Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at 9:00 AM
Until a certain Duke player blew out a shoe and injured his knee, the Blue Devils were at the top of the college basketball futures board. Zion Williamson was so dominant on a talented roster, that even other legitimate powers like Gonzaga and Virginia weren’t seen as likely to derail Duke.
As of publication deadlines, whether or not Zion will return this season is a big question mark. Many NBA advisors are suggesting it’s a dumb risk with so many millions at stake in the very near future. Old school college voices want him to return to prove his loyalty and character. Any TV network likely to show Duke postseason games is VERY hopeful he’ll be back.
How should sports bettors handle all the confusion. Is the door open now for Virginia or North Carolina to win the ACC tournament more easily, and for somebody like Gonzaga, Kentucky, Tennessee, or the two Michigan schools (or Virginia) to win the Big Dance?
Let’s talk about the varying scenarios…
*ZION DOESN’T RETURN
Duke still has championship potential without him. Oddsmakers and sharps are still pricing the Blue Devils as elite. Respected computer sites only made mild adjustments. As great as Williamson is, Duke is so loaded that losing him is only worth a few points. Coach K’s crew didn’t turn into Clemson or Baylor…it’s still on the short list of serious threats.
That said, Duke is untested to say the least in terms of experience “without” Williamson against powers.” It’s tough to ask a team to win the ACC Tournament cold, given the quality of other threats. And, if winning the ACC will be tough, running off six straight wins in the Dance will be even tougher.
It’s possible that the rest of the team develops an “us against the world” mentality if they hear the media is giving up on them. Wait until you see that happening before you bet on it to happen!
*ZION RETURNS, BUT NOT AT 100%
This is actually a doomsday scenario. If he can’t come back, the players know what they have to do and can make adjustments. If he comes back at 50-75%, that’s going to muck up the machinery on both sides of the floor. Offense will become tentative because ballhandlers won’t know what they’re supposed to do. He won’t be as dynamic a scoring or shot-blocking threat, but he’ll still be getting minutes.
Admittedly, this is probably unlikely. Zion won’t risk further damaging his knee with a big contract just months away. But…bettors need to watch developments closely. This offers the best “big money strategy” for YOU, fading Duke if Zion is on the floor when he shouldn’t be. The public will want to bet him, driving Duke’s point spreads too high.
*ZION RETURNS AT FULL STRENGTH
Let’s say that happens next week in the ACC tournament. He’s held out until then, skipping the revenge rematch at North Carolina. Zion already skipped his home finale against Wake Forest Tuesday. But, all the rest does him good…and he’s ready to cut down some nets!
Duke is still probably a fade vs. quality in Charlotte. He’ll be rusty. Teammates will be deferring when they shouldn’t. But, the Blue Devils could work out the kinks in time to make a national championship run later in the month. They are the best team in the nation when he’s at full strength.
For futures bettors, you should probably just avoid Duke entirely. Even if they do win it all, that victory wouldn’t return true value in pricing. Gonzaga is also overpriced because there’s no secret about how great that group of stars is. If there’s any value to be found at all, it will be further down the board with teams who aren’t getting results lately in a way that’s soured everyone on them too early.
Game by game? Look to fade Duke vs. quality in Charlotte. Take what you learn in Charlotte to make smart picks in the Dance.
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