Final Four Predictions 2021: Odds and Picks for Top NCAA Tournament Teams

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 16, 2021

Final Four Predictions 2021: Odds and Picks for Top NCAA Tournament Teams

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Part of the fun in filling out brackets for the annual men's NCAA Tournament is the flexibility afforded in your selections.

    But as you get deeper your on-paper tournament, it's hard to carry over any chaos that might've surfaced in your first-weekend predictions. That Cinderella low seed that you're stone-cold locking into a First Round upset? Yeah, it's kind of hard to keep the run going beyond the Sweet 16 without risking serious damage to your overall bracket.

    Tournament pool winnings—or, maybe more importantly, bragging rights—are made or broken by getting the big games right. You obviously need to ace the champion, but you might need all (or at least most) of your Final Four picks to come through to have a chance.

    Let's steer you the right direction, then, with predictions for both the Final Four and the National Championship. First, we'll lay out the latest championship odds from DraftKings sportsbook.

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National Championship Odds

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    Eric Gay/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

    Kansas +4000

    Texas Tech +4000

    Virginia +4000

    Arkansas +5000

    UConn +5000

    Creighton +5000

    North Carolina +5000

    San Diego State +5000

    Tennessee +5000

    USC +5000

    Villanova +5000

    Oklahoma +6000

    Wisconsin +6000

    Loyola Chicago +6500

    Purdue +6500

Final Four Predictions

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    As mentioned in the intro, this is not where you want to have the boldest predictions in the room. A low seed might sneak in every now and again (looking at you, Sister Jean), but chances are the chalkier your picks are, the better.

    No, that doesn't mean our crystal ball sees all four top seeds advancing this far. The way Michigan wobbled late (three losses in its last five games), the Wolverines could be buried beneath LSU's offensive avalanche and ousted the first weekend.

    But there isn't a team seeded lower than third in our final cut. If you wanted to measure the heat of that take on the wing sauce scale, that's barely a sweet barbecue.

    Still, accuracy is the aim, and we just can't see an out-of-nowhere run in the works.

    First, the easy choices: Gonzaga and Illinois are Final Four-bound.

    The Bulldogs are the most complete team in men's college basketball. They are the only school with three players on the Wooden Award's latest ballot: senior forward Corey Kispert, sophomore forward Drew Timme and freshman floor general Jalen Suggs. The Illini closed on a tear (one loss since mid-January) and have two players on that ballot: junior guard Ayo Dosunmu and sophomore center Kofi Cockburn.

    No. 2 seed Ohio State is our selection to emerge from the South Region. Navigating around third-seeded Arkansas (or sixth-seeded Texas Tech) won't be easy, and top-seeded Baylor is video-game-boss good. But the Buckeyes knocked off Michigan and Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament before losing in overtime to Illinois in the championship. They have enough offensive juice to go on a tear, thanks in large part to junior guard Duane Washington Jr. and sophomore forward E.J. Liddell.

    Finally, we'll take Texas to escape the East. Michigan is the most vulnerable No. 1 seed in the field. Second-seeded Alabama is the bigger hurdle with an analytically inclined offensive approach and the country's second-best defense, per But the Longhorns are coming in hot after winning the Big 12 Tournament.

    Coach Shaka Smart's club has experience in the backcourt and explosive athleticism up front. The Longhorns can get offense in waves from upperclassmen guards Andrew Jones, Matt Coleman III and Courtney Ramey, while freshman forward (and NBA-first-round-pick-to-be) Greg Brown ranks among the tourney's biggest wild cards.

Championship Prediction

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Remember how we said Gonzaga and Illinois were the easiest picks for the Final Four? If that wasn't already a giveaway, those are the same clubs we see colliding in the championship round.

    Gonzaga has more offense than Texas can handle, and Ohio State's leaky defense (79th in the nation) won't cut it against Illinois' attack.

    If the Bulldogs and Illini wind up locking horns for the title, that's the kind of championship collision you should clear the schedule for: don't just keep Monday, April 5 open, go ahead and take April 6 off, too.

    Gonzaga's next loss will be its first, and before anyone brings up the competition level of the West Coast Conference, we'll point you to the team's non-conference schedule. Gonzaga beat Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia, and only the Mountaineers were able to stay within single digits.

    The Bulldogs are ferocious, pairing the top-ranked offense with the 10th-best defense. They should be the most popular championship pick in your tournament pool.

    And yet, there's something about the Illini that our prediction machine just can't go against. Dosunmu might be the best guard in the nation. Cockburn just got the better of Wooden Award favorite Luka Garza. Illinois is brilliantly balanced, sitting seventh on offense and fifth at the opposite end.

    Moreover, the Illini are peaking at the perfect time. They closed with 14 wins in their last 15 games and took down seven ranked opponents along the way.

    This would surely be a nail-biter, but give us Illinois by a hair.


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