College basketball season starts next week, and the sport's top officials have already explained their intent to host the 2021 NCAA Tournament in a controlled environment. So all indications are that a champion will be crowned this season, unlike last season when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the season to be cut short.
With the preseason polls out, expectations are taking shape for who will be left standing at the end. Though the NCAA Tournament will inevitably bring surprises, upsets and mayhem, there are some top programs built to survive the fray. There also some programs getting little respect in the preseason that have the ingredients to make a run that few are forecasting.
Here is a breakdown of why 15 teams from four distinct categories could be good bets to win the national championship, starting with picks from the group of frontrunners and spanning all the way to four longshot teams with odds of 100-1 or worse. The exercise is not necessarily meant to predict the champion -- because obviously Kentucky and Kansas have a better shot than Providence and Missouri -- but rather to identify the programs with the best betting value, according to odds from the William Hill Sportsbook.
Teams with odds of 10-1 or better
Current odds: 9-1
Breakdown: The Wildcats have won two of the last four NCAA Tournaments and return five of their top six players from last season's 24-7 team. So +900 actually feels like a steal when you consider that teams like Michigan State (6-1), Kentucky (7-1) and Kansas (8-1) had better odds entering last season. With former five-star guard Bryan Antoine now healthy and Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels in the fold, Villanova is the closest thing to a safe bet that you'll find.
Itching for more college hoops analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where we take you beyond the hardwood with insider information and instant reactions.
Current odds: 10-1
Breakdown: Considering that there was no 2020 NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers are technically the reigning champions. Last year's team struggled mightily from 3-point range but rallied after a slow start to win 11 of its last 12 games. Ultimately, there are still some questions about whether this team can shoot anywhere close to the elite 39.5% 3-point shooting clip it enjoyed during the 2019 title run. But Marquette transfer Sam Hauser will help with that, and the Cavaliers' defense is guaranteed to be great again.
Current odds: 10-1
Breakdown: Baylor faded a bit down the stretch after winning 23 straight and spending five weeks at No. 1 last season, but with Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell back, this team is poised to contend. Excellent guard play is the lifeblood of most elite college basketball teams, and the Bears probably have the best backcourt in the sport. This team conjures flashbacks to the 2004-05 Illinois team that made the national title game led by guards Luther Head, Dee Brown and Deron Williams.
Current odds: 10-1
Breakdown: Last year's Gonzaga team wasn't supposed to be one of Mark Few's best, yet it finished 31-2. So what do you make of a Gonzaga team that is No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25? You make a bet on them to win the national title. The Bulldogs have three stars in Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert and Drew Timme, plus a trio of top-100 freshmen.
Teams with odds between 11-1 and 25-1
Current odds: 14-1
Breakdown: Why does Duke have worse odds than Kentucky (12-1) to win the national title? The Blue Devils return more production than Kentucky with rotation players Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore Jr., Jordan Goldwire and Joey Baker all coming back. And they have a comparable recruiting class featuring six top-60 players and a quality graduate transfer forward in forward Patrick Tape.
Current odds: 18-1
Breakdown: Six of the top seven players from a 21-10 team with an elite defense are back. The Mountaineers struggled mightily with 3-point shooting last season, but if they can improve a bit offensively, this team could be one of Bob Huggins' best at West Virginia.
Current odds: 20-1
Breakdown: Why, you ask, are the Badgers the only Big Ten team featured in this piece? While the league is clearly the best in college basketball entering the 2020-21 season, the fact remains that 2000 was the last time a team from the Big Ten won the national title. The Badgers have a ton of experience returning from a team that won eight straight games to end last last season, and with 20-1 odds are a better value pick than Illinois (15-1), Iowa (15-1) or Michigan State (16-1).
Current odds: 25-1
Breakdown: Most expect the Bluejays to finish second behind Villanova in the Big East. But after splitting the league title with Villanova and Seton Hall last season, Creighton returns enough talent to challenge for the league title again. The Bluejays should be one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country with a star in Marcus Zegarowski leading the way.
Teams with odds between 26-1 and 99-1
Current odds: 30-1
Breakdown: Tennessee has never made a Final Four, let alone the national title game. But Rick Barnes has a nice combination of returning production to pair with the nation's No. 4 recruiting class. Most preseason predictions have the Volunteers winning the SEC over a Kentucky team with 12-1 national title odds. So the Volunteers clearly have better value than Kentucky out of the SEC.
Current odds: 30-1
Breakdown: The Ducks are always something of a mystery due to the annual amount of roster turnover. But if St. John's transfer LJ Figueroa gets eligible, this team could grow into a national force by March. Veteran coach Dana Altman is used to remixing his rotation every season, and if he can pull it off again, the talent is there for Oregon to be elite.
Current odds: 40-1
Breakdown: Shaka Smart still hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game at Texas. So expecting the Longhorns to make a postseason run may be too presumptuous for some. But it's absolutely within the realm of possibility as Texas returns every key contributor from a team that won five of its last six games last season. The Longhorns also added five-star local forward Greg Brown, who should help this team finally break through.
Teams with odds of 100-1 or worse
Current odds: 150-1
Breakdown: The Utes bring nearly every key contributor back, including a star in Timmy Allen. He averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season and will be the leader of a team that has the potential to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Current odds: 150-1
Breakdown: There are too many other interesting storylines in the ACC for Georgia Tech to get much preseason hype, especially when you consider how insignificant the Yellow Jackets have been in recent seasons. But this team finished alone at fifth in the ACC standings last season and brings its top three scorers back along with some other solid contributors.
Current odds: 200-1
Breakdown: The Big East coaches predicted Providence to finish third in the conference, yet it has just 200-1 odds to win the national title? If the only teams in the Big East better than the Friars are Villanova and Creighton, then that means Providence at 200-1 odds holds tremendous value as a long shot bet to win the national title.
Current odds: 300-1
Breakdown: The last time Cuonzo Martin coached in the SEC, he led Tennessee to within a last-second loss of making the Elite Eight in his third season. He did it with a veteran team that took a big step forward defensively. His rebuild at Missouri has taken a bit longer due to bad luck with injuries, but the Tigers are finally a veteran team. If they can take a step forward defensively, they could be a surprise NCAA Tournament team.