Gonzaga, Houston Enter Season as NCAA Championship Favorites
The Gonzaga Bulldogs enter the season as NCAA national title favorites for the third consecutive year. But depending on what sportsbook you’re looking at, Gonzaga is favored with multiple other schools.
At FanDuel, the Houston Cougars are tied atop the odds board with Gonzaga at +900. DraftKings also has North Carolina and Kentucky both at +900, which is what Gonzaga and Houston are both at on DraftKings.
Here’s a breakdown of the favorites and a list of the other top contenders.
As preseason favorites the last two seasons, the Bulldogs were national title runner-ups in 2020, losing to the Baylor Bears in the final and were upset by Arkansas last season in the Sweet 16. Those teams both featured five-star freshmen and eventual lottery NBA picks Jalen Suggs in 2020 and Chet Holmgren last season. Gonzaga doesn’t feature a new five-star recruit this season, but it is more experienced than in years past.
Forward Drew Timme returns and is a preseason national player of the year, depending on what media outlook you look at it. Guards Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton return to the starting lineup, while former five-star Nolan Hickman takes over at point guard.
Gonzaga also was able to land one of the top transfers in Malachi Smith, who was the Southern Conference Player of the Year and led Chattanooga to the NCAA tournament.
What made Houston’s Elite Eight run even more impressive last season was the Cougars did it without its best player, Marcus Sasser, who was ruled out of the season in December. Now Sasser is back, along with Jamal Shead to give Houston one of the top backcourts in the country.
The Cougars also add Jarace Walker, a five-star recruit ranked No. 10 in the ESPN top 100 and another one-and-done prospect in Terrance Arcenaux. Head coach Kelvin Sampson’s teams have been known to be elite defenders and rebounders — two key facets of succeeding in March.
North Carolina +900
The Tar Heels take the top spot in the majority of preseason polls, with four of the five starters back from last year’s national runner-up squad. If Northwestern transfer Pete Nance can replicate the success of last year’s forward transfer, Brady Manek, North Carolina could duplicate its tourney success once again.
Armando Bacot is one of the top bigs in the country, while Caleb Love and R.J. Davis figured out how to become a dynamic duo during the tournament. Leaky Black also gives the Tar Heels an elite on-ball defender.
Injuries could derail Kentucky's early-season progress. Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning national player of the year, isn’t expected to play in the team’s season opener on Monday versus Howard, according to coach John Calipari. Tshiebwe had a minor procedure done to his knee and is currently recovering and may also miss the game Friday against Duquesne.
Point guard Sahvir Wheeler is also expected to miss the team’s opener with a knee injury.
Despite the injuries, Kentucky remains loaded. Carson Wallace and Chris Livingston were both five-star recruits ranked No. 20 and No. 12 in the ESPN 100, while C.J. Fredrick and Antonio Reeves should address the shooting woes the Wildcats experienced in the past.
Other Favorites (FanDuel)
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