Odds for Each Major College Basketball Conference Champ to Repeat in 2014-15
To repeat or not repeat. That is the speculation.
While winning the NCAA title is the ultimate goal of every college basketball team, a more realistic benchmark to achieve is a conference championship. Conference tournament titles are nice, because they guarantee an NCAA tourney bid, but the truest test of a team's regular-season performance is by winning its league.
Once is great. But back-to-back conference titles? It's not as easy as you think.
Of the schools that won regular-season titles in the top nine Division I leagues in 2013-14, only four were repeat champions. And only one such winner, Kansas, has a streak of more than two conference titles, as the Jayhawks have won or shared the Big 12 regular season crown for a remarkable 10 straight seasons.
So, what are the chances we see some more repeat champs in the power conferences in 2014-15? Click through the slideshow to see the odds we've placed on the incumbents.
Arizona lost its leading scorer (junior Nick Johnson) and its most gifted athlete (freshman Aaron Gordon), but all signs point to the Wildcats being just as good—if not better—than the team that was ranked No. 1 for eight weeks and lost to Wisconsin in overtime in the Elite Eight.
The Wildcats' offensive attack took a major hit when sophomore forward Brandon Ashley injured his foot in early February, but he should be back and fully healthy. He'll team up with 7-foot junior-to-be Kaleb Tarczewski to form an imposing front line, while incoming freshman Stanley Johnson will slide right into Gordon's spot with the same type of athleticism and physicality.
Arizona also returns point guard T.J. McConnell for his senior year, while wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bucked an early departure to the NBA and will be back as a sophomore. Throw in a high-scoring junior college recruit in Kadeem Allen and three other freshmen prospects, as well as returning sharpshooter Gabe York, and the weapons are aplenty.
But what makes Arizona as close to a sure bet as possible to win another Pac-12 title is what happened to the rest of the field.
UCLA (which finished second and beat Arizona in the conference tourney final) loses nearly all of its major players, several leaving early for the NBA draft. Oregon loses six players to graduation and two via transfer, while it brings in only one impact transfer in former Providence forward Brandon Austin and one solid recruit in guard JaQuan Lyle.
Colorado's best player, Spencer Dinwiddie, has gone pro, as has Arizona State's Jahii Carson, while surprise Sweet 16 team Stanford has to rebuild inside. Utah brings back a solid group, but it was one that finished 9-9 in the league last year.
Odds to repeat: 2-1
Florida was one of just three schools (along with Wichita State and Stephen F. Austin) to go 18-0 in league play last season, though the Gators' run was most impressive because it came against power-conference competition. Sure, the SEC was overall a weak league, but it sent all three of its NCAA tourney teams to the Sweet 16, had two in the Final Four (including Florida) and produced the runner-up.
Before we talk about the Gators' 2014-15 lineup, lets first discuss that national runner-up, which also came a very distant second to Florida in the SEC standings at 12-6. That would be Kentucky, who instead of sticking to its standard play of being a one-and-done assembly line will instead feature nine players who were McDonald's High School All-Americans.
Kentucky will be so loaded next season it would be a major upset if it didn't win the SEC, so Florida was going to be hard-pressed to try and repeat even if it wasn't already faced with replacing four senior starters.
The Gators didn't lose anybody to professional aspirations, but it did see Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Patric Young depart following four years of near-misses that ended three times in the Elite Eight before this past season's loss to Connecticut in the Final Four.
Florida still has plenty of talent left in the form of juniors Dorian Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier II and sophomores Kasey Hill and Chris Walker, and the three-person recruiting class is rated No. 8 nationally by 247Sports. But that probably won't be enough to hold off Kentucky this time around.
Odds to repeat: 12-1
Conference: Big 12
CBS Sports' Jerry Palm rated the Big 12 as the top conference in the country during the 2013-14 season, yet Kansas made it seem like business as usual in going 14-4 and winning the league by two games.
You'd think the chances for an 11th straight regular-season title would go down for the Jayhawks in 2014-15 with the early-to-the-NBA losses of freshmen Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, but then you'd have forgotten how masterful Bill Self is at planning for such departures.
