NCAA Tournament 2019: National Championship Odds and Dark-Horse Contenders

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 18, 2019

Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver drives past Iowa State guard Marial Shayok, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Ames, Iowa. Texas Tech won 80-73. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Officially, the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament has 68 teams in the field.

But if you ask oddsmakers, this is—at most—maybe an eight-team race to the finish line.

Just eight clubs have even a five percent chance of cutting the nets, per OddsShark, and only the four No. 1 seeds—Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga and North Carolina—have better than a 10 percent chance of winning it all.

Still, this is called March Madness for a reason. Strange things can happen in single-elimination play, like the 2014 tourney showed, when seventh-seeded Connecticut took down eighth-seeded Kentucky in the championship round.

After laying out all the national championship odds, we'll take a closer look at three dark-horse contenders capable of making a bracket-busting run.


2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket


2019 National Championship Odds

Duke +225

Virginia +550

Gonzaga +600

North Carolina +800

Kentucky +1200

Michigan State +1200

Tennessee +1400

Michigan +1600

Texas Tech +2000

Auburn +2500

Florida State +3300

Purdue +3300

Virginia Tech +3300

Houston +4000

Iowa State +4000

LSU +4000

Kansas +5000

Kansas State +5000

Louisville +5000

Marquette +5000

Villanova +5000

Wisconsin +5000

Buffalo +6600

Florida +6600

Syracuse +6600

Cincinnati +8000

Maryland +8000

Mississippi State +8000

Nevada +8000

Wofford +10000

Baylor +15000

Iowa +15000

Ole Miss +15000

Oklahoma +15000

Oregon +15000

Seton Hall +15000

Saint Mary's +15000

UCF +15000

VCU +15000

Washington +15000

Ohio State +20000

Arizona State +25000

Minnesota +25000

Murray State +25000

New Mexico State +25000

Saint Louis +25000

St. John's +25000

UC Irvine +25000

Utah State +25000

Belmont +50000

Georgia State +50000

Iona +50000

Liberty +50000

Montana +50000

Northeastern +50000

Northern Kentucky +50000

Old Dominion +50000

Temple +50000

Vermont +50000

Yale +50000

Abilene Christian +100000

Bradley +100000

Colgate +100000

Fairleigh Dickinson +100000

Gardner-Webb +100000

NC Central +100000

North Dakota State +100000

Prairie View A&M +100000


Dark-Horse Contenders

No. 3 Texas Tech (+2000)

Forget about the school and the seed for a second. Just look at the ingredient list: KenPom.com's highest rated defense, a top-scorer who will hear his name called early on NBA draft night, two other double-digit scorers who shoot 38-plus percent from distance and a pair of paint protectors averaging a combined 3.4 blocks per game.

Doesn't that sound like a squad capable of making a deep run?

Jarrett Culver is the Red Raiders star, after skyrocketing his per-game marks to 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists. David Moretti and Matt Mooney are the primary offensive supporters, with the former boasting a pristine 50.5/47.8/93.3 shooting slash and the latter adding 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals. Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase are the interior anchors leaving opponents feeling rejected.

Texas Tech enters the field having won 11 of its last 13 outings, a stretch featuring a 29-point throttling of Kansas and a road win over Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State.


No. 4 Virginia Tech (+3300)

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 14: Teammates Kerry Blackshear Jr. #24 and Nickeil Alexander-Walker #4 of the Virginia Tech Hokies react against the Florida State Seminoles during their game in the quarterfinal round of the 2019 Men's ACC Basketball Tou
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Yes, the Hokies share the East regional with the top-seeded Blue Devils. But if Virginia Tech can find its way past Duke—something it did in February, albeit with no Zion Williamson—this team might be built to last.

As Neil Paine and Josh Planos broke down for FiveThirtyEight, the numbers facing Virginia Tech aren't as daunting as you may think for a No. 4 seed:

"Virginia Tech also has a not-altogether-unfriendly draw, with extremely winnable opening games against Saint Louis (87 percent) and the Mississippi State-Liberty winner (63 percent) before most likely running into Duke's juggernaut. We give the Hokies a respectable 25 percent chance against the Blue Devils — and a 54 percent chance against whoever emerges from the bottom of the region if they do manage to knock off Duke."

Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear Jr. form a lethal combination, contributing 31.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists between them on a nightly basis. Top distributor Justin Robinson, finally back from a foot injury, and Ahmed Hill both average at least 13 points and shoot better than 37 percent from range.


No. 6 Iowa State (+4000)

Go back and look at the odds again. Oddsmakers give Iowa State the same chance of winning this tournament as No. 3 seeds LSU and Houston.

That doesn't seem to mesh with the Cyclones' sixth seed, which likely came courtesy of a rocky 2-6 stretch to close out the regular season. But advanced analytics have always liked this team—it still sits 16th on KenPom—and that support was justified when this group sprinted to a Big 12 tournament title.

Iowa State beat six ranked opponents, including Kansas and Texas Tech when each was inside the top 10. This ninth-rated offense is loaded with scoring threats, starting with Marial Shayok (18.6 points per game) but also including Lindell Wigginton (13.5), Talen Horton-Tucker (12.1) and Michael Jacobson. Table-setters Nick Weiler-Babb and Tyrese Haliburton average a combined 7.6 assists against only 2.4 turnovers.

The Cyclones don't consistently defend, and their outside shooting can be erratic. But their defense came to life in the conference tournament, and when their offense is clicking, it boats a wealth of firepower few clubs can match.