College Basketball Power Rankings: Title Contenders By Championship Odds

Ari Kramer@Ari_KramerSenior Analyst IIOctober 14, 2011

College Basketball Power Rankings: Title Contenders By Championship Odds

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    Midnight Madness is upon us, signaling the start of the 2011 college basketball season.

    While teams have started official practices, sports books have already released their odds for the 2012 NCAA championship.

    Inside are power rankings based on team odds to cut down the nets.

    In other words, the rankings should tell you which teams are the best bets.

21. St. John's Red Storm, 22:1

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    Steve Lavin assembled the nation's No. 3 2011 recruiting class, according to ESPN.

    Following the departure of nine players and almost all his scoring, doing so was a necessity.

    However, the NCAA declared three of those freshmen—Amir Garrett, Jakarr Sampson and Norvel Pelle—ineligible.

    Sampson consequently de-committed, and the others will have to sit out until the spring at the very least.

    Now a young team with depth issues, St. John's is not a smart bet despite 22:1 odds.

20. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 33:1

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    Tim Abromaitis is great, and Scott Martin is a valuable sidekick.

    However, Notre Dame lost Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott and Tyrone Nash during the offseason.

    Additionally, the Fighting Irish ranked No. 68 in Kenpom's defensive efficiency in 2011 and typically don't exert enough effort on the defensive end to make a title run.

    The odds are enticing, but Notre Dame will not win the 2012 NCAA championship.

19. Michigan State Spartans, 26:1

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    Michigan State underachieved last season with Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe. Now that they're no longer with the team, why should you bet on the Spartans?

    Coach Tom Izzo is the only reason.

    In 16 seasons at the helm, Izzo has taken the Spartans to six Final Fours and is regarded as one of the best college coaches.

    Even with a downgraded roster, Izzo should never be counted out.

    Still, the Spartans don't have outstanding odds.

18. Pittsburgh Panthers, 20:1

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    If Pitt couldn't win with Brad Wannamaker, Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee, what are the chances they could win without them?

    Not great.

    But Jamie Dixon still has Ashton Gibbs, one of the most reliable guards in the country, and Khem Birch, the No. 1 center in the class of 2011.

    Dixon also returns several others, including Tray Woodall, Nasir Robinson, Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor.

    Don't expect too much of Pitt, but at 20:1 odds, they could be a low-risk, high-reward pick.

17. Kansas Jayhawks, 22:1

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    Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are poised for breakout seasons, but Kansas lost too much talent from last season's team.

    They also didn't sign enough impact recruits to have a promising chance at a championship in 2011-2012.

16. UCLA Bruins, 22:1

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    Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt left for the NBA, but UCLA could be better than last year's 23-11 team, which reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

    The Bruins may have one of the best frontcourts in the country.

    Reeves Nelson, who averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 boards per game as a sophomore, is their most established player, but Josh Smith had a promising freshman campaign.

    Bolstering the frontcourt, David and Travis Wear will be eligible for Ben Howland.

    Versatility makes this frontcourt so formidable—Smith is the only big who will be confined to the post.

    Nelson can bang down low but also has a decent mid-range jumper, and the 6'10" Wear twins have range extending beyond the three-point line.

    While the frontcourt is UCLA's foundation, the backcourt shouldn't be an afterthought.

    Lazeric Jones's numbers dipped after he sprained his wrist in early February, but now healthy, he should be able to lead the Bruins at the point. 

    Jerime Anderson hasn't posted the most impressive numbers, but he's a senior and a capable shooter and passer.

    Even Tyler Lamb, who had an underwhelming freshman season, could have more impact as a sophomore.

    Howland signed Normand Powell, the No. 15 shooting guard in the class of 2011. Powell will contribute immediately, especially in transition.

    If Josh Smith can stay on the floor more than 21.7 minutes per game and the Wear twins live up to expectations, UCLA can make a serious tournament run.

15. Wisconsin Badgers, 50:1

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    Jordan Taylor is one of the best point guards in the country. In 2010-11, he averaged 4.7 assists to 1.2 turnovers per game, which calculated to the nation's best assist to turnover ratio.

    In addition, he poured in 18.1 points per game.

    Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil graduated, but nearly everyone else returns to Madison.

    With Taylor at the point and Bo Ryan on the sideline, passing on 50:1 odds isn't easy. Think about it—what's $20 over five months if it could produce $1,000?

    If anything, it would at least make Wisconsin's slow-paced games more exciting.

14. Michigan Wolverines, 37:1

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    Tim Hardaway Jr. averaged 17.2 points per game over the last 16 games of his freshman season, an indicator of his progression and a predictor of the potentially big 2011-12 he could have in Ann Arbor.

    Darius Morris bolted for the NBA, but the Wolverines have a solid three-man platoon at the point.

