Arizona and Seven Other College Basketball Teams to Watch in 2017-2018
The NBA Draft entry list is set, the final recruits have committed, and grad transfers have been established. We finally have a pretty clear picture on what the rosters will look like across the landscape of the 2017-2018 college basketball season. Obviously, with so much emphasis on incoming freshman, there will be some major questions to be answered. Add in the exodus of nearly every single person who received any All-American votes (only Ethan Happ and Bonzie Colson return), and we have a pretty wide-open landscape.
Here’s eight teams with good value in Vegas.
BEST FUTURE VALUES – 2017-2018 NCAA BASKETBALL CHAMPION
#1. Arizona Wildcats +1200
Perhaps no team or coach won MORE on Draft Deadline day than Arizona and Sean Miller. Allonzo Trier’s return was an enormous boost to a team with plenty of returning talent and a dynamite recruiting class incoming. Lauri Markkanen’s departure was a no-brainer, and one Arizona is well-prepared for with the arrival of seven-foot freshman DeAndre Ayton, whom Sean Miller recently called “the best recruit he has ever signed.” Lofty praise from a guy who has sent his share of Lottery Picks to the NBA Draft.
It gets even better for the Wildcats. Rawle Alkins decided to (wisely) return to school, stabilizing the backcourt, especially defensively, and Class of 2018 commit Emmaneul Akot reclassified to be eligible and on campus in the Fall.
Get your ‘Sean Miller is a choke artist’ jokes in now, they could very well be moot by next March. Arizona is LOADED and is my early strong preseason #1. Add in the fact that both Oregon and UCLA will be WAY down this year after losing all of their top underclassmen, and Arizona should win the Pac 12 going away and be in excellent position for a #1 seed, which makes the early line of +1200 a steal.
#2. Villanova Wildcats +1600
Jay Wright’s team made a disappointing exit from the NCAA Tournament this season despite being in apparently good position to defend their crown. But don’t cry for the sartorially splendid head coach just yet. ‘Nova will be back and as good as ever in 2018, despite losing All American Josh Hart. Look for point guard Jalen Brunson to assume the leadership role and make a strong All American case, as well as a strong candidate for Big East POY (though he will have competition – more on that later). Mikal Bridges is also returning after flirting heavily with the NBA Draft- a HUGE boost to the Wildcats’ chances.
The season will open with a large part of the Villanova core intact, including an elite NBA prospect and a veteran talented point guard. Add in an emerging Dante DiVincecnzo and the return of Phil Booth and don’t be surprised to see Villanova where they always are; winning the new Big East and taking a top seed in the Dance.
#3. Wichita State +2000
Last year’s seventh ranked team in KenPom returns it’s top six players, including breakout freshman star point guard Landry Shamet. People expected the Shockers to take a dip last year after losing Van Vleet and Baker, but the Shockers never missed a beat. This year, they are a year older, a year more experienced, and with their move to the AAC, should have the schedule to avoid a tough (unfair) seed from the Committee.
The NCAA Selection committee did the Shockers no favors last year, despite their strong RPI and KenPom numbers. This year, with Memphis, UConn, SMU, Cincinnati, Houston, Temple and an improving UCF program on their conference schedule, there will be no excuses to slight the Shocks. They should very well find themselves in a top two or three seed position, making +2000 a pretty nice hedge.
#4. Duke +900
I know. You hate Duke. Or, the opposite, you LOVE Duke. But probably the former. Which makes me telling you that they are a legitimate national title favorite, thanks to the return of Grayson Allen, dangerously infuriating… but, alas, it is undeniably true. College Basketball’s poster boy for polarization and hateful rhetoric is back in all his glory, and tripping incidents aside, he is a REALLY GOOD basketball player and an odds-on-favorite candidate for National POY (keep in mind, voters LOVE seniors and upperclassmen).
