranking in the top 11 in both KenPom offensive and defensive efficiency. Moreover, the champs had an experienced leader running the show at point guard. 2018 Villanova had Jalen Brunson, 2017 North Carolina had Joel Berry and so on. In similar vein, the champions also had that one guy, that x-factor who they could turn to in the dying seconds of a game.

With these criteria in mind, let’s eliminate a few tempting favorites, starting with favored Duke (+500). The Blue Devils are projected to start four freshmen in its starting lineup, including at point guard. No team has ever won it all with this degree of starting inexperience. Another team to eliminate is Michigan State. Teams that turn it over a lot tend to go down early in March Madness and last year was no exception for the Spartans. Cassius Winston is back at point guard and with less veteran depth behind him after the departure of Tum Tum Nairn, more consistency will be expected of him. His main problem is a very high turnover rate and poor defense. Also, the Spartans lack talent in the front court outside of Nick Ward. Another team to rule out is Virginia, who has arguably the most stubborn coach in Tony Bennett. Under Bennett, Virginia exited the second round in 2017 and the first round in 2018. Bennett has never beaten a higher-seeded team in the Tournament. Bennett-coached teams are great defensively and in the regular season, but it’s hard for a team to succeed in March when it can’t even score in the 60’s. Lastly, don’t bet on Villanova to repeat. The Wildcats lose three key starters plus Donte DiVincenzo. Their four departures accounted for well over half of the team’s points and rebounds last year. Plus they could play defense.

Two more favorites that I want to eliminate are Kansas (+950) and Kentucky (+500). Kansas will have to replace starting point guard Devonte Graham. Besides having an inexperienced freshman (assuming Cal transfer Charlie Moore is unable to win the starting position) running the show, Kansas plays poor defense especially on the perimeter. Last year, KU ranked outside the top 200 in ratio of attempted three-pointers allowed and they don’t stand to improve this statistic with a relatively inexperienced backcourt. Other teams will light them up from three in the Tournament.

Kentucky is harder for me to eliminate, meaning I think that they have the best shot to win of the teams that I eliminated. Their main problems are lack of an x-factor and lack of experience in point guard, where they’ll start a freshman. They will still go farther than they did last year, though, because of their relative experience and their defense and length in the backcourt.


Let’s look at some favorites who fit our criteria. Gonzaga is at +850. The Zags boast two experienced starting-calliber point guards. When North Dakota nearly shocked Gonzaga in December, Geno Crandall played a huge role for the Fighting Hawks. He produced 28 points, entering in the lane at will, and going 4-for-7 from three. He’s one of the most accurate three-point shooters, converting 41 percent of them last season. Senior Josh Perkins also returns at point guard. One of his best assets is his ability to distribute the ball without committing too many turnovers. In his career, he achieves more than two assists for every turnover. But with Crandall coming, he’ll show off his accuracy from behind the arc, like when his clutch shooting helped Gonzaga beat UNC Greensboro in the NCAA Tournament. On defense, the Zags have ranked in the top 20 in KenPom efficiency in both of the last two years.

The team that I recommend with my NCAAB Picks is Nevada at +800 at Bovada. The Wolfpack also have two competent point guards in Cody Martin and Lindsey Drew. Martin was Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. He ranked in the top 230 in both block percentage and steal percentage. Martin was also a talented distributor, achieving the 231st-highest assist rate. His ability to distribute and score inside helped him accrue a high offensive rating during the regular season. But he also maintained this quality of play into the tournament in which he nearly led his team into the Elite 8. The Wolfpack also return Caleb Martin, their top returning three-point shooter who converted over 40% from three. Jordan Caroline is also back in the middle where he excels at rebounding and drawing fouls. In sum, Nevada’s team is laden with upperclassmen who have experienced success in the Tournament and who have led this team in scoring and rebounding. But, this team finally adds some key size and even more scoring prowess with Jordan Brown, who is the highest-rated player to ever sign with Nevada and was one of the highest-ranked recruits overall.

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Here's a look at the college basketball preseason AP top 10:

1. Kansas
2. Kentucky
3. Gonzaga
4. Duke
5. Virginia
6. Tennessee
7. Nevada
8. North Carolina
9. Villanova
10. Michigan State

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 22, 2018
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Wooden Award Future Bet

The Wooden Award is designated to the most outstanding player. The selection ballot is established before the NCAA Tournament and the winner is announced after it ends. The last five winners have been upperclassmen. The last three have been guards. Also, they tend to play for tournament teams who are capable of going deep.

My top prospect is Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. As a sophomore, his ability both inside and outside was awesome. He was great at drawing fouls and making free throws and he was one of the more accurate three-point shooters. Although Purdue lost to Texas Tech, he showed his ability to succeed in March by producing 30 points. On the one hand, it seems great for him individually that four senior starters departed. But, he already led Purdue in shot percentage and now this team looks considerably weaker.

Don’t forget about Dedric Lawson, who sat out last season after transferring to Kansas from Memphis. In 2016, he averaged almost 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He’ll play a huge role in filling the scoring void left by Kansas’ departures—not just Graham but also shooting guard Malik Newman and forward Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, each of whom averaged 14 points per game.

The Martin brothers at Nevada. Caleb is a highly-proficient three-point shooter while Cody is dominant inside the arc. Caleb averaged 18.9 points per game last year. Cody averaged slightly fewer, but was also a better rebounder and passer.

Two underdogs are point guard Clayton Custer at Loyola. He led his team to the Final Four as the 22nd-most accurate three-point shooter. He couldn’t score too many points, though, for a team that plays at a snails’ pace offensively. He led the team with 13.2 points per game. Also consider guard/forward Zach Norvell at Gonzaga. Norvell also didn’t show much stat-wise. But, he proved himself in March by producing 28 points and 12 rebounds against Ohio State. He’ll definitely see an expanded role thanks to the departure of double-digit scorers guard Silas Melson and forward Johnathan Williams.

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