The 2020-21 NCAA basketball season opens Tuesday with Villanova as the sole Division I team in Pennsylvania from which much is expected.
The 4th-ranked Wildcats help kick off the season for all of college basketball by hosting Mount St. Mary’s at 4:30 p.m. While they can’t overlook the visitors, bigger things lie ahead — like a late Friday visit to UCLA and a highly regarded chance at a national championship in April.
Other Pennsylvania programs — including Pitt, Duquesne, and Saint Joseph’s — also open the season Tuesday, with Penn State, Temple, and La Salle among those following Wednesday. If any of those schools end up as part of March Madness, however, it evidently would be considered a minor – or more likely major — miracle.
Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks have posted odds for this week’s games and for many schools’ conference title chances, although they show little love for anyone but Villanova.
Coach Wright has lots of dependable returnees
‘Nova coach Jay Wright’s 21st season started looking a whole lot brighter once Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels announced they would return as fifth-year seniors. That’s from a team that went 18-7 and made it to the Sweet 16 despite playing in the tournament without star guard Gillespie, who was injured in the last regular season game.
The Wildcats return most players from a squad that might have gone further in the tourney had Gillespie been available, as the loss came to eventual national champion Baylor (whom they visit this year on Dec. 12).
With Gillespie, Samuels and junior guard Justin Moore all back, Villanova is clearly the Big East favorite. The best return on a bet for the team to win the conference is even money (+100) being offered by DraftKings.
While Gonzaga is universally the sportsbooks’ favorite to win the NCAA championship (ranging from +450 at Caesars to +650 at FanDuel, DraftKings, and Kambi-backed sites such as BetRivers, Unibet, and TwinSpires), Villanova is among a group of schools not far behind.
The longest odds – and thus best return – for a bet on the Wildcats is +1400 at FanDuel, DraftKings, or Caesars. Only Michigan generally has shorter odds behind Gonzaga, and Villanova is joined by Texas, UCLA, Texas, Kansas, Purdue, and Duke among schools next in line.
Several sites already have lines posted for that Friday night game at UCLA, due to its prominence. The Wildcats are a small underdog, with DraftKings listing them +3. For Tuesday’s opener with Mount St. Mary’s, Villanova is favored by 22.5 points at FanDuel.
And then there’s the rest
As noted above, it’s a long way down from ‘Nova’s mountaintop when it comes to other state programs. Here’s the best return available for a futures bet placed on the other schools to win their conference tournaments, along with the most favorable point spreads available for their openers Tuesday or Wednesday:
Pitt: The Panthers are 120/1 at FanDuel to win the ACC. They open hosting The Citadel Tuesday night as a 10-point favorite at DraftKings.
Duquesne: The Dukes can be bet at 100/1 with BetRivers to win the Atlantic 10. Caesars has posted them as -7 over Rider at home Tuesday night.
Saint Joseph’s: There’s an even greater return for St. Joe’s to win the Atlantic 10, with DraftKings offering 150/1. The Hawks host Maryland Eastern Shore Tuesday night as a 22-point favorite at BetRivers.
Penn State: BetRivers has the Nittany Lions at 200/1 to win a tough Big Ten conference. They are a 19.5-point favorite at FanDuel and BetRivers, however, for Wednesday’s opener versus Youngstown State.
Temple: The Owls are an 80/1 longshot at BetRivers to win the American Athletic Conference, but the site has them as a 28-point favorite in Wednesday night’s season opener, which is also against Maryland Eastern Shore.
La Salle: The Explorers are also 150/1 at DraftKings and BetRivers to win the Atlantic 10, where St. Bonaventure is the heavy conference favorite. For Wednesday’s opener, when it hosts Sacred Heart, La Salle is listed by BetRivers as a 7-point favorite.
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