Defying the most recent Top 25 rankings, odds makers have slotted the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (19-3) as the favorite to claim the upcoming 2016 NCAA men’s national championship at NRG Stadium in Houston. Top-ranked Villanova (20-3) and No. 2 Maryland (21-3) are seventh and fifth, respectively, among odds makers to win the title.
The Sooners haven’t appeared in a Final Four since 2009, nor have they ever won an NCAA title, but head coach Lon Kruger’s squad was previously ranked No. 1 in the country and has picked off five ranked opponents behind senior guard Buddy Hield’s 25.7 points and 51.8 field-goal percentage this season.
Oklahoma current sits at +700 odds, just edging predicted Final Four opponents No. 9 North Carolina (19-4) at +750 and the No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks (19-4) at +1000. Coming in fourth is the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans (20-4), followed by No. 2 Maryland, No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes (19-4) and No. 1 Villanova.
Villanova rose to the top of the rankings by ripping off four straight wins, including at previous No. 11 Providence, but they join Iowa State, West Virginia, Baylor, and Texas as ranked opponents who have fallen victim to the Sooners.
Oklahoma can pad its favored status by avenging their Jan. 5, triple-overtime loss to the Jayhawks when the Big-12 powers clash again on Saturday, with the winner taking a commanding lead in the conference standings.
But the same could said of the Jayhawks and head coach Bill Self. Sweeping the Sooners would not only lock down the Big-12 but gives Kansas the inside track to the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and a favorable regional placement.
The Tar Heels already picked up a key victories over Maryland and then-No. 22 UCLA earlier this season, and they used that success to tear through the ACC. However, North Carolina’s chances of returning to the Final Four for the first time since 2012 took a shot after it suffered consecutive losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. On Tuesday, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams exited during the Tar Heels' game against Boston College. The 65-year-old coach later stated that he has had "some vertigo attacks over the last 17 or 18 years" and that he'll be fine.
After starting the year as the preseason No.1, North Carolina can jump ahead of Oklahoma should it pull off wins over Miami and at Virginia, as well as sweep its season series against arch-rival Duke.
Meanwhile, the Spartans and Tom Izzo remain the biggest threat to every other major contender. Michigan State seeks its third consecutive and 10th overall trip to the Final Four, and it already held off both Kansas and Maryland this season.
But the tournament may still be considered wide open, at least based on No. 22 Kentucky's +1400 odds. Head coach John Calipari currently has his young squad knotted with unranked Duke but Kentucky is still considered major threats to go deep in the tournament.
The Wildcats, powered by freshman guard Jamal Murray's 18.5 points per game, have suffered six losses already but also owns critical wins over the Duke and Louisville, and are No.2 in the SEC standings. It's possible Murray and Co. only require a strong showing in the SEC tournament to build momentum before the tournament.
Kentucky has reached the Final Four in four of the last five seasons. The Wildcats began the season at No. 2 behind North Carolina.
Odds To Win 2016 NCAA Men’s Tournament
North Carolina +750
Michigan State +1200
Wichita State +2000
Iowa State +3300
West Virginia +3300
Miami (Florida) +3300
Texas A&M +3300
The full list of futures can be found at Bovada.lv.