    Senior Stu Douglass and freshmen Trey Burke and Carlton Brundidge will all share time at the 1.

    Anyone who hasn't seen Michigan play can't fully appreciate Zack Novak's value to the Wolverines. The versatile guard plays at 110 percent 100 percent of the time.

    His energy certainly ignites his team and gives him an edge against bigger players.

    Novak—who is only 6'4"—can body up forwards in the post, which is vital to Michigan's success because the Wolverines don't have much size.

    If Hardaway Jr. can be a consistent scoring force and the 6'8" Jordan Morgan can contribute more than 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, Michigan could be a threat to go deep in the NCAA tournament. 

    At 37:1 odds, the Wolverines could be worth a small wager.

13. Gonzaga Bulldogs, 30:1

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    Even without Steven Gray, Gonzaga will once again be a mid-major force.

    Elias Harris and Robert Sacre comprise one of the best mid-major duos in the country, and a solid recruiting class adds depth to a team already filled with reliable contributors.

    Gonzaga seems like a decent bet at 30:1 odds, but beware of the WCC.

    Saint Mary's, Santa Clara, San Francisco and BYU will all be challenges, and a few conference losses could keep Gonzaga out of the tournament.

    In all likelihood, though, the Bulldogs will go dancing.

12. Louisville Cardinals, 19:2

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    Despite losing Preston Knowles to graduation and Terrence Jennings to professional basketball, Louisville should still be a dangerous team out of the Big East.

    Peyton Siva is one of the better point guards in the country and Kyle Kuric is one of the better shooters.

    Rick Pitino also returns six more rotation players from 2010-11.

    Add the No. 8 recruiting class to the mix, and Louisville could go deep into March. 

11. Memphis Tigers, 22:1

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    Last year, Memphis endured growing pains with so many freshman—look no further than the Tigers' 15 turnovers per game.

    But those freshmen are now sophomores with a year of college basketball under their belts.

    Will Barton and Joe Jackson were the Tigers' top two scorers in 2010-11 and are expected to lead the charge as sophomores. However, they will have plenty of support—five other Tigers averaged more than six points, and incoming freshman Adonis Thomas was the No. 2 small forward in the class of 2011.

    Memphis has a realistic shot at the Elite Eight, maybe even the Final Four.

    If you're willing to take a risk, their championship odds could produce a decent win.

10. Texas Longhorns, 37:2

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    J'Covan Brown is the Longhorns' only returning scorer, but Rick Barnes brought in four ESPN Top 100 recruits to replace the talent he lost after 2010-11.

    Myck Kabongo, ESPN's No. 2 point guard in the class of 2011, headlines the group.

    He's an all-around player with high basketball IQ and sounds like an upgrade from Cory Joseph and Dogus Balbay. 

    Barnes also signed two top shooting guards, Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis, who will contribute immediately.

    Texas will be thinner up front without Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson—even Jordan Hamilton averaged 7.7 rebounds per game—but Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond arrive in Austin as two highly-ranked power forwards.

    Alexis Wangmene, who snatched nine rebounds in a 2010-11 win against UNC's imposing frontcourt, will also receive more minutes.

    Obviously, much depends on freshmen growing pains and Brown's transition to a more featured role.

    However, Texas is still a decent bet at 37:2 odds.

9. Baylor Bears, 28:1

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    Perry Jones III arrived at Baylor as an unequivocal one-and-done.

    However, he underperformed and now returns for his sophomore season.

    Nonetheless, Jones displayed flashes of potential that scouts saw during his recruitment. If he can channel that type of play consistently, Baylor will be a national force.

    The Bears have a solid team surrounding Jones—Quincy Acy and four other rotation players return. Additionally, Scott Drew signed Quincy Miller, the No. 3 power forward in the class of 2011. 

    Between Jones, Acy and Miller, Baylor has a very athletic frontcourt that will cause matchup problems on a daily basis.

    The odds are definitely lower than they should be for Baylor.

8. Florida Gators, 12:1

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    Florida lost Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus, but the Gators might have the best backcourt in college basketball.

    Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are back for another year in Gainesville, Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario is eligible and freshman Bradley Beal was the No. 5 recruit according to ESPN. 

    Don't be shocked to see all four guards on the floor at once, as the Gators don't have much size.

    But 6'9" Patric Young fits in an up-tempo offense as well as any center.

    Other than Young, Billy Donovan has Erik Murphy and Will Yeguete in the frontcourt. The Gators may not be deep up front, but their backcourt can carry them far into the tournament.

    Florida's a solid bet at 12:1.

7. UConn Huskies, 10:1

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    UConn has been receiving too much hype entering 2011-12.

    People seem to be forgetting just how much impact Kemba Walker had on the Huskies' championship team.

