2018 NCAA Tournament Favorites Taking Shape

2018 NCAA Tournament Favorites Taking Shape

In today’s sports world there is no offseason. The NFL doesn’t kick off for more than three months, but NFL news today is just as hot as NFL news in September. The same holds true for baseball in December, college football in the spring, and even the most calendar specific moniker in all of sports, the NCAA Tournament - also known as March Madness.

The dust has now completely settled on the 2017 Tournament, which saw North Carolina raise its 6th National Championship banner. But the real takeaway from this year’s Tournament wasn’t the traditional powers once again cutting down the nets, even though that did happen. It was Oregon, making its first Final Four since 1939, South Carolina, making its first Final Four ever, and Gonzaga, after flirting with the big dance for several previous seasons, finally getting over the hump and making its first ever Final Four. And subsequently its first ever championship game, before finally succumbing to the talented Tar Heels.

A lot can happen between today and March, 2018. But a lot can also be projected about the 2018 NCAA Tournament based on who’s returning, who’s leaving, and who is once again expected to rise to the top of the college basketball world.

No surprise, Kentucky is the early 10/1 favorite to cut down the nets on April 2, 2018, in San Antonio. But the Zags are also expected to among the elite again, at 12/1. They are joined at 12/1 by the defending champions, North Carolina, as well as traditional powers Kansas, Duke, Villanova, and Louisville.

If there are going to be any surprise Cinderellas in next year’s Final Four, the oddsmakers think that it will most likely come from Butler, at 20/1, or Wichita State, which is also 20/1. One thing working in the Shockers favor is the move from the Missouri Valley, where they struggled for respect and Tournament seedings, to the American Athletic Conference, where the respect will become automatic.

One team not likely to make its return to basketball glory in 2018 is the Pittsburgh Panthers. In the Elite 8 as recently as 2009, and the NCAA Tournament as recently as 2016, Pittsburgh is coming off its first losing season in 17 years. And now they are in a row about the future of shooting guard Cameron Johnson, who would have been the team’s top returning scorer. Instead, since he has graduated, but still has eligibility left, he wants to transfer to North Carolina. As a graduate he can make the move without having to sit out a year. But the Panthers, for their part, aren’t anxious to see him as an opponent in the conference next season, and are doing their best to block it.

The only thing that is certain at this point is that Johnson will not be playing for Pittsburgh next season, and Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings can’t possibly emerge from this mess looking very good.

 

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