This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Exactly a year ago, I wrote an article titled, "Gonzaga, Baylor and Everyone Else." Funny enough, that's how things played out the rest of the way. This season, according to the odds, it would seem that nothing has changed. Gonzaga is favored at +600 to win the National Championship with Baylor close behind at +1000. However, they aren't head and shoulders above the rest like a season ago, and that's not seen in the odds.
The metrics love the Zags because they've had some massive wins in the WCC, but their defense against elite competition is undoubtedly a problem, already seen in two losses. While it's fine that they're favored, I'm not sure they should be +600 with the next teams at +1000. Speaking of Baylor, this isn't the same team as a year ago. The Bears are elite defensively, but they don't have a trio of NBA guards leading the way. Sure, they have some big wins against Villanova and Michigan State, but neither of them are considered to be on the same level as other Championship contenders.
Before the season, I mentioned Duke at +1500 and Kansas at +2000, and I still like both of them, though the odds are now +1000 and +1200, respectively. Yet, neither of them are my favorite to cut down the nets due to defensive questions. Kansas is winning a lot of games too close for comfort, and Duke already has a couple losses in a bad ACC.
The trendy pick to win it all, and for good reason, is Auburn at +1200. Auburn's lone loss this season came in the Bahamas in double overtime of a weirdly officiated game that featured 79 free-throw attempts. Otherwise, the Tigers already have a road win at Alabama and two at home against LSU and Kentucky. Either way, I don't care too much about their resume at this point, as it's more about the team.
Auburn has a dominant frontcourt led by possible No. 1 NBA Draft pick Jabari Smith and five-star recruit Walker Kessler, who transferred from North Carolina over the summer. Current starter Allen Flanigan missed 12 games this season because of a prior injury. The addition of Flanigan combined with Smith means that Devan Cambridge and Jaylin Williams, two of last season's starters, are coming off the bench, along with their top scoring guard in Wendell Green. If you want to play things safer, Auburn at +280 to make the Final Four is still pretty good value. I think the Tigers are a great bet to make the Elite Eight and if that's the case, they'll probably be favored in that matchup, whoever they play.
For more value, Arizona (+1500) and Kentucky (+1800) are somewhat underrated in the odds. I think both are on the same level as a team like Duke (+1000) or Purdue (+1000), and have just as good of shot at making the Championship or Final Four.
UCLA only deserves a mention because of what it did last season, but at +2200, you're betting on another incredible stretch of games from Johnny Juzang. The Bruins still present decent value, as they've dealt with COVID-19 and an injury to Cody Riley, so it makes sense that things will get better for them (they also have two upcoming games against Arizona, which should reveal a lot).
There's not much to bet on in the conferences at this point and I'm not sure this is the year for a longshot to win the National Championship. While last season was dominated by two teams, there's a clear tier of maybe 10 teams that seem to be better than the rest. Villanova is +1800 to win it, but that's a waste of money in my eyes. The Wildcats don't have the makeup of a title team unless they catch fire from deep for six-straight games.
Even as a Big Ten follower and Michigan State homer, I don't see how Illinois (+2500), Wisconsin (+4000) or MSU (+4000) has a chance to win it. Obviously, it's possible, but none of those teams have enough to win six straight with two or three of them being against elite teams.
Kofi Cockburn struggles to play against anyone with size, while Andre Curbelo turns it over a ton. Wisconsin is riding the play of Johnny Davis, but more complete teams should beat them. The Spartans have no elite talent and too many offensive lulls to stand a chance against better teams. Even the Boilermakers are a longshot in my eyes because they can't play defense. Maybe they can score on everyone, but that's usually not a good strategy in the tournament, something Iowa found out a season ago. Purdue has the worst defense of the top 19 teams at KenPom.
Now that we're more than halfway into the season, the contenders are known. It was fun to bet teams like Texas and Alabama before the season, but now there's a core eight to 10 teams to focus on. Personally, I'd make maybe one Championship bet and then a couple for the Final Four. Also at RotoWire, I'd keep an eye on our Bracketology because that's a vital piece to betting futures, as it helps you figure out possible tournament routes for the teams you're looking at.