Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, the list of contenders for the NCAA basketball title is long and indistinct. Sure, the usual top dogs such as Kansas, Duke and Michigan State are expected to make noise in March, but none is an overwhelming favorite. That’s not to say the heavy favorite at this point always wins, but this year’s NCAA Tournament looks to be as wide-open as ever.
Who is to say a mid-major team can’t win the title this season? If you’ve been following the season closely, you probably know who the mid-major power players are. We’re talking specifically about Gonzaga, Dayton and San Diego State, but how about some other bigger long shots such as BYU, Houston and Wichita State? Does any have a real shot to become the first mid-major champion since UNLV in 1990?
To determine whether we should take any of these six teams seriously in terms of NCAA title odds, we’ve focused on some of their current stats and power ratings and cross-referenced them against traits of teams that have reached the Final Four:
- Regular-season schedule strength ranked in the top 45 nationally: BYU
- Ranked in the top 55 in offensive points per game (72 ppg or more): Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU
- Ranked in the top 135 in defensive points per game (70 ppg or fewer): Houston, Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU, San Diego State, Wichita State
- Scored at least 1.185 Effective Points per Possession on offense and ranked in the top 18 nationally: Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU
- Allowed lower than 0.955 Effective Points per Possession on defense and ranked in the top 15 nationally: San Diego State, Wichita State
- Shot at least 45 percent on the season, ranking in the top 45 nationally in field-goal percentage: Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU, Wichita State, San Diego State
- Made at least 34.5 percent of its 3-point attempts, placing in the top 100: Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU, San Diego State
- Had a rebounding percentage rate of at least 51.5 percent and ranked in the top 70: Gonzaga, Houston, Dayton, San Diego State
- Had an assist-to-turnover ratio of at least 1.170, ranking in the top 45 nationally: Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU, San Diego State
- Allowed opponents 42 percent or less on field-goal attempts: San Diego State, Houston, Wichita State
From these lists, it’s obvious Gonzaga and Dayton are complete teams and have the type of résumés to reach the Final Four. San Diego State, Houston and Wichita State are defensively oriented, while BYU is one of the top offensive teams in the country. Historically, teams that are better offensively tend to have greater success in the tournament than those that primarily focus on defense.
With the NCAA Tournament a month away, we would feel quite comfortable taking Gonzaga or Dayton on some futures bets. The Zags are offered in the 8/1 to 10/1 range, while the Flyers are priced anywhere from 12/1 to 20/1. Good value on both teams.