The college basketball season is just six days away, and it begins with a bang at Madison Square Garden.
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 4 Duke is the warmup act in New York on Tuesday, followed by a meeting of the nation’s top two teams, No. 1 Michigan State and second-ranked Kentucky.
At the Westgate SuperBook, the Spartans (6-1), Wildcats (8-1) and Jayhawks (8-1) are the only teams with single-digit odds to win the 2020 national title (Duke is the 12-1 fifth choice on the board).
While the chances are decent the eventual champion will be playing in the Big Apple next week, those prices aren’t all that enticing.
Most years, there are fewer than 15 teams with a realistic shot to win it all. Let’s take a look at four schools at 20-1 or higher that might be worth a futures wager.
Gonzaga (20-1): The Bulldogs enter 2019-20 with more uncertainty than normal. Four of the top five scorers — led by NBA Draft picks Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke — are gone from last season’s 33-4 team that reached the Elite Eight.
But Zags coach Mark Few has perhaps his best-ever recruiting class joining his returnees.
The key to the team is oft-injured 6-foot-10 forward Killian Tillie.
Tillie missed a big portion of last season because of injury. But when healthy, he’s a 47 percent shooter from deep.
Few’s starting backcourt is gone, he went to the transfer market to replace them. Graduate transfers Ryan Woolridge (North Texas) and Admon Gilder (Texas A&M) bring much-needed experience to a team that will need strong contributions from freshman big men Drew Timme and Anton Watson.
Gonzaga, which reportedly handled No. 1 Michigan State 110-94 in a “secret” scrimmage in Denver last week, might have some kinks to work out in November.
But the Zags should gel by the start of the conference season.
Texas Tech (30-1): This is largely a vote for Chris Beard.
The Red Raiders lost four of its five best players — including an NBA lottery pick — from last season’s national runner-up. But the 2018-19 team had also lost that many, and Beard still drove them to the brink of a national title.
He will need to get the most of two graduate transfers — 6-foot-6 guard Chris Clarke from Virginia Tech and 6-8 forward T.J. Holyfield from Stephen F. Austin — who figure as starters along with returning sharpshooter Davide Moretti.
The Red Raiders have the No. 12 defense in the country, according to KenPom.com’s preseason rankings. Look for them to climb that ladder.
Baylor (50-1): Unlike the two teams above, the Bears won’t be dependent on new faces.
Tristan Clark, a 6-foot-10 junior, returns along with six other players who were among the top nine scorers for Baylor, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in March.
Prior to going down with season-ending knee injury in January, Clark was leading the nation in field goal percentage (72.1) and averaging better than 14 points and six rebounds a game.
Coach Scott Drew added two transfers, including 6-foot-2 guard Davion Mitchell, who sat out last season after coming from Auburn.
Seton Hall (60-1): Michigan State is ranked No. 1 in the country largely due to the presence of senior point guard Cassius Winston.
The Pirates’ chances this season are bolstered by the presence of their own experienced floor leader, Myles Powell.
Powell, who averaged 23.1 points per game as a junior last season, is arguably the best scorer at his position in the country.
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard added Florida State transfer Ike Obiague, a 7-foot-2 center who is eligible to play immediately and allows Willard to put junior big man Sandro Mamukelashvili at power forward.
The 6-foot-11 native of Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the Peach State) had 38 points and 23 rebounds in two Pirates exhibitions over the summer.
If you like Seton Hall, don’t wait: Winston and the Spartans visit Powell and the Pirates on Nov. 14.