Kansas' recruiting class addresses these exact holes, as 5-star prospects Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre will be able to step right in and contribute to a lineup that also features returning standouts Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Naadir Tharpe.
While that group might not seem as sexy without someone like Wiggins, it fits in line with the type of teams Kansas seems to have every year during its long tenure atop the Big 12.
While the Jayhawks are mostly reloading, many of their main challengers suffered significant losses. Co-runners up Oklahoma and Iowa State lost explosive scorers in Cameron Clark and DeAndre Kane respectively, while Baylor (Isaiah Austin) and Oklahoma State (Marcus Smart) saw stars leave early for the pros.
Texas seems the most primed to challenge Kansas for an 11th consecutive crown, as the Longhorns bring back their entire team and appear to be the front-runner for unsigned 5-star prospect Myles Turner. But with so many tough gyms to play in, it will take more than one strong contender to unseat the Jayhawks.
Odds to repeat: 5-1
Conference: ACC (Louisville won the American in 2013-14)
If we were coming up with these odds three weeks ago, the chances of Louisville winning a second straight regular-season conference title would have been much worse.
The Cardinals were graduating Luke Hancock and Russ Smith and were headed into a major league upgrade by going from the better-than-expected American Athletic Conference to the overloaded ACC.
But then bruising 6'8" forward Montrezl Harrell decided to stay at Louisville for his junior year, a surprise considering his dynamic play this past year, and all of a sudden the predictions of a slightly down year for the Cardinals needed to be revised.
Louisville has a solid top-10 recruiting class of six players coming in, highlighted by 4-star guards Shaqquan Aaron and Quentin Snider, while promising sophomore-to-be Terry Rozier is among the returners that should be key contributors.
But regardless of the talent Rick Pitino will have at his disposal, there's that issue of the much tougher conference slate for Louisville this fall.
The Cardinals finished in a tie for first with Cincinnati last season and was able to get fat on AAC bottom-feeders like Rutgers, South Florida and Temple to pad their 15-3 mark. The same won't be possible in 2014-15.
Louisville's recently announced ACC opponent list features nine games against teams that made last year's NCAA tournament, including home-and-homes with North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia, a trip to Syracuse and a visit from Duke.
In this age of unbalanced schedules due to oversized power leagues, Louisville won't get to ease into ACC existence, and thus will have a lot of trouble taking home another regular-season title.
Odds to repeat: 12-1
Conference: Big Ten
To say Michigan's Big Ten regular-season title in 2013-14 was a surprise is an understatement, especially with the losses it suffered in the offseason (and early in the actual season) as well as a stacked field of experienced league foes to deal with.
If the Wolverines repeat as champs next season, though, it'll be nothing short of a miracle.
Michigan has seen Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III all declare for the NBA draft, with McGary's announcement coming Friday after Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel reported the 6'10" forward was facing a one-year NCAA suspension after testing positive for marijuana.
McGary had only played eight games this past season before having back surgery, but his possible return in 2014-15 was one of the few things Michigan had to cling to in order to sustain the success that had seen it reach the NCAA title game and then the Elite Eight the past two years.
Instead, the Wolverines (who also graduated forward Jordan Morgan and saw reserve post man Jon Horford transfer) will return only four players who averaged more than 14 minutes per game, highlighted by guards Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr.
Six freshman have been signed, but only small forward Kameron Chatman rates as a 4-star recruit.
While traditional rivals Michigan State and Ohio State also have a lot to replace, Wisconsin and other teams do not. In fact, Wisconsin looks so loaded next season it should be the odds-on favorite to win the regular-season crown.
Odds to repeat: 15-1
Saint Louis Billikens
Conference: Atlantic 10
Saint Louis put together a great two-year run in the Atlantic 10, winning consecutive titles behind the leadership of veteran forwards Dwayne Evans and Rob Loe and crafty guards Jordair Jett and Mike McCall Jr. to go 26-6 over two years against tough competition.
