NCAA Tournament Bracket 2021: Early Championship Odds, Predictions for Top Seeds

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IMarch 15, 2021

NCAA Tournament Bracket 2021: Early Championship Odds, Predictions for Top Seeds

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    March Madness is back.

    The brackets for the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament have been set, with the selection committee finalizing the field of 68 teams Sunday. There were some interesting seeding choices, like Oklahoma State getting the No. 4 seed in the Midwest region and Loyola-Chicago getting a No. 8 seed in the same region.

    But the committee generally seemed to get the top 16 teams right, notably the No. 1 seeds. Gonzaga is the top overall seed, with Illinois, Baylor and Michigan also receiving No. 1 seeds.

    History says No. 1 seeds have the best chance to win a national title. Will one of the favorites cut down the nets come April, or will a dark horse emerge victorious?

    Here are the odds, followed by some predictions for the four No. 1 seeds.

NCAA Tournament Odds

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    NCAA Tournament Odds: Champion   

    Gonzaga +205 (bet $10 to win $20.50)

    Baylor +500 

    Illinois +700

    Michigan +800

    Iowa +1700

    Alabama +2000

    Ohio State +2000

    Texas +2000

    West Virginia +2000   

    All odd obtained via DraftKings.

Michigan Fails to Make Sweet 16

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Michigan Wolverines might not have won the Big Ten tournament, but they captured the conference regular-season title and earned a No. 1 seed for their efforts.

    But head coach Juwan Howard's team might be the first No. 1 seed to fall.

    For starters, Michigan is grappling with the loss of senior forward Isaiah Livers, who is out indefinitely with a stress injury in his right foot. Livers was Michigan's second-leading scorer (13.1 points) during the season, also averaging 6.0 rebounds and shooting 43.1 percent from beyond the arc on 5.0 attempts per game.

    Secondly, the Wolverines could have a brutal matchup awaiting them in the second round.

    Michigan will face the winner of the 8-9 game between LSU and St. Bonaventure in the East region. The Tigers are a talented team, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Meanwhile, the Bonnies won the Atlantic 10 tournament after winning the regular-season title.

    Both teams could pose issues for the Wolverines. The Tigers were the eighth-highest-scoring team in the country. They are tremendously athletic, and the likes of Javonte Smart and Darius Days are absolute snipers.

    Conversely, St. Bonaventure had the fourth-best-scoring defense in the nation. Mark Schmidt's team grinds down opponents and controls the boards, with guys such as Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes and Jalen Adaway capable of creating offense.

    The Wolverines are still one of the best teams in the country. But the loss of Livers robs them of an important scorer and shot creator. Pair that with a couple tough potential opponents in LSU and St. Bonaventure, and Michigan could be susceptible to an early upset.

Illinois, Baylor Reach Final Four

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Michigan had a bit of an issue building and sustaining momentum down the stretch. That was not a problem for Illinois.

    The Fighting Illini have not lost since a Feb. 23 defeat at the hand of Michigan State. Their seven-game winning streak includes a blowout win over the Wolverines, a victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes and two wins over the Ohio State Buckeyes.

    Illinois might have the deepest roster in the field. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn anchor the team. But senior guard Trent Frazier can score and shoot from the perimeter. Freshman guard Andre Curbelo is one of the team's best playmakers coming off the bench, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili provides defense, energy and rebounding in the frontcourt.

    The Fighting Illini beat up teams inside, with Cockburn dominating the boards and thriving in pick-and-roll. Dosunmu and Curbelo are more than capable of breaking defenders down off the dribble and getting off a shot or setting up teammates, notably Cockburn when he cuts or dives to the rim.

    Baylor is another team with a diverse group of scorers, though its strength comes from the outside.

    The Bears led the nation in three-point percentage. Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell comprise arguably the best backcourt in the nation. All three can score from every level, and both Butler and Mitchell are tremendous playmakers for a team that ranked 12th in assists.

    The other thing the Bears do exceptionally well is turn teams over. They ranked 11th in the country in steals, and opponents had an average of 17.3 giveaways per game.

    Illinois and Baylor score at the highest level of college basketball. The Illini have a wave of momentum, while the Bears will be hungry to overcome a pair of late-season losses. Both teams could stampede to the Final Four.

Gonzaga Tastes Championship Glory

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Can Gonzaga complete the unbeaten season and win the first national title in program history? The Zags certainly have a good chance.

    Mark Few's squad led the country in scoring and offensive rating. Gonzaga's inside-out game is incredibly hard to defend against.

    Sophomore forward Drew Timme can score in a variety of fashions on the low block. Timme can post and use his footwork to exploit deep position or face up and knock down mid-range jumpers.

    If Timme is the point man inside, Corey Kispert opens up the floor with his perimeter shooting. Kispert shot a whopping 44.4 percent from beyond the arc during the regular season and is a tremendous asset coming off of screens or finding space on the wings.

    Those two make things easier for Gonzaga's guards. Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard can both break down defenses off the dribble and make plays at the cup. Ayayi is also a tremendous rebounder despite his somewhat modest frame.

    Jalen Suggs is the glue that holds it all together. Suggs can create for himself off the bounce and is also capable of heating up from beyond the arc. But his court vision and on-ball defense stand out, and his ability to be a playmaker on both ends spearheads Gonzaga's national title hopes.

    The Zags have reason to feel good about their path. They beat both the No. 2 (Iowa), No. 3 (Kansas) and No. 4 (Virginia) seeds in their region. There is a certain confidence in that fact.

    Gonzaga has been the best team in the country all season. Few's group is the best offensive team in the country and, as they showed in the WCC title game, can be incredibly resilient. It very well could result in a national championship.


    All stats obtained via Sports Reference unless otherwise noted. 


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