Gonzaga Strengthens As Favorite After NCAA Tournament Bracket Release
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Gonzaga, already the favorite to win the national title before Sunday’s NCAA Tournament bracket release, strengthened its hold on that status as bookmakers shortened the Bulldogs’ odds to become the first unbeaten champion since 1976 after the draw was announced.
FanDuel sliced the No. 1 overall seed’s odds to claim its first title to +200 from +220 on Sunday night, as clearly the NCAA Tournament selection committee and oddsmakers are on the same page for March Madness. Baylor, which had been the second choice pre-draw at +400, slipped to +600.
The Bulldogs, the top seed in the West Regional, will face the winner of a Norfolk State-Appalachian State play-in game in the opening round and became a far more significant college basketball betting favorite relative to the field after the bracket was released.
Gonzaga would go on to face the winner of Oklahoma-Missouri in the second round and could face an intriguing matchup with No. 4 seed Virginia in the Sweet 16. Overall, the top-seeded Bulldogs certainly got the best of the four paths on paper with No. 2 seed Iowa and No. 3 seed Kansas rounding out the top seeds in its region. Gonzaga would likely be a significant betting favorite against any of those opponents.
Keep in mind, of course, that “region” is a relative term this year as the entire tournament is being staged in the state of Indiana, with all games after the first round in Indianapolis.
Baylor Odds Hit With Tough Draw
Baylor, the top seed in the South, saw its odds sink once the bracket was announced. The Bears were +400 earlier in the day and moved to +600 Sunday night. Those are still the second-best title odds, but they reflect the disparity between Gonzaga’s path and other No. 1 seeds in Baylor, Illinois and Michigan.
Baylor definitely has the tougher second-round matchup of the two betting favorites – the Bears open against No. 16 seed Hartford and would play the winner of No. 8 North Carolina and No. 9 Wisconsin in the second round. A matchup against a red-hot Tar Heels team wouldn’t be ideal, and Villanova is also lurking in the region as a No. 5 seed.
Gonzaga and Baylor were scheduled to play in the regular season but weren’t able to make it up once the game was called off. Now the only chance of a meeting would be in the National Championship, with the Bulldogs seemingly having the easier road.
Illinois’ Odds Improve But Road Daunting
Of the four top seeds, Illinois in the Midwest appears to have the toughest path. But the Illini’s odds actually got shorter Sunday night, moving from +1000 to +700. That’s likely a reflection of their Big Ten Tournament championship win over Ohio State Sunday afternoon.
The Illini could see a dangerous No. 8 Loyola-Chicago team (16-9-1 ATS) in the second round. Mountain West champ San Diego State is also lurking as a No. 6 seed, as is No. 2 seed Houston.
Michigan, the top seed in the East and on Gonzaga’s side of the bracket, still has better odds than Illinois at +600, though down from +450 Sunday morning. However, the Wolverines’ chances recently took a big hit with senior forward Isaiah Livers out indefinitely due to a stress fracture.
Sportsbooks, Committee At Odds
While oddsmakers and committee members agreed on the top four, there was plenty of discrepancy further down the board. As of Sunday morning, Houston (+1800), Iowa (+1800), Florida State (+2000) and West Virginia (+2000) rounded out the top eight betting favorites.
Only Houston and Iowa earned a No. 2 seed. The Hawkeyes’ odds improved slightly to +1600 while Houston’s remained at +1800.
West Virginia is the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region and faces Morehead State in the opening round, before a potentially dangerous matchup with No. 6 seed San Diego State. The Mountaineers’ odds are now +3000 as San Diego State is a popular sleeper pick.
Florida State saw its odds fall to +3000 and didn’t get much respect from the committee as it landed a No. 4 seed in the East region. The Seminoles take on UNC Greensboro in the opener and would face the winner of No. 5 Colorado-No. 12 Georgetown in the second round. Colorado is coming off a two-point loss in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game, while Georgetown stunned Creighton to win the Big East Tournament.
Sportsbooks also undervalued Alabama relative to NCAA Tournament selection. The Crimson Tide were the 12th team on the betting board with +2800 odds to win it all but earned a No. 2 seed in the East region.
The sportsbooks quickly adjusted and the Tide are now No. 7 overall on the betting board at +2100 to win the title. They face No. 15 seed Iona in the opener and would play the winner of No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 Maryland. UConn is one of the best teams in the nation against the spread at 16-5-1 and could put the Seminoles on upset watch if the Huskies get past Maryland.