Betting odds courtesy of Bovada
Odds to win NCAA: 9/1
Last year the Arizona Wildcats finished 33-5 with a 15-3 record in Pac-12 play, and its season ended with a 64-63 loss to Wisconsin in the regional semis. The Cats have made the Elite 8 twice in the last five seasons.
Coach Sean Miller has proven to be a great recruiter thus far since replacing the legendary Lute Olson. Arizona, though, lost both Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson to the NBA. Even without those two talents, Arizona is given the second-most likely odds to win the NCAA title according to college basketball oddsmakers at Bovada.
Three of the recruits expected to be big impact players are Stanley Johnson, Kadeem Allen and international big man Dusan Ristic. Johnson was the MVP of the U-18 FIBA championships and is a high scoring wingman. He has a wealth of playmaking ability though, too, after playing point guard his senior year in high school. T.J. McConnell will run the point, having come as a transfer from Duquesne. He’s a very good ball distributor.
Johnson may play a lot of 2-guard to put a rangy lineup on the court that will feature seven-footer Kaleb Tarcewski in the middle. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was so good as a freshman, Miller feared he may be a one-and-done, but he’s back and goes to the rim as hard as anyone in NCAA.
Utah isn’t given future’s odds in Bovada’s college basketball odds, but it’s kind of hard to understand why the Utes aren’t being given at least a little respect. The Utes went 21-12 last year with a .500 MWC record and made the NIT (losing in the first round to Saint Mary’s).
The team had won just six games in 2012 and 15 in 2013, so the continued upward swing could allow the Utes to challenge Arizona, though the Cats are a bit stacked to say the least. Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright are the best two returning players, and there is enough depth at the 4/5 spots that Loveridge could even play at the 3.
The Utes have seven-footer Dallin Bachynski, 6’10” Jeremy Olsen and seven-foot Australian big man Jakob Poeltl. Brekkott Chapman and JUCO transfer Chris Reyes add further depth. Loveridge is best suited as a small forward according to head coach Larry Krystowiak, and the Utes have a tough team that will be very difficult to match inside.
The Colorado Buffaloes will move forward definitively without Spencer Dinwiddle now, after he declared for the NBA draft. He’d been injured mid-season last year, but Colorado won six of its last 10 games in the regular season and then won two in the Pac-12 tournament. Then, the Buffaloes got an at-large bid in the tournament where it was promptly pounded by Pittsburgh 77-48.
The Buffaloes, though, return a successful unit that can build on last year’s success. Keep an eye on Josh Scott, a 6’10” junior forward who has worked on his shooting stroke and drew a lot of double teams last year. His passing skills will be essential to create for teammates out of the post. Xavier Johnson is a big win player who has all-league ability but will need to be more consistent. Buffalo has the returning talent to build on last year’s 23-win season, and possibly do far better in the postseason.
The Stanford Cardinal return a lot of a team that made it to the Sweet 16 last season. In Johnny Dawkins’ sixth year as Stanford coach, he led the team to 23 wins and a 10-8 record in the Pac-12. Leading scorer Chasson Randle returns along with two other starters, and the Cardinal have four top-100 recruits.
The Cardinal will aim to replace the lost production of its two NBA draft selections with Stefan Nastic, Grant Verhoeven and Reid Travis. Rosco Allen may improve after a tough freshman campaign. This team’s prospects mostly hinge on Randle though, and the 6’2” senior is durable and reliant. Over the Cardinals final three games, he sat for just one minute.
The UCLA Bruins finished 28-9 last season with a 12-6 record in the Pac-12. In the postseason, the Bruins reached the Sweet 16. But five of the top eight players from last year are gone, three of which were NBA draft selections. Coach Steve Alford believes the team retains its identity and Isaac Hamilton will be an important part of that in the backcourt, along with Steve’s son Bryce.
Norman Powell cut down on his turnovers last season and got to the line more, and has the speed to stay in front of anyone defensively. He’s going to assume a major role this year for the Bruins. Tony Parker will need to fulfill his immense potential after having been a McDonald’s game All-American in 2013 as a high school senior. He has been out of shape, but he’s now about 20 pounds lighter and should be able to play more minutes, after battling his weight and allowing it to reach 275.