Men’s 2021 NCAA Tournament odds: Should Gonzaga be the favorite to win March Madness?

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The days between Selection Sunday and tournament tipoff bring about a perennial bracket question: Will the No. 1 overall seed win it all?

Although often appearing to be the obvious choice, the No. 1 overall seed hasn’t been crowned champion of the NCAA men’s tournament since 2007 and has only made it to the Final Four twice in the last 10 years.

RELATED: How to watch every 2021 March Madness game: Live streaming options, TV info 

Predicting the top-ranked team will lose before the Final Four has paid off in each of the last four years — but be wary of that this time.

While top-ranked teams often fall short, No. 1 Gonzaga has what it takes to cut down the nets in April.

Click here for the full, printable PDF version of the 2021 men’s March Madness bracket.

Current favorites, odds to win the men’s 2021 NCAA Tournament

According to PointsBet, Gonzaga leads the way as the clear favorite to win it all:

  1. Gonzaga (+130)
  2. Baylor (+240)
  3. Houston (+450)
  4. Michigan (+550)
  5. USC (+1400)
  6. UCLA (+2200)

Click here to bet on this plus every March Madness game, futures and more with PointsBet.

The year of the Zags

From start to finish, Gonzaga (26-0) has shown few weaknesses. Mark Few’s Bulldogs opened their season with a 102-90 win over then-No. 6 Kansas and closed it with an 88-78 victory over BYU in the West Coast Conference Tournament. In between, the Zags beat then-No. 3 Iowa 99-88 and then-No. 16 Virginia 98-75.

Led by three players on the 2021 Wooden Award National Ballot, Gonzaga is difficult to guard. Those three players — senior small forward Corey Kispert, freshman guard Jalen Suggs and sophomore forward Drew Timme — combine for 52.2 points per game.

Kispert, who leads the team in scoring with 19.2 points per game, also collected AP first-team All-American honors. Suggs and Timme made the second team, and junior guard Joel Ayayi rounded out the group with an honorable mention nod. Gonzaga was the only program with four players on the AP All-America teams.

The four All-American honorees lead a high-scoring and efficient offense: The Zags’ 92.1 points per game leads the nation by a significant margin. Colgate, the only other team averaging over 85 points, trails with 86.3. Meanwhile, the Zags have held opponents to an average of 69.1 points per game — an average margin of victory of 23 points.

The Bulldogs’ field-goal percentage (55.1%) is also first in the nation, well ahead of Stephen F. Austin’s 52.1%.

For good reason, Gonzaga hasn’t lost a game in over a year, but every team the Zags meet in the tournament will try to change that.

RELATED: March Madness 2021 schedule: Bracket, TV, tip times, dates, channels, start for men’s NCAA tournament games

What would it take to beat Gonzaga?

BYU (20-6) gave Gonzaga its toughest test of the season in the WCC Tournament championship. The Cougars capitalized on Gonzaga’s first-half shooting struggles to go on an 11-0 run and take as much as a 14-point lead. BYU led by 12 at the half, but Kispert hit three deep shots in a row as the Zags pulled within three. The Cougars fought to maintain a lead, but Gonzaga went ahead with seven minutes remaining and didn’t trail again.

After BYU shot 68% in the first half, Gonzaga added full-court pressure in the second, holding the Cougars to 25 points in the second half.

Teams have struggled to defend Gonzaga in transition, and the Bulldogs’ scoring distribution makes them hard to defend. Gonzaga has only scored fewer than 80 points on two occasions and has broken 100 on five. Beating them almost certainly requires an opponent to build a quick lead, then maintain it by shooting better than the Zags and breaking 80 points.

A potential meeting with Baylor in the championship could easily spoil the Bulldogs’ perfect run, as the Bears’ high-powered offense averages 84.4 points per game. The two teams were originally supposed to meet in December, but the game was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.

A prospective Elite Eight matchup with Iowa could also be trouble for Gonzaga, as Hawkeyes center Luka Garza could overwhelm the Bulldogs in the paint.

RELATED: 2021 NCAA women’s tournament bracket: TV schedule, tip times, dates

Recent history of the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament

The top-ranked team in the NCAA men’s tournament has often struggled on its road to the Final Four.

The last time the top overall seed made it past the Elite Eight was in 2015, when top-ranked Kentucky clinched a Final Four berth before being knocked out by eventual champion Wisconsin. Since then, top overall seeds Kansas (2016) and Duke (2019) lost in their respective Elite Eights, while Villanova (2017) lost in the second round and Virginia (2018) was the first one-seed to be upset by a 16-seed.

