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Gonzaga favored in what could be wild college basketball season

March Madness was canceled during the initial coronavirus outbreak, but college basketball fans might get an even madder version this season.

Westgate sportsbook vice president of risk Ed Salmons said he has more than 30 teams ranked within five points of one another at the top of his power ratings.

“There’s not one team that’s going to be dominating,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll see a huge favorite in the Final Four or in the title game.”

Gonzaga is ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll for the first time, and the Bulldogs also top the futures odds board at the Westgate at 10-1. Baylor, Kentucky and Villanova are at 14-1, followed by Texas Tech (16-1), Michigan State (18-1) and Virginia (18-1).

Traditional powers Duke (20-1), Kansas (25-1) and North Carolina (40-1) are further down the list.

Salmons said Gonzaga deserves its status as the favorite, though he has Villanova rated right with the Bulldogs. He also said Gonzaga is a favorite of bettors.

“Gonzaga always writes money,” he said. “Bettors do not want to miss the year that they win it.”

Gonzaga was 31-2 last season and projected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when the season was canceled.

Last season was marked by surprising surges by Baylor, Dayton and San Diego State. Baylor opened as high as 500-1 in the preseason, and Dayton and San Diego State could be found at 1,000-1 at some shops. All were projected to be top-two seeds in the tournament.

While Baylor is right back in the mix, San Diego State is 100-1, and Dayton is 200-1 with the departure of star Obi Toppin to the NBA.

“A lot of people are in love with finding the small teams,” Salmons said. “But I don’t know if we’re going to see that this year.”

Oregon took bets at 60-1 and is now 30-1, Salmons said.

“We took quite a bit on Oregon,” he said. “I’m not sure where that’s coming from. They could win the Pac-12, but they’re really young.”

Salmons said another popular choice is Iowa (25-1), and handicapper Dana Lane (@DanaLaneSports) agrees.

“I’m a really big supporter of Iowa,” Lane said. “They have a big-time player in Luke Garza, who is playing for an NBA check, potentially the best player in the country.”

Garza, a 6-foot-11-inch center, is probably the front-runner for national player of the year after being a finalist last season.

Handicapper Shawn Harnish (@GUPPYMONEY) has a few longer shots in his top 25 power ratings — Houston (80-1), Richmond (100-1), Rutgers (100-1) and UCLA (80-1).

Salmons also mentioned Richmond as one long shot attracting bettors.

Salmons said one surprise was that Duke and Kansas haven’t found many takers yet.

“There’s been hardly any money on them, which is unusual,” he said.

Kansas is No. 6 in the AP poll, and Duke is No. 9.

In the Mountain West, after San Diego State, UNLV and Utah State are 200-1, and Boise State, Colorado State and UNR are 500-1.

Salmons said action had been a little slow with patrons unsure about whether the season will come off amid the pandemic.

“They see this team had positive tests and is pausing, and this team has positive tests and is pausing,” he said. “They’re going to have to see the games on TV every day and see that we’re going to have a season. Then they’ll start betting.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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