March Madness bracket predictions: Expert picks, upsets, winners, odds & more for 2021 NCAA Tournament

By | March 15, 2021

The 2021 NCAA Tournament is finally upon us. The first round of March Madness matchups will begin Thursday, which means you have just hours to submit a bracket to that person in the office who organizes the pool every year and sends a dozen e-mails about it in the process. 

We at Sporting News have put together plenty of content to help prepare you to make relatively educated decisions when filling out your bracket — and to enjoy the tournament in general.

Here’s a roundup of our March Madness bracket predictions, regional previews, upset picks, tournament odds and more to help guide you through the NCAA Tournament. 

MARCH MADNESS: Get your printable NCAA Tournament bracket

Printable 2021 March Madness bracket

You can get a printable NCAA Tournament bracket here to fill out before and during tournament play. Sporting News will continue to update the bracket as games are played.


Download Sporting News’ printable NCAA Tournament bracket (PDF) by clicking the image above.

Who will win the NCAA Tournament in 2021?

Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan and Illinois have the best odds to win March Madness in 2021, according to the FanDuel sportsbook. That makes sense — they’re the four No. 1 seeds — and the undefeated Bulldogs will be a popular pick in many brackets to win their first national championship.

The second tier of Iowa, Houston, Alabama and Ohio State are slightly sneakier bets to win it all but still have the high-end talent to upend the chalk.

A team seeded 3 or lower has won the NCAA Tournament only five times since 1990, but it’s always possible — especially in a season filled with as much uncertainty as this one. The lowest seed to win the NCAA Tournament was No. 8 Villanova in 1985.

March Madness odds 2021

Team Odds
Gonzaga +200
Baylor +600
Michigan +600
Illinois +700
Iowa +1600
Houston +1800
Alabama +2100
Ohio State +2400
Florida State +3000
West Virginia +3000

You can check out the opening odds for the entire field of 68 here.

15 vs. 2 | 14 vs. 3 | 13 vs. 4 | 12 vs. 5

March Madness bracket predictions 2021

It wouldn’t be enough to just have one expert tell you who they think will win it all, so we got several writers to submit their NCAA Tournament predictions to help you deflect blame when your bracket busts in the first round. Here are out experts’ picks to reach the 2021 Final Four with links to their full analysis.

Mike DeCourcy: Gonzaga, Alabama, Purdue, Illinois

Bill Bender: Gonzaga, Florida State, Ohio State, Illinois

Ryan Fagan: Gonzaga, Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma State

Matt Lutovsky: Gonzaga, Texas, Baylor, Illinois

Vinnie Iyer: Gonzaga, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois

March Madness upset predictions

Upsets in the NCAA Tournament are never easy to predict. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be called March Madness. However, there are always at least a few underseeded teams every year that pull off an upset or two in the first weekend and go on a Cinderella run. It’s just a matter of uncovering them.

Sporting News’ Bill Bender broke down his nine sleeper teams most likely to pull off an upset in 2021.

Liberty (Round 1 opponent: Oklahoma State -9.5): The Flames have won 12 straight games heading into the Big Dance, and this program is 82-16 over the last three seasons. Liberty pulled a 5-12 upset in 2019, and they have the guard play necessary to make a run with Darius McGhee and Chris Parker. Liberty is one of six team in Division I that averaged fewer than 10 turnovers per game. That efficient play could easily lead to an upset. That style could make it interesting against Oklahoma State and the winner of Tennessee-Oregon State. This is one 5-12 upset we like. 

UC-Santa Barbara (Round 1 opponent: Creighton -6.5): The Gauchos have lost just one game since Jan. 1. This is their first tournament appearance since 2011, but UC-Santa Barbara brings an experienced team that has won 20-plus games each of the last four seasons under Joe Pasternack. Jaquori McLaughlin averages 16.2 points and 5.2 assists per game. This is a team capable of beating Creighton and challenging the winner of Virginia-Ohio. This is the other 5-12 upset we like.  

Winthop (Round 1 opponent: Villanova -6): The Eagles are back in the tournament for the first time since 2017, and this is the second appearance under ninth-year coach Pat Kelsey. Winthrop has four players who averaged double figures. Senior Chandler Vaudrin and freshman D.J. Burns are productive in the post, and the Eagles rank in the top-10 in the country in rebounding as a result. That is a good formula to take into the tournament for a possible upset bid. Villanova is a tough matchup, but the post presence could make it interesting. 

Read the rest of Sporting News’ sleeper picks here.

NCAA bracket region breakdowns

If simple picks aren’t your cup of tea, Mike DeCourcy has gone ahead and broken down all four of the bracket’s regions for some in-depth analysis of the best storylines, most likely upsets and more. We’ve also got stats and sleepers that could decide each region.

West Region: Upset predictions, Final Four pick

East Region: Upset predictions, Final Four pick

South Region: Upset predictions, Final Four pick

Midwest Region: Upset predictions, Final Four pick

NCAA Tournament odds (and ends)

Play the odds: Know each seed’s history when picking your Final Four and championship teams. 

Round 1 best bets, parlays: SN’s guide to the odds, lines, and point spreads for every game as well as the best bets and parlays to consider in Round 1 of March Madness.

An idiot’s guide to filling out your NCAA bracket: Self-explanatory.

TeamRankings’ Tournament Prediction Tool: Use it to identify the highest-probability tournament winners and the most likely NCAA upset picks.

Best, funniest names for your bracket: Trouble coming up with a clever name for your bracket? We’ve got you covered.

More March Madness news from Sporting News

Sporting News’ 2020-21 college basketball All-Americans: SN’s Mike DeCourcy names the 15 best players from the 2020-21 college basketball season.

Sporting News Player of the Year: Iowa’s Luka Garza became the first repeat winner of the award since … Michael Jordan.

Sporting News Coach of the Year: Michigan’s Juwan Howard had to follow a legend, take over the program late, work during a pandemic, replace seniors at PG and C and do all of that with no background coaching college.

35 best teams that didn’t win the NCAA Tournament: Sporting News picks teams from the past three decades that didn’t deliver a title. Which was the best? 

March Madness Cinderella players we’ll never forget: Stephen Curry is among the greatest Cinderella players in March Madness history, but he’s not No. 1 on our list.

Most hated college basketball players of all time: Sporting News looks at the most-hated college hoops players of all time. Don’t worry, there is a lot of Duke on this list.

10 best schools without Final Four appearance: Who are the best schools that haven’t made a Final Four since the 64-team era began in 1984-85?

Best college players who never made the NCAA Tournament: Say hello to Ben Simmons, Noah Vonleh, Nerlens Noel, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and others who watched March Madness on TV. It’s quite a list.

An Oral History of Steph Curry’s 2008 Breakout: In 2008, a little-known, baby-faced guard from Davidson completely took over the NCAA Tournament.

Upset City: Reliving the wildest opening venue in NCAA Tournament history.