How to Think About the Return of College Basketball
College basketball is finally back, picking up (sort of) where March Madness left off. But projecting the season at this point is mostly guesswork.
College hoops tipped off this week, practically sneaking up on fans and bettors. Here are a few observations to match the early season.
- The existence of the season alone is a victory. The Covid-19 pandemic era became official when college basketball halted its post-season tournaments while they were in play last March. That not only killed March Madness, which is a huge business driver for sportsbooks, but launched a string of cancellations that crippled the sports world. Other major sports followed, and it took months to get them back. The fact that we have games, regardless of a few imminent cancellations, is a major step forward for fans, bettors and sportsbooks.
- Holiday tournaments may be wiped out. This could be a prudent move in the crawl-before-you walk approach to the season. Why invite scores of fans from several schools when it may heighten the risk of a virus spread?
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- The rankings are a guess. Teams that were hot at the end of last year help make up the Associated Press Top 25. The Gonzaga Bulldogs will open the season at No. 1. Despite losing West Coast Conference Player of the Year Filip Petrusev, the Bulldogs received 28 first-place votes and 1,541 points from a 64-member national media panel. That was just enough to edge the Baylor Bears (24 first-place votes) by a single point for the top spot in the preseason AP Top 25 heading toward the start of the season. Petrusev’s choice to play professionally in Serbia and then enter the draft was a blow, but the Bulldogs still have the pieces to win a championship. Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi provide scoring punch and the arrival of guard Jalen Suggs should help the backcourt.
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- Ratings could shuffle drastically, especially early in the season. Few experts know the real strength of all the teams. As teams play more games and the rankings become dependable, look for a lot of movement each week from the 10-25 slots. There are always a couple teams getting knocked from the national ranks every week.
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- Here are some other teams who made the list of championship betting favorites. The Villanova Wildcats are slightly favored at +900 (or 9-1). Other notables include:
- Gonzaga Bulldogs +1000
- Baylor Bears +1000
- Virginia Cavaliers +1000
- Iowa Hawkeyes +1200
- Kansas Jayhawks +1200
- Duke Blue Devils +1400