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The 2023 NCAA Tournament was the first time a No. 1, 2, or 3 seed has failed to appear in the Final Four.
UConn was the first No. 4 seed to win March Madness since the 1997 Arizona Wildcats.
The favorites to win in 2024 are Houston, Purdue, Arizona, and UConn.
Even though it is unknown what teams will make the 2024 Final Four during March Madness or the region those teams will be in if they make it, you can still wager on which teams you believe will win their first four games in the NCAA Tournament.
The March Madness Final Four odds that you can get in the preseason and early in the regular season are much more favorable than those later in the year. However, there is substantially more risk. Let’s dive into all the teams with a great chance to make the Final Four relative to their current odds.
We get it. The recent NCAA Tournament performances for the Purdue Boilermakers are borderline gross. They have lost to No. 16 Fairleigh-Dickinson in the Round of 64, No. 15 Saint Peter’s in the Sweet 16, and No. 13 North Texas in the Round of 64 in their past three NCAA Tournament trips.
As a matter of fact, they seem to have been cursed since the No. 1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers hit a game-tying shot off of a missed free-throw in the 2019 Elite Eight. Obviously, Virginia won in overtime, sealing its Final Four appearance and securing a National Championship not long after.
The game against Virginia in 2019 makes an interesting comparison between the two programs. The Cavaliers were the first team to lose to a No. 16 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament when they dropped their Round of 64 game against UMBC in 2018. The following season, they successfully made it through the proverbial gauntlet, including that nail-biter against Purdue, on their way to redemption. Virginia won the National Championship.
Now, Purdue looks every bit the part of a redemption team, filling in all of its perceivable weaknesses with metaphorical concrete. The Boilermakers shoot the three-pointer over seven percent better than last season and have three capable secondary scoring options outside Zach Edey, the reigning Wooden Award winner, to help diversify their offensive output and spread the floor.
Purdue has an elite offensive attack, ranking second in the nation (as of the end of February) in adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom. Its combination of three-point shooting (third nationally in 3P%) and stout interior finishing, spearheaded by Edey, make it a borderline unstoppable force. The Boilermakers are also a solid defensive team, although there are moments when they have communication breakdowns. Still, Edey’s own personal strides in lateral quickness and conditioning have alleviated much of the weakness that Purdue had on that end of the floor last season.
The Arizona Wildcats consist of a hodgepodge of talented players who all make up one of the most lethal offensive attacks in the nation. Despite losing Azuolas Tubelis, Courtney Ramey, and Kerr Krissa, the Wildcats replenished their lost talent through the transfer portal and on the recruitment trail.
The Wildcats were able to steal former North Carolina scoring guard Caleb Love from the hands of the Wolverines after Love did not meet certain academic requirements to enroll at Michigan. Now, Love averages just shy of 19 points per game for Arizona, leading the offensive charge. Arizona also landed Keshad Johnson, a talented forward transfer from San Diego State, and Jaden Bradley, a former guard from Alabama, in the portal to join Love.
Among the Wildcats’ returners were interior force Oumar Ballo, sharpshooter Pelle Larsson, and talented guard Kylan Boswell. Boswell, Larsson, and Ballo join Love, Bradley, and Johnson as the six most vital players for this Arizona squad. Other contributors include K.J. Lewis and Motiejus Krivas to round out an eight-man rotation, which is plenty for a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Besides their prowess in jumping passing lanes, stripping ball handlers, and forcing opponents to commit careless turnovers, the Wildcats are also elite on the glass, ranking third in total rebounding rate in the country. This ranking adequately demonstrates their size, athleticism, and physicality. This is something that will particularly come in handy in March when one or two possessions decide games, and the difference between winning and losing comes down to turnovers, rebounding, and free throws.
Even though the Houston Cougars have not put together a title run yet under Kelvin Sampson, he has transformed this program from a mid-major with a strong history to a bona fide contender every single season that they have a team to put out on the floor.
The Houston Cougars are again one of the best teams in the nation, ranking first in adjusted efficiency margin and first in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. They hold opponents to an effective field goal percentage of merely 43.5% (late February), which ranks second in the entire country.
Besides just their exceptional defense, which seems like a staple for this program under Sampson, they also rebound the ball exceptionally well, particularly on the offensive end. As a matter of fact, Houston is second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, too.
While the losses of first-round picks Marcus Sasser and Jarace Walker hurt the Cougars quite a bit, they had enough returners to maintain their on-court chemistry on both ends of the floor and boast enough offensive weaponry to be competitive. Houston brought back five of its top eight players and leading scorers: Emanuel Sharp, Jamal Shead, J’Wan Roberts, Ja’Vier Francis, and Terrance Arceneaux.
