Circus of uncertainty reigns in basketball


A quick look at the updated NBA Draft board, topped by Kansas guard Ben McLemore, explains in part why this college basketball season has become a circus of unpredictability.

The presenting sponsor of the NCAA Tournament should be Barnum & Bailey, with halftime shows featuring acrobats, clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers, trained animals, Beyonce and Madonna.

Who knows what’s going to happen next? Maybe a power outage at the Final Four. Parity will dominate in the 68-team field like we’ve never seen before, and parity is essentially a description of mediocrity.

At least it will be entertaining. If it seems a No. 1-ranked team is getting knocked off every week, it seems that way because it’s true, and we have no clue which team deserves to be No. 1 anyway.

“There is nothing resembling a dominant team this year. This is absolutely a crapshoot,” said The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall, who was working on a mock bracket that is sure to look a lot different next week.

Now, back to McLemore, a 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard and the new No. 1 prospect on the draft board, according to Chad Ford, a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Ford is more knowledgeable than the clowns who call the shots for the Charlotte Bobcats, and his opinion counts.

McLemore is good, not yet great and probably not the next Michael Jordan. He’s also a freshman, and, in fact, the top five players on Ford’s board are freshmen. That’s part of the reason the college game is riddled with mediocre teams — the players with the most potential are gone before maturing, and college coaches are constantly rebuilding.

The Jayhawks, led by McLemore and coached by one of the best in Bill Self, recently stumbled through a three-game losing streak.

The No. 2 player on Ford’s board is UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, the leading scorer on a team that has lost five games in the Mountain West. Bennett watched the final 12 minutes from the bench Wednesday as the Rebels fell behind Air Force by 24 points.

Kentucky was the nation’s dominant team last season, but the NBA kidnapped its freshmen, and coach John Calipari reloaded with more freshmen.

Nerlens Noel, a 6-10 forward and the projected No. 1 pick as of Tuesday afternoon, slipped to No. 3 on Ford’s board by Wednesday, when it was announced the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee was torn and he’s out for the season. If the Wildcats make the field, they won’t go far.

The No. 4 prospect is point guard Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, which is offered at 100-1 odds to win the national championship at the LVH sports book.

Shabazz Muhammad, a 6-6 shooting guard from Las Vegas, is the projected fifth pick, and he might wind up No. 1. But UCLA is another middling team listed at 60-1 odds, and Muhammad would need to work miracles for that bet to cash.

Typically, a future NBA star or two lead teams that win national titles. That might not be the case this year.

The current favorites, all at 5-1 odds, are Florida, Indiana and Michigan. The Gators don’t have an elite scorer, but they defend, display good team chemistry and have a coach, Billy Donovan, who has been there and won it. The Hoosiers are capable of cutting down the nets, too, if 7-foot senior Cody Zeller comes up big in the tournament.

Of the three favorites, I like Michigan the most, which sounds odd considering the Wolverines were whipped 75-52 at Michigan State on Tuesday. But they have Tim Hardaway Jr., the son of a former NBA star, and Trey Burke, the nation’s top point guard, in my opinion. Every team is entitled to one bad game.

I won’t count out Duke at 7-1, but the other teams in that odds range at the LVH — Louisville and Miami (8-1), Kansas and Syracuse (15-1), Arizona (18-1) — appear too flawed and unworthy of the risk-reward.

So, in search of value plays on the futures board, I made bets this week on Gonzaga and Michigan State, each at 20-1.

The Bulldogs, rolling through the West Coast Conference, as usual, are 24-2 after winning 77-60 at Saint Mary’s on Thursday. Gonzaga never gets over the hump, but this might be coach Mark Few’s best shot. He has a versatile 7-footer in Kelly Olynyk, a veteran wing scorer in Elias Harris and sharpshooter in Kevin Pangos.

Like clockwork, Tom Izzo the ringmaster has the Spartans peaking late in the season. It’s another Izzo team built on defense, rebounding and toughness. No conference is tougher than the Big Ten, and Michigan State is tied with Indiana at the top.

It’s also possible the team that wins the national championship has not been mentioned in this column. Maybe another Butler or Virginia Commonwealth is out there, waiting to launch an improbable Final Four run.

Anything is possible, so unleash the clowns and cue the circus music.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.