College basketball's non-conference slate is about to end with conference play tipping off next week. Thus it's a good time to breakdown what the top seeds might look like next spring for the NCAA Tournament and college basketball odds to win it all.
East No. 1 Seed: Duke
Duke is the ACC favorite and basically an East Coast school, with a large majority of it students coming from the Northeast. As the No. 1 in the East, Duke could also play its first two games in Charlotte, with the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight held in Syracuse. While Kentucky has by far the most talent in college basketball, the Blue Devils have the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft in freshman center Jahlil Okafor. He has been as good as advertised, leading the team in points (17.4 per game) and rebounds (8.9 pg).
Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team has won every game by double digits, including quality victories against Michigan State and Connecticut and a great victory at Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The ACC is much deeper than the SEC, for example, so Duke is going to lose a few games. The first major matchup is Jan. 17 at Louisville. Despite three freshmen getting heavy playing time, Duke is among the highest-scoring (85.4 ppg) and best-shooting (.523) teams in the nation. The problem is the team doesn't have the size to matchup with Kentucky. Really no team does. Duke is +750 at our NCAA basketball odds to win the national title.
Midwest No. 1 Seed: Kentucky
You never want to guarantee anything this early in a college hoops season, but there's almost no way, barring catastrophic injury, that Kentucky won't be the No. 1 seed in the Big Dance come March. I lean Midwest because UK would play its first two games in nearby Louisville and then the next two in Cleveland, which isn't too far away. The Wildcats have already lost a future NBA player, Alex Poythress, to a season-ending injury yet there are zero signs the Cats will slow down. All they have done is beat ranked Kansas by 32, Texas by 12 and North Carolina by 34.
Oh, and last Saturday against storied UCLA, it was embarrassing. Kentucky won 83-44, one of the worst losses in Bruins history. UK scored the first 24 points of the game in the first meeting between the programs in eight years. Kentucky led 41-7 at halftime. 41-7! It was the lowest point total in a half for UCLA and the fewest by a Kentucky opponent since December 1943. True, UCLA isn't a national title contender this season, but it's still an NCAA Tournament team. UCLA coach Steve Alford was so impressed he said the Wildcats might not lose a game this season. He might be right. UK leads the nation in average margin of victory and has yet to win by less than 10. That said, the Cats' biggest challenge remaining in the regular season is this Saturday at No. 4 Louisville. Win that, and UK may not lose a regular-season game because no SEC team is ranked.
Kentucky is a huge +125 favorite on NCAA basketball odds to cut down the nets in April. One sportsbook has a Kentucky vs. the field prop, with UK at even money and the field at -140.
South No. 1 Seed: Wisconsin
This is the No. 1 seed I'm least comfortable about as I'm not sold on the Badgers even though they were a Final Four team last season. Wisconsin has beaten every team by double digits other than a 10-point home loss to Duke, but that showed the talent discrepancy. The Badgers have an All-American in Frank Kaminsky, but otherwise they are an overachieving bunch that wins with hustle and defense. Wisconsin might benefit from the fact the Big Ten is way, way down this year. As of right now, UW faces only two ranked teams the rest of the regular season: Maryland and Ohio State. That also will hurt in strength of schedule, though. An ACC team like Louisville or Virginia could steal this seed. Maybe Gonzaga out West if it runs the table or Big East club Villanova. Wisconsin is +1000 at sportsbooks to win it all.
West No. 1 Seed: Arizona
While Kentucky appears to tower over the rest of the nation, Arizona looks to be the best team out West by a large margin, with Gonzaga at No. 2 as things currently stand. The Wildcats beat the Zags 66-63 in overtime on Dec. 6 in Tucson. What Arizona does have is size, with 6-foot-7 forwards Stanley Johnson (a freshman) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 6-foot-9 power forward Brandon Ashley, and 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski. Arizona might be the beat team to match up with Kentucky size wise. Arizona should skate through the Pac-12 with only two other teams ranked, Utah and Washington, and UCLA clearly not a major threat this season. Arizona is +850 on NCAA basketball odds to win the national championship.