Men's Basketball 2024 NCAA Tournament Favorites, Dark Horses and Cinderellas


College Sports Madness' Jacob Young takes a look at some of his favorites to win it all as well as his favorites to pull off an upset or two. For more, check out the bracket and see your teams road to the Final Four and find team capsules for all 68 teams at the NCAA Tournament page.



Connecticut enters as the clear favorite to cut down the nets in Phoenix. Repeating as national champions is extremely difficult, as evidenced by the fact that it hasn’t happened since Florida in 2006 and 2007. However, there hasn’t been a team as primed for a back-to-back title run as UConn currently is. Saying this team could be better than last year’s feels crazy with how dominant that run was in 2023. But this year’s squad has a better record, better seed, higher KenPom ranking entering the tournament and just won the Big East Tournament which they did not do last season.

Houston had a rough showing in the Big 12 Tournament championship game, but the Cougars are still one of the top favorites to win the more important tournament. Houston defends at a level that most teams around the country will not be prepared for and have a backcourt tandem of Jamal Shead and LJ Cryer that can lead them to Phoenix. The injuries to JoJo Tugler (out for the season) and J’Wan Roberts (played limited minutes in the Big 12 Tournament) may lower their ceiling, but this is still a terrifying team to play.

Tennessee also had a poor conference tournament outing losing their first game to Mississippi State, but the Volunteers are still a top candidate to win it all. This team plays defense as well as anyone in the country and has a very experienced backcourt including one of the best scorers in the nation in Dalton Knecht.

Dark Horses

Auburn’s metrics have been strong all season as they’ve been consistently ranked in the top 6 on KenPom. Their game results hadn’t quite followed suit and their lack of quad one is why they aren’t on the top 3-seed line. However, the Tigers dominated the SEC Tournament and should carry that momentum into the big dance as a dangerous 4-seed.

Gonzaga hasn’t been the regular season powerhouse that they normally are as they failed to win both the WCC regular season and tournament titles. The Zags are still a 5-seed though and sport one of the best offenses in the nation led by Ryan Nembhard and Graham Ike. If they can get past a tough McNeese team in the first round, Gonzaga could find themselves in the second weekend yet again which Mark Few always seems to pull off.

New Mexico is red hot coming off their Mountain West Tournament championship, which somehow is the only reason they were even included in the final bracket. The 11-seed Lobos sit at 23rd on KenPom, wedged right between 4-seed Kansas and 6-seed Texas Tech. New Mexico has one of the most explosive backcourts in the country led by Jaelen House, Jamal Mashburn Jr., and Donovan Dent. The committee disrespecting them with an 11-seed could be even more ammo for the Lobos to make a surprise run.

Potential Cinderellas

James Madison enters the NCAA Tournament with a 31-3 record and hasn’t lost since January. The Dukes put themselves on the map on opening night with a road win at Michigan State, who was ranked in the top-5 at the time. Now, James Madison faces 5-seed Wisconsin who prior to the Big Ten Tournament had lost 8 of 11 games.

Samford and their unique play style known as “Bucky Ball,” named after their head coach Bucky McMillan, face a reeling Kansas team in the first round. Samford is top 20 in the nation in both 3-point and 2-point shooting percentage while also sporting a top 20 mark in defensive turnover rate. Kansas has been depleted with injuries and has a very short bench, so this could be the perfect matchup for Samford to advance.

Charleston also gets to face a 4-seed that has been struggling in Alabama in the first round. Charleston was a popular first round upset pick last season but fell to the eventual runner-up San Diego State. This year’s matchup is much more friendly as Alabama has lost 4 of 6 games and has one of the worst defenses among at-large teams in the field of 68.