Oregon, SMU, Kentucky, Princeton round out conference tournament favorites

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One common thread that ties together two of the most tightly bunched futures boards for conference championship week is that – to update an old adage – offense fills highlight reels but defense is what really matters in March.

As conference titles are decided this week ahead of the NCAA tournament, the Oregon Ducks are +160 betting favorites on the Pac-12 tournament champion board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The UCLA Bruins, with freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, are more of a media darling and draw in at +170.

Another tight board is that of the AAC, with the SMU Mustangs (+125) just ahead of the Cincinnati Bearcats (+135).

The Ducks play inside-the-shirt defense – not something commonly associated with West Coast teams – and have two seasoned scorers in PF Dillon Brooks and SG Dylan Ennis. The Bruins can score and shoot threes like no one’s business, but they do have the defensively stout Arizona Wildcats (+265) lurking on their side of the draw.

Arizona is capable of keeping a game in the 60s and 70s and has two go-to scorers with PF Lauri Markkanen and SG Allonzo Trier.

In the American, SMU is on a 13-win streak and is 17-1 straight-up across its last 18 games. Forward Semi Ojeleye is also the best player in the conference. Cincinnati accounted for that loss and the Bearcats, with Kyle Washington as the main man in an attack that will often feature five guards, can be a headache to match up against.

One AAC team that could fulfill a craving for a longshot is the third-seeded Houston Cougars (+850). While they won’t make anyone forget the Phi Slama Jamma of yore, PG Galen Robinson Jr. is an excellent playmaker who can set up SG Rob Gray and SF Damyean Dotson.

The Kentucky Wildcats (+100) are set as the betting favorite to win their third consecutive SEC tournament title. They are 8-1-1 against the spread in their last 10 games at the event, and De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are a great 1-2 scoring punch.

Kentucky is often driven by one-and-done freshmen and it could get interesting if the physical Florida Gators (+165) get through to the final in Nashville on Sunday.

And for the first time the Ivy League is holding a tournament, albeit just a four-team affair at Philadelphia’s historic Palestra. The Princeton Tigers (-135) are better than even money to win after going undefeated in the conference.

Their semifinal foe, the Penn Quakers (+475), might just be happy to be there after squeaking in with a sub-.500 record.  The Harvard Crimson (+350), who play the Yale Bulldogs (+475) in the other semifinal, are a legit threat to Princeton. Harvard’s two losses to Princeton were by a combined five points.

North Carolina narrow favorite against Gonzaga for NCAA Tournament championship

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Joel Berry II and the North Carolina Tar Heels, who only seem to play close games at the Final Four, are a slim betting favorite against the first-time finalist Gonzaga Bulldogs.

The Tar Heels are listed as a 1.5-point favorite against the Bulldogs with 153.5-point total in the college basketball championship game matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The teams tip off at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Monday.

The Tar Heels are 7-2 both straight-up and against the spread on the college basketball point spreads in their last nine games as a favorite of 1.5 or fewer points. Gonzaga, though, is 15-1 SU in its last 16 games with one day off between games.

Coaches Roy Williams and Mark Few are going head-to-head for the first time since 2009, when UNC ousted the Zags in the Sweet 16 on its way to the national title. North Carolina is 0-4 ATS in its last four games after winning the previous game in a matchup, while Gonzaga is 6-0 SU and ATS in its last six games after losing the previous game in a matchup.

Gonzaga’s impressive record when it has a day of rest attests to having perhaps the deepest rotation in the country, with PG Nigel Williams-Goss as the floor leader.

Seven-foot-one Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins will be tasked with avoiding foul trouble and preventing North Carolina’s big men such as Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks from nabbing the offensive rebounds that give the Tar Heels extra scoring opportunities. How Collins, a NBA-bound freshman, responds to North Carolina’s challenge might make or break Gonzaga.

The Bulldogs are 1-5 SU in their last six games as an underdog, according to the OddsShark College Basketball Database, but those contests are spread out from the 2013-14 to 2015-16 seasons.

With North Carolina, the main question is the health of Berry, who is soldiering on with two sprained ankles. Berry clearly seemed affected during the Tar Heels’ semifinal win against Oregon and will have greater challenges against Gonzaga at each end of the court.

The Bulldogs have, in Williams-Goss, a more electric point guard and also play man-to-man defense while Oregon uses a zone. Justin Jackson, who is North Carolina’s first look on offense, is a resourceful attacker whom Gonzaga will be hard-pressed to shut down completely.

With Berry compromised, backcourt depth will be important. Gonzaga has been more impressive than North Carolina in this area during the run of the NCAA Tournament.

The total has gone under in seven of Gonzaga’s last 10 games. The total has gone under in Gonzaga’s last five games against the Atlantic Coast Conference The total has gone under in 10 of North Carolina’s last 14 games after a win. The total has also gone under in five of North Carolina’s last six games with a closing total of 153.5 points or less.

Final Four betting preview: Gonzaga, North Carolina lead odds for matchups

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While the North Carolina Tar Heels are a slight favorite to win the national championship entering the Final Four, they are taking some troubling trends with them to Glendale.

Led by forwards Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks, the Tar Heels are the +140 favorite on the odds to win the NCAA Tournament at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. North Carolina was the favorite at the outset of the tournament and has had enough talent to override a habit of letting opponents back into games in the second half. That’s contributed to a 19-16-2 against-the-spread record this year.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are deemed the most worthy challenger at +180, while the Oregon Ducks (+550) and South Carolina Gamecocks (+750) are seen as the longer shots.

In game lines, Gonzaga is listed as a 6.5-point favorite against South Carolina for the first matchup on Saturday. Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss will need to be sharp against South Carolina’s swarming defense, which thrives at forcing turnovers that lead to baskets in transition.

Gonzaga’s defense has provided it with the cushion to win, but it’s notable that the Bulldogs are only 4-5-1 ATS over their last 10 games. Coach Mark Few’s emphasis on defense is also reflected in the fact that seven of Gonzaga’s last nine games have gone over.

South Carolina is a gritty group with their trio of leaders, SG Sindarius Thornwell, PG Duane Notice and SF P.J. Dozier. The Gamecocks have been underdogs in all four tournament wins, so that +6.5 line is enticing. The total has gone under in 21 of South Carolina’s last 30 games as an underdog.

North Carolina is favored by five points against Oregon in the matchup for the second semifinal. The health of PG Joel Berry, who has two wonky ankles, will be a concern going in with the Tar Heels, who are just 3-3-2 ATS over their last eight games.

North Carolina, which is 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS in its last eight games against the Pac-12, has the most efficient offense in the field and has a rebounding machine under the basket in Kennedy Meeks.

Oregon, with a balanced lineup led by SF Tyler Dorsey and PF Dillon Brooks, is a team one underestimates at their peril. The Ducks are 17-7-1 ATS over their last 25 games as well as 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games on a Saturday, and they do a good job at limiting opponents’ looks, especially from three-point land.

Eight of their last 11 games have gone over; there’s a good chance the Ducks will try to run with North Carolina for portions of the contest.