March Madness: Shine Light On These Sure Contenders, Smart Long Shots For One Shining Moment

Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

A sure sign that both the sporting world, and our country as a whole, is back on track is the fact that the NCAA Tournament is on the verge of tipping off, with Selection Sunday now just over a week away.

Of course, with even less time to count down last year, the men’s and women’s tourneys were each called off, one of our great sports traditions was halted and sports fans fell head on into an unprecedented dead period of action.

But here in 2021, perseverance, positive thinking and planning have helped the NCAA win out and an unprecedented single tourney will take place in a single region (Greater Indianapolis) with all 68 teams that would usually set up shop in arenas across the United States for the first week of tournament action.

For such a uniquely laid out tournament geographically one would think betting-wise to skew close to the most obvious favorites and maybe one or two teams from the Hoosier state (and expect one or two, at the most, to come from the usually more competitive state), but the still-developing field is looking like it will have a similar array of obvious plays and long-shots as in any other year.

Making this year’s tournament even more interesting to betters is the likely hood of there being fewer traditional blue blood programs than usual, both in the tournament period and in its top seeds. It won’t be enough to look up and see the odds for Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky and roll the dice on the programs that you associate most with March.

If you haven’t already, it’ll be good to start paying attention to the individual lines in this weekend’s games, which will be full of key conference tilts that are still determining conference tournament seeds as well as early tournament games for smaller conferences.

Check out these four teams, featuring three different levels of plays that could be worth looking at for futures bets geared toward locking down a national champion.

Overall favorite: Gonzaga currently leads the field at +253 to be tournament champion. Futures for 2021 have always had the Zags at the top, back on March 13 of 2020, right after last year’s tournament cancellation, the power from Eastern Washington state was tied with Virginia at +900.

Gonzaga returns to action this evening against Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference semifinals. Given the Zags typical dominance in the WCC (they’ve beaten the mostly respectable Gaels by 14 and 22 points this season, for example), expect them to be a wide favorite and don’t be afraid to take the points.

Faded blue bloods: You were able to get 2 for 1 Saturday in what traditionally has been one of the biggest games of the year, but now is just another game between two bubble teams. Duke and Carolina faced off Saturday evening with the home Tar Heels favored by 1.5 points. Carolina wound up winning 91-73.

Carolina (16-9, 10-6 ACC) is a good bet to make the tournament on its own merit right now while Duke (11-11, 9-9 ACC) really hurt itself by not upsetting their blood rival. At this point the Blue Devils may have to rely soly on a deep ACC tournament run (championship game or better) to get itself an uncharacteristically low seed or even a *gasp* spot in the First Four play-in games. Duke will have to win five games to claim the tourney championship, they partake in first round play Tuesday against Boston College.

Not much is separating the two as National Champion bets, but both are distant plays, with Carolina around a 65-1 bet, worth a look, while Duke can be seen anywhere between a 73 and 75-1 bet.

Trendy dark horse: Oklahoma State is appealing in more ways than one — they’recurrently appealing an NCAA decision to ban them from postseason play for the 2021 season. While the appeal is on the Cowboys are eligible, which allows them to be a 20-1 (+2000) bet currently to win it all.

Should the postseason ban be repealed this top-15 team, winners of six of their last seven, including an impressive 85-80 win at West Virginia Saturday, will be sure bets for the tournament and a likely top four seed in their region. In fact, with prospective pro Cade Cunningham, the consensus No. 1 pick-to be in the upcoming NBA draft, OSU could go on a Carmelo in 2003-type run with a skilled supporting cast held up by a transcendent college-level talent.

Cunningham wasn’t even available for the win at the No. 10 Mountaineers after hurting an ankle in the Cowboys’ only recent loss to Baylor last Thursday. OSU, a No. 5 seed in the Big-12 tournament, begins play there Thursday in another match against No. 4 seed West Virginia.

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