March Madness betting: NCAA Tournament outright picks, predictions, and best bets
Selection Sunday has come and gone, so for the first time in two years it is time to starting filling out brackets and making predictions. We will be helping you fill out your bracket throughout the week, but right now it’s time to skip ahead of the first couple of rounds and look at the futures market. Yes, much of March Madness is about Cinderella stories and one buzzer-beater after another in the early rounds of the Big Dance. For now, though, we are taking a look at the big picture. Here are some of our best bets.
Prediction: Illinois (+700)
With Oklahoma State having lost to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game, the two hottest teams going into the NCAA Tournament are…wait for it…the top two overall seeds. Given Gonzaga’s short +205 odds, it’s hard to justify picking them against a field of 67 other teams by winning six games—at least five of which would come against legitimate opponents. Illinois at +700 has far better value. The Fighting Illini are 14-1 in their last 15 games with a ridiculous four top-10 wins in their last five. You aren’t going to find a better resume than that—not even from Gonzaga. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the Illini are so good. Ayo Dosunmu may be the best guard in the country, Kofi Cockburn is a force down low, and both Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo haven been playing their best basketball of the season in recent weeks.
Potential longshot: Texas (+3300)
How about winning the Maui Invitational, the Big 12 Tournament, and the NCAA Tournament?!?! That would be something. And that is what Texas is aiming to accomplish as it heads into the Big Dance. The Maui triumph propelled the Longhorns to a 10-1 record through 11 games before they endured an alarming 3-5 stretch. But it was only a matter of time before they would get back on track. After all, five of their first six losses (with Baylor being the only exception) came by a combined nine points in regulation. Texas has won six in a row, with four of those victories coming against top 20 opponents. Head coach Shaka Smart’s squad is led by Andrew Jones, Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Greg Brown, and Jericho Sims. They have the experience and the talent to go all the way.
Florida State to reach the Final Four (+900)
As usual, head coach Leonard Hamilton has loaded up with a ton of incredible athletes who will likely be future NBA lottery picks. Florida State is raw, but when this team plays up to its potential it is scary good. Just ask Virginia, which lost to the Seminoles 81-60 last month after trailing by 20 less than 15 minutes into the game. The ‘Noles went 11-4 in the ACC and advanced to the conference tournament final before losing to a red-hot Georgia Tech team that has won eight straight heading into the Big Dance. Florida State finds itself in the softest region (the East), where a banged-up Michigan squad is the No. 1 seed. The table is set for the Seminoles to make a run.
Texas Tech to reach the Elite Eight (+400)
Texas Tech played in the most recent National Championship game (lost to Virginia in overtime). Last season’s tournament was cancelled, of course. Two years later the Red Raiders obviously look a lot different, but they are still more than capable of making another surprising run. They are battle-tested, having played in what many consider to be the second-best conference in college basketball (the Big 12), and they have not lost to anyone outside of the current top 25 this entire season. With a decent draw in which his team would probably have to get past Arkansas and Ohio State, Mac McClung can lead the way to a spot in the Elite Eight.
USC to reach the Sweet 16 (+150)
The Trojans are led in part by the Mobley brothers. Evan, a 7-footer, is one of the best freshmen in the nation. Isaiah, a sophomore, gives USC even more size at 6’10’’. With Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson manning the backcourt, this is a well-rounded squad. Head coach Andy Enfield’s squad does not shoot the ball particularly well, but it gives up only 65.1 ppg and is ranked 30th in the nation in rebounding. Given that the Trojans have beaten only one top 25 team in 2021, it’s hard to see them getting to the Final Four. But they face the winner of a play-in game in the first round (Wichita State or Drake) before a potential date with Kansas—which isn’t typical Kansas this season. That is a navigable path.