NB: This post is from 2021. Check out the 2023 version here.

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Why we love March Madness

At the very beginning, this writer wanted to make a point about how truly special this tournament is. About what makes it so remarkable. How it can get a hold of you, get under your skin... and live with you for the rest of your days.

Here’s what was written:

Full and fair disclosure - this writer is an unabashed North Carolina Tar Heel… The year I was there we lost in the Final Four. It still hurts.

The title that year was won by UCLA... who this year... are underdogs in the First Four game vs Michigan State. And that reversal of fortune (albeit over many years) in so many ways sums up all that's great about this tournament.”

And I’ll be damned if the school with the most NCAA titles in history - that’s 11 - hasn’t made it all the way from First Four to Final Four.

The Final Four

In a truly remarkable tournament that has dished up more upsets than any other, one outlier remains in the Final Four - UCLA, seeded No.11, but the one school, historically, with an incomparable NCAA record.

Perhaps predictably - though predictability has been scarce this year - the West and South were won by the No.1 seeds, Gonzaga and Baylor, respectively, neither team really being pushed or challenged too badly.

Not so in the other divisions.

In the Midwest, it was No.2 Houston who found a path to the Final Four after No.8 Loyola posted the biggest upset of the second round by dumping out No.1 Illinois - allowing No.12 Oregon State a run to the Elite 8.

In the East of course, we had the biggest shock of the last round as UCLA continued their tremendous run, pipping No.1 Michigan at the wire, 51-49 (the lowest scoring game of this year’s tournament). And let’s not conveniently forget that they had to beat No.2 Alabama to get there.

So the obvious question… Do they have enough in the tank for one more epic performance?

So here we have our Final Four: Baylor vs Houston and Gonzaga vs UCLA.

Let’s start with the match that will tip-off first. All odds quoted are correct at the time of writing, but please make sure to check the live site for the latest numbers.

Baylor vs Houston

The first of the two match-ups brings the No.1 South seed up against the No.2 Midwest seed. Neither the Bears nor the Cougars have ever played in a Final Four since the tournament expanded in 1985, so both teams will be writing school history as they play.

Cloudbet odds offer a 5-point spread, with Baylor favoured at 1.89. Houston, at +5, is offering 1.93.

In the NCAA winner’s market, Baylor sits at odds of 3.62 and Houston at 8.52.

In the tournament MVP market, the top three spots are still held by Gonzaga players, but Baylor holds the next three spots, with Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. Houston’s Quentin Grimes is next on the list at seventh, with Marcus Sasser tenth.

Gonzaga vs UCLA

For the neutrals watching, it’s fair to say that this is the game that will demand the most attention. Gonzaga, unbeaten so far this year - their winning stretch is now at 30-0 - and tournament favourites from the start, take on UCLA, the Cinderella story of 2021.

Not to downplay their effort, but the Zags’ run to the Final Four has been fairly straight-forward, though arguably that’s what we’d expect from a No.1 seed. That said, they effectively dismantled an effective No.6 USC in the last round, 85-66 - USC having had a hell of a run to get to the Elite 8 - upsetting No.11 Drake in the first round before impressively rolling No.3 Kansas by a remarkable 85-51.

A perfect season

In the history of college basketball, only 19 times have teams made it to the NCAA tournament with a perfect record. Of those 19, only seven went on to win the tournament.

The first was San Francisco in 1956, improving on their 28-1 record in 1955, securing their second consecutive national title. The second was in 1957, when the UNC Tar Heels went 32-0 and survived three overtimes in the title game to beat Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas 54-53.

The most recent perfect season was in 1976, when Indiana went 32-0 and beat Michigan for their third national title.

The four times in between? Those honours go to the UCLA dynasty that dominated for a decade, under legendary coach John Wooden. From 1964 to 1973 the Bruins posted an insane 281-15 record, winning nine national championships, seven consecutively (a record) and four perfect seasons.

UCLA has pedigree.

So could UCLA prove to be Gonzaga’s banana peel?  

As much as we all love a fairy tale ending, the odds and history suggest otherwise. A double-digit seed is yet to win a Final Four game - but of course there’s a first time for everything.

The spread is now a 14.5-point game, with Gonzaga at 1.94 on -14.5, while UCLA is at 1.88 on +14.5. The action Cloudbet has seen so far is also heavily skewed towards a Bulldogs win - positions on Gonzaga have spiked by around 45% since it became known they would be meeting UCLA rather than Michigan. The Zags also account for around 30% of total March Madness outright winner bets placed with Cloudbet.

In comparison, UCLA has attracted little money, but, for those who like an underdog, the money line is offering odds of 8.58 and the 1x2 (ex-OT) 8.91.

Were UCLA to win, the game would become the eight-biggest spread beater in the 64-team era.

In the tournament MVP market, the top three spots are still held by Gonzaga players, Drew Timme first, followed by Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert. Johnny Juzang is UCLA’s first player on the list, sitting at eighth.

In the NCAA winner’s market, Gonzaga is at odds of 1.48 and UCLA at 21.0.

While the evidence, therefore, would suggest (heavily) a Gonzaga win, we’ll leave you with just one thought…

Well, more of a reminder really: This is March Madness.

Apr 2, 2021

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