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Midway through the college basketball season, teams have begun to separate themselves from the pack. There are a number of teams playing much better than expected - hello, Kansas State, TCU and UConn - while others haven't lived up to expectations. Kentucky, North Carolina and Illinois are three teams that were near the top of the preseason championship odds board but have fallen down the ladder with bad loss after bad loss. Where do these teams sit now? And is there any reason to believe things might turn around? Let's dive into it.
What in the world is happening to Kentucky? According to BetMGM, at 10-1 to enter the year, the Wildcats had the second-shortest odds to win this year's national champions behind Gonzaga and North Carolina who were tied as the favorite at 9-1. Fast forward two months into the season, Kentucky has dropped to 25-1 with 15 teams ahead of them.
In his 14 seasons in Lexington, John Calipari has only had one losing season. He's also only recorded double-digit losses in a single season on four different occasions. However, at 10-6 on the year, with 15 conference games left to be played, he's well on his way to another 10+ loss season. Thus far, two of the Wildcats' losses came to Michigan State and Gonzaga early on. Those are often understandable because of their timing and the fact that they're part of showcases meetings against good teams. Yet, their conference losses to Missouri, Alabama and most recently South Carolina are losses that Kentucky's fan base isn't used to seeing. In fact, a fan was ejected in the first half of Tuesday's game against the Gamecocks for holding a sign that read, "Please go to Texas."
Not only was that a new low on Kentucky's season, but it was a new low on Calipari's tenure with the Wildcats. I wouldn't recommend betting on the Wildcats anytime soon, and certainly don't see any value in betting on them to win the national championship this season.
Speaking of North Carolina being one of the favorites to win this year's title, the Tar Heels have severely underperformed in the first half of the year. In his second season as head coach, and just a few months removed from finishing last season as the national champion runner-ups, Hubert Davis has led UNC to an 11-6 record.
At 3-3 in the ACC, the Tar Heels are the ninth-best team in the conference and have the fifth-best odds to win the conference at 7-1. That's a big jump from their preseason odds to win the ACC at +133. A four-game losing streak at the end of November and early December brought up a lot of concerns about the depth of this team. Those concerns became even more prominent after Armando Bacot left Tuesday's game with an ankle injury. UNC's Caleb Love and Leaky Black have also struggled from the field multiple times this season.
So, despite this being a veteran team with deep tournament experience, their start has dropped them to 25-1 to win the national championship. Even though there is quite a bit of value there, it's not a bet I am going to take with this team.
When you talk about underperforming this season, Illinois has to be a team that comes to mind. Heading into the year, the Illini were 6-1 to win the Big Ten, which was the fourth-best mark behind Purdue, Indiana and Ohio State. They were also 50-1 to win the national title. Despite already losing five games, those odds have only slightly dropped to 60-1. That change might not seem as drastic as Kentucky or UNC, but the expectations for the Illini coming into the year have not matched how this season has gone.
After transferring from Texas Tech, Terrence Shannon Jr. was picked as a preseason All-Big Ten selection and was projected to win Newcomer of the Year. So far, he's had a quiet season and has even been a non-factor when the Illini have needed him the most. Freshman point guard Skyy Clark was supposed to come in and run the team, but he stepped away from the program for personal reasons just last week. Brad Underwood hasn't shied away from laying into his team on the court or in post-game press conferences. Overall, things in Champaign have been a mess this season and two recent wins over Nebraska and Wisconsin aren't enough to change that narrative.