If you’re just tuning in to the college basketball season now that the Super Bowl is over, you might do some double takes looking over the standings.
Kentucky is 5-13. Duke is 7-8. They’re a combined 9-24 against the spread. Michigan State is 10-7. None of those three teams is even close to the NCAA tournament field. North Carolina and Kansas are better but underwhelming at 12-6 and 13-7, respectively.
It has been decades since all the blue bloods were bad in the same season. It’s hard to believe it isn’t related to a weird COVID-19 season — almost all of those teams listed above rely on blue-chip freshmen, and they didn’t have a normal preseason — but regardless of the reason, it has been the biggest story in the sport.
The other story of the season is that there isn’t just one, but two teams that have a legitimate shot to make a run at college basketball’s first undefeated season since Indiana in 1976.
Gonzaga and Baylor are dominating
At BetMGM, there are two teams leading the odds to win the NCAA tournament.
Baylor and Gonzaga are +300 to win it all. Neither program has ever won a title, though Gonzaga has been a stellar program for many years and Baylor has been good since Scott Drew performed a nearly miraculous rebuilding job. Gonzaga is 19-0 this season. Baylor is 17-0. Because Baylor plays in a tougher conference, Gonzaga has the better chance to reach the NCAA tournament undefeated. But Baylor has been far ahead of its competition, going an amazing 13-4 against the spread. That’s one of the best records in the country. Gonzaga is 8-9-2 against the spread, according to Action Network’s standings, mostly because the Bulldogs are always massive favorites in West Coast Conference play. Since Jan. 1, they have been at least 11-point favorites in every game.
Baylor and Gonzaga are the two best teams in the sport. Both are in the top six teams in college basketball in adjusted offense and adjusted defense in KenPom’s rankings. Gonzaga plays a little faster and has more size, Baylor is a better 3-point shooting team and a little more experienced. There can be a debate over which team should be No. 1, but any list that doesn’t have those two teams at 1-2 is not worth paying attention to.
However, the NCAA tournament is fickle, and that could be especially true in this unusual season. Having two big favorites, with many of the expected powers in the sport out of contention, could lead to a big payday on an unexpected champion.
Who else could win March Madness?
The Big Ten dominates the second tier of challengers for the title. The conference is loaded, with the third, fourth, fifth and seventh ranked teams at KenPom heading into Wednesday’s games.
Michigan is the third favorite for the college basketball title at BetMGM at +800, and ranked third at KenPom. Illinois (No. 4 at KenPom) is a good value at +2000, Iowa and its All-American big man Luka Garza (No. 5 at KenPom) is +1800, and surging Ohio State (No. 7 at KenPom) is +1400. Illinois and Michigan are the two biggest liabilities for BetMGM because of the long odds on each before the season. Illinois opened at +8000 and Michigan opened at +4000.
Garza is also dominating the Wooden Award betting. His odds have dropped from +250 at the beginning of the season all the way down to -1000, indicating he’s considered a clear lock to win the national player of the year.
Houston is the team at No. 6. The Cougars are having a great season, with a strong defense and great offensive rebounding leading the offense, and they have +1800 odds to win it it all.
Villanova is one of the normal powers in the sport that is in contention this season. The Wildcats are 12-2 with only one loss since falling in overtime on Nov. 28, 10th at KenPom and have the fourth-best odds at BetMGM at +1000.
Bettors who don’t like heavily investing in futures can find value in other teams that have been good against the spread this season. Drake is still the best team in the nation against the spread at 14-3, but has cooled down after starting the season 13-0 against the spread. Loyola Chicago, who famously made the Final Four in 2018, is back among the most intriguing teams in college basketball. They are 17-3 straight up, 12-5-1 against the spread and a surprising 15th in KenPom’s rankings. You can start to get familiar with a team that will be everyone’s favorite upset pick when brackets come out.
Many teams that aren’t typically on the top few seed lines of the bracket in March are having great years. Alabama has the combination of 3-point shooting and defense to make a run. USC and Colorado are quality teams out of the Pac-12. Rutgers is finally going to snap its NCAA tournament drought, after COVID-19 robbed it of that chance last year. Missouri, Texas, Tennessee and Florida State are teams that have had some success through the years and could make a deep run in March.
With Kentucky, Duke and other top programs not in the title picture, it could be the weirdest March Madness we’ve seen.
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