The numbers are just outrageous. The Duke Blue Devils dominate national statistics just as they’ve dominated opponents on the floor, standing first in blocked shots, fourth in scoring offense, and second in rebounds per game.
Star forwards R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson each average over 22 points, and Williamson’s field goal clip of nearly 70 percent — helped by all those spectacular dunks — is second-best in America.
But for all those gaudy stats, none match Duke’s most impressive number of all: +175.
That’s the Blue Devils’ odds of winning the national championship, easily the best of this season’s contenders for the crown. Gonzaga and Virginia are knotted for second at +800 with 888Sport, with Kentucky third at +1000.
When it comes to favorites for the title in college basketball betting, it’s Duke and everybody else.
But is Duke really the best bet to win it all in the Big Dance? After all, the NCAA Tournament is a season unto itself, featuring pressure to survive and advance that’s unique to college basketball’s biggest stage.
Here are three reasons to consider betting on the Blue Devils, three reasons to bet against them, and the one other championship candidate that might be worth some March Madness betting.
And it’s not really close. The Blue Devils present the best collection of talent in the country, and it’s obvious almost every time they take the court.
Williamson, a tight end-sized presence who uses his physical size to create space around the hoop, is the certain No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Barrett and Cam Reddish complete a dominant frontcourt that thrives on getting and making high-percentage shots.
Duke’s odds to make the Final Four are a crazy -400 with SugarHouse, compared to +155 for the next-best team.
The NCAA Tournament is about upsets, right? Maybe to a point. Last year’s champion, Villanova, was a No. 1 regional seed. So was the 2017 champion, North Carolina.
No. 1 seeds have won the national title in five of the last seven seasons, and despite the typical early-round craziness, top regional seeds remain the safest bets to claim the title.
The best team in America has won the national title in each of the past two seasons, and this Duke squad looks stronger and deeper than both of them.
Yes, they’re winning by an average of 20 points per game. But this Duke team, powered primarily by freshmen, has been through some pressure situations that will benefit them in the tournament.
The comeback at Louisville, where Duke trailed by 23 with 10 minutes remaining, was the type of gut check that showed the Blue Devils’ mettle. Overlooked was the win at Florida State, where Reddish’s last-second 3 salvaged a victory.
Duke played a pre-conference schedule loaded with ranked opponents, and has shined in some do-or-die moments that will have them primed for end-of-game situations in March.
Just ask Larry Johnson and UNLV in 1991, or the 2015 Kentucky team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, or the Houston and Georgetown teams stunned in 1983 and 1985, respectively, or even Coach K and his dominant squads from 1986, 1999, 2002 and 2006.
While high seed-over-high seed upsets may not generate the headlines of Cinderella shockers in the early rounds, they’re still part of the tournament’s fiber, and the nation’s best team coming up empty in March remains a common occurrence despite the results of the last two years.
Again the parallel is Kentucky, particularly the 2014-15 team that spent the entire season ranked No. 1 and was unbeaten until stumbling against Wisconsin in the Final Four.
Those Wildcats were also powered by freshmen — Towns, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles, with sophomores Aaron and Andrew Harrison serving as elder statesmen.
They were unstoppable until the more experienced Badgers made all the key plays late. Can the same fate befall these Blue Devils? In the right type of matchup, absolutely.
Duke thrives on making high-percentage shots around the basket. Force them away from the paint, though, and things can get interesting. Duke ranks 314th nationally in 3-point shooting, making just 31 percent of tries beyond the arc.
Syracuse exploited that weakness by using its trademark zone to make the Devils uncomfortable on offense, and the result was an overtime upset by the Orange in Cameron Indoor. Expect other teams to try similar tactics in March.
Gonzaga: At +800 with 888Sport, the Bulldogs present far better value to a bettor. Gonzaga also has a narrow victory over Duke from early this season, and an athletic inside presence in Rui Hachimura who can go toe-to-toe with Zion.
The Zags broke through and made the Final Four for the first time last year, taking that pressure off their shoulders. They’ve been under the radar playing in a small conference far out west, but their roster and body of work in November and December make them look every bit the Devils’ biggest threat.
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