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Duke among big programs to fade in NCAA tournament

Bettors should avoid Grayson Allen, Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils come tourney time. Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports

If there's one thing the college basketball season has taught us so far, it's that parity rules. There is little, if any, separation at the top on a given Saturday.

Six different teams have been ranked No. 1, none of them holding the spot for more than four total weeks (Michigan State), and the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook doesn't have anyone listed at better than 6-1 to win the title. So doesn't everyone potentially have great value?

With the field this open, there's no single team to garner enough interest in a futures market to distort and lengthen the odds of the teams beneath it. This creates what we have now, which is Vegas essentially saying "take your best shot." So there is value if you can nail it spot on, but doing that without backing multiple teams and diluting yourself will be quite difficult.

For the next two weeks, whether you're laying some cash on a future or filling out a bracket in your pool, avoid the following three teams, all of whom have major concerns that will at some point in the tournament impact their title hopes -- and render their current value as nonexistent.


Oklahoma Sooners

Current Westgate odds: 12-1

The Sooners have far exceeded expectations this season behind Buddy Hield's phenomenal senior campaign, opening the year at 30-1 to win the title yet spending multiple weeks as the No. 1-ranked team in the AP poll. And while Hield is a mortal lock to repeat as Big 12 player of the year (and could win the Wooden Award for top player in the country), he isn't going to dictate Oklahoma's success or failure come tourney time.

Jordan Woodard will, ever so quietly.

With so much of the load on Hield night in and night out, whenever Woodard struggles it becomes difficult for the Sooners to beat solid teams. In his 29 games this season, Oklahoma's record is only 5-3 when he shoots 25 percent or below from the field, what anyone would call a disastrous shooting night, and its record drops to 2-2 when committed facing an RPI Top-50 opponent.

That's not to say Hield won't be important -- he will be. But when dissecting Oklahoma's wins and losses, the difference in Hield's production is negligible. In the Sooners' six defeats he's averaged more points per game (28.2) than he averages for the season (25.4); he just gets there with a slightly worse shooting percentage. Remember his 46 points in the triple-overtime loss at Kansas? Or even his 33 points off 12-of-24 shooting in this past weekend's defeat to the Longhorns in Austin?

To say the team goes as Buddy does isn't really fair or accurate. At this point it's a good bet that he will volume score and do it with at least moderate efficiency. In other words, Hield is going to get his. But if Woodard can't score, Oklahoma's serious lack of depth comes into play and the Sooners have a good chance of losing, especially against the type of talent they will have to face as the tournament progresses. All in all, the Sooners had a productive season, but 12-1 just isn't enough to make me want to back them.


Duke Blue Devils

Current odds: 12-1

What Duke has accomplished this season has been impressive. The preseason AP Poll pegged them as No. 5 in the land coming off their national championship, a mark that was in hindsight a bit optimistic following another rendition of their now annual mass exodus to the NBA. Three of their top four scorers in Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones left early for the Association. The other, Quinn Cook, graduated as a senior.

This left behind a roster that had little depth to begin with, relying on highly touted yet unproven recruits (four in the 2015 ESPN 100) to carry the load as is often the case with a program that lands numerous one-and-done players. And when Amile Jefferson, their senior leader and top returning point scorer, went down in early December with a foot injury, their prospects looked bleak.

This is where the dichotomy occurs. For the past three months they've essentially played six guys a night and yet somehow have managed to secure 11 ACC wins and counting amid a gauntlet schedule, both in and out of conference.

But their maximization of limited resources won't get them a national title. They simply aren't deep enough.

From Rob Nelson of ESPN Stats & Info: Not a single team has won the national title in the past 20 seasons with less than seven guys averaging at least 10 minutes per game.

If Jefferson doesn't return, Chase Jeter will be Duke's seventh-most-active player at only 7.7 minutes per game, making them shallower than any team who has pulled off a title run in two decades. And while still talented, the 12-1 offering is nothing more than the respect Vegas is forced to give a blue-blood program who is sure to pull in public action regardless of its flaws.


Villanova Wildcats

Current odds: 10-1

As good as the Wildcats have been throughout conference play, a couple things stand out about them that curb my sentiment. First, they aren't shy about taking a 3-pointer. In fact, 44.2 percent of their field goal attempts come from 3-point range, the 20th-highest percentage out of the 351 D-I schools. The disturbing part? They only make 33 percent of those attempts at 260th best.

Combine this volume shooting of low-percentage shots with their pace of play at only 67.7 possessions per 40 minutes (253rd out of 351) and their ability to overcome a deficit in the second half becomes a question.

On only three occasions in conference play have the Wildcats found themselves down more than two points any time in the second half. Two of those games ended up in the loss column.

Sure, the fact that they've rarely been in that situation is a measure of how dominant they've been in the Big East. But at some point in their tournament run they will find themselves in a hole similar to the ones that got the better of them against Providence and at Xavier. The combination of their style of play and lack of experience dealing with adverse situations doesn't bode well for those outcomes.

What's more, I've never been too high on buying into historical comparisons of collegiate teams given the rapid turnover that occurs in such programs, but when one coach has struggled the way Jay Wright has at living up to expectations, it's worth noting.

Since he took over the program in 2001 the Wildcats have advanced past the Sweet 16 only twice, the most recent of which was back in 2009. Since then, Villanova has earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed three times, failing to advance past the round of 32 on all three occasions. With the fourth shortest odds in the field at 10-1, I can't reasonably justify laying money on a team that hasn't made it to the second weekend in over half a decade, often when they were among the most likely to be expected to done so.