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.

Villanova betting favorite against Michigan in NCAA Tournament title game

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The Villanova Wildcats and Jalen Brunson have won every one of their NCAA Tournament games this year by at least 10 points, including a matchup against a team whose defense was just as stingy as that of their Monday night opponent, the Michigan Wolverines.

The Wildcats are 6.5-point betting favorites at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com against the Wolverines with a 145-point total for the NCAA Tournament championship game in San Antonio. It’s the largest line for the title game since 2010, when Duke laid seven points against Butler but only won by two.

The favored Wildcats are 8-1 straight-up in their last nine matchups against the Big Ten, the conference in which Michigan plays, while Villanova is also 10-1 against the spread in its last 11 games against Big Ten opponents.

The Wolverines are no slouches, having gone 14-0 SU and 11-3 ATS in their last 14 games, but they are the first team to reach the national final without playing any team seeded No. 5 or higher. Villanova is 9-0 SU and 8-1 ATS since March 1.

The main question with Michigan, which is 33-7 SU and 25-13-1 ATS, is whether a team from the Big Ten, whose best teams all play at a deliberate pace, can match up with Villanova, which plays at much faster tempo and leads the nation in scoring. Michigan, which is 4-27 SU in its last 31 games as an underdog of 6.5 or more, has one of the top defenses in the nation.

Villanova had a poor shooting day against Texas Tech, another strong defensive team, at the Elite Eight stage, but still won 71-59 to get the cover in that game.

The Wolverines, who are 7-0 ATS in their last seven games as the underdog according to the OddsShark College Basketball Database, aren’t super-efficient offensively but big man Moritz Wagner should be a tough check for the Wildcats.

Villanova, 35-4 SU and 26-12-1 ATS, might face some challenges with getting their trademark plethora of clean looks from the three-point line. Michigan has kept 12 of its last 14 opponents below their average number of attempted threes.

However, the Wildcats, who are 5-0 ATS in their last five games as a favorite, boast shooters who are big men – 6-foot-9 Omari Spellman, 6-9 Eric Paschall and 6-7 Mikal Bridges – that can find space to fire away, plus Brunson thrives at pulling defenders out of position.

While preparing for a John Beilein-coached Michigan team in fewer than 48 hours isn’t easy, Villanova is 3-1 SU in its last four games with one day off between games. The total has gone under in Michigan’s last six games with one day off between games. The total has gone over in 14 of Villanova’s last 18 games with a closing total of 145.0 or more.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Jayhawks, Ramblers take strong underdog betting trends into Final Four

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Whether it’s Devonte’ Graham or Malik Newman taking the lead offensively, the Kansas Jayhawks have been a solid cover when they get points from oddsmakers.

Both Final Four betting matchups have the same line, with the Villanova Wildcats set as five-point favorites against Kansas with a 154.5-point total, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, in their national semifinal that takes place at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Saturday.

Kansas is 8-2 both straight-up and against the spread in its last 10 games as the underdog, according to the OddsShark College Basketball Database. However, Villanova is also 8-2 SU and 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games as a favorite of 5.0 or fewer points.

Kansas, 31-7 SU and 20-17 ATS on the season, has been stress-tested by a tough Big 12 conference and a march through the Midwest Region that included wresting an overtime win against Duke in the Elite Eight. Taking the Jayhawks entails expecting their hot shooting and the interior work of center Udoka Azubuike to override a mark of 4-10 ATS in its last 14 games against the Big East.

Villanova, 34-4 SU and 25-12-1 ATS and the favorite on the odds to win the NCAA Tournament, led the nation in scoring and point guard Jalen Brunson commands an offense that is lethal from almost all points within and beyond the three-point line. The main concern might be whether shooting guard Mikal Bridges bounces back from failing to hit a three-pointer in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight win against Texas Tech, but Texas Tech grades out much higher defensively than Kansas.

The teams’ last three matchups have gone under. However, the total has gone over in Kansas’ last three games with an average combined score of 161.33. The total has also gone over in 14 of Villanova’s last 19 games, with an average of 157.11.

In the early semifinal, the Michigan Wolverines are five-point favorites on the Final Four odds against the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers with a 129.5-point total. As the line suggests, it’s expected to be a grind. Between Loyola-Chicago being on an 8-0 ATS streak in its last eight games as the underdog and Michigan being 10-0 SU and 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games as a favorite, something will have to give.

Loyola-Chicago, 32-5 SU and 25-10 ATS, is just the fourth No. 11 seed to make the Final Four. The previous three teams each lost in the semifinal. The decision to take Loyola should be pegged to whether one believes it can keep up its high shooting percentages – 52.5 percent overall, 41.7 percent on threes – against Michigan’s defense, which is allowing only 64 points per game in the tournament. The Ramblers and point guard Clayton Custer space the floor very well, though, and that will give Michigan some tough looks.

Michigan is 32-7 and 24-13-1 ATS against a schedule that is rated as much more challenging than the Ramblers’ docket. The Wolverines, who are 7-0 SU and 5-2 ATS in their last seven matchups as a favorite of 5.0 or less, will try to use their edge in size – here one thinks of center Moritz Wagner, forward Duncan Robinson and guard Charles Matthews – to get Loyola-Chicago into matchup problems and wear the Ramblers down.

Michigan is the only team in San Antonio not among the top six in the country in effective field goal percentage – it’s 47th, in fact – but they have a greater margin of error than Loyola-Chicago.

The total has gone under in eight of Loyola-Chicago’s last nine games, with an average of 124.67. Michigan can get out in transition when it needs to and the total has gone over in five of their last seven games on a Saturday.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.