With COVID currently affecting the sports world left, right, and every other possible direction, there’s no way to predict how things are going to look when March Madness rolls around.
At present, it would seem unlikely that we will have the same scenario as in 2020. That year, the first wave of COVID claimed the NCAA Tournament and many other sporting events.
Will this year’s tournament occur in a bubble, like last year? Or will the normal format be able to resume? Will fans be in attendance? It is much too early to know if that will be the case.
But no matter how the tournament looks in terms of location or crowd size, we should be in for another wild ride.
After falling one win short of a perfect season, preseason March Madness odds favored Gonzaga’s third title game trip to be the charm.
The Bulldogs, who fell to Baylor in last season’s championship game, lost three key players to the pros. Jalen Suggs (drafted fifth overall), Corey Kispert (drafted 15th overall), and Joel Ayayi (signed with the Wizards after going undrafted) all moved on.
But they returned consensus national player of the year favorite Drew Timme and reloaded the cupboard with a group that included #1 overall recruit Chet Holmgren.
The Zags have taken a couple of early losses to Duke and Alabama to end their quest for perfection. But as 2021 ends, they are still favored to cut down the nets at the Final Four in New Orleans.
Odds to Win the 2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament
- Gonzaga +500
- Duke +800
- Purdue +800
- Kansas +1100
- Baylor +1200
- UCLA +1600
- Arizona +2000
- Texas +2200
- Alabama +2500
- Illinois +2500
- Houston +2500
- Kentucky +2500
- Villanova +2500
- Michigan +3000
- Ohio State +3500
- Auburn +4000
- Memphis +4000
- Michigan State +4000
- Tennessee +4000
- Arkansas +5000
- LSU +5000
- UConn +5000
- USC +5000
NCAA Tournament odds are from BetMGM as of December 23, 2021.
Top March Madness Contenders
When Gonzaga routed Texas and UCLA early on, it seemed like another undefeated regular season might be on the cards. Then in the span of three games, they lost to Duke, struggled to put away Tarleton State, and gave up 91 points in a loss to Alabama. But last Saturday’s win over Texas Tech, in which Gonzaga was in control for the final 37 minutes, served as a reminder of their quality.
The schedule lightens significantly as they enter West Coast Conference play, which will allow them to flex their muscles, pad individual numbers, and gel on both ends of the court before March rolls around.
The two early losses may turn out to be the best thing that could happen to this team. They know now what they need to work on and know they can’t win by just showing up. Will that knowledge propel them to long-awaited March Madness glory?
In June, legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that he would be retiring after this season. His final team didn’t enter the year as one of the leading national title favorites, but the outlook has since changed.
Freshman phenom Paolo Banchero is the headliner, but a big key to Duke’s hot start is the major leap that junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. has made.
Will not having a great deal of depth cost the Blue Devils a chance to send Coach K off in style? That has tripped them up in recent seasons and might do so again. Most of their production comes from their starters. An injury or two could derail their chances.
For all of its history in men’s basketball, Purdue has never won the NCAA Tournament. The Boilermakers have not been to the Final Four since 1980, and their lone championship game appearance was in 1969. Will they finally break through this season?
Purdue has the tallest player in Big Ten history in 7-foot-4 sophomore Zach Edey, and the duo of Edey and Trevion Williams give the Boilermakers size and production that will take them a long way. Guard Jaden Ivey is a potential Wooden Award candidate and a deadly threat from deep for a team that is currently shooting over 40 percent from three.
The big question for Purdue is whether or not they can handle the pressure that they will face the closer and closer they get to making history.
Top-Ranked Baylor Among Other Top Title Favorites
These three teams are the only three teams that currently have March Madness title odds shorter than +1000. The group outside of that trio features defending national champ Baylor, who looks primed for a serious run at a repeat.
The Bears lost Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague from their title team, but their defense remains strong. Just ask Villanova, who managed only 36 points in Waco two weeks ago. The 11-0 Bears recently ascended to the top spot in the polls and will still be there when they open 2022–and Big 12 play–at Iowa State, a surprise top-10 team.
Will we get a title game rematch between Gonzaga and Baylor? There hasn’t been a repeat champion since Florida in 2006 and 2007. And a rematch has happened only once in NCAA Tournament history, when Cincinnati defeated Ohio State for the title in 1961 and 1962. But with what both teams have shown so far, it would not be a surprise if we see that matchup at the Caesars Superdome come April 4.