The Top 5 NCAAB Championship TeamsJosh Bailey
If you’re not excited for this year’s college basketball season, then you might want to check to see if you still have a pulse. I know that we’ve heard the phrase “best freshman class ever” but this year’s is beyond exceptional. And the crazy part is that we’ve already seen glimpses of how talented and refined these young guns are. It’s very early in the season, and there are still
To be honest, I ran out of room because I couldn’t help myself from gushing about the four teams below. Arizona (+1500) and Oklahoma State (+1700) also drew my interest because they have two of my favorite college players, but there literally isn’t enough space for me to rant and rave about everything that’s golden about this year’s crop of talent.
These are the five best teams in the NCAAB Championship futures right now, and I don’t expect any of them to give up the top five spots to any other school. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t tempting longshots. It’s just that – all things considered – there’s a reason these schools are ranked so high.
Kansas Jayhawks (+500 to win NCAAB Championship)
The future of basketball is supposedly from Canada and currently wears a Jayhawks uniform. His name is Andrew Wiggins, and if you haven’t heard of him for some reason, then get familiar. The 6-foot-8 freshman is the most complete player to grace the college ranks in a long while and is considered the consensus first overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Of course, if you follow basketball even remotely, you know this already. Wiggins draws comparisons to all of the great talents of the past and current generations ranging from Tracy McGrady to Kevin Durant. It’s important to remember that a comp for Wiggins isn’t necessarily a description of who is he now, but who he can be like at the pro level. He still has a lot to work on.
Fortunately, Kansas is bustling with the type of talent that makes NBA scouts drool. Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid also combine to form a fantastic combination underneath the rim. Ellis is a scoring machine while Embiid is more of a defensively minded stopper and rebounder. In short, the Jayhawks are the team to beat because when this roster figures out how to compliment each other, there should be no stopping them.
And when a guru like Bill Self is at the helm, it’s impossible to believe that the talent won’t find a way to gel together. This is a mind boggling assembly. If the 2013-14 season wasn’t overflowing with college superstars, Kansas would be a runaway favorite. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t the only juggernaut in the country. On paper, however, they are the cream of the crop which is why they’re slightly favored over the next four schools.
Kentucky Wildcats (+600 to win NCAAB Championship)
Once again, Calipari has done a masterful recruiting job by acquiring six McDonald’s All-Americans to this team. The crown jewel of that collection is Julius Randle, a bullish 6-foot-9 and 250 pound forward who runs, scores and defends like a tornado. Randle is already averaging 20.8 points per game and 13.4 rebounds per game, and whenever a powerhouse team like Kentucky has a big man serving as an anchor, they’re simply more reliable through and through.
Of course, ranking kids out of high school isn’t really fair because not all of them become college champions. The flaw with Kentucky is that it’s always been an NBA prospect factory instead of a dominant NCAA Basketball Championship force. Calipari has only been to two March Madness finals, and won his first championship in 2012 with Anthony Davis leading the way.
People are always excited to watch Kentucky, but investing in them long term is always a crapshoot because there’s nothing to suggest that Calipari’s Wildcats are in it to win it. Sometimes it just feels like he’s grooming players to be drafted in the first round so he can attract talented high school players that want to be millionaires.
At the same time, this particular roster might be too good to fail.
(And yes, we’ve said that before about Calipari’s boys.)
Michigan State Spartans (+600 to win NCAAB Championship)
The Spartans shocked the college basketball world by upsetting Kentucky earlier this month, and the win showcased the lynchpin of this team. Keith Appling and Gary Harris form the best backcourt duo in the country as far as I’m concerned. These guys can score at will and lockdown defensively. Harris was supposed to be one of last year’s breakout stars but an shoulder injury slowed him down (by the way, he played through it).
At the same time, I might be getting over excited about college basketball in general. Appling has a long way to go to prove that he’s a consistent force, as does forward Adreian Payne. The Spartans are a laundry list of players that all receive remarks like “if they could just play at that level consistently…”
Tom Izzo has a championship roster and it’s up to him to get the most out of it. The oddsmakers are insulating themselves from a big “what if” by posting the Spartans as 6-to-1 co-favorites. There isn’t enough of a draw here from a value/payoff standpoint to warrant a play. Not when all the other schools listed here have better outright chances to perform at the levels we expect.
Louisville Cardinal (+600 to win NCAAB Championship)
Louisville has a slight advantage in two key intangible ways. First, they have three starters returning from last year’s championship team. Losing Gorgui Dieng is a big loss for the front court, but the Cardinal are bolstered by the fact that Montrezl Harrell spent all last year learning from the bench. He’ll be counted on the same way that Dieng was last year and he has the talent to come through. The fact that guys like Russ Smith and Luke Hancock are also back gives this team a veteran edge that no other team in the top-10 has.
On top of that, they’re the defending champions. They know how to win. They’re aware of the rigors of the Big Dance, including the unwavering media attention. This is business to them because they’ve been here before and that’s why the Cardinal at 6-to-1 might be one of the better plays on the board. They may not have the surreal talent that the other schools do, but they know how to win under the grueling conditions of a college basketball season. That’s more important than you probably think it is.
Duke Blue Devils (+800 to win NCAAB Championship)
This is a team built around Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, two 6-foot-8 wing players that can literally do everything imaginable on a basketball court. They can take the point, rebound, defend and explode in the paint. It’s astonishing to watch them play off of each other, and with Coach K running the show for the Blue Devils, he knows how to get the best out of his two best players.
Make no mistake – Parker and Hood might be the best pair of forwards in the country because they can match up with anyone. They can run small or play big. That makes Duke adaptable, especially given that this roster has so many interchangeable pieces. Surround Hood and Parker with deft perimeter shooters and they’ll put back all the offensive boards. Ask them to defend in the post? You got it. Duke is one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the country if not the very best.
Kentucky and Kansas are overloaded with talent, which is never a bad thing, but it also means that there will be eventual ego clashes. There are only so many minutes in a basketball game to hand out. For Duke, there’s no question that Hood and Parker are the focal point. Everyone just has to get behind them and support them. That gives this team an instant identity, and one that they can develop and amplify as the season goes on.
The natural inclination of anyone that watches college basketball is to hate Duke, but this team is simply too fun to carry some weird grudge against. Leave your biases at home. Or if you love Duke, grab this 8-to-1 number soon because it’s not going doing anything but getting smaller.