But those four seniors have graduated, as has reserve Jake Barnett, taking more than 75 percent of the scoring with them. Sophomore Austin McBroom, a 5'9" guard, is the Billikens' top returning scorer at 7.3 points per game but only on 35 percent shooting.
Making matters worse, the recruiting class is big on quantity rather than quality. Saint Louis has seven players set to come in, but none are rated higher than 218th-best nationally, and the top two are both point guards.
Three games separated first and sixth place in the A-10 last season, and those five closest foes (VCU, George Washington, St. Joseph's, Massachusetts and Dayton) won't have to deal with anywhere near the number of losses Saint Louis will.
Odds to repeat: 20-1
San Diego State Aztecs
Conference: Mountain West
San Diego State wasn't picked to win the Mountain West this past season, but behind dynamic senior Xavier Thames and a strong supporting cast the Aztecs took down the regular-season title and then made their second Sweet 16 in four years.
We can't say another trip to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament looks certain, but SDSU does look like one of the safer bets among teams on this list to win another regular season league title.
Though leading scorer Thames and leading rebounder Josh Davis are gone, the trio of fifth-year seniors J.J. O'Brien and Dwayne Polee and junior Winston Shepard—all of whom are 6'7" or taller—will provide plenty of athleticism and length for Steve Fisher to build another winner from.
Add in the Aztecs' best-ever recruiting class, highlighted by 4-star wing Malik Pope, and they should be the favorites this coming fall.
Main challengers New Mexico and UNLV both have significant losses to replace, and while UNLV has the No. 5 recruiting class with two 5-star signees, the Runnin' Rebels have traditionally struggled to live up to their potential.
Odds to repeat: 4-1
Conference: Big East
Villanova won the first Big East title of the league's new version in 2013-14, but don't tell the Wildcats the championship is any less distinguished than the one they claimed in 2006 en route to the Elite Eight.
They haven't won back-to-back regular-season titles since 1982-83, but the chances of a repeat are looking pretty good.
Nova only loses James Bell, its top scorer from this past season, but it has plenty of other guards to replace his production like No. 2 scorer Darrun Hilliard and scrappy Ryan Arcidiacono as well as incoming 4-star freshman Phil Booth.
Where the Wildcats are lacking, though, is the same place they struggled last season: inside.
But even without much beef up front, the losses suffered by the rest of the Big East might make it so no improvement there is needed.
Villanova's only two league losses last year were to Creighton, which has the immense void left by Doug McDermott to deal with, same with Providence and do-everything guard Bryce Cotton. Xavier saw top scorer Semaj Christon leave early for the NBA draft and No. 2 guy Justin Martin transfer, while St. John's roster is a mess and Marquette is breaking in a new coach.
Odds to repeat: 3-1
Virginia's outright regular-season ACC title was among the biggest surprises throughout college basketball last season, but then the Cavaliers backed up that effort with a conference tourney title and trip to the Sweet 16.
Don't count on a repeat of the first part of that triumvirate this year, even though Virginia may be just as good.
Joe Harris' scoring and Akil Mitchell's rebounding should be accounted for by the bevy of returners that Tony Bennett will have at his disposal, including leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon and top reserve Anthony Gill.
And after a year of being more a court manager than an attacker, sophomore-to-be London Perrantes will almost certainly average more than four shots and 5.5 points per game.
The Cavs also have a potential star-in-the-making in 4-star recruit B.J. Stith, a 6'5" shooting guard and the son of Virginia all-time scoring leader Bryant Stith.
Yet it's not so much what Virginia has that dictates its odds to repeat. More so it's a matter of what it has to contend with for another title.
A year after having to only face Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse once each, the Cavs will have to face newcomer Louisville twice and also travel to North Carolina and Syracuse.
The addition of Louisville to the league (replacing Maryland) makes the landscape that much tougher, not to mention Duke's No. 1 recruiting class and a strong freshman haul for North Carolina.
There's also this cold, hard fact: no school other than Duke or North Carolina has won (or even shared) consecutive ACC regular-season titles since 1982-83. That team? Virginia.
Odds to repeat: 10-1
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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