College basketball's Midnight Madness is less than two months away! Sure, you are focused on the start of football season, but here are five teams I expect to take a step back, relatively speaking, for the 2015-16 hoops season with 5Dimes odds.
Duke Blue Devils (+1225 to win national title)
Will Duke be a Top-10 team when the preseason polls come out in a few months? No question about it. The Blue Devils are always going to be national title contenders as long as Mike Krzyzewski is coaching the team. But obviously there's nowhere to go but down after beating Wisconsin in the NCAA championship game in April. The team's three best players in the NCAA Tournament were freshmen: big man Jahlil Okafor, forward Justise Winslow and guard Tyus Jones, who was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. They are all in the NBA now. By all accounts, Coach K has landed the top-rated recruiting class, led by No. 3 overall Brandon Ingram, the nation's No. 1 small forward recruit. But you don't catch lightning in a bottle every year with freshmen. Plus the ACC is going to be a monster this season. I'd rank Duke behind North Carolina and Virginia in that conference.
Kentucky Wildcats (+850 favorites on NCAA basketball odds)
Again, this has to be taken into context. Kentucky didn't lose a game in 2014-15 until the Final Four against Wisconsin. This year's squad isn't going to be running the table in the regular season, although it should repeat as SEC champion without much trouble because that's such a weak conference. UK lost its top seven players from last year's team, led by freshman big man Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. The Cats do return forward Alex Poythress, who suffered a season-ending injury early last year, as well as big man Marcus Lee and point guard Tyler Ulis. John Calipari landed the nation's No. 2 class, led by No. 2 overall player Skal Labissiere. But Coach Cal also missed on a few five stars that he usually lands. I guess UK fans might have to live with 6-7 losses this year. The Cats shouldn't be title favorites in my opinion.
Arizona Wildcats (+2600)
Arizona was my NCAA basketball pick entering the 2015 Big Dance to win it, but yet again Coach Sean Miller came up short of a Final Four trip as the Cats were knocked out by Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. Only Kentucky probably lost more talent off last year's squad. Gone are Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell, the team's four top scorers. Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson were Arizona's top two rebounders and McConnell led in assists and steals. About the only good news for Miller is that big man Kaleb Tarczewski decided not to enter the draft. Miller welcomes the No. 4 overall recruiting class as well as Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson. Arizona will still be a Pac-12 favorite but not a national championship one.
Michigan State Spartans (+2100)
Tom Izzo's Spartans vastly overachieved in reaching the Final Four last season, but this year's club doesn't appear to have the talent to get to Houston. Sparty's best player in the tournament was guard Travis Trice and he has moved on as well as forward Branden Dawson. I don't see a go-to scorer here without Trice. The Spartans do welcome West Virginia transfer guard Eron Harris, who sat out last season. But they lost one of the nation's top recruits in center Caleb Swanigan. He originally committed to Izzo but then changed his mind and went to Purdue. If Swanigan is in East Lansing, Sparty isn't on this list.
Wisconsin Badgers (+5500)
So will this be Coach Bo Ryan's final season or not? In late June, Ryan said he was going to retire after this coming season. Ryan probably was smart to do that because the Badgers' program has likely hit its ceiling in reaching back-to-back Final Fours. Ryan is the only head coach to win at least 300 games at Wisconsin and his two Final Four appearances are as many as all other previous Badgers coaches combined. But now Ryan says he's "not totally sure" this will be his last year. Ryan never lands top recruits but his guys just play smart and fit his system. Alas, there won't be a third straight Final Four trip this year after UW lost its two best players in National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. The Badgers might not finish better than fifth in the Big Ten.