College hoops futures odds see big shifts as March approaches

College hoops futures odds see big shifts as March approaches

College hoops futures odds see big shifts as March approaches
By DAVE CAREY

So which men's college basketball team is the best in the country? The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Polls say Connecticut.

But for the past four weeks, four teams ­- Pittsburgh, Duke, Wake Forest and the Huskies ­- have occupied the top spot. And it takes just a quick glance at the futures odds to win next month's NCAA Tournament to see the pack bunching together.

No. 3 North Carolina (20-2, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) opened the season with 13 straight wins and 5/2 odds to cut down the nets in Detroit in March. But the Tar Heels have struggled since then, losing to Boston College, No. 7 Wake Forest and they needed a buzzer-beater to escape Florida State.

Even more troubling is North Carolina's loss of depth, as forwards Tyler Zeller (wrist injury) and Marcus Ginyard (foot injury) and guard Will Graves (suspended) will miss the rest of the season. The Tar Heels now go just eight deep, forcing their odds to slip to 8/5.

“Seven of those eight are McDonald's All-Americans, however, said John Harper, a senior oddsmaker with Las Vegas Sports Consultants. “Maybe they can do it. The rankings don¹t reflect the best teams ­ just the hot teams. Once each No. 1 loses, people banish them and move the next team up.”

And North Carolina has plenty of teams gaining. No. 6 Pittsburgh (20-2, 7-2 Big East), which held the top spot for the first time in school history last month, opened at 8/1 to win it all and has narrowed the gap to 6/1. Other teams who have seen their odds shrink include: No. 1 Connecticut (21-1, 10-1 Big East), which went from 15/1 to 8/1; No. 4 Duke (19-3, 6-2 ACC), 10/1 to 7/1; No. 5 Louisville (17-4, 8-1 Big East), 10/1 to 8/1; No. 2 Oklahoma (22-1, 8-0 Big 12), 30/1 to 15/1 and Wake Forest (17-3, 4-3 ACC), 40/1 to 15/1.

So, which team has emerged as the biggest dark horse?

“We have taken some money on Washington,” Jeff Stoneback, the MGM sportsbook director, said of the 16-5 Huskies. “Going into last week, they had sole possession of first in the Pac-10. The beginning of the year you could have gotten odds as high as 300/1 on them and a few weeks ago about 100/1, but they are at about 45/1 right now.”

And if those teams have exceeded expectations, there is no shortage of squads who have failed to live up to their billing.

Arizona (14-8, 4-5 Pac-10) opened at 25/1, but has since slid back to 100/1. Wisconsin (12-9, 3-6 Big 10), which started at 30/1, has tanked during a six-game conference losing streak - its longest in more than a decade - to balloon to 100/1. And don't even bring up Notre Dame (12-9, 3-7 Big East), which jumped from 20/1 to 60/1.

“If you keep winning, you keep moving up in the rankings," Stoneback said. “Even if you aren't the best team.”

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