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Most of you have heard some variation of the UCLA narrative by now - the Bruins being the first team to reach the Final Four as a "First Four" team since VCU did back in 2011. Don’t worry, this article isn’t about that, as I'm sure most, if not all of you, are sick of hearing it already. This article is going to focus more on the historical perspective of the Final Four and the odds that have come with it, over the year. All odds for this article can be found on sports odd history, and the lines themselves are also from Bet MGM.
A couple weeks ago, various sportsbooks had a prop of what the winning seed be of the tournament would be. I dove into that one a bit, just to see if we had value on any one particular seed. Turns out, the book’s numbers were pretty spot on to the NCAA Tournament's historical numbers, and that they didn’t offer any value outside of the lower seeds (which no one wanted to bet). Doing a quick search, and using a website called bracket research, I was able to track the historical numbers for us on what seed(s) won while using the 1985 season as a starting point (when the modern 64-teams format officially began):
- #1 seeds have won 22 of the last 35 tournaments (or about 63% of the time)
- #2 seeds have won 5 championships (14%)
- #3 seeds have won 4 championships (11%)
The "other championships" have been by a 4, 6, and 8 seeds that all have won exactly once. Diving into the 2021 tournament teams now, let's start with the aforementioned UCLA Bruins. Coming into the round of 64, UCLA had a 50/1 chance (+5000 odds) to win its region, with Michigan being favored every round until the Wolverines were eliminated in the Elite 8. In game two vs Abilene Christian, UCLA was +900 to win its region. In the Sweet 16, the Bruins were +600. In the Elite 8, they were +260 to win it, while Michigan was -350. Talk about upsets for a team which took two overtime wins to make it this far and win. UCLA had better odds than just Abilene Christian, UNC Greensboro, Iona, Mount St. Mary’s, and Texas Southern. All those schools were major dogs in game one, and all of them lost the first game except Abilene Christian.
Next up, we have Houston. This was a good team to take far in the NCAA Tournament, simply because I didn’t see much public love from them from the start. Coming in into round of 64, the Cougars were +375 to win their region. They had the second best odds only behind Illinois, and in the round of 32, they were +375. Their Sweet 16 odds then jumped to +115 and -400 by the time the Elite 8 started. Something that stood out from those odds wasn’t even the team who won, however, it was from another team - Oregon State. The Beavers opened +3500 to win their region with only Liberty, Morehead State, Cleveland State, and Drexel having worse odds. Oregon State closed +310 by the Elite 8 before losing to the Cougars.
Now we have the Baylor Bears. This was an iffy team for a lot of people after the COVID-19 situation layoff, and the Bears didn’t look so good in the Big 12 tournament either, which I believe actually helped them. The Bears had an early exit in their conference tournament (which gave them extra time to rest) while other teams who made it their conference tourney finals saw some very early exits (i.e. Ohio State, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma State, Colorado, LSU, and Georgia Tech). Only one of those teams in fact made it to the Elite 8 - again, Oregon State. Every other one of these teams lost by the Sweet 16 or earlier. Baylor had even odds to win its region and saw that number increase to -150 in the round of 32 after #2 Ohio State went down to #15 Oral Roberts. In the Sweet 16 the Bears stayed at -150 but then closed -400 over Arkansas in the Elite 8. Once again, this region had some interesting odds. Arkansas was +1000 down to +175 by the Sweet 16, then closed +310 vs Baylor. The +175 Sweet 16 number should have been higher though, because I have a tough time believing the oddsmakers factored in Baylor losing to Nova.
Last but not least we have the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs. They were -175 to win their region from the start and were -500 in the Elite 8. I am surprised they were only -175 to open up, however, as Iowa was a weak team, and #3 seed Kansas also had major COVID-19 issues the week prior to the tournament. All in all, this article isn’t designed to sway you in any certain way, but in fact to note some of the surprising - and sometimes drastic - changes we see these futures odds can take over the course of the Big Dance.
Best of luck to everyone gambling on the Final Four!