It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed college basketball this year that Gonzaga (+200), Baylor (+600), and Michigan (+600) are considered the betting favorites to cut down the nets at the end of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but as is always the case, it’s the other teams below them on the odds board — from the sleeper picks to the long shots — who are more intriguing to those looking to wager on March Madness (or get guidance for their bracket pools).
Perhaps the biggest risk-reward teams on the board are Virginia (+3000) and Kansas (+4200), two powerhouses that withdrew from their respective conference tournaments because of positive COVID tests but are still expected to compete in the NCAA Tournament. They will be without the player(s) who tested positive, plus close contacts of those player(s), for at least the first two rounds, but they could be at full strength after that if they advance. Obviously, their thinned-out rosters make them more vulnerable in the early rounds, but if they make it to the second weekend, both teams could be considered slight values at their current odds, especially Kansas.
Of course, “value” is one thing; actually winning your bets is another. That’s why Gonzaga sits atop the odds board at +200. After dominating the regular season en route to a 26-0 record, Gonzaga will be looking to become the first undefeated Division 1 men’s college basketball champion since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Despite playing in the relatively weak WCC, the ‘Zags boast an impressive resume that includes wins over Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa, Virginia, and BYU (three times). They’re the favorites for a reason, though a potentially tough region that features Iowa and aforementioned Kansas and Virginia might cause some bettors to fade the ‘Zags.
Just behind Gonzaga is Baylor (22-2), who lost just once during the regular season (at Kansas) before getting upset in the Big 12 tournament by Oklahoma State, and Michigan (+600), whose national title hopes took a hit when it indefinitely lost second-leading scorer Isaiah Livers to a foot injury in the Big 10 tournament. Michigan has a very large public following, though, which is perhaps why it still came in tied for the second-best odds to win.
Updated March Madness odds 2021
Gonzaga, Baylor, and Michigan might have separated themselves from the rest of the college basketball pack this year in many people’s minds, but advanced stats site kenpom.com actually ranked Illinois ahead of Baylor — and that was before the Illini defeated Ohio State to win the Big 10 tournament. As such, it’s no surprise the other No. 1 seed is fourth on the odds board at +700.
Two more Big 10 teams, Iowa (+1600) and Ohio State (+2400) are among the next four teams, with Houston (+1800) and Alabama (+2100) sandwiched between them. Alabama is the No. 2 seed in the East region, where Michigan is the No. 1, so if you think the Livers injury is enough to crush Michigan’s hopes, then Alabama at +2100 makes for an intriguing bet.
Many will likely target the East region for their “sleeper” bets, with No. 3 seed Texas (+4200), No. 4 Florida State (+3000), and even No. 5 seed Colorado (+4800) all in consideration as “value” options. If you’re looking for real value in that region, you can try a blue blood like Michigan State (+10000) or UCLA (+7500), who will face each other in a play-in game on Thursday. The winner of that game will face BYU, and given the unpredictability of the East region, has a chance to make some noise as a long shot.
Below is the complete initial odds board, courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook. These odds will certainly change as bets come in throughout the week. Also, Rutgers was not included on FanDuel’s big board, perhaps because of the New Jersey rule that you can’t bet on the team in-state (and people from New Jersey could potentially be betting online).
|San Diego State||+4800|
|Mt. St. Mary’s||+24000|
Of course, we know that no team is truly a “sure thing” during March Madness, so betting on several teams at a variety of value points makes sense. You obviously don’t want to bet much on any team in the +20000 range, but trying your luck with a few teams in the +4000 to +9000 range usually won’t crush you — assuming you don’t go all-in and/or not bet on the favorites, too.