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College Basketball Title Odds: Duke Still Favored Despite Zion Williamson Injury

Megan ArmstrongContributor IIIMarch 12, 2019

Duke's Zion Williamson (1) celebrates after he scored against North Carolina State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)
Chris Seward/Associated Press

Oddsmakers are banking on the health of Duke star freshman forward Zion Williamson, as the No. 5 Blue Devils are still the favorites to win the NCAA tournament. 

B/R Betting @br_betting

Duke or the field? 🏆 https://t.co/2RFuOSEof0

Per Caesars Palace, Duke is a +260 favorite (bet $100 to win $260). The next-closest team is No. 1 Gonzaga at +500.  

Duke's place atop the odds comes as a bit of a surprise since Williamson has been out due to a right knee sprain he suffered against North Carolina on Feb. 20. Without Williamson, Duke went 3-3 and finished the regular season 26-5.

Williamson is expected to be active for Duke in the ACC tournament. Seeded No. 3, Duke's first ACC tournament game won't be until Thursday.

Per Steve Wiseman of the News & Observer, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said the team "should" be getting Williamson back for the ACC tournament.

Williamson, who was named ACC Player of the Year on Monday afternoon, is quintessential to Duke's title hopes. But as the star freshman prepares to return, junior center Marques Bolden is poised to miss time after he sprained his MCL in Duke's regular-season finale against North Carolina on Saturday. 

Marty Smith @MartySmithESPN

Coach K updates Zion — expects him to return Thursday in ACC tournament — as well as Marques Bolden (MCL sprain). https://t.co/EtlGb10Ycf

Following Duke's loss to UNC, Krzyzewski said of Bolden: "We've just had some what I call in-combat injuries. They're not getting hurt in practice or sick or whatever, but they're playing hard and we've just had a lot of injuries.

Per Wiseman, Coach K added "there's no way Marques will be ready for the ACC tournament."

Since Williamson went down in February, there has been rampant discussion about whether the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA draft should come back to play for Duke at all this season. 

On ESPN's Highly Questionable, Dan Le Batard laid out both sides of the argument: 

"Zion Williamson has already told you what he wishes to do, which is be there for his teammates, not let down his teammates. He wouldn't have gone to college if he didn't want to play. I find fascinating this decision [to play in the ACC tournament], though, for a couple of reasons. 

"One, he's already been betrayed by one major institution, Nike. Now Duke, another major institution, has a lot of self-interest involved in getting this team to the end of the tournament. It's not a rock-star team without him, and that is a pressure that leads to a whole lot of conflict of interest when it comes to the physical health of a young person."

With Williamson back in the fold, Vegas oddsmakers have reason to put their faith in Duke.

The 6'7", 285-pounder averaged 21.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks before going down with his knee sprain, which speaks to his ability to impact both ends of the floor. The Blue Devils also have two other likely top-five picks in freshmen RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. 

It seems as though Vegas is banking on Williamson being fully healthy heading into the NCAA tournament, although Gonzaga, UNC, Virginia and others could trip Duke up along the way to the national title.