Fresh off falling short of an undefeated season and the school's first national championship, Gonzaga is the betting favorite for the 2021-22 college basketball season. Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill has posted the Bulldogs at +550 and newly crowned champion Baylor as the second-favorite, at +850.
Handicapping which transfers and high school recruits will make the biggest impact is always tricky for oddsmakers. However, in response to the pandemic, the NCAA is allowing any player the option to transfer without sitting out a season, and that poses even more challenges for oddsmakers.
"It's a completely different animal," William Hill U.S. director of trading Nick Bogdanovich told ESPN. "It's going to be a difficult task, to say the least. It might be one of those where we tread a little cautiously with the really big numbers and some of the favorites will be fattened up," explaining that typical 50-1 long shots might be reduced to 35-1 to protect the house while offering favorites with a bit more enticing odds.
Joining Gonzaga and Baylor at the top of the betting board are UCLA (12-1), Michigan (14-1), Duke (15-1), Kansas (18-1), Kentucky (18-1) and Florida State (18-1).
"There are 30-40 teams in the country that can win it," Bogdanovich said, while also sharing that he will move odds "fast and furious" once he receives wagers from respected players.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the high school basketball season across the country, and having such a small sample of games provides massive unknowns for incoming freshmen. A senior season of more than 30 games and a deep run in the state playoffs typically allows oddsmakers to glean information from recruiting specialists, but that data just doesn't exist this year.
Adding more intrigue is the annual uncertainty whether elite college players will declare early for the NBA draft. Gonzaga standout freshman guard Jalen Suggs is projected among the top few picks and is expected to declare.
However, UCLA sophomore guard Johnny Juzang did not appear on draft boards until a remarkable performance during a Final Four run and now might be a lottery pick. The Bruins could actually return the entire lineup that reached Indianapolis as an 11-seed and also add senior guard Chris Smith, who missed the past three months with a knee injury.
"We'll look at end-of-year power ratings and then you'll see what they're going to lose as far as plain seniors. Then you just factor in any information you can find, whether they've had any early success already in the transfer portal. Programs don't go down too far; they just reload. Then we'll just take a shot at it. Follow information and gut," Bogdanovich said.