Like all sports amid the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, college basketball was dealt a huge blow last season: There was no March Madness tournament. But it looks like there will be one this year. So let's celebrate with some March Madness 2021 picks!
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As always, our predictions are based on a combination of likelihood and value. We're both trying to forecast college basketball's national champion and aiming to identify certain schools that will provide the best bang for their buck should they win.
Before tackling our favorite selections, let's take a look at the latest March Madness odds, courtesy of Bovada. Please note that for now, we're only poring over schools laying top-30 odds:
Because these March Madness predictions are coming before the official formation of the March Madness bracket, we implore you to monitor these lines. They will move between now and the start of the tournament.
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Best 2021 March Madness Betting Picks
Which schools should you take most seriously? Which are providing great potential payouts relative to their chance to win it all? We're covering all that now. And afterward, we'll get to our official national championship prediction.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (+270)
Betting favorites are always given shine. And there's a reason for it. In the case of Gonzaga, there are many reasons for it.
People pegged them as the favorite to win it all before the season started. They've somehow exceeded expectations even by those standards. They not only hold the country's highest offensive rating, but they went kaboom against three of the nation's top-16 schools in Virginia (+2500), West Virginia (+2500), and Kansas (+4000).
Between the hot hands of Corey Kispert and Drew Timme, the Bulldogs are a team to be feared. It's smart to invest in their odds while they're still paying out better than 2-to-1.
Michigan Wolverines (+500)
Michigan's season doesn't have the sample shared by other teams because it missed a few games due to health and safety protocols. They've nevertheless established themselves as a sleeping giant.
Gonzaga and Baylor, in fact, are the only two other teams in the country to place inside the top 11 of both KenPom's offensive and defensive rankings. Led by the scoring of Hunter Dickinson and Isaiah Livers, along with the playmaking of Mike Smith, they have all the vitals of a genuine championship threat.
Take them seriously.
Houston Cougars (+2200)
Props to anyone who saw the Cougars coming this year. Very few did.
Though Houston has shown in recent weeks they have the potential to hang with high-powered offenses, their defense is a thing of beauty. They rank sixth in KenPom's adjusted defensive rating, and they're among just four teams to place inside the top 15 of those metrics at both ends, joining the aforementioned Gonzaga, Baylor, and Michigan.
The Cougars' capacity to defend the three-point line will be particularly huge. They don't have any elite interior deterrents aside from Brison Gresham, but they really get into the ball as a collective on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting just 29.8 percent against them from beyond the arc, the third stingiest mark in the nation.
Virginia Cavaliers (+2500)
Many are worried about investing in the Cavaliers. They didn't play a particularly difficult schedule—it ranked 38th in the country—and they went belly up in their only game against the elite-level competition, falling to Gonzaga in a 23-point blowout.
Still, Virginia's offense is scary. They don't get to the foul line especially often, but they have real life flamethrowers on the roster in Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, and Trey Murphy. As a team, the Cavaliers have drilled around 40 percent of their threes—the fifth-highest mark in the country.
March Madness tournaments reward high-variance ceilings. Teams that can lock down consistently on defense or get scorching hot from downtown on offense have legitimate claims to deep runs. Virginia definitely falls into the latter category.
San Diego State Aztecs (+8000)
Ultra-dark horse alert!
Most college basketball bettors expected more out of San Diego State this season. They ended up underperforming on offense relative to their strength of schedule.
We remain high on them anyway. The Aztecs don't take a ton of threes, but they hit them at a 38.7 percent clip. And they have two guys who can go out and create buckets from scratch in Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel.
This is all to say, we think they have the bandwidth to do more offensively. And for a team that already ranks in the top 10 in defending both two-point and three-point attempts, that's a dangerous combination.
2021 March Madness Champion Pick
And our predicted winner is...Michigan!
So many worthwhile schools deserve a mention here. We won't fault anyone for rolling with Gonzaga, Baylor, Ohio State (+1200), Villanova (+1500), etc. But we just can't quit the Wolvervines' two-way indicators.
More than anything, Michigan has a defense that should hold up well during the tournament. They force a ton of turnovers without fouling in droves. That's an important combination. Franz Wagner and Eli Brooks really know how to muck up the passing lanes.
We're also really intrigued by their +500 entry point. That stands to decline once the bracket is set. We recommend you get in now.
OSB March Madness Prediction: Michigan (+500) wins it all
Check out this list of the best online sportsbooks so you can decide which one to use for all your college basketball betting: