2021 NCAA Tournament Odds: Virginia the favorite, but several ‘blue blood’ programs not far behind

Since the 2020 NCAA Basketball Tournament was canceled due to the Coronavirus, the Virginia Cavaliers will be in a unique position entering the 2020-21 season. The Wahoos are favored to ‘repeat’ as champions next year after coming on strong over the latter half of this past season. Virginia won its last eight games to close out the campaign, knocking off Duke and Louisville in that stretch, and the experience the Cavaliers will bring into next season makes them the betting favorite over Gonzaga, Kansas, and Michigan State in the eyes of oddsmakers.

More “blue blood” programs, including Kentucky and Duke, are also among the top-10 teams with the best odds to win it all next season. 

2021 NCAA Tournament odds

Mamadi Diakite has likely played his last game in Charlottesville after a stellar career. Diakite was the team’s rock this past season, and his stellar interior defense helped make the “pack line defense” strong. Replacing him and Brandon Key won’t be easy, but Tony Bennett was able to develop a lot of new talent this season.

Kihei Clark will be Virginia’s leader next season. Clark led the team with 5.9 assists per game last season and was the Cavaliers’ top three-point shooter, making 37.5 percent of his threes. He needs to develop his interior game, as he shot the same percentage inside the arc, but he should improve those shooting numbers next year.

Center Jay Huff will be the key to the Cavaliers’ chances. With Diakite gone, he will be asked to take his place as the anchor in defense, and he will need to provide Virginia with a presence in the low post on the offensive end. Huff averaged 8.5 points per game and shot 57.1 percent from the floor last season.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few must be shaking his head thinking about this season. Few had one of his best teams ever at Gonzaga, and this could have been the year that the Bulldogs finally broke through and won a national title. Gonzaga was set to be a No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament, but now the Bulldogs will return a somewhat inexperienced team next year.

With Killian Tillie, Admon Gilder, and Ryan Woolridge definitely leaving and Filip Petrusev probably declaring early for the NBA Draft, Few will have to rely on Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert to carry the load next season. Both players have been good, but they have both been complementary pieces and will need to take on a bigger role for Gonzaga to again challenge for a title.

Kansas will be an enigma heading into next season. The Jayhawks will likely use Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike to the NBA Draft, and Isaiah Moss is out of eligibility after coming in as a grad transfer. However, two very talented players return in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett, and this is a team that can reload with ease as a blue blood.

Putting Michigan State in the same group as Gonzaga and Kansas feels a bit off. The Spartans came into this year with a lot of hype, but they largely underachieved and will lose Cassius Winston and Kyle Ahrens. They will return two excellent frontcourt players in Aaron Henry and Xavier Tillman Sr. though, and Michigan State could be the best rebounding team in the nation next year.

The key will be Joshua Langford. Langford was expected to return this season, but he sat out the entire season as he continued to recover from a stress fracture in his foot that he first suffered in December of 2018. He is mulling whether to turn pro or use his medical redshirt, and if he chooses the latter, that will give the Spartans a boon assuming he stays healthy.

As long as John Calipari is in Lexington, Kentucky will be a wildcard. His ability to bring in talented freshmen makes the Wildcats potentially dangerous every year, and he is currently slated to bring in two top-eight recruits in BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke. If some of the underclassmen on his team decide to return, that will make Kentucky even more dangerous, and 14-1 would be great value.

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