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For all of the perceived parity that exists in March Madness, the actual list of recent champions is short. Only 12 schools have won the NCAA Tournament over the last 22 years, and last season's champ (Virginia) had been a top seed in four of the previous six years.
This season, many of the usual suspects are out of the picture. Does that leave the door open for a surprise winner? Not exactly. If we examine the metrics of every champion from the KenPom era (since 2002), we can eliminate teams that would be in - quite literally - unprecedented territory if they win it all this year.
Here are the title odds at theScore Bet for every team at 50-1 or shorter, with a breakdown of how this year's field compares to title winners since '02:
|San Diego State||+1800|
Let's start with a stat that narrows the field down quite a bit: adjusted efficiency margin, which is essentially scoring margin adjusted for opponent.
Since 2002, every champion has entered the tournament ranked among the top 25 in that metric. Apologies to Kentucky (+1200), Auburn (+2000), Penn State (+2500), Illinois (+4000), Florida (+7500), and Virginia (+7500), but you simply aren't good enough this year.
Here's a stat you're likely more familiar with - wins and losses. Since Kansas claimed the 1988 title with 11 losses, no team has won with as many stains on its resume. There's likely a reason for that: All but one winner since '88 has been a No. 4 seed or better, and 21 of those 31 winners were No. 1 seeds.
What about strength of schedule? None of the last 18 champions had a strength of schedule easier than 33rd in the country. If you haven't faced adversity in the regular season, you're unlikely to survive it for six straight tournament games.
Like it or not, that's a death knell for mid-majors Gonzaga (+600), Dayton (+1200), San Diego State (+1800), Houston (+4500), and BYU (+5000). It's also a bad sign for teams from weak conferences this season, including Duke (+1000), Louisville (+1200), Oregon (+1200), and Florida State (+2000).
And what about offense? All but one of the last 18 winners entered the tournament with a top-25 offense by adjusted efficiency, and the worst unit ranked 57th. Even that's too high of a bar for West Virginia, which is carrying the torch for the field (+1200) at theScore Bet.
So, who's left? After getting rid of the pretenders, we're left with eight teams that have realistic shots to win it all:
A few losses late in the year shouldn't shake your confidence in Baylor, which Kansas coach Bill Self called the best Big 12 team he's faced during his 17 years in the conference. Size could pose an issue for the Bears, but their elite defense can carry them to the title.
You already know Kansas can win it all. The No. 1 team in the country is the only one that fits the metrics of a typical champion: a top-10 offense, a top-10 defense, a brutal schedule, and a whole lotta talent.
A late run has Tom Izzo's group surging into March, as Michigan State is closing in on another top-four seed. Elite ball movement and disciplined defense certainly don't hurt.
Maryland could be vulnerable if it falls behind early; the offense is inconsistent from deep and the defense doesn't force enough turnovers to create extra chances. But if the game is being played on the Terps' schedule, watch out.
We've never seen an up-tempo team win with an offense this inefficient, but Seton Hall controls the perimeter on both sides of the ball like few teams can. With length inside, too, there are plenty of ingredients for a deep run.
Villanova's defense is the worst of this bunch, but we've seen two teams in the last decade win with worse defensive marks. The Wildcats' sweet shooting and ball control are a formidable combo, much like they were in 2016 and 2018.
It's fair to be skeptical after a midseason swoon, but Ohio State has been tested this year and still boasts top-20 marks with enough star power to make a run. Seeding could be an issue, though.
Wisconsin is the clear long shot in this group, but we're still getting 100-1 odds on a team that (loosely) fits the title profile? Sign me up. The Badgers have shades of that '14 Connecticut team that won by slowing down the pace while trusting its defense and outside shooting.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.