When Syracuse won its only national championship in 2003, Carmelo Anthony was a freshman. Anthony is now a 36-year-old role player on his fifth NBA team with 27,102 career points to his name.
That Syracuse win was a long time ago. It was also the last time an underdog of 3 or more points won an NCAA tournament championship game.
If Baylor, a 4.5-point underdog against Gonzaga, wins a title on Monday night the Bears will be going against a trend that hasn't been beaten in 18 years. It's also a very strong bet against the spread.
When a team is favored like Gonzaga on Monday night, it usually wins and covers.
Most big title-game favorites have won big lately
The one caveat to the trend is that NCAA championship games don't generally have big spreads. According to VegasInsider.com there have been only eight title games with a spread of 3 or more points since 2003, when Syracuse was a 5.5-point underdog against Kansas. There aren't many games to study.
Here's the rundown, and you'll find they have a lot in common:
2004: Connecticut (-5) over Georgia Tech 82-73
2007: Florida (-4) Ohio State 84-75
2009: North Carolina (-7.5) over Michigan State 89-72
2010: Duke (-7) over Butler 61-59
2011: Connecticut (-3) over Butler 53-41
2012: Kentucky (-6.5) over Kansas 67-59
2013: Louisville (-4) over Michigan 82-76
2018: Villanova (-6.5) over Michigan 79-62
Every big favorite won straight up. Other than Butler's near-miss against Duke in 2010, every favorite covered too. Of the seven that covered, five did so handily.
It's not a big sample. But 7-1 against the spread, with an 8-0 straight-up record, is pretty strong.
Baylor is a rare underdog
Baylor isn't a normal underdog. Since the tournament expanded in 1985, Baylor is only the second No. 1 seed getting at least 4.5 points in the championship game. The only other one was 1999 UConn, which was a 9.5-point underdog against a seemingly unbeatable Duke team. UConn won straight up.
Gonzaga is a very popular team in this tournament due to the way they ripped through the regular season. The Bulldogs aren't just undefeated; they were rarely even tested. UCLA gave them a scare in the national semifinal game, and that's easily the closest Gonzaga has been to a loss.
Maybe a longstanding trend holds up and Gonzaga wins and covers. It's also possible we'll be talking about 2021 Baylor the same way we do that 1999 UConn team.
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