Derek Stevens is known for making big bets.
Earlier this month the owner of the D Las Vegas made a $100,000 wager at the South Point sportsbook on the 2019 college basketball title. His proposition: that either Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga or Kansas (at +105) would win the NCAA Tournament.
Risky bet, taking four teams against a field of 349?
Well, what if we swapped Tennessee for Kansas – the Jayhawks’ chances took a huge hit when they lost center Udoka Azubuike for the season – and added Michigan and Michigan State.
Now we have the top six teams in the NCAA’s NET rankings, Ken Pomeroy’s advanced analysis ratings, both national polls and the Massey Ratings.
At KenPom.com, the difference between No. 6 (Michigan) and No. 7 (North Carolina) is the largest one-spot gap on the entire list of 353 Division I teams.
In the latest odds to win the national title, these Super Six range from 2-1 (Duke) to 12-1 (Tennessee). According to the odds, the six collectively have about an 86 percent chance of winning it all. (The teams in Stevens’ bet collectively have about a 61 percent chance of cutting down the nets, based on their individual odds.)
Taking six schools (our four, like Stevens) against 347 others might seem daunting, but what really is available in the field? According to oddsmakers, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Nevada, Texas Tech and Villanova, ranging from 14-1 to 30-1, and are the next six most likely winners. Are there really any championship contenders beyond that?
Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Michigan and Michigan State have a combined 10 losses, with three coming against each other. Gonzaga beat Duke, Tennessee beat Gonzaga, and Duke beat Virginia. Against the other 347 teams in Division I this sextet is 106-7.
Certainly, there will be more losses.
Michigan State, which had its 22-game Big Ten win streak stopped by Purdue on Sunday, still has two dates with Michigan – Feb. 24 in Ann Arbor and in the regular-season finale on March 9 in East Lansing. Virginia hosts Duke in a Feb. 9 rematch of the Blue Devils 72-70 win earlier this month. Both teams have yet to face North Carolina. And Tennessee still has road games against No. 8 Kentucky and 25th-ranked LSU.
Only Gonzaga will be a significant favorite in all of its remaining games. The Zags passed what was likely their stiffest West Coast Conference test when they won at San Francisco on Jan. 12. Their toughest remaining game, according to KenPom numbers, is March 2 at Saint Mary’s. But Gonzaga is still given a 74 percent chance to leave Moraga, Calif., with a win.
Win-it-all probabilities are difficult to project in college basketball. NCAA Tournament seeding and game locations won’t be decided for another six weeks. And, while the four No. 1 seeds will probably come from this group, two of the six will likely be No. 2 seeds. A No. 1 Duke or Virginia could find a second-seeded Michigan or Gonzaga in its path to the Final Four.
Still, it seems more likely than not that the 2019 national champion will come from this group.
We’re on a bit of a streak ourselves, having gone 4-0 for the second consecutive week. Maybe Derek Stevens ought to be playing our selections.
Marquette at Butler: While Butler has lost six of nine, including at home to Georgetown and Villanova, Marquette has won seven straight in the Big East and 15 of their past 16 overall. And, the Golden Eagles will probably get a couple points. MARQUETTE
UC Irvine at UC Santa Barbara: It’s a Big West showdown as the Anteaters (5-1 in conference), who have won six of seven, face the Gauchos (4-1), who are undefeated at home. UC SANTA BARBARA
San Francisco at Saint Mary’s: The Dons’ at-large-bid hopes took a hit with Saturday’s loss at San Diego. They need to win this or on Feb. 7 at Gonzaga to keep that dream alive. USF beat the Gaels at in San Francisco four weeks ago. SAN FRANCISCO
Hofstra at Northeastern: Quick: Who has the longest win streak in the country? The Pride (16 straight) does. Hofstra is one of the smallest teams in the country, but it shoots well from everywhere and doesn’t turn the ball over. And Northeastern, the preseason pick in the Colonial, might be a small favorite. HOFSTRA
Last week: 4-0