March Madness 2017: NCAA Men's Tournament Favorites and Predictions

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMarch 11, 2017

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 25: Josh Hart #3, Darryl Reynolds #45, and Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats celebrate with the regular season Big East Conference trophy at the end of the game against the Creighton Bluejays at the Pavilion on February 25, 2017 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Wildcats defeated the Bluejays 79-63. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

No clear-cut favorite exists this year for the 2017 NCAA Division I men's college basketball tournament. Right now, North Carolina leads the field at 6-1, but 10 other teams have odds ranging from 7-1 to 20-1.

Many quality teams will reside in the top three or four seeds in each regional, making for a very exciting March.

Here's a look at the latest championship odds (each team with 20-1 odds or better is listed) as well as some thoughts and predictions on three of those teams prior to the bracket release on Sunday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. ET on CBS.

 

Championship Odds

TeamOdds
North Carolina6-1
Duke7-1
Villanova15-2
Kansas8-1
Gonzaga9-1
UCLA9-1
Kentucky10-1
Oregon12-1
Arizona12-1
Louisville16-1
West Virginia20-1

Odds information per BetOnline (h/t OddsShark)

 

Villanova

The Wildcats have followed their national championship season with a 30-3 record and an appearance in the Big East title game against Creighton, which has not started as of this writing (it will take place on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET).

Villanova has numerous impressive wins on its schedule, including a victory at Big Ten regular-season champion Purdue, a win against ACC title-game finalist Notre Dame on a neutral floor (the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey) and a buzzer-beating triumph over Virginia, who beat North Carolina, Notre Dame and Louisville (twice) this season.

The Wildcats have a ton of experience and talent from last year's squad, returning seven of the nine leading scorers from last season. That includes the top two: senior guards Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

Hart leads the team with 18.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and is second with 3.2 assists per contest, while the clutch Jenkins puts up 13.4 points per night.

Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson also provides a big scoring punch, as he is second on the team with 14.7 points per game and first in assists with 4.2 a night.

Villanova is also only one of four teams in the nation that rank in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, per the Ken Pomeroy college basketball rankings (the others are Gonzaga, Wichita State and Kentucky).

The Wildcats are a deep, experienced and well-rounded team that should go far in the NCAA tournament this year, especially if they are the No. 1 seed in the East Regional. That would mean regional semifinal and final matchups in Madison Square Garden in New York City, just a two-hour drive from the Villanova campus outside Philadelphia.

Expect Wildcat fans to flood MSG for those games, making the Garden feel like a home away from home, which would only help 'Nova advance to the Final Four.

Prediction: Final Four appearance at minimum

 

West Virginia

The Mountaineers are projected as a No. 4 seed in Bleacher Report college basketball writer Kerry Miller's latest projections, but if they beat Iowa State in the Big 12 title game, then WVU could move onto the No. 3 seed line.

That would be a huge boost to WVU, as it would avoid some tough teams currently slotted on the No. 1 seed ledger (Villanova and Gonzaga).

WVU can compete with any team in the country, though. It crushed Kansas, 85-69 at home in Morgantown and also defeated Baylor and Virginia.

The Mountaineers have one of the toughest defenses in the nation, led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter, a junior point guard who averages 2.7 steals per game.

WVU also leads all of Division I in steals per game (10.5) and turnover margin (8.4). The latter might be one of the most impressive team stats in the nation, as no team is in the same zip code as WVU for that mark (UNC-Asheville is second at 5.1).

WVU's stingy defense will lead the Mountaineers to an Elite Eight appearance and perhaps even more, depending on the March Madness draw.

Prediction: Elite Eight appearance at minimum

 

Gonzaga

The Bulldogs are the only team in the nation that ranks in the top 10 of adjusted offensive efficiency (10th) and adjusted defensive efficiency (second), per the Ken Pomeroy rankings. Those marks buoy the Zags to a No. 1 overall ranking on the Pomeroy list. Gonzaga also ranks first in the Sagarin ratings with a 94.61-point mark, nearly a full point higher than No. 2 Villanova.

Gonzaga cruised through the regular season, winning its first 29 games before losing to BYU in the regular-season finale. Undeterred, Gonzaga then won its three West Coast Conference tournament games by an average of 19.66 points, beating Saint Mary's (ranked 19th in the Associated Press poll) in the championship. They finished with a 32-1 record.

Gonzaga played a tough non-conference schedule this season, beating Florida, Iowa State and Arizona, who all rank in the top 23 of the latest Associated Press poll. The latter two are playing in the Big 12 and Pac-12 title games Saturday night.

The Zags have lost early as a high seed in previous years, but this team has a different air about it. Expect Gonzaga to finally break the Final Four cold streak and make it to Phoenix.

Prediction: Final Four appearance at minimum