NCAA Championship 2021: Updated Title Odds Going into Final FourMarch 31, 2021
NCAA Championship 2021: Updated Title Odds Going into Final Four
After an uneven season and a typically unpredictable first two weekends of the NCAA tournament, the Final Four is...largely chalk? While four double-digit seeds made the Sweet 16 and two reached the Elite Eight, we've arrived at the tournament's last weekend with two top seeds and a second seed remaining.
Of course, that doesn't mean the ensuing three games will lack entertainment and storylines. Quite the opposite. The Gonzaga-Baylor title fight we've all been waiting for is still in play, and Houston and UCLA won't bow down easily to that outcome.
With this in mind, let's prep for Final Four weekend by perusing the odds that each team cuts down the nets Monday night. Said odds come courtesy of DraftKings SportsBook.
Move over, 2011 VCU. After 10 years, another team has gone from the First Four to the Final Four.
Before the tournament, UCLA seemed like a classic "happy to be here" team. It lost leading scorer Chris Smith in the middle of the season with a torn ACL and bench big man Jalen Hill shortly thereafter because of personal matters, and it entered March Madness on a four-game losing streak.
The Bruins haven't necessarily caught fire since, but they consistently find ways to win. Down by 13 before halftime of their play-in game against Michigan State, they came back to win and subsequently knocked off BYU and Abilene Christian.
The real tests came this past weekend, though. Facing the East Region's top two seeds, UCLA could have folded (especially considering the team shot 39.1 percent against Alabama and Michigan). But Mick Cronin's club dug deep when it mattered most. Alabama memorably forced overtime Sunday but was outgunned in the extra period, while Michigan had a chance to tie or win Tuesday's affair with time running low and couldn't convert.
The Bruins have willed their way to five increasingly tough victories over the last two weeks. If Johnny Juzang continues to catch fire the way he did against Michigan (28 points, including 14 of the team's first 16), then UCLA could bother Gonzaga on Saturday.
There's no way around the truth: The Cougars have had a historically easy path. However, it would be easier to doubt Houston if its wins were blowouts, and they haven't been.
Sure, a 31-point victory over Cleveland State was easy and expected. Things have been much tougher since, however.
Ranked eighth in offensive efficiency by KenPom, Kelvin Sampson's club has lost its mojo, shooting 35.9 percent against Rutgers, Syracuse and Oregon State. It's a credit to the Cougars' offensive rebounding (15.5 per game in the postseason, the most of any team to play at least two games), defense and clutch performance that they survived and advanced.
Shot-making is the easiest way to win games in March Madness, so for Houston to grit its way to the Final Four despite having that avenue largely closed off is impressive.
Beating tournament master Jim Boeheim and red-hot Oregon State in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight were no small feats either. Despite their double-digit seedings, each team was in a groove when it faced Houston, but the Orange and Beavers left their games disappointed. Syracuse had made 29 threes and shot 50.0 percent from distance in its two upset wins, while Oregon State stymied Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola of Chicago in its three surprise triumphs, holding them to 31.3 percent shooting.
Seen one way, the Cougars have slumped their way to the Final Four, only getting this far because of their lack of competition. Seen another way, winning four straight in March is extremely difficult, and the fact that they've done so despite playing well below their offensive ceiling should concern the remaining teams.
Though the oddsmakers may not agree, Houston is still very much alive.
On paper, Baylor's March hasn't been uber-impressive. The Bears have only won one game by more than 13 points, and it was their first-round matchup against Hartford. But despite the relatively close scores, Scott Drew has his team playing at the top of its game.
The Baylor offense has been its efficient self of late. It was NBA superteam-level dominant against Wisconsin, shot 53.3 percent (16-of-30) in the second half against Villanova and shot 53.3 percent (8-of-15) from three against Arkansas. But the defense has really stood out.
In their four games, the Bears have limited opponents to 26.8 percent shooting from three and forced 16.8 turnovers per game, and the three aforementioned major-conference teams all claim top-45 offenses. Sure, the Wildcats' Collin Gillespie was out and the Razorbacks came out flat, but Villanova is coached by two-time national champion Jay Wright, and Arkansas did rally, closing an 18-point gap to four.
Either team could have pulled through in slightly different scenarios, but Baylor and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Davion Mitchell held firm.
Gonzaga holds better title odds, and that's fair. The Bulldogs have stomped through otherwise imposing opponents on their way to the Final Four and carry the aura of invulnerability that an undefeated record affords. But Baylor has done nothing to detract from our hopes for a Godzilla vs. King Kong championship game.
If the Bears continue to play this well through two more games, the title will be theirs.
The Zags have faced teams of all stripes this season, and nobody has fazed them. All four of their tournament wins have come by at least 16 points, and none of them felt close.
Every time you wonder if Gonzaga is overhyped, it crushes a previously fearsome opponent. Take yesterday's Elite Eight matchup against USC. If anybody could stop the Bulldogs, you'd think it would be a team that claims a big man with NBA All-Star potential. While Evan Mobley showed out (17 points, five rebounds and three assists), his stats were emptier than a post-workout dinner plate.
Led by a combined 59 points, 23 rebounds and 14 assists from Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert, Mark Few's team cruised to the Final Four. Their dominance was destabilizing to USC coach Andy Enfield, who said postgame, "It was a little surprising because we'd been playing great basketball."
That's not coach-speak from Enfield. USC came into last night's affair having beaten Kansas and Oregon by a combined 48 points.
Baylor is playing great, and Houston isn't to be discounted. But we've spent all season hyping up teams to challenge Gonzaga, and the Bulldogs have looked miles beyond any tournament-caliber team they've faced this year.
Folks, we might less than a week away from seeing the first undefeated season in 45 years.
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