Additionally, in an effort to find a formidable replacement for Sasser, Sampson and his staff convinced Baylor’s former star guard, L.J. Cryer, to hop in the transfer portal and make the short move to Houston’s campus. The Cougars also grabbed Damian Dunn in the portal, a transfer from Temple.
If Houston can get hot in March and knock down the three-pointer at a slightly higher rate, then it will truly be unbeatable.
How many teams can win an NCAA Championship, lose three players to the NBA, and then return the next year and be just as competitive as the previous year? The answer to that is not many.
After losing Jordan Hawkins, Adama Sanogo, and Andre Jackson Jr. to the NBA, the Huskies were forced to act quickly to fill in the gaps. Luckily, they were able to recruit consensus five-star freshman Stephon Castle and pick up sharpshooting two-guard Cam Spencer in the transfer portal to add to their returners.
UConn’s returning class was still no joke, even with all of its losses. The Huskies brought back Alex Karaban, Donovan Clingan, and Tristen Newton, who all improved drastically from last season to this one. Clingan is a 7-foot-2 interior beast and a likely lottery pick in the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft, while Newton is a triple-double threat nightly, averaging the most assists and rebounds per game of any Huskies player despite being just 6-foot-5.
Meanwhile, Karaban is a legitimate stretch four who is shooting as close as a player can get to a 50/40/90 split without being there. He falls just short at the free-throw line, knocking down roughly 87% of his attempts. These five players make up what is one of the most lethal five-man lineups of any team in the country. However, it doesn’t stop there, as Solomon Ball, Hassan Diarra, and Samson Johnson are capable backups.
The Huskies are one of the most talented half-court teams in America. They take their time in all of their offensive sets and pick defenses apart one possession at a time. UConn could stand to improve on the defensive end of the floor if it wants to go back-to-back this season, but it undoubtedly has the talent and roster for it.
When the NCAA Tournament rolls around, team’s rotations get a little tighter and star players suck it up and play a few more minutes. There is virtually no margin for error during March Madness, so many teams will leave their eighth and ninth guys on the bench as much as possible.
However, this is not an issue for the Creighton Bluejays, who are already a top-heavy team that is used to playing their key rotational players a lot. In fact, the Bluejays only have six players who average 11 or more minutes per game as of late February. They are in fantastic shape, avoid injuries, and stay out of foul trouble as well as any team in the nation.
What this allows Creighton and head coach Greg McDermott to do is play their best guys and maintain the chemistry they have developed together. Chemistry and cohesion are imperative once the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
The Bluejays made it to the Elite Eight last season and lost by one point on a suspect foul call. Otherwise, they would have made the Final Four. They don’t have exactly the same team, but Ryan Kalkbrenner, Trey Alexander, and Baylor Scheierman are rostered and were three of their five best players from the 2022-23 squad.
Creighton has a top-ten offense in the country with some of the best three-point shooters, including Scheierman, Steven Ashworth, Francisco Farabello, and Mason Miller. Ashworth, in particular, has also been spectacular in the second half of the 2023-24 season, averaging roughly 14 points on improved shooting efficiency, giving the Bluejays yet another huge offensive talent alongside Scheierman, Alexander, and Kalkbrenner. This team can get red-hot at any moment.
The Bluejays take the most optimal shots offensively, including open threes and layups, helping them to rank third nationally in effective field goal percentage. Building on this point, they rank second in adjusted offensive shot quality (per ShotQuality) and with the scoring talent they have, they can beat anyone if they are knocking down shots.
Dalton Knecht has been an absolute godsend for the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee was still going to be strong this season due to having a few key returners, including Zakai Zeigler, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, and Jonas Aidoo, but it would not have been a true title contender without Knecht, who has been on a tear in the second half of the 2023-24 campaign.
On the season, Knecht is averaging over 20 points and five rebounds per game on just shy of 50% shooting from the field and 42% from behind the arc. However, Knecht has been even more lethal recently, consistently taking on double-teams from teams and still posting 30-point games every other night. Recently, he dropped 39 points on the Auburn Tigers, one of the best defensive teams in the country. For a team that severely lacked consistent offensive output last season, there could not have been a more ideal match for both Knecht and the University of Tennessee.
Tennessee has hovered in the top five in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin and the NET rankings due to its electric defense, which is third in adjusted defensive efficiency and fourth in opponent effective field goal percentage in the nation. The Volunteers have become a defensive-centric team under head coach Rick Barnes, but this is the first time that they also have a strong offense to pair with their defense.
In fact, the Vols have spent the better part of the second half of the season within the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is infinitely better than 64th, where it finished the 2022-23 campaign. While Tennessee isn’t going to set the nets on fire, it does have enough offense between Aidoo, Knecht, Zeigler, and JJJ to keep up with high-octane teams.
Improvements on the defensive glass, defending without fouling, and minimizing offensive droughts would catapult this team into the upper echelon alongside Purdue, Houston, and UConn, although they might be there already.
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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