NCAA Tournament 2021: National Championship Odds and Dark-Horse Contenders

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 15, 2021

NCAA Tournament 2021: National Championship Odds and Dark-Horse Contenders

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The roadmap to a 2021 national championship in men's college basketball is ready.

    All 68 teams selected know who they'll need to knock off and when they'll need to do it in order to be cutting down the nets come April 5.

    Theoretically, each team has the same opportunity to get this done. But we know that's not the case in reality. As per usual, there are a handful of heavyweight championship contenders and a sleeper class close behind them. But there are a few long shots in the field that could be worth the attention of the wagering world.

    After laying out the latest tournament odds from DraftKings Sportsbook, we'll spotlight three of those dark horses—seeded sixth or lower—who could make a surprise run to a title.


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National Championship Odds

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Gonzaga +205 (bet $100 to win $205)

    Baylor +500

    Illinois +700

    Michigan +800

    Iowa +1700

    Alabama +2000

    Houston +2000

    Ohio State +2000

    Oklahoma State +2700

    Texas +3300

    West Virginia +3300

    Florida State +4000

    Creighton +4000

    Kansas +4000

    Texas Tech +4000

    Virginia +4000

    UConn +5000

    Villanova +5000

    Arkansas +5000

    San Diego State +5000

    Tennessee +5000

    USC +5000

    Purdue +6500

    Loyola Chicago +6500

UConn (+5000)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Oddsmakers are sending a big hint here. Yes, the Huskies are seeded seventh in the East, but earlier on Monday, they had the same championship odds as No. 4 seeds Florida State and Oklahoma State.

    That's because UConn's credentials are stronger than they look on paper. They have one of the tournament's most ignitable scorers in sophomore guard James Bouknight, mocked as the ninth overall pick by B/R's Jonathan Wasserman. But the Huskies didn't have Bouknight for an eight-game stretch while he recovered from elbow surgery, and that's predictably when they encountered their most turbulence.

    "Throw out the eight games played without James Bouknight and Connecticut is a borderline Top 10 team," B/R's Kerry Miller wrote. "And, yes, it's fair to throw those games out, because outside maybe Cade Cunningham and Luka Garza, Bouknight is the most impactful player in the country."

    With Bouknight, the Huskies went 11-3, losing only to Creighton and Villanova, both No. 5 seeds. puts UConn 16th overall with top-25 efficiency rankings on offense and defense.

    This offense lacks consistency behind Bouknight, which shrinks their margin for error when he's less than magical. But he's as good of a bet as anyone to go on a Kemba Walker-like torrid run that takes his team to the title.

USC (+5000)

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    From coin flips to uniform colors to favorite mascots, there are a million and one different ways to fill out a bracket. But a novel idea drives USC in this dark-horse discussion: bet on talent.

    The sixth-seeded Trojans might have the best pro prospect in this tournament not named Cade Cunningham in freshman center Evan Mobley. The 7-footer paced the team in points (16.8), rebounds (8.6) and blocks (3.0), and if he hadn't hit the proverbial wall in late February, USC could've been seeded second or better.

    The Trojans dropped three out of four to close out February, but they recovered to win three straight before dropping a nail-biter against fifth-seeded Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal. Mobley was sensational in the tournament, finishing both of his games with exactly 26 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.

    USC controls the glass—thanks in large part to Mobley and his older brother Isaiah (7.4)—and ranks 19th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Free-throw shooting is a big worry (64.7 percent, tied for 323rd), and the offense only has two double-digit scorers in Mobley and senior guard Tahj Eaddy (13.7). But few teams have a more talented trio than the Mobley brothers and Eaddy.

Georgia Tech (+8000)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    If you're going to throw a dart, why not aim it at a history-maker, right?

    The Yellow Jackets certainly didn't seem like they'd be making history—well, not the good kind at least—when they opened the campaign with consecutive losses against Georgia State and Mercer. But they rallied to deliver rewards this program hadn't seen in decades.

    It all culminated in a season-ending eight-game winning streak (its longest since 1996) that featured Georgia Tech's first ACC tournament championship in 28 years. Michael Devoe became the school's first tournament MVP since 1993. Moses Wright was the school's first ACC Player of the Year honoree since 1990.

    Wright does a little of everything, averaging 17.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals. Jose Alvarado, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, averages 3.0 steals along with 15.3 points. Devoe goes for 15.1 points per night while shooting 40.1 percent from range. Jordan Usher rounds out the double-digit scorers with 11.5 points per contest.

    Wright, Alvarado and Usher are all seniors. Devoe is a junior. This is an experienced team that doesn't hurt itself with turnovers and is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.


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