- Both the Duke Blue Devils and the Kansas Jayhawks have been forced to withdraw from their conference tournaments due to COVID-19.
- Neither Duke nor the North Carolina Tarheels are ranked in the top 25.
- The last time neither team was ranked in the top 25 was in 1950.
INDIANAPOLIS – The March Madness Tournament is right around the corner and this year will be different from any tournament in the past.
For starters, the entire year has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to many canceled or postpones games, and teams not playing the same number of games.
Teams who have historically been great programs also struggled heavily this year, making this the most unpredictable tournament for March Madness betting yet.
New Teams At The Top
The first most obvious difference for college basketball betting fans are the current AP poll rankings and which teams are missing.
Sitting at the top of the AP poll leading into the tournament is the Gonzaga Bulldogs with an undefeated 26-0 record on the season. While Gonzaga has been a high-ranking team for some time, they have never managed to finish undefeated before.
This has made the Bulldogs the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA tournament, a position they have managed to hold on to all season long.
Odds To Win 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament
- Gonzaga +250
- Baylor +300
- Michigan +300
- Illinois +1300
- Ohio State +1500
- Villanova +1800
- Iowa +1800
- Houston +1800
- Alabama +2000
- Florida State +2000
- West Virginia +2500
- Kansas +2500
Two glaring omissions from the AP poll this season are the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tarheels. This is the first time neither team has been ranked in the top 25 since 1950.
In contrast, in the 2020 season which didn’t have a March Madness Tournament due to the pandemic, Duke was ranked 11. In 2019, Duke was ranked 1st and UNC was ranked 6th. And in 2018, UNC was the number 3 ranked team while Duke was ranked 5th.
Duke will not even be participating in the tournament this year, with their season-ending due to COVID-19 canceling their last game, and last push to make the tournament.
“I feel deeply for our players, who have done a terrific job all season in taking care of each other and the team,” said Mike Krzyzewski, Duke head coach. “I am extremely proud of their collective attitudes and effort, which could not have been stronger. We are disappointed we cannot keep fighting together as a group after two outstanding days in Greensboro. This season was a challenge for every team across the country and as we have seen over and over, this global pandemic is very cruel and is not yet over. As many safeguards as we implemented, no one is immune to this terrible virus.”
While Gonzaga now sits atop, the Baylor Bears, Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, and Iowa Hawkeyes round off the top 5 teams on the AP poll.
Illinois in particular is an interesting addition, as the Fighting Illini were ranked 21st in 2019, and unranked in the previous few years.
COVID-19 Affected Seeding
A major reason for the significant change in the AP poll rankings this year has to do with teams seeding records, which has been greatly affected by the pandemic.
COVID-19 caused more than a dozen games to be canceled, with some programs canceling their entire seasons due to contact tracing and other COVID-related protocols. Because of this, some teams played fewer games, avoided tougher competitions, and mainly played within their conference to limit travel.
This is something that can truly impact the tournament, with teams being seeded higher than they normally would have, or teams suffering from rust due to games being canceled consecutively.
The Florida State Seminoles for example advanced on in the ACC Tournament due to Duke having positive COVID-19 tests.
Duke won’t play Florida State in the ACC tournament tonight due to a positive COVID-19 test, per @GoodmanHoops
It could end the Blue Devils’ NCAA tournament hopes pic.twitter.com/6TGKV2Blm0
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 11, 2021
This could affect the Seminoles tournament seeding overall as either the team could be placed higher than they would have as they could have lost Duke and thus dropped in seeding or it could cause rust, leading to the Noles losing from not playing for a while.
The pandemic restructured the entire tournament, leading to a tournament where betting fans can’t simply trust the standings and power rankings.
No Fans, No Home Court Advantage
The entire tournament will be held in a bubble in Indianapolis this year. No fans will be allowed to attend, which is another reason this will be a different tournament to past years. No team will get an advantage from traveling fans cheering them on, leading to no momentum surge coming from cheers, and no nerves coming from boos.
In a sense, this is the fairest tournament there is, as no team will benefit from having a more popular program and see fans travel to root them on. The games will only be affected by individual play.
More States Approve Sports Betting
Possibly the biggest difference between the 2021 March Madness Tournament and past years, is the amount of states with legal sports betting.
More states than ever have launched a regulated market, and there will be a lot of wagers placed on March Madness this year. States like Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and Virginia for example all will be hosting betting lines for the first time. This will likely be the most wagered on March Madness event in history.
Coming from a background in narrative-based writing, Giovanni strives to write stories that will keep the reader engaged. Although he does pride himself in being accurate, how the story is told is also very important to him. When he’s not keeping readers up to date on sports betting laws and legislation, you can find him writing and recording music, playing videogames, or engaged in heated sports debates with his friends.