As we head down the stretch of February, we are in a small lull of the sports season. The NFL is over, the NBA and NHL are in sections of their seasons that typically do not matter, and any team can lose in college basketball with relatively little consequence. However, March Madness is right around the corner, which kicks off the greatest college basketball betting stretch of the year. The NCAA Tournament also continues to offer some of the most lucrative odds of any sports betting event, especially when you place futures bets now.
NCAA Tournament Info
After cancelling the 2020 NCAA Tournament, the 2021 Tournament is good to go this Spring in Indianapolis. For the first time, all games in the tournament will take place in one state — Indiana. The Final Four was already set to take place in Indianapolis this year, after the city won the bid in 2014. Lucas Oil Stadium will be the site of the Final Four, but other arenas all throughout the state of Indiana will host tournament games. Essentially, the Final Four in 2021 will be a carbon-copy of the NBA’s “bubble” last year.
For the first time ever on February 13, 2021, the NCAA Tournament Committee did it’s first mock bracket reveal. Gonzaga was a nose above Baylor as the number one overall seed. The other two number one seeds were Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan. The number two seeds were Illinois, Villanova, Alabama and Houston. Followed by Virginia, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Tennessee as the number three seeds. Finally rounding out the top-16 were Iowa, Texas, Texas Tech and Missouri. At the time of the reveal, Wisconsin was the only top-16 team in the rankings to not receive one of the top-16 bids. Clearly, this year’s installment of March Madness is bound to be exciting and fun.
Even though upsets are one of the more entertaining parts of the NCAA Tournament, 19 of the last 20 national champions have been seeded either one, two or three. The lone outlier out of those numbers was Connecticut’s national championship in 2014. That year, the Huskies were seeded as a seven-seed, led by Kemba Walker. On top of that, seven of the past 10 national champions have been either numbers one, two or three in KenPom Rankings.
Best College Basketball Betting Futures for March Madness
The Favorites: Gonzaga (+270), Baylor (+275) and Michigan (+500)
These are the top three favorites to become national champions in April. To absolutely no one’s surprise, these are the top three teams in the KenPom Rankings. However, Gonzaga is clearly the top dog in college basketball this year. Mark Few has the most talent he’s ever had in Spokane. On top of that, the Zags are averaging a whopping 93.4 points per game. The second and third-ranked teams in scoring offense, Baylor and Bryant, are a full six points behind Gonzaga.
Value Plays: Villanova, Iowa, and Creighton
Is it just me, or does it seem like Villanova has a National Championship every year for the past five years? Well, Jay Wright is a master-mind on the sidelines and on the recruiting side. Villanova is ranked as the number 11 team in KenPom, and when they won the national championship in 2016, they were ranked number one in the KenPom rankings. All five of the Wildcats’ starters score in double figures, and James-Robinson Earl is a potential first-team all-Big East player.
If there’s one thing that can keep the Wildcats from making the Final Four, and a possible birth in the National Championship, it’s their defense. Usually Jay Wright has a top notch defensive team. However, this year’s team isn’t even ranked in the top 50 in scoring defense. Don’t underestimate Wright though. He’s 52-28 in the NCAA Tournament and Big East Tournament combined.
Other than Baylor, Bryant and Gonzaga, the Iowa Hawkeyes are the best scoring team in the nation, with the nation’s top scorer playing center for them. Luka Garza finished second in the Wooden Award voting last year, and he is far and away the favorite to win it this year. He’s averaging around 25 points per game to go along with 8.5 rebounds per game. The other major scoring threat for the Hawkeyes is Joe Wieskamp. The junior guard has been lethal from three-point range this year, shooting 49.6%.
The big Achilles heel for the Hawkeyes is the defense. Iowa ranks as the 237th team in Division I in scoring defense, giving up almost 73 points per game. Jordan Bohannon, the senior floor general for the Hawkeyes, is the X-factor for this team. If he can get hot, Iowa will have the best inside-outside duo in the country. After only playing in 10 games last year due to injury, the streaky shooter is almost back to his 2017-18 form where he shot 42.3% from the field, 43% from deep and 90% from the free throw line, while averaging 13.5 points per game.
Stay with me on this one. Creighton is a no longer a mid-major in the college basketball world. They are a consistent top-25 team in the Big East that can play with any blue-blood, especially this year. The Blue Jays currently sit at 16-5, with a record of 12-4 in the conference, which is good for second place behind Villanova. The Blue Jays are led by star point guard Jared Zegarowski, who is having a good year, after closing out the 2020 season strong. Last year, Zegarowski had the help of First Team All-Big East guard Ty-Shon Alexander, who is now playing for the Phoenix Suns. Alexander averaged 16.9 points per game last year, giving Zegarowski more room to be a facilitator. The Blue Jays point guard’s shooting averages have dropped from last year, but he is clearly still the man on the court for Creighton.
One of the reasons I think Creighton is a nice value play is because every year a player gets hot and carries them to a couple wins. If Zegarowski can get hot early in the tournament, Creighton will be a very tough out come the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
Best Bet: Houston (+2200)
Based on what I have said, the KenPom Rankings and the value of the bet, mid-major Houston is the your best bet to you in the winning column come March Madness. Houston may seem like an odd choice, as they play in the American Conference. However, Houston is currently sitting at 18-3 overall and 12-3 in the American East, which is good for second place behind Wichita State. Houston is coached by Kelvin Sampson, who is having a career revival at Houston after being ousted at Indiana for recruiting violations. He was ordered to serve a five year show cause penalty, but returned to coaching at Houston in 2014. He led Oklahoma to a Final Four in 2002 and an Elite Eight in 2003, so he knows how to win in March.
Sampson runs a guard-heavy offense at Houston and has three great guards to get the job done for him. DeJon Jarraeu and Marcus Sasser average a total of 24.9 points per game. The star of the show is junior guard Quentin Grimes, who is fourth in the American Conference, scoring 16.9 points per game. Grimes has not been as efficient as he was last year, but that’s where the scoring from Sasser and Jarreau come into play. Caleb Mills was voted the conference’s preseason player of the year, but hasn’t quite returned to his freshman year form, where he averaged 13.2 points per game becoming the first freshman to ever lead the Cougars in scoring.
Even though the Cougars are guard-heavy, they are in the top five in the country in rebounding. Unlike any other team in the country, the Cougars have a very good returning big man in Fabian White Jr. The 6-foot-8 senior missed most of the season after tearing his ACL last March, but has just returned to the team. In two games so far this year, he’s averaging 6.5 points per game and five rebounds per game in only 28 minutes. The other anchor down low for the Cougs is senior forward Justin Gorham, who protects the rim and rebounds exceptionally well for an undersized big man. If the guards can get hot, the bigs can protect the rim and rebound, and Caleb Mills returns to his outstanding freshman year form, then this team will be a Final Four favorite in a couple weeks. If you can get to the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight, everyone knows anything can happen!