March Madness is known for being a wild, sometimes unpredictable tournament where even great teams sometimes get upset by the unlikeliest of underdogs.
Yes, one of the best teams usually wins, but which of the top teams will come out on top and which will fall in the early rounds is always a subject of debate.
That might not be the case this year. The Kentucky Wildcats have entered the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as an even money favorite to win the National Championship, making them perhaps the biggest favorite in recent history.
Those are the odds at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, and they are echoed closely by online sportsbooks, where Kentucky is also the clear favorite.
Depending on who you place your bets with, you might find yourself getting the benefit of 6-5 odds, or forced to lay 9-10 odds against the field: but no matter where you bet, Kentucky is right around that even money mark.
According to Ed Salmons, who heads up the college basketball oddsmaking at the SuperBook, this is the first time in at least 20 years that he can remember a team coming into the 68-team NCAA tournament as an even money favorite. Last year, Florida came in as the favorite, but offered 4-1 odds.
Kentucky Touted As Potential Champion Even Before Season Began
What makes Kentucky such a likely champion? The Wildcats came into the year with an incredible crop of talented freshmen, leading some to suggest they had a chance to go undefeated even before the season began. Four players on the Kentucky roster are expected by nbadraft.net to be picked in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft, including freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns, the projected overall #1 pick.
There were some scares along the way. Surprisingly, Kentucky struggled against Columbia early in the season, and had two straight overtime wins in January against Mississippi and Texas A+M. But despite a few close calls, Kentucky now stands at 34-0 and could become the first team to finish the season undefeated since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers.
Kentucky doesn’t yet know who they will play in their first game, as they will play the winner of a game between Manhattan and Hampton. Kentucky will be a massive favorite in that game, though it is unlikely that they’ll beat the 1999 Duke Blue Devils, who were a 47-point favorite over Florida A&M in 1999, the largest line of the last 20 years of the NCAA tournament.
Duke, Arizona, Wisconsin Among Potential Winners
Speaking of Duke, they are among the crop of teams given at least some chance to win the tournament should Kentucky fall short. The SuperBook has them as a joint second-choice with the Wisconsin Badgers, with each of them being offered at 6-1 odds. Villanova, the fourth #1 seed (along with Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin), can be backed at 8-1 odds.
Between Kentucky and Villanova, that makes two top teams with a Wildcats mascot. But there’s a third set of Wildcats that have also attracted plenty of attention from bettors: the Arizona Wildcats, who are the #2 seed in the West Region. The SuperBook has Arizona listed at 15-1, but some books have them with odds as short as 13-2, making them the second choice of some oddsmakers.
The NCAA tournament begins on Tuesday, March 17, when the first of the “First Four” games will be played. The main 64-team portion of the tournament begins on Thursday, March 19.