    Which makes UConn a trendy pick to repeat.

    They certainly can do it—Jeremy Lamb had an impressive postseason, the frontcourt of Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond will be one of the nation's best and this team is deeper than last year's.

    But you can't replace a clutch player like Walker.

    If UConn's odds were in the vicinity of 15:1 or 20:1, I'd say jump on the Huskies.

    They're still a good pick at 10:1, but there are better bets out there.

6. Syracuse Orange, 10:1

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    Rick Jackson is the only Syracuse rotation player from 2010-11 not on this season's roster, and Jim Boeheim filled the void with Rakeem Christmas, the No. 2 center in the class of 2011.

    Christmas has a limited offensive game, but his defense could already be as formidable as Jackson's.

    The returning big three of Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche is the best in the Big East. Sophomores C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters are coming off solid freshman campaigns and will bolster an already strong team.

    Boeheim also brought in Michael Carter-Williams, who will contribute immediately in the backcourt. Carter-Williams is a scoring combo guard and was the No. 21 overall recruit in the class of 2011.

5. Duke Blue Devils, 15:2

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    Whereas most teams would enter a rebuilding phase after losing three players who averaged more than 16 points per game, Duke will still be in championship form in 2011-12.

    Mike Krzyzewski assembled the No. 2 class of 2011, which could be a starting five all by itself.

    Austin Rivers is the prized recruit, but everyone else appeared in ESPN's Top 50.

    Duke's returning backcourt of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins will be bolstered by Rivers and Quinn Cook, a true point guard.

    The frontcourt of Mason and Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly will also welcome the additions of Michael Gbinije, Marshall Plumlee and Alex Murphy.

    15:2 odds are very good for a team that flaunts five upperclassmen and a loaded freshman class.

4. Vanderbilt Commodores, 22:1

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    How the Commodores have the same odds as Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and St. John's is beyond me.

    Sure, Vandy went 23-11 and exited the NCAA tournament in the first round, but the Commodores are just teeming with talent.

    Every single rotation player, save Andre Walker, is back for 2011-12, and Kevin Stallings lured two ESPN Top 100 recruits to Nashville.

    John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli were all named to the preseason Wooden List, but the talent isn't limited to the team's big three.

    Brad Tinsley is a solid floor general who can score as well as distribute, and power forward Lance Goulbourne can rebound and has a good mid-range jumper.

    This team is too talented and experienced to be victimized by another mid-major in the first round. At 22:1 odds, Vanderbilt is a great bet.

3. Kentucky Wildcats, 4:1

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    John Calipari courted the nation's top point guard, small forward and power forward. The worst freshman in his 2011 class, which ranked No. 1 nationally, is the No. 19 overall recruit.

    Once again, Kentucky will be loaded.

    Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller all return from last season's team and now join forces with Anthony Davis (the nation's No. 1 recruit), Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer.

    The Wildcats are stacked with talent, so it's inconceivable for them to not at least reach the Elite Eight.

    And they'll likely go deeper.

2. UNC Tar Heels, 16:5

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    UNC became the first team to have four players appear on the Wooden Preseason List.

    Any college basketball fan recognizes Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall and John Henson as premier talent.

    In addition, Roy Williams returns four other rotation players—Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and Justin Watts.

    Of the nation's top teams, UNC is the most experienced.

    Zeller and Watts are seniors, and Henson, Strickland and McDonald are juniors.

    Even if UNC didn't have James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston entering as freshmen, the Tar Heels would still be title contenders. Instead, they are the title favorite because of their talent, depth and experience.

    Still, they're favored to the point that you're better off betting on...

1. Ohio State Buckeyes, 15:2

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    Here's what I wrote about the returning trio of Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Aaron Craft in my Wooden List power rankings article.

    "If you had to draft a three-on-three team by picking a trio from any college team, Ohio State's crew of Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Aaron Craft would be the most consummate option."

    "Sullinger, who averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 boards as a freshman, is a dominant post player."

    "Buford is a very solid wing. He averaged 14.4 points and shot 44.2 percent from long range."

    "Craft is a hard-nosed defender who distributes the ball well and also drains threes."

    Deshaun Thomas is the Buckeyes' only other returning consistent rotation player, but Thad Matta will have several impact freshman to complement his returnees. 

    Shannon Scott is a true point guard who will share time with Craft, while Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross will bolster the frontcourt.

    Sam Thompson and Trey McDonald likely won't have as much immediate impact as the others, but they will certainly contribute.

    Ohio State has almost as much talent as Kentucky, and while they lack UNC's depth, the Buckeyes are definitely a smarter team.

    They can definitely beat either the Wildcats or Tar Heels in a championship game, making those rewarding odds even more enticing.