Though long-shot national champions in college basketball are rare, one of the beautiful parts of the sport is how often teams swoop in from off the radar, put together excellent seasons and do damage in the NCAA Tournament. Just look at what the following teams accomplished in the 2020-21 season despite their slim preseason national title odds: Alabama earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Arkansas earned a No. 3 seed and USC made the Elite Eight — all with 75-1 odds.
Going further down the betting sheet, Oregon State made a stunning Elite Eight run despite minuscule preseason national title odds of 300-1. In the end, a Baylor team with 10-1 preseason odds cut down the nets, which made for an anticlimactic finish for those who love underdogs. But the potential is there for teams on the periphery to get hot, make a run and reward those believed in them all along.
So who are the best long-shot national title contenders for the 2021-22 season? Our writers evaluated the topic this week and picked their favorite from the group of teams with odds of 50-1 or lower at Caesar’s Sportsbook:
The highest-ranked team in my Top 25 And 1 with 50-1 or lower odds is Tennessee, so I’ll roll with UT. The Vols return five of their top eight scorers from a team that earned a No. 5 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament — most notably Victor Bailey and John Fulkerson. Coach Rick Barnes has an experienced core to build around, and he’ll be combining it with a top-five recruiting class highlighted by the nation’s top-ranked freshman point guard (Kennedy Chandler) and a transfer from Auburn who averaged 11.7 points per game last season while shooting 44.2% from beyond the 3-point line (Justin Powell). That’s strong. And it’s why the Vols are worthy of your attention if you’re looking for a long shot with the pieces to maybe win the 2022 NCAA Tournament. — Gary Parrish
The Hoosiers are +7500 right now, so this is a long shot pick with tempting upside. A +7500 team isn’t even a projected Sweet 16 squad, so why IU for me? New coach Mike Woodson changes the dynamic of the program and also provides an opportunity to get ahead of the oddsmakers early. No one really knows what to expect. I get a blue-blood program that will have an almost-definite top-10 player in America at +7500? Gotta take it under the parameters of this Dribble Handoff post. Trayce Jackson-Davis is one of the few big-time big men in the Big Ten. Indiana is your sleeper team that could be outside the top 25 at the start of the season but find itself as a mainstay in the polls by January. I think the Hoosiers make a lot of sense as a plausible long-shot. — Matt Norlander
I’ve been higher on Auburn than the consensus all offseason, so why would I cool on the Tigers now? They had a great offseason. I’m very much in on them at 60-1 as a viable flier to take. Allen Flanigan’s injury throws some uncertainty into the formula here — he’s expected to miss several months — but I think the injury is baked into the 60-1. This team enrolls a five-star in Jabari Smith and added two elite transfers in Walker Kessler and K.D. Johnson, who should fully equip the Tigers to again be a top-half-of-the-SEC team capable of making March noise. — Kyle Boone
Don’t fall into the trap of assuming the Ducks are headed for a down season just because they are losing their top three scorers from a 21-7 team. All you need to do is look at the name of the coach to figure out if Oregon will be a national contender. Is it still Dana Altman? Yes, and that means the roster is restocked with talent good enough for the Ducks to progress in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.
How far the Ducks advance in the Big Dance will depend heavily on how incoming transfers Jacob Young (Rutgers), Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse) and De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma) gel together with leading returning scorer Will Richardson. But Altman owns an impeccable track record of successfully integrating transfers into his roster, and those three were each double-figure scorers for NCAA Tournament teams last season.
Assuming those transfers make a seamless transition, you can go ahead and pencil Oregon in for the Sweet 16. From there, it may depend on the strength of a promising, but unproven, front court. If former five-star prospects Nathan Bittle, a true freshman, and N’Faly Dante, an injury-prone junior, can play near their potential, this team could be downright dominant. — David Cobb