A top-ranked team hasn’t taken home the men’s tournament trophy since 2007, when Billy Donovan’s Florida team beat one-seed Ohio State 84-75 in the national championship.

More importantly, a men’s team hasn’t finished the season undefeated since Indiana in 1976.

If Mark Few’s Gonzaga team does it this year, it would go down as the best team in program history — and one of the best in the history of the tournament.

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RELATED: Gonzaga, Baylor and Illinois vs. The Field

NIL and NCAA: What to know about the new policy and how NBC Sports can help

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As of July 1, 2021, a new NCAA policy has been in effect allowing student-athletes from all three divisions to monetize their name, image, and likeness (often referred to as NIL). As long as the activities are “consistent with the law of the state where the school is located,” athletes now have the opportunity to accept endorsements from brands, monetize their social media presences, and work with professional firms to coordinate deals.

Click here for additional information and guidelines regarding NCAA NIL policies and keep reading to find answers to questions such as how NIL works as well as how NBC Sports can help.

What is NIL and NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

NBC Sports Athlete Direct is coming to a school near you. The program enables college student-athletes to earn money from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) through a unique marketplace that connects athletes with advertisers. NBC Sports Athlete Direct will work to provide equal opportunities to all student-athletes, regardless of which team you play on or any statistical performance.

How will the NIL Marketplace work?

Advertisers will use NBC Sports Athlete Direct to make NIL offers available to college student-athletes. College student-athletes will then have the option to participate in the NIL offer. Those who decide to participate and complete the advertiser’s campaign requirements will be compensated based on a predetermined rate.

How much money can athletes make participating in NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

Compensation will vary by advertiser campaign.

When will NBC Sports Athlete Direct launch and how can I sign up?

NBC Sports Athlete Direct will officially launch in the Fall of 2022 but prior to that, we will be launching a pilot program soon, exclusively for Temple and Vanderbilt student-athletes.

In the meantime, click here to fill out a student-athlete interest form and once it is available at your school, we will notify you and provide you with additional information on how to sign up.

If I participate in NIL offers from NBC Sports Athlete Direct, do I still have the freedom to do other NIL deals that are not related to NBC Sports Athlete Direct?

Yes, this program is non-exclusive so our student-athletes will have the freedom to participate in other NIL deals that are not related to NBC Sports Athlete Direct.

What are the rules or restrictions for participating in this program?

Unfortunately, international students and students under the age of 18 are not eligible to participate in the pilot program at this time.

Kentucky to allow college athletes to earn off likeness

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order Thursday allowing the state’s college athletes – including players on the nationally renowned Kentucky and Louisville men’s basketball teams – to make money through the use of their name, image or likeness.

The Democratic governor said he took the action as a matter of fairness for college athletes. It will spare Kentucky’s colleges from being at a competitive disadvantage with rivals in other states that will have laws enabling athletes to profit off their name, image or likeness, he said.

“This is important to our student-athletes, who for decades, others – whether it’s companies or institutions – have profited on,” Beshear told reporters. “These athletes deserve to be a part of that.”

Beshear said his executive order takes effect July 1, when similar legislation passed in several other states will become law. His office said he was the first governor to make the change by executive order.

The governor’s action won praise from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. UK plays in the Southeastern Conference and UofL competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Bringing the state of Kentucky into competitive balance with other states across the country and, more specifically, the Atlantic Coast Conference is critical,” Vince Tyra, U of L’s vice president for intercollegiate athletics, said in a release issued by the governor’s office.

UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said the governor’s action “provides us the flexibility we need at this time to further develop policies around name, image and likeness.”

“We are appreciative of that support, as it is a bridge until such time as state and/or federal laws are enacted,” Barnhart said in the same release from Beshear’s office. “The landscape of college sports is now in the midst of dramatic and historic change – perhaps the biggest set of shifts and changes since scholarships were first awarded decades ago.”

In Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas, laws go into effect July 1 that make it impermissible for the NCAA and members schools to prevent athletes from being paid by third parties for things like sponsorship deals, online endorsements and personal appearances.

The NCAA had hoped for a national law from Congress that has not come, and its own rule-making has been bogged down for months. College sports leaders are instead moving toward the type of patchwork regulation they have been warning against for months.