Armed with maybe the most talented starting five in the nation and a deep bench to go with it, the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats are heavily favored to capture the upcoming 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
According to Las Vegas odds makers, the No. 1 Wildcats (29-0, 16-0 SEC) are 4/5 favorites to win the national championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on April 6. Head coach John Calipari has once again rolled out a standout group of underclassmen, headlined by 6-foot-11 freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns, freshman guard Devin Booker and sophomore twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
Junior seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein joins Towns on the frontline, as the pair lead the team with nearly 19 combined rebounds per game. The Wildcats also have plenty of solid reserves behind their top big men, in 6-foot-10 freshman forward Trey Lyles and seven-foot sophomore center Dakari Johnson.
With two regular season games left before the start of the conference tournaments, the Wildcats could also be the second team in the last two years to go undefeated in the regular season, following up on the Wichita State Shockers run in 2014. The door is also open for the Wildcats to be the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to run the table and win the national title without a single loss.
While the Wildcats are expected to go deep in the tournament, they should face stiff competition from some notable contenders. The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers are behind Kentucky at 8/1 odds, with No. 5 Arizona, No. 3 Duke, and No. 2 Virginia expected to battle it out for the last two spots in the Final Four at 12/1 odds.
The Badgers (26-3, 14-2 Big Ten) are the lowest ranked school of the group, but Vegas might be banking on Wisconsin’s 74-73 loss to Kentucky in national semifinal last season as well as the dominant big man duo of senior Frank Kaminsky and junior Sam Dekker.
Kaminsky, who dominated inside during the Badgers’ run last year with 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, is posting the best year of his career with 18.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest in the loaded Big Ten. Kaminsky put up 31 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against perennial tournament contender Michigan State on Sunday.
The Blue Devils (26-3, 13-3 ACC) own the fourth highest scoring offense in the country with 80.7 points per game, and arguably have the best NBA prospect in freshman big man Jahlil Okafor. Averaging 18.2 points and 9.6 rebounds, Okafor has freed up Duke’s perimeters stars like freshman forward Justise Winslow, freshman point guard Tyus Jones and senior forward Quinn Cook to knock down better than 38 percent of their three-point attempts.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who owns a 82-26 all-time tournament record, with 11 Final Four appearances and four titles, is in his 35th year in Durham, as he seeks to lead Duke to their fifth NCAA national championship. The last time Duke won the title was in 2010.
However, the Blue Devils may not even be the best team in their conference with Virginia (28-1, 16-1 ACC) riding a nine-game win streak. The Cavaliers did lose their lone matchup with Duke, 69-63, on Jan. 31, but that kick started the recent run by head coach Tony Bennett’s squad.
The Cavaliers rank atop the ACC in defense and win margin, allowing 50 points per game and showing the ability to close games out with a 15.8 scoring margin. Opponents are also averaging an ACC-best 35.3 shooting percentage against Virginia.
Led by junior guards Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia is capable of scoring the ball, as well. Brogdon is tops with 13.6 points per game, and Anderson leads the conference with a deadly 48.4 success rate from three-point range, while sophomore guard London Perantes orchestrates the offense with 4.7 assists per contest.
Holding a two-game lead in the Pac-12, Arizona (26-3, 14-2) is coming off a solid 63-57 victory over No. 13 Utah and is likely hungry to upend Wisconsin’s hopes this season. Last year, the Wildcats fell 64-63 in overtime to the Badgers in the West Regional final.
But last year the Wildcats didn’t have freshman forward Stanley Johnson. The 6-foot-7 swingman leads Arizona with 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds, acting as maybe the perfect complement to the Wildcats other top forwards, junior Brandon Ashley and sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Johnson is projected to be a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Odds To Win It All
Iowa State 40/1
North Carolina 50/1
Ohio State 50/1
Wichita State 50/1
The full list of odds can be found here at Vegas Insider.com.