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Preseason Revisited

And then there were four.

With Sunday’s regional finals deciding the last two combatants to enter the Final Four fray, we thought it was time to take a look back at preseason odds offered by bookmakers and see how those favored teams stand up in light of the NCAA tournament so far.

Here’s a look at the top 10 preseason teams according to the Bovada sportsbook.

1. Kentucky Wildcats 6/1

What more can you say about Kentucky’s deflating season that hasn’t already been said? The Wildcats proved to be the only team in the bookmakers’ preseason top 15 not to make the NCAA tournament this season. The drawing board is in heavy use already.

Coach Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats win the award for this season's biggest loser.

Coach Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats win the award for this season’s biggest loser.

2. Indiana Hoosiers 13/2

No. 1 in the AP poll for no fewer than 10 weeks, for much of the season the Hoosiers looked like they were going to win it all. Enter Syracuse’s haunting defense, exit Indiana’s title aspirations. Indiana was undeniably a smart bet, but not quite smart enough.

3. Louisville Cardinals 17/2

Sunday’s horrific injury to Kevin Ware could have sidelined the Cardinals’ challenge this season, but in the face of adversity the team pulled together and, let’s be honest here, made a very good Duke side look very normal. Surging at the right time of the season, oddsmakers are now convinced that Rick Pitino’s side will emerge from the Final Four victorious, and on the evidence of this tournament, it’s hard to make an argument for anything else. Looks like the bookies nailed this one.

4. (Tied) North Carolina State Wolfpack 12/1

Whether North Carolina State deserved to open the season this high up bookmakers’ lists is still debatable. The Wolfpack’s win over Duke on Jan. 12 suggested that maybe the bookies had this one right though. Of course, the Raleigh, N.C., side fell off the pace during the regular season and a second round exit to an underdog Temple makes you wonder what anybody saw in NC State.

4. (Tied) UCLA Bruins 12/1

Like NC State, UCLA failed to live up to preseason expectation. Three out-of-conference losses earlier in the season were brushed aside on the way to a regular season Pac-12 title, but you could make the argument that the title was as much a result of the (weaker than usual) conference beating itself up as it was the Bruins’ prowess. A loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament final and a second round exit to Minnesota proved a devaluing end to the season. 12/1? Certainly seems too good for what we saw this year.

6. North Carolina Tar Heels 14/1

Whilst North Carolina’s disappointing season wasn’t to the monolithic proportions of Kentucky’s, you could make the argument that the Tar Heels were the second biggest disappointment this year. An indifferent regular season would have been wiped away with an ACC tournament win, but Roy Williams’ side came up short in the final. That loss would have been wiped away with a strong NCAA tournament performance. Unfortunately for North Carolina, a dominant Kansas side put paid to any such thoughts in the third round. Disappointing all around.

7. Arizona Wildcats 15/1

Remember when the Wildcats were one of the three remaining undefeated teams? It looked like odds makers had underestimated Arizona. Fast forward several months and the side has lost its grip on the regular season and conference tournament titles. A regional semifinal appearance (in the chaotic West Region) redeemed the team to some extent, and would suggest the team may have been worth those 15/1 preseason odds. A loss to Ohio State – ranked slightly lower by bookmakers – ruined any chance for celebration.

Bookmakers can be proud that three of the schools appearing in this year’s Final Four made it into the preseason top 10. Well, sort of. With odds of 20/1, no fewer than seven teams shared the final three places on the list. Way to hedge your bets there, fellas.

8. (Tied) Duke Blue Devils 20/1

No regular season title. No ACC tournament victory. No national championship. It’s a disappointing year for Coach K and his Blue Devils, who looked to be a real threat with that win over Michigan State on Friday. Still, at 20/1 bookmakers weren’t huge fans of Duke and it appears they were right not to be.

Ryan Kelly and Duke might not have had the season most of us expected, but bookmakers weren't far off when it came to preseason odds.

Ryan Kelly and Duke might not have had the season most of us expected, but bookmakers weren’t far off when it came to preseason odds.

8. (Tied) Florida Gators 20/1

Let’s be blunt here; the SEC was weak this season. Really weak. Yes, the Gators won the regular season title but they looked susceptible to defeat for a good portion of the season, at least the part of it they were playing quality opposition. Still, Billy Donovan’s side made a solid push in the NCAA tournament that suggests bookmakers weren’t far off with this regular season prediction. Losing to equally-ranked Michigan adds some validity to this also.

8. (Tied) Kansas Jayhawks 20/1

Winning the Big-12 regular season and tournament titles as securing a No. 1 seed was enough to decree that bookmakers underestimated the Jayhawks this season. Yes, the team lost to Michigan in the South Regional semifinal but in the eyes of this writer at least, the Jayhawks were better than those 20/1 preseason odds led us to believe.

8. (Tied) Michigan Wolverines 20/1

Excellent at the start of the season, a No. 6 seed entering the Big Ten tournament, Michigan’s Jekyll & Hyde season warrants the team’s preseason odds. It’s this current run to the Final Four – a run that has seen the side eliminate both Kansas and Florida – that suggests the school may well be better than those odds. Regardless of how you look at it, the Wolverines will be a real threat in Atlanta so if you got those 20/1 odds, you’ll be laughing.

8. (Tied) Michigan State Spartans 20/1

With three Big Ten sides opening the season at 20/1, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the conference was one of the toughest and hardest to call this season. The Spartans were certainly there for the long haul, and only a loss to Duke in the regional semifinal kept the school from surpassing these early odds.

8. (Tied) Ohio State Buckeyes 20/1

Like Michigan and Michigan State, the Buckeyes faced a tough schedule and came through it with the war wounds to prove it. An upset loss in the West Regional final leaves fans and players wondering what could have been, but those preseason odds seem just about right.

8. (Tied) Syracuse Orange 20/1

How accurate are those odds? That depends on which part of the season we’re talking about. For much of the year the Orange looked a lot better than 20/1 but a slide towards the end of conference play suggested they were far too high. Now, just two wins from a national championship, it’s beginning to look like Syracuse was undervalued ahead of the season. We might not be thinking that after Saturday’s clash with Michigan.

So, that’s the preseason “top 10”. It would be remiss though not to consider that one side that didn’t make the list but remains alive in tournament play.

Wichita State will be dancing its way to an unexpected appearance in the big dance itself.

Wichita State will be dancing its way to an unexpected appearance in the big dance itself.

38. (Tied) Wichita State Shockers 100/1

No fewer than 15 teams began the season with 100/1 odds to win a national championship this season. Included amongst these were Butler, California, Illinois, Oklahoma, Saint Louis and VCU, all of which made an appearance in the NCAA tournament. But it was Wichita State that strung together enough to gatecrash the Final Four. With defeats of No. 8 Pittsburgh, No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 13 La Salle and No. 2 Ohio State, the Shockers will head to Atlanta knowing that they were so much better than those preseason odds. Anybody that backed the side at 100/1 is in line to make some serious cash. Of course, the world could soon come crashing down with Louisville on deck.

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