LAS VEGAS -- Handicapping college basketball is unlike any other sport, especially in the era of the one-and-dones.
In the old days, teams with a lot of upperclassmen were the way to go. Experience trumped youth. But Michigan's "Fab Five" changed all that in the early 1990s, and nowadays we are willing to back teams with star freshmen and sophomores. In fact, if a team has a lot of upperclassmen that's more often seen as a weakness in that they don't have any players who are good enough to have already jumped to the NBA.
This also creates the need for handicappers to just about start all over every year. However, the top teams tend to reload instead of rebuild, so we see a lot of the same names topping the polls every year. Sometimes, though, those teams are there on name-recognition alone and handicappers must weed out which are the contenders and which are the pretenders.
The following chart shows the NCAA men's championship game future-book odds from the LVH Hotel-Casino (formerly Hilton) as well as those teams' preseason rankings in the AP Writers Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll. You'll note that Vegas has some teams that they don't give as much of a chance despite being highly ranked in the polls (such as Ohio State and Michigan being Nos. 4 and 5 in the polls but 20-1 in the future book odds). Other teams' odds are considerably lower than their rankings would indicate, such as Pittsburgh at 40-1 despite not being on either of the polls' main list of top teams (I had to go into the lists of "others receiving votes") and Georgetown being 50-1 despite not even making the "others" list in the coaches poll.
We'll do the same thing we did in our NBA title odds preview, as we try to find the teams that might offer the best value as a future-book wager as opposed to just listing each team by their odds. Here are my top five picks.
Disclaimer: Often we get to March Madness and teams' odds will be around what they were before the season started (and you won't have had to rake the risk of them not getting in the tourney), so make your own decision about whether you feel it's worth to lock up your money for five months.