The NBA Draft deadline passed last week, and with that drop-dead date lapsing, the 2024 national picture has now come into focus a bit more. Some teams received very bad news: looking at you Kentucky, Alabama. And some others got far better news, including: Purdue alongside reigning POTY Zach “Candyass” Edey; Illinois and SDSU had had a troika of starters return; Kansas held on to more talent than usual; and sadly for the rest of CBB, the newly-minted national champion Connecticut Huskies lost little.
And yesterday, the Books opened business on future odds to cut down the nets next year. We’ll give you our best bets, some to stay away from, and a few second-tier candidates that just might be worth a few bucks.
Connecticut (16/1) — Hard to believe UConn isn’t at least a co-favorite. The Huskies lost Sanogo, but return almost everyone including Tristen Newton. Last year’s team was terrifying when they hit the switch. They fell asleep a bit in conference play, but in the first third and the last third of the year, it wasn’t a fluke. They really were that good. Don’t overlook them. The defense is tenacious, they force mistakes, they score from every level of the court, and it only takes one good 7-10 minute run to bury even quality opponents.
Kansas (10/1) — It feels like cheating to put the national favorite as a best bet. But they’re a favorite for a reason. An already-loaded roster brings in its yearly bumper crop of blue chippers, adds a dominant big, and will be especially scary, even grading on the Kansas curve. The crucible of Big 12 play is eventually going to pay off for Kansas…again. And likely soon. One of the safer bets, let’s say.
Arkansas (22/1) — I have bad news for you: Arkansas is going to be really, really good this year. Like “possibly run away with the SEC”-good. Their transfer class alone is better than any else’s signing class. Muss is a clown, and his teams are stupid as hell. But talent won’t be the issue for Big Dumb Arkansas Basketball. This team is a legit Final Four contender, on paper at least. And that’s awful. Arkansas basketball does not deserve good things.
Gonzaga (18/1) — The second-most talented team in the country didn’t skip much of a beat. And, if the Zags really get more physical as they’ve promised, then this is natty contender. They were remarkably close last year, even with a baby-soft interior. The Bulldogs just need to catch a few breaks: they’ve had very few in tournament play.
Not With A Stolen Wallet:
Tennessee (33/1) — They return an absolute ton, including Vescovi, five upperclassmen, and the SEC’s the best point guard. But it’s an offense that retreats for whole months at a time, a team that can never stay healthy (probably because they play rugby), and for whatever reason, Rick Barnes has drawn awful matchups in cursed March. They’ll be a very good SEC team and vie for the top. But until Barnes actually proves he can do it, there’s no reason to trust the elder dean of the SEC.
Duke (12/1) — Rumors of the Blue Devils ascendancy was greatly exaggerated. Dookie feasted late on a very mortal ACC — an ACC that I don’t see improving much this year. There just aren’t enough clutch baskets to be had on a squad that otherwise plays solid team ball. But 12/1? Way, way too high.
Kentucky (20/1) — Sure, the Wildcats lost 57% of their scoring and 79% of their rebounds and 84% of the blocks on their starting lineup….but yeah, that’s 20:1 material. My eyes are about to roll out of my head, skitter across the floor, catch a Super Bus to Vegas, grow some arms, and then smack whoever made this line. Wisconsin broke Kentucky back in 2015 and they’ve not been right since. There’s no reason to trust any team that lost this much in the paint, and there’s even less reason to trust the depressively schizoid ‘Cats.
Purdue (10/1) — When this team decides it’s not scared of making a perimeter shot, and the softest seven-footer to ever live decides he can be something he’s never been, then we’ll talk. That 16-1 upset wasn’t even an upset: Purdue got flat outplayed. It won’t be the last time either.
Wildly Optimistic Dark Horses
SDSU (80/1) — A trio of veteran upperclassmen announced their return. Granted, the tourney is about matchups as much as anything, but Dutcher put together a 30-2 season three years ago, and took the Aztecs to the national final last year. They’re very capable of putting it all together. No one was beating UConn this year (their closest game was 13 points, and they won all five by an average of 20 PPG). And at 80/1, this is just disrespectful.
Ole Miss (150/1) — Ole’ Wifebeater McRagepants is back, darkening the sidelines with his trash-ass presence. But his own innumerable failings aside, one thing Chris Beard can do (besides terrorize staff, abuse players, and beat women) is coach remarkably effective system-basketball. TTU had good players, but none were overwhelmingly heads and shoulders above any other very good team. He doesn’t require a Kansas-type roster to win. That’s good: he won’t have it at Ole Miss. But the Rebels will be long, athletic, and a PITA to play. The first time through the conference is going to be an adjustment for the rest of the league too. Good year to catch people sleeping — or to implode. In either case, at 150:1, it’s worth a few bucks. Defense travels well in March.
The Tide are there, at a very wholesome 35:1. Firmly a second-tier contender, with the likes of Arizona and others who lost a lot of star power. It’s hard to get a read on this team and how it will gel though. The front court was decimated. The back court will be working in two new guys (though the Tide just might get Nelson from NDSU, as this is a perfect system for him). And I’m expecially worried about the loss of coaching continuity. The head man is there, the system is in place. But you can’t flip all three coaches, including Pettway, and expect to get better. I still may bet on Alabama…but it won’t be this week. Let’s see what they look like in the Summer circuit first.
This kind of story doesn’t lend itself, so we’ll kick it off with a discussion question instead: