NCAA Tournament 2021: Early Predictions, Championship Odds for March Madness
Could Gonzaga run the table and end the 2020-21 season as the undefeated national champion? Will it have trouble getting past the strong teams from the Big Ten and Big 12? Or could a Cinderella team emerge as a title contender this March?
Nobody knows what's going to happen during the unpredictability of March Madness. This year's 68-team field for the NCAA men's basketball tournament won't be set until March 14, so it's not even clear which teams will have chances to make runs at the national championship.
But it's not too early to start looking ahead. While the forthcoming conference tournaments will help to shape the March Madness field, it's already clear that some teams are heading to the Big Dance.
Here's a look at the teams with the favorites to win the national title, followed by some early predictions for this year's NCAA men's tournament.
Current Top Odds to Win National Championship
Gonzaga: +250 (bet $100 to win $250)
Ohio State: +1500
Florida State: +2000
Oklahoma State: +2000
West Virginia: +2000
Texas Tech: +2500
Complete list of odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Gonzaga's 1st Loss Will Come in Final Four
Gonzaga is the only undefeated team in the country, and it's unlikely to lose at any point in the next few weeks. The Bulldogs should have no trouble winning the men's West Coast Conference tournament for the eighth time in nine seasons, which will help them secure the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament.
Don't expect Gonzaga to get upset in one of the early rounds of March Madness, either. This is a strong team that has not only rolled through its WCC competition but also earned some impressive non-conference wins.
But it's a difficult task to make it to the end of March Madness with an unblemished record. Only seven teams have capped an undefeated season by winning the NCAA men's tournament, and there hasn't been one to do so since Indiana went 32-0 during the 1975-76 season.
While Gonzaga keeps dominating its WCC competition, many of the country's other top teams will get tested during their conference opponents. And that will make a difference when they get deeper into March Madness.
It's been a strong season for Gonzaga, but it will end with a loss in the Final Four, likely to a team from either the Big Ten or Big 12.
Western Kentucky Will Be This Year's Cinderella Team
In case you missed it, Western Kentucky has already had some impressive showings this season. It played a close game against West Virginia on Nov. 27, falling 70-64. And the Hilltoppers beat Alabama on Dec. 19, notching a 73-71 victory. The Mountaineers and Crimson Tide are respectively ranked No. 6 and No. 8 in the latest AP Top 25 poll.
Western Kentucky has had a strong season. With two regular-season matchups remaining (both against Old Dominion), the Hilltoppers are 17-5, with a 10-2 record in Conference USA play.
It's not a guarantee that Western Kentucky is going to win the Conference USA tournament, as Louisiana Tech (20-6), Old Dominion (14-6) and UAB (19-6) are among the other contenders. But the Hilltoppers could still end up earning an at-large bid to the Big Dance even if they don't win the conference tourney.
If that's where Western Kentucky ends up, that should be a prime position for it to make a run while knocking off some strong competition. And if it does, junior center Charles Bassey (averaging 17.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in 20 games) will likely be a big reason why.
A Big Ten Team Will Win the National Title
Plenty of eyes should be on the Big Ten Tournament, which is set to feature four of the top seven teams in the country (No. 2 Michigan, No. 4 Illinois, No. 5 Iowa and No. 7 Ohio State), another pair of ranked teams (No. 23 Purdue and No. 25 Wisconsin) and some other strong competition.
Any one of those teams could win the conference tourney.
Not only that, but they will also likely be top contenders during March Madness, particularly Michigan and Illinois. With strong showings in the Big Ten tournament, it's possible that the Wolverines and Fighting Illini could earn No. 1 seeds. Ohio State and Iowa may still be in the running as well.
Michigan is 18-2, and it only had one loss before falling to Illinois 76-53 on Tuesday. It may have been a lopsided contest, but the Fighting Illini have been on a roll, winning 10 of their past 11 games.
Ohio State started 18-4, but it's lost three straight games (against Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa), so it will be looking to regain some momentum with a win over Illinois (which it beat in January) on Saturday. Iowa is also 18-7, but it's won five of its past six games, a stretch that includes quality victories over Ohio State and Wisconsin.
These are strong teams that have been challenged all season by playing against each other. Because of that, don't be surprised if one of them is cutting down the nets in Indianapolis on April 5.
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