The original 68-team field in the 2014 NCAA tournament has been narrowed to 64 hopeful squads that are all looking to navigate their way to a national title.
Before the second round begins and March Madness tips off in earnest, you should consider getting a last-minute bet—or handful of bets—in on some potential champions.
There are a couple of teams that proved they have what it takes to navigate through the six games ahead and claim the championship, so it would be wise to back them now, when the return on investment is greater.
Let’s take a look at the latest title odds for each notable contender and highlight a few programs that look ready to win it all.
|San Diego State||65/1|
|North Dakota State||1000/1|
|Field (Any Other Team)||100/1|
All Your Bracket Essentials
- Download the Printable Bracket
- Follow the Latest Bracket Updates Live
- Play the Free Bracket Challenge
The Favorite: Florida Gators (5-1 odds)
It is a great time to be a Florida Gator, as the team just capped off a magical 32-2 season, which included an undefeated run through the SEC regular season and conference championship.
Head coach Billy Donovan now has his players poised to dominate the tourney, getting placed in a relatively easy South Region, with a shaky Kansas squad representing the biggest roadblock to making a Final Four trip.
With a defense that ranks fifth and an offense that ranks 17th in the country, this UF squad is versatile and dangerous enough to not only run the table, but also to do it in blowout fashion.
Led by a starting lineup that includes four seniors, the Gators are hungry for a title and will be extremely tough to knock off the path toward one. The only glaring issue Florida has is at the free-throw line, where the team has collectively shot just 66 percent on the season.
Jeff Grant of ESPN and Bleacher Report pointed out that UF is hitting just 55.9 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe over the past five games:
#Florida Gators shot 55.9% from the free throw line over its L5 games— Jeff Grant (@JeffGrantSports) March 19, 2014
As long as the Gators can avoid getting into a foul battle with a good free-throw shooting squad at the end of a close contest, they should have no issues winning every game they play this March.
The Underdog: Wichita State Shockers (15-1 odds)
The Shockers aren’t getting much respect in the Big Dance, which is mildly surprising considering they went undefeated this season and handily won the Missouri Valley Conference title.
Regardless, the selection committee was fair to the program and gave the Shockers a coveted No. 1 seed for their efforts—although it is in the tough Midwest Region.
The Shockers may have to battle past a tough slew of foes that includes Kentucky, Louisville and Duke in order to punch a ticket back to the Final Four, but they have what it takes to overcome such obstacles.
With a 34-0 record and tons of talent remaining from last year’s Cinderella squad, Wichita State can no longer be treated as an upstart program. This group has the chops to beat anyone, anywhere, and they will put that on display this March.
Bettors should not be hesitant to back this team, especially not after the performances it has turned in against the spread. Covers noted that the Shockers went 24-6-1 ATS, compiling the best winning percentage ATS in the NCAA this season:
Wichita State – The Shockers had the NCAA’s best ATS record going 24-6-1 ATS. #MarchMadness— Covers.com (@Covers) March 20, 2014
The Shockers have been a cash cow all year long, and that should not change now that they are back in the Big Dance. If you aren’t sold on UF, this is the team to back as your champion.
The Sleeper: Creighton Bluejays (35-1 odds)
How far will Creighton go?
Creighton boasts the best offense in the nation, per KenPom.com, yet it still gets little respect in terms of being a legit contender this year. The Bluejays also have the nation’s best player, Doug McDermott, so it is time to start taking this group seriously.
The team blitzed through the regular season and into the finals of the Big East tournament, finishing with a record of 26-7 against top-level competition. McDermott averaged 26.9 points per game, becoming the nation’s leading scorer in the process.
Per the Bluejays’ official website, McDermott became only the second player in the last 40 years from a “BCS” conference to lead the country in scoring and make the NCAA tournament—following in the footsteps of Purdue’s Glenn Robinson, who accomplished the feat back in 1993-1994.
While those feats are special enough, the senior forward is still looking to cut down the nets and end his college career with a bang. His father, head coach Greg McDermott, is confident that his experienced team will finally make a run in the tournament, telling Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk, "We have four seniors that have almost 20 years of college basketball experience in that locker room. They get it. They know I trust them."
Doug concurred, stating, “I think the best is yet to come.” If he’s able to put the team on his back and score at his regular clip, there is no doubting the Bluejays are going to make a deep foray into the tourney.
At 35-1, you could do much worse than backing the most efficient offense in the country, along with the country’s top-scoring player, to win the national title.