It is officially one of the best times of year for sports fans as the NCAA Tournament is back, and we are making March Madness betting picks to celebrate the occasion.
The unfortunate cancelation of last year's tournament left an empty void for college basketball fans and bettors across the country. But now that the long wait is over, the anticipation for this year's event is at an all-time high. That is surely going to be reflected in the action at online sportsbooks in New Jersey and the many other states with legal wagering.
These betting sites will match the public demand with a range of markets for every single game, but they also offer plenty of pre-tournament markets as well. Here, we'll focus on March Madness futures odds that can be pounced on before things tip off on Friday.
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2021 NCAA Tournament Predictions | March Madness Betting Picks
We made some 2021 March Madness betting picks a few weeks back but things need updating now that Selection Sunday has come and gone. Having the bracket in place and knowing each team's potential path to the Final Four causes changes in the odds and that may alter your betting strategy for the NCAA Tournament and how your bracket looks.
Using odds from a few different sportsbooks, we are making some suggestions for the markets involving regional winners (to reach the Final Four) and the national champion.
Who Will Win March Madness 2021?
The most popular futures market is sure to be the odds to be the NCAA Tournament champion. In an attempt to seek out betting value, we've scoured several online sportsbooks for betting odds and have compiled a list of the following teams to consider (odds as of Monday, March 15):
- Baylor (+500 at DraftKings)
Baylor and Gonzaga have been the two best teams in college basketball all season long, and they had very similar odds most of the season. Suddenly, the Zags are all the way down to +200 at some sites while Baylor has ballooned to +500, and we have no choice but to take notice.
The Bears are battle-tested thanks to a rough Big 12 schedule and maybe it's an archaic way of thinking, but battling through recent adversity sets them up for an event such as this one. Losing in the conference tournament isn't a big deal to us and we're looking at the odds as a gift.
- Illinois (+700 at DraftKings)
There is no team in college basketball hotter than Illinois, a trendy pick turned favorite. They won 14 of 15 to close the season in the nation's deepest conference. Even when Ayo Dosunmu missed time with a broken nose, the Illini dominated. Then he game back and they continued dominating all the way to the Big Ten title.
This region could feature matchups with Oklahoma State and either Houston or West Virginia, so it is not an easy draw. But this group is already settled in Indianapolis from the Big Ten tournament and has many fewer flaws than almost any other team in the country.
- Alabama (+2200 at FanDuel)
Alabama's region could be for the taking e specially if skidding No. 1 seed Michigan sees an early exit. To us, both Alabama and Texas present some value but the Crimson Tide have a better shot at taking things all the way.
The reason Alabama is so dangerous is that it can win any type of game. You want to run? They scored 90 points on Arkansas and 105 against LSU. You want to grind it out? They did it twice to Tennessee.
The SEC regular season and tournament champions have lots of possible Elight Eight opponents including Michigan, Florida State, or even LSU (for a fourth time). Make it past there, and a berth in the Final Four means potentially facing a brilliant but little-tested Gonzaga team for a spot in the championship.
- West Virginia (+5000 at FanDuel)
West Virginia is in the same region as Illinois so this won't be easy, but the absolutely massive +5000 odds must be taken into consideration. The Mountaineers are a versatile team that has won in many different ways this season.
You can't get rid of Bob Huggins' team, either. West Virginia erased massive deficits on the road at Oklahoma State and Texas. It also lost to Gonzaga by just five early on and had Baylor on the ropes in an OT loss just a couple of weeks ago. On any given day, WVU can play with any team in the country.
We like West Virginia to beat Houston and at least make the Elite Eight. A matchup with Illinois would tell us just how for real this team is.
Who Will Make The Final Four?
Another popular pre-tournament market for March Madness is selecting which teams will reach the Final Four, otherwise known as the regional winner. These odds are much more modest but the bet doesn't require winning the whole tournament. It can still be a lucrative bet, however, plus there will be four correct answers as opposed to just one. Consider the following programs:
- Baylor (+100 at FanDuel)
This is the best three-point shooting team in the country and it ranks third in adjusted offensive efficiency (KenPom). Even with several strong teams in this bracket, we don't see anyone stopping Baylor from the Final Four and having a shot to win it all.
The even-money odds aren't great but Gonzaga's line is just too much to take, so we are looking in this direction instead. The Zags are between -175 and -250 depending on the site so if you're looking for a No. 1 seed to target, this is one of them.
- Illinois (+150 at DraftKings)
Even though these odds aren't great, we'd still bet on No. 1-seeded Illinois here at +150 with how it has looked all season, especially recently.
There's a fun matchup with Oklahoma State awaiting in Sweet 16, but we don't think the Cowboys will knock off Illinois in that spot. The way we see it, West Virginia poses the biggest threat in a potential Elite Eight clash. But at that point, whether it's No. 3 WVU or No. 2 seed Houston, you may be able to hedge and guarantee some profit if you choose.
- Iowa (+650 at BetMGM)
We're not sure about Iowa's ability to go all the way with its lack of any kind of defensive prowess. We're not even sure about it making the Final Four due to having to get through Gonzaga to get there. Still, the +400 odds must make you wonder.
The Hawkeyes were a top-five team early on but fell out of favor and have some injuries to deal with as the tournament approaches. But they do still have an incredibly potent offense and two-time national player of the year Luka Garza, so anything is possible.
Some will have Iowa losing to Kansas or even Oregon before that, but we think they reach the Elite Eight and face the Zags. At that stage, you'd have Iowa +650 on the moneyline, far better odds than their single-game line will give you. It sets up a great hedging opportunity.
- West Virginia (+750 at FanDuel)
Again, West Virginia is in the same region as Illinois. That makes advancing past the Elite Eight an incredibly difficult task in itself. With that said, these odds are too good to pass up for the No. 3 seed that we think is better than the No. 2 seed in Houston.
The Mountaineers or Illinois is going to win the region so in our minds, bet on both and hope to make some profit if one of them comes through.
- Texas (+700 at DraftKings)
This will be a tough ticket to cash but the odds are worth a look if nothing else. We picked Alabama in the above section, so consider this a hedge of sorts.
Texas is the No. 3 seed in a region that could be up for grabs the way we see it. Top-seeded Michigan is dealing with some injuries and suddenly doesn't look so dominant anymore. Plus, it may have to go through red-hot LSU and Florida State just to reach the Elite Eight.
Texas will have to contend with No. 2 Alabama, another great pick to go a long way, and that will be the pivotal matchup. If the Longhorns reach the Elite Eight, regardless of the opponent, they will have a great shot at cashing this huge number.
- Arkansas (+1000 at BetMGM)
If Baylor doesn't win the South region, Arkansas has a shot and its inflated betting odds are worth a look. But once you consider it would have to get past Texas Tech, Ohio State, and possibly Baylor, maybe that makes some sense that he odds are long.
We're willing to take this leap because of the huge odds but it's worth noting that the SEC was a pretty solid league this season and Arkansas did beat some pretty good teams including Alabama in late February. It will take quite a run but we've seen crazier things.
If you feel as though Texas Tech will win the second-round game between these two, the Red Raiders are +800 to come out of this region at BetMGM, which are also huge odds.
2021 March Madness Printable Bracket
There's nothing more popular this time of year than the March Madness bracket. Whether you're into the betting lines or not, you are probably filling one out for fun to compete with friends, relatives, or co-workers.
When the time comes to get ready for your pool, or just to keep track of how the tournament is progressing, be sure to check out our printable NCAA Tournament bracket to keep all the results in order without having to look it up.
Photo Credit: Associated Press