The NCAA Tournament committee released their initial look at what the top four seeds in each region would look like if the season ended today. We still have a month of regular-season games as well as conference tournaments to go through. However, the early bracket reveal certainly gives us a glimpse into what the committee values and how they view certain teams’ resumes so far.
It is never too early to start predicting which teams have what it takes to cut down the nets. Many have likely already wagered on futures odds on certain teams to win the national championship. I like to get a little more creative than selecting individual teams with my futures bets. Though the odds are worse than picking single teams, a fun wager is predicting which conference the national championship will come from. As most major conferences will receive multiple bids, it gives a bettor more chances to win than picking an individual team who may get eliminated early.
Here is a look at the odds for each conference to win the national championship (odds courtesy of FanDuel). A summary of each conference is provided, along with the best bet given the odds.
Leading Contenders: Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia
The Big 12 may not be the deepest conference from top to bottom, but it certainly is the most top-heavy. The first bracket reveal had two Big 12 teams, Baylor and Kansas, as the top two overall seeds respectively. In addition, West Virginia was initially given a two-seed and the eighth overall ranking. Texas Tech lurks as a dark horse national title contender, but many are not taking them as seriously as the team that made it to the finals last year.
While there do not appear any other serious contenders to win it all from this conference, the top three teams are all one would need. Baylor is one of the most experienced and cohesive teams in the country. They became the first Big 12 team since 2008 to win 20 straight games. Their resume is the most impressive of any team out there. Kansas possesses arguably the best inside-outside combination in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. West Virginia has one of the best frontcourts in the country, led by Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe. There is not much argument that the Big 12 conference deserves to have the shortest odds of the conference that will represent the national champion.
Leading Contenders: Maryland, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois
Betting on the Big Ten on a wager like this is somewhat of a double-edged sword. They are likely to have the most overall bids in the Big Dance, but do they have enough serious championship contenders? Maryland has come on strong of late, winning six games in a row. The Terrapins were criticized for not being able to win on the road early in the season. However, they have won their last three road games at Northwestern, Indiana, and Illinois.
Tom Izzo’s Spartans have been in a tailspin lately, losing three straight games. However, with as often as he gets his teams to the Final Four, many will become believers again in March. In a year where there has been tremendous parity, it would not be a shock if a team projected as a middle seed like Michigan or Illinois got hot in the tournament and won it all.
Leading Contenders: Duke, Louisville, Florida State
The ACC closely resembles the Big 12 this year in that it has become extremely top-heavy. We are used to seeing anywhere from eight to 10 bids from the ACC, and this year we will be lucky to have five. However, the conference’s top three are as strong as anyone’s. Duke has shown they can beat the top teams in the country. They defeated Kansas on a neutral court in the first game of the season and also have a big win at Michigan State. Louisville’s best notch in their resume is a win at Duke. Chris Mack’s team is loaded with veterans and he has one of the best players in the country in Jordan Nwora. Florida State is looking to break through to their first Final Four under Leonard Hamilton. They have come agonizingly close in years past, but may have their best shot this year.
Leading Contenders: Seton Hall, Villanova, Butler
The Big East is another conference that had a decent showing in the first bracket reveal. They had three teams in the top 16, including two as three seeds and another as a four seed. Since that reveal, Seton Hall won at Villanova and Butler got shellacked at Marquette. With every passing day, Seton Hall is putting themselves in a category of their own in the Big East. They are rounding into form and are as good a bet as any to take home the title. They have a stud (Myles Powell), they are deep, long, experienced, and play excellent defense.
Leading Contenders: Oregon, Colorado, Arizona
The Pac-12, as it has in recent years, remains a puzzling conference. Oregon was playing like a legitimate national contender early on, but they’ve had some head-scratching losses (at Washington State, at Oregon State) of late. Arizona may be one of the most talented teams in the country, but that talent is not manifesting in consistent wins. Colorado is a legitimate dark horse and has a chance to prove itself on a big stage at Oregon on Thursday night.
Leading Contenders: Kentucky, Auburn, LSU
Before the season started, it would have shocked many people to see the SEC with this poor of odds to win the national title come February. At some point, all of their leading contenders have disappointed though. Auburn looked like a team capable of getting back to the Final Four early in the season. However, that may have been a product of a weak non-conference schedule. LSU is relentless in the paint, but can they knock down enough outside shots consistently to make a deep run in March? John Calipari’s teams always get better as the season goes on. Maybe this is a great buy-low spot on Kentucky.
Leading Contenders: Gonzaga
Though St. Mary’s and BYU are likely to earn at-large bids, the lone serious contender from this conference to win the championship is Gonzaga. This is evident by the fact that the WCC conference has the same odds as Gonzaga alone to win the championship. If you think Gonzaga has what it takes to win it all, there is not much value opting for the WCC conference as your wager as opposed to Gonzaga. Although, picking up two teams essentially “for free” has to be enticing.
Leading Contenders: Houston
Many bracket predictions have the AAC as a three-bid league. Along with Houston, many predict a combination of Cincinnati, Memphis, and/or Wichita State to join them. Only Houston appears to be a legitimate contender, but can they beat the best of the best in March?