1 of these 8 teams will win the NCAA Tournament
Icon Sportswire / Getty

Find line reports, best bets, and subscribe to push notifications in the Betting News section.

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:

Baylor +600
Gonzaga +600
Kansas +700
Duke +1000
Michigan State +1000
Dayton +1200
Field +1200
Kentucky +1200
Louisville +1200
Oregon +1200
Maryland +1500
San Diego State +1800
Auburn +2000
Butler +2000
Florida State +2000
Arizona +2500
Iowa +2500
Penn State +2500
Villanova +2500
Michigan +3000
Ohio State +3000
Creighton +3500
Illinois +4000
Houston +4500
BYU +5000
Bradley +5000
Texas Tech +5000

The pretenders

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.

That's bad news for teams with 11-plus losses, such as Arizona (+2500), Iowa (+2500), Michigan (+3000), Texas Tech (+5000), and Purdue (+10000), all of which project to be seeded sixth or worse.

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).

In the KenPom era, no team has won with a defense ranked worse than 37th in adjusted efficiency entering the tourney, which doesn't bode well for Butler (+2000) and Creighton (+3500).

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.

The contenders

So, who's left? After getting rid of the pretenders, we're left with eight teams that have realistic shots to win it all:

Team Odds Rank OFF DEF
Baylor +600 3 18 4
Kansas +700 1 8 2
Michigan State +1000 7 10 13
Maryland +1500 11 17 23
Seton Hall +2500 19 29 26
Villanova +2500 18 15 36
Ohio State +3000 8 13 20
Wisconsin +10000 22 39 18

Baylor (+600)

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.

Kansas (+700)

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.

Michigan State (+1000)

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 (+1500)

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.

Seton Hall (+2500)

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 (+2500)

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.

Ohio State (+3000)

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 (+10000)

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.

1 of these 8 teams will win the NCAA Tournament
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!
Daily Newsletter
Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox