College basketball title odds: The six tiers of legitimate contenders to win the 2022 NCAA tournament
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 before memes were a thing, a running gag about the person who won the paperclip by betting on their favorite colors or the cutest mascot.
Magnify that sentiment now for those trying to add a little more to predicting outcomes.
The single-elimination nature of the NCAA tournament adds a random element to champion selection. Since 2004/05, the team selected as the best overall winner has won the national title three times. And KenPom.com’s #1 team heading to the tournament has only smashed the nets three times in nearly 20 years since the site’s creation.
Here’s a look at the top contenders to win the NCAA tournament, broken down by tier, followed by the full NCAA tournament odds, provided by Caesars Sportsbook.
Rank 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 a prohibitive favorite and more than two months into the 2021-22 season, the preseason No. 1 team still has the best odds, going 6-1. Of course, Gonzaga has only recently reclaimed his place at the top, thanks to a seven-game winning streak. Last year’s team reached the national championship game before narrowly failing; Does this year’s ‘Zags squad have what it takes to finish the job?
Stage 2: Leader
teams: Duke (9-1), Purdue (9-1), Baylor (11-1)
Three other teams have a better chance than 12-1 of lifting the trophy in April: defending champions Baylor (11-1), Duke (9-1) and Purdue (9-1). Two of those bets are better than the others at this point: while Purdue has the nation’s highest-ranked offense in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom, no national title winner has won without a top-45 finish in adjusted defensive efficiency since 2001-02 ins Competition. The Boilermakers are currently sitting there at number 64; Defense must come along for Purdue to get through the strange night every team faces in March and April.
Baylor started the season 15-0 before losing the next two games at home, although both losses fell short without superb freshman Jeremy Sochan and the latter without point guard James Akinjo. Duke is 14-3 seven points from an unbeaten record this year and the Blue Devils could make their move if their most recent starting lineup, one with former five-star prospect AJ Griffin, gets used to playing together .
Tier 3: Competitors with value
teams: Kansas (12-1), Auburn (20-1), Illinois (25-1)
The oddsmakers haven’t quite caught up with Auburn yet; CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish has championed the Tigers with his recent top 25 and 1, and Auburn has a ninth-best chance of winning it all at 20-1. Kansas tops the Big 12 despite struggling through most of league play without a healthy Remy Martin. With Martin expected back after a knee bruise, the Jayhawks have the profile of a potential favorite but more reasonable 12-1 odds. And then there’s Illinois. The Fighting Illini are top of the Big Ten standings even after Monday’s double loss to Purdue. And like Kansas, the Illini are getting a top player back, with Andre Curbelo in his first contest since Nov. 23 and still dropping 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. If he revs up, Illinois’ 25-1 odds might seem far too slim.
Tier 4: Talented teams with solid value
teams: Arizona (15-1), Kentucky (18-1)
Two of the nation’s most talented and advantaged teams have similar odds: Arizona (15-1) and Kentucky (18-1). The two Wildcat teams excel in NBA talent, athleticism and length, and both can take out smaller teams by dominating on the offensive glass. One thing to keep in mind with Arizona: How will Tommy Lloyd’s team – the country with the fastest average offensive possession length – do in March as transition opportunities become fewer and the game slows? Kentucky’s win over Tennessee was as impressive an offensive performance as College Hoops has seen this year. Kentucky’s A-player may be the best team in the nation, but will Kentucky become that team night after night? Bettors waiting to pick either Wildcat roster could find worse odds if they delay and see Kentucky or Arizona take off.
Tier 5: Favorite Stats
teams: Villanova (20-1), Wisconsin (40-1), Florida State (80-1), Oregon (80-1)
Parrish ranked Wisconsin third in his, and this Badger team has more momentum than recent iterations thanks to International Player of the Year nominee Johnny Davis. Being able to get a potential top 5 team at odds of 40-1? That’s pretty strong.
Villanova has a better chance of winning the title at 20-1 and the Wildcats have one of the best backcourts in the nation, with Collin Gillespie playing like the country’s top point guard and Justin Moore averaging 18.5 points per in his last four games game scored. Villanova is already extremely battle-hardened and getting better, and Jay Wright has two of his last five national titles.
Florida State and Oregon are bigger long shots, but both have great value for their rosters and for coaches who have been successful in shaping their teams to play 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 straight games. There is still work to be done, but Leonard Hamilton and a talented, comprehensive squad look like a solid choice at 80-1 odds.
Dana Altman’s team has proven itself here; After a 5-5 start, the Ducks have won six of their last seven, winning at UCLA and USC and coming close against Baylor before falling.
Both teams were ranked preseason for a reason, and both are worth keeping an eye on now that their odds have gone down and their basketball has picked up momentum.
Tier 6: Longshots to watch
teams: Seton Hall (60-1), UConn (60-1) Xavier (80-1), Iowa State (80-1)
While the aforementioned 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 ranking in KenPom’s top 40 on both offense and defense. UConn accomplished this feat while playing four games and part of another without the great Big Man Adama Sanogo. All he’s done since returning is averaging 22 points, 17 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game. And Xavier is a top-20 team with KenPom’s No. 22 attack and No. 30 defense; the Musketeers are a decent bargain at 80-1.
While Iowa State doesn’t have the offense of a national title contender, the Cyclones are 14-4 with wins over Texas Tech and Texas and narrow losses to Baylor and Kansas so far in Big 12 play – the Cyclones at odds of 80-1 win could be solid for a team that could make a run.
2021 NCAA Tournament Odds
2022 NCAA Tournament Odds by Caesars Sportsbook