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NCAA Tournament 2020: Early Predictions, Championship Odds for March Madness

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 5, 2020

AUSTIN, TEXAS - JANUARY 18: Devon Dotson #1, Udoka Azubuike #35 and Ochai Agbaji #30 of the Kansas Jayhawks talk strategy before the game with the Texas Longhorns at The Frank Erwin Center on January 18, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
Chris Covatta/Getty Images

The 2020 NCAA men's basketball tournament is fast approaching.

Do you have your March Madness champion identified yet?

It's fine if you don't, since there's been so much turnover at the top of college basketball this season. But Selection Sunday will be here before you know it, so it's time to start assessing the field.

We'll get the ball rolling by examining the latest championship odds (courtesy of Caesars Palace), highlighting a couple of worthwhile wagers and predicting which school will be celebrating in early April.

                    

Top Championship Odds for March Madness

Kansas: +600

Gonzaga: +750

Kentucky: +1000

Baylor: +1100

Dayton: +1300

Duke: +1400

Louisville: +1400

Michigan State: +1500

San Diego State: +1500

Florida State: +1800

Arizona: +2500

West Virginia: +2800

Villanova: +3000

Oregon: +3300

Auburn: +3500

Ohio State: +3500

Maryland: +4000

Penn State: +4000

Michigan: +4500

Creighton: +5000

Houston: +5000

Texas Tech: +5000

                

Best Bets

Arizona: +2500

No, folks, we're not joking.

Sure, it hasn't looked great of late for the Wildcats, who have lost three straight—including a double-digit loss to unranked USC. But tournament foes will nevertheless have trouble matching the collective talent of this team.

NBADraft.net sees three top-20 2020 draft picks on this roster: point guard Nico Mannion (sixth), wing Josh Green (15th) and big man Zeke Nnaji (17th). All three are freshmen, so their production can ebb and flow. But when they all have a rhythm, good luck keeping them in check.

Nnaji tops the team in points (16.2) and rebounds (8.6). Mannion leads the way in assists (5.3). Green is first in steals (1.6), second in boards (4.6) and third in scoring (11.9). If they get enough supporting shooting, their stars and top-20 defense could make for a lethal combo in the tourney.

              

Creighton: +5000

The Bluejays are coming in hot, having won 10 of their last 12 games and defeating four ranked teams in the process. If they're merely serviceable on defense, they can take down anyone.

It's all offense, all the time with Creighton. Four different players average more than 11 points per game. Three of them also shoot better than 40 percent from distance: Ty-Shon Alexander (17.0 points, 40.2 three-point percentage), Marcus Zegarowski (15.9, 40.7) and Mitch Ballock (12.0, 43.3). Together, the trio has 239 triples, which would tie for 104th as a team total.

"When we're loose and just having fun, it's a thing of beauty," Ballock told reporters.

An explosive offense can carry a club in this tournament, and Creighton's is basically a bundle of dynamite. KenPom.com slots the Blue Jays fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency.

                  

Houston: +5000

KenPom sees Houston as the 11th-best team in the country. So, when oddsmakers aren't charging 11th-best-team-in-the-country prices, that's always going to catch our attention.

Granted, the American Athletic Conference isn't exactly the best league in college basketball, and maybe the increased competition level of March Madness will be more than the Cougars can handle. But if you're talking about a 22-7 team with top-25 efficiency marks on offense (21st) and defense (22nd), don't you have to at least consider pouncing on +5000 odds?

Under head coach Kelvin Sampson, Houston has developed a notable toughness and avoided glaring weaknesses. Guards Marcus Sasser and Caleb Mills can erupt at any time. Chris Harris Jr. and Brison Gresham form a dominant shot-blocking duo at the center spot. Nate Hinton helps with spacing and rebounding from the wing.

Houston leads the nation with a 56.7 percent rebound rate, per TeamRankings.com, and has five different players averaging at least nine points. As ESPN's Kyle Soppe noted in January, the past five national champs have all had top-25 rebound rates and at least five players clearing nine points a night.

                 

Championship Prediction: Kansas

Don't be fooled into thinking the best predictions are the boldest. Accuracy is the key in the prognosticating game, and the Jayhawks simply look a cut above the rest this season.

There isn't a better guard-big man combo in college basketball than Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Three ESPN scribes recently laid out their top picks for the John R. Wooden Award; all three had Dotson in their top five and two had Azubuike, too.

"I'll take Kansas guard Devon Dotson in that third spot," Myron Medcalf wrote. "He's amazing and underrated. ... At No. 4, I've got his teammate Udoka Azubuike, who is averaging a double-double and 2.6 BPG. He's an unstoppable force who has changed the best team in the country."

Kansas ranks seventh in offensive efficiency and second on the defensive end. No one else has top-10 marks on both sides.

If there's a knock on this team, it might be a lack of three-point shooting. But that doesn't matter if teams have no answer for Dotson's skill and decision-making, or Azubuike's brute force at the basket. If Isaiah Moss and Christian Braun are hitting their shots, they might take care of any spacing issues themselves.

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