NCAA Basketball Futures: Early Look at 2016 Final Four Contenders Signal Duke Won't Be Favored

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 2:28 PM GMT

Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2015 2:28 PM GMT

Now is the perfect time to start looking to next season's NCAA Basketball betting landscape and it seems likely the current champion Duke won't be the betting favorite at sportsbooks.

Circle April 26 On Calendar
As of this writing, there aren't any 2016 futures NCAA Basketball odds released. There should be soon but in reality it's almost silly to do so until April 26. Why that date? That's the early-entry deadline for underclassmen to enter the NBA Draft.

So right now it's just speculation on who might be back. However, Kentucky coach John Calipari says he expects his entire starting five to declare as well as possibly two reserves. I don't think there's any doubt that junior Willie Cauley-Stein and freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles will declare and not change their minds. All three could be lottery picks, with Towns potentially going No. 1 overall. Sophomore guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison also are expected to declare, and sophomore Dakari Johnson and freshman Devin Booker are weighing their options. Those seven make up UK's top seven scorers, leaving likely Tyler Ulis, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee as the only holdovers.

Some potential contenders already have been hit hard by guys who have declared. Louisville is losing its two best players in guard Terry Rozier and big man Montrezl Harrell. Arizona's Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have declared and most expect freshman forward Stanley Johnson and junior center Kaleb Tarczewski to do the same. Arizona coach Sean Miller also has a loaded recruiting class coming. Excellent freshmen Kevon Looney (UCLA) and Myles Turner (Texas) also have declared. So has Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre, with fellow frosh Cliff Alexander also expected to leave. LSU might have been a dark-horse contender next season but its two best players, sophomores Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey, have declared.

National champion Duke is 100 percent going to lose freshman big man Jahlil Okafor, who will be the No. 1 overall NCAA Basketball pick most likely if Towns isn't. Fellow freshmen Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, also are likely gone. Runner-up Wisconsin loses senior and National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and probably will lose junior forward Sam Dekker.

 

Top 5 Candidates For 2016 Final Four In Houston

1. Kentucky Wildcats
We all know that Calipari is likely to lure the No. 1 recruiting class yet again. He already has gotten commitments from two Top 15 guys and a handful of other McDonald's All-Americans have Kentucky on their short list. Maybe the Harrisons come back because they aren't lock first-round picks this summer. At least it seems that Calipari won't be headed to the NBA. A couple of weeks ago there was a report that he did have aspirations to go back to the pros. If UK had finished unbeaten and won another title, I could have seen Coach Cal leave but not after losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four. UK should run roughshod over the weak SEC again in 2015-16.

 

2. North Carolina Tar Heels
Coach Roy Williams got the Heels to the ACC Tournament Championship Game and then the Sweet 16, where they gave Wisconsin all it could handle before falling 79-72. It looks like all five starters will return with youngsters Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson already saying they weren't declaring for the draft. Point guard Marcus Paige was a bit up-and-down this season but in a way that was a good thing because if he had played well he probably would have left school. Now he should stick around to improve his stock, and Paige would be an early favorite for ACC Player of the Year.

 

3. Virginia Cavaliers
I would drop Virginia a spot or two if arguably the team's best player, Justin Anderson, departs. Right now that's probably 50-50. Anderson was hurt a finger early February and then had an emergency appendectomy in early March when he was ready to return from the broken finger on his shooting hand. Anderson never really looked the same when back. For example, he was scoreless in 14 minutes in the ACC Tournament loss to North Carolina and then not a big factor in the Round of 32 upset defeat to Michigan State. Malcolm Brogdon (14.0 ppg) is a two-time All-American and returns as Virginia's leading scorer. If Anderson stays, Virginia should return eight of the top nine scorers from a team that won the ACC regular-season title.

 

4. Iowa State Cyclones
ISU was a chic Final Four pick of many people after the Cyclones won the Big 12 Tournament. But Coach Fred Hoiberg's club was stunned in the NCAA Tournament opener by No. 14 UAB. Hoiberg already got great news with star big man Georges Niang saying he would return for his senior season. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Iowa State will also add transfers Hallice Cooke (Oregon State) and Deonte Burton (Marquette). Will Hoiberg be in Ames? You hear rumors the Chicago Bulls will hire him if they fire Coach Tom Thibodeau.

 

5. Maryland Terrapins
With Ohio State almost surely losing star freshman D'Angelo Russell and Michigan State saying goodbye to seniors Travis Trice and Brenden Dawson, the Terps should be the favorites in the Big Ten in their second season as a member. Maryland star freshman Melo Trimble briefly considered declaring for the draft but will be back in College Park. Trimble helped take the Terps to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to West Virginia. Five days later five-star center recruit Diamond Stone announced he would attend Maryland. That played a role in Trimble staying. The Terps also welcome Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter Jr. He sat out this past season. 

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