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.

Warriors seeking Game 3 victory at Cleveland as road betting favorites

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Golden State Warriors backers are hoping the third time will be the charm when it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

As the best-of-seven series resumes near the banks of Lake Erie, Kevin Durant and the Warriors are listed as 3.5-point favorites against the Cavaliers with a 226-point total in their NBA Finals matchup on Wednesday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

In each of their two previous playoff matchups, Cleveland won Game 3 on its home floor at Quicken Loans Arena. Of course, those Warriors had neither Durant nor a record of 29-1 straight-up and 21-7-2 against the spread in their last 30 games (according to the OddsShark NBA Database). Nor were they threatening to go undefeated in the playoffs.

Golden State is 9-11 SU and 7-12-1 ATS in its last 20 road games when it was favored by 3.5 or fewer points, but apart from some turnover issues they have dictated terms to the Cavaliers. Cleveland has yet to find a defensive matchup for Durant (38 and 33 points in the first two games), while SG Klay Thompson went 8-for-12 from the floor in Game 2 on Sunday.

The Warriors’ turnovers (40) in the first two games almost matched their combined winning margin (41 points). It’s scary to think what Golden State, which is 5-0 ATS in their last five road games, would do if they cut their turnovers down to about 10 per game.

Cleveland, which is 16-4 SU and 12-8 ATS in its last 20 home playoff games, needs much more than characteristic superstar performances from SF LeBron James and PG Kyrie Irving to get back into the series. Members of the supporting cast such as PG J.R. Smith, PF Channing Frye (a solid three-point shooter) and physical PF Tristan Thompson will need to step up their contributions.

The Cavaliers shot 34.5 and 45 per cent in each of the first two games. That’s likely to improve now that the three-point threats such as Frye and Kevin Love are in familiar surroundings, but they would have still lost Game 2 even if they had shot 50% from the floor.

The total has gone over in seven of the Warriors’ last eight road games heading into Wednesday’s Game 3 matchup. The total has also gone over in four of the Warriors’ last six road games against the Cavaliers. The total has gone over in 12 of the Cavaliers’ 20 most recent home games against Western Conference teams.

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.