Few sporting events are as difficult to predict as the NCAA Tournament. The results are so wild, and often so unexpected that they became a meme seemingly even before memes were a thing, a running joke about the person who won the office bracket by betting on their favorite colors or the cutest mascots.
Now magnify that feeling for those who try to put a little something extra on predicting the results.
The single-elimination nature of the NCAA Tournament adds an element of randomness to picking the champion. Since 2004-05, the team picked as the top overall seed heading in has won the national title thrice. And the No. 1 team at KenPom.com heading into the tournament has cut down the nets only three times in nearly 20 years since the site was created.
Here’s a look at the top contenders to win the NCAA Tournament broken down by tiers followed by the complete odds to win the NCAA Tournament provided by Caesars Sportsbook.
Tier 1: The favorite
Team: Gonzaga (6-1)
Don’t look now, but it’s still Gonzaga. The Bulldogs spent most of the 2020-21 season as the prohibitive favorite and more than two months into 2021-22, the preseason No. 1 team still has the best odds at 6-1. Of course, Gonzaga just recently retook its spot atop The Associated Press Top 25 poll, thanks to a seven-game winning streak. Last year’s team reached the national championship game before falling just short; does this year’s ‘Zags squad have what it takes to finish the job?
Tier 2: Frontrunners
Teams: Duke (9-1), Purdue (9-1), Baylor (11-1)
Three other teams have better than 12-1 odds to hoist the trophy in April: defending national champion Baylor (11-1), Duke (9-1) and Purdue (9-1). Two of those bets are better than the other at this point: while Purdue has the nation’s top-ranked offense in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom, no national title winner since 2001-02 has won without a top 45 rank in adjusted defensive efficiency heading into the tournament. The Boilermakers currently sit at No. 64 there; the defense will need to come along for Purdue to survive the odd off night that every team faces in March and April.
Baylor started the season 15-0 before dropping its next two games at home, though both losses came without excellent freshman Jeremy Sochan and the latter came without point guard James Akinjo down the stretch. Duke is seven points away from an undefeated record this year itself at 14-3, and the Blue Devils could start hitting their stride as their recent starting lineup, one with former five-star prospect AJ Griffin joining the fold, gets used to playing together.
Tier 3: Contenders with value
Teams: Kansas (12-1), Auburn (20-1), Illinois (25-1)
The oddsmakers haven’t quite caught up with Auburn just yet; CBS Sports’ own Gary Parrish made the case for the Tigers atop his most recent Top 25 and 1, and Auburn has the ninth-best odds to win it all at 20-1. Kansas sits atop the Big 12 despite battling through most of league play without a healthy Remy Martin. With Martin expected back from a bone bruise in his knee, the Jayhawks have the profile of a potential favorite, but more reasonable 12-1 odds. And then there’s Illinois. The Fighting Illini are tops in the Big Ten standings even after Monday’s double-overtime loss to Purdue. And like Kansas, the Illini are getting a top player back, with Andre Curbelo playing his first contest since Nov. 23 and still dropping 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. As he gets up to speed, Illinois’ 25-1 odds could seem way too low.
Tier 4: Talented teams with solid value
Teams: Arizona (15-1), Kentucky (18-1)
Two of the nation’s most talented teams, and teams with the most upside, have similar odds: Arizona (15-1) and Kentucky (18-1). The two Wildcat squads boast NBA talent, athleticism and length, and both can put away smaller teams by dominating on the offensive glass. One thing to watch with Arizona: how will Tommy Lloyd’s team — the nation’s fastest in average offensive possession length — fare in March when transition opportunities become fewer and the game slows down? Kentucky’s win over Tennessee was as impressive an offensive effort as college hoops has seen this year. Kentucky’s ‘A’ game might just be the nation’s best team, but will Kentucky become that team night-in and night out? Bettors who wait to pick either Wildcat squad could find worse odds if they delay and watch Kentucky or Arizona take off.
Tier 5: Favorite values
Teams: Villanova (20-1), Wisconsin (40-1), Florida State (80-1), Oregon (80-1)
Parrish ranked Wisconsin third in his Top 25 and 1, and this Badger team has more dynamism than recent iterations, thanks to national player of the year candidate Johnny Davis. To be able to get a potential top five team at 40-1 odds? That’s pretty strong.
Villanova has better odds to win the title at 20-1, and the Wildcats have one of the nation’s best backcourts with Collin Gillespie playing like the country’s top point guard and Justin Moore averaging 18.5 points per game over his last four. Villanova is extremely battle-tested already and is only getting better, plus Jay Wright has two of the last five national titles.
Florida State and Oregon are bigger long shots, but both have strong value for their rosters and for coaches who have found success at molding their teams into playing well in March. The Seminoles have reached at least the Sweet 16 in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments, and after a rough start, Florida State has won three games in a row. There’s still work to be done, but Leonard Hamilton and a talented, deep roster seems like a solid choice at 80-1 odds.
Dana Altman’s team is ore proven at this point; after an 5-5 start, the Ducks have won six of their last seven, winning at UCLA and USC and playing Baylor tight before falling.
Both teams were ranked in the preseason for a reason, and both are worth keeping an eye on now that their odds have fallen off and their basketball has picked up.
Tier 6: Longshots to watch
Teams: Seton Hall (60-1), UConn (60-1) Xavier (80-1), Iowa State (80-1)
While previously mentioned Florida State and Oregon certainly fall into this category — teams with odds of 60-1 or worse — so do three different Big East teams with solid resumes. Seton Hall and UConn have identical 60-1 odds while boasting both offenses and defenses ranked in KenPom’s top 40. UConn accomplished that feat while playing four games and part of another without terrific big man Adama Sanogo. All he’s done since return is average 22 points, 17 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game. And Xavier is a top 20 team with KenPom’s No. 22 offense and No. 30 defense; the Musketeers are a decent bargain at 80-1.
While Iowa State lacks the offense of a national title contender, the Cyclones are 14-4 with wins over Texas Tech and Texas and close losses to Baylor and Kansas so far in Big 12 play—getting the Cyclones at 80-1 odds could be solid for a team that could make a run.
2021 NCAA Tournament odds
Odds to win the 2022 NCAA Tournament from Caesars Sportsbook