Duke also has a PURE point guard in the fold this season, which should take a TON of pressure of Allen who is clearly more comfortable playing off the basketball. Trevon Duvall will make a massive impact, as will a healthy Marques Bolden. Add in a pair of likely one-and-doners in Wendell Carter and Gary Trent, Jr. and this is a perfect Coach K roster; dynamic young talent, solid veteran leadership and just enough players (seven) to make us respect their upside, yet question their depth in March (see: every team Coach K has won a title with…)
#5. Purdue Boilermakers +5500
This is one of my favorite sleepers because of how counter-intuitive the logic is: Most would say Purdue LOST on Deadline Day with Caleb Swanigan declaring. I would contend the opposite. Everyone KNEW Swanigan was gone. We didn’t know about Vince Edwards. His return as a wing presence, along with the veteran size of Isaac Haas gives Purdue a formidable core.
In fact, six of their top seven players from last year return to West Lafayette, giving Matt Painter possibly his best team since the Hummel/Johnson/Moore core. Yes, they lost the single most team-important player in the country from last year (Swanigan was a BEAST), but let’s not sell the rest of this roster short just yet. They have size, perimeter scoring, good defense, and a sharp-shooting floor spacer in Dakota Mathias. Purdue is a nice sleeper in the wide open (after Michigan State) Big Ten and a reasonable bet to grab a top four seed in March.
#6. Xavier Musketeers +8000
I love this play at 80 to 1. Sure, Villanova has perpetually ruled the new look Big East, but it was the Muskies who were the last team standing in March, and that team that stunned Arizona is going to be very similar to the one that takes the floor in November. Edmond Sumner turned pro, but very under the radar, the Musketeers got one of the biggest wins of any school on Deadline Day when Trevon Blueitt decided to return for his senior season. The crafty scoring wing was a Third Team All American as a sophomore before injuries disrupted his junior year. We all saw what he did in the NCAA Tournament though, a reminder that Xavier MAY have the best player in the Big East in 2017-2018. He isn’t flashy, but in a Paul Pierce-lite kind of way, dude can just SCORE in bunches and take over a game.
Xavier also returns glue-guy and sharp-shooter J.P. Macura, point guard Quentin Gooden, who matured a TON in March, and X is bringing in Chris Mack’s highest-rated recruiting class ever, widely considered no worse than a Top 15 haul. Xavier will be legit in 2018, and at 80-1, is a really nice value play.
#7. USC Trojans +4250
Andy Enfield’s squad had a delightful pre-Christmas, then limped their way through Pac 12 play before getting it together for a final few games in March. All in all, an average season, but encouraging because it came a year ahead of schedule. USC fans were pointing to 2017-2018 two years ago, and that patience could be rewarded. Only Arizona is clearly better in the Pac 12 this season and with nearly EVERY key contributor back in Los Angeles, the Trojans could be primed to make a move.
Bennie Boatwright, Shaqquan Aaron, Chimenzie Metu and Elijah Stewart are all back, giving the Trojans one of the better starting lineups west of the Mississippi. Look for them to be a Top 20 team all year in 2018 as opposed to fading in conference play once again.
#8. Northwestern Wildcats +12000
Gone is the Cubs-like loveable loser persona. And I doubt that Chris Collins minds a single bit. Last year was a magic carpet ride for the Wildcats, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the school’s lengthy history and coming perhaps a bad call away from knocking off Gonzaga and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Expectations should be no lower this season, especially with the talent Chris Collins has returning to Chicago.
All five top scorers are back, including Scottie Lindsey, and the Wildcats should enter the season projected anywhere between third and sixth in the Big Ten. I think they are a lock to make the Tournament, and only Michigan State is DEFINITIVELY better than them heading into 2017-2018. You can make the case for Minnesota, Michigan, Purdue, Indiana, Wisconsin, etc. But I’ll take the momentum of a team with its core roster intact making some noise this season. They are a longshot, obviously, but 120-1 would be a pretty fat hedge position if they do earn a Top Four seed – which is very possible.
For the record, college basketball season begins on November 10th, so only 161 days away – in case you are also counting.