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Kansas, Gonzaga, Oregon, Xavier eye Final Four with Elite Eight underway

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) It’s finally time to award the first spots in the Final Four.

And for the four teams chasing those tickets Saturday, it’s another shot to break through an often frustrating roadblock in the regional finals.

Kansas lost in the Elite Eight last year. So did Oregon, which won the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 but hasn’t pushed past the final eight since.

While those two teams meet in the Midwest Region final in Kansas City, Missouri, the West final in San Jose, California, features two teams – Gonzaga and Xavier – who have never won in this round.

Kansas coach Bill Self called it “the hardest game in the tournament.”

“There’s so much emphasis on the road to the Final Four,” Self said Friday. “It’s almost like the Final Four could be the equivalent of the national championship 30 years ago, with the type of intensity and the type of publicity it gets. … If you get beat in this game, you come just that close to getting to the goal.”

Kansas (31-4) has had the most success of that quartet, though there’s been plenty of frustration, too. The Jayhawks, the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, won the national title under Self in 2008 and went to the title game in 2012. But along the way, there have been four Elite Eight losses under Self – three coming despite carrying a 1-seed.

Kansas is chasing its first Final Four since that 2012 run.

Oregon (32-5), the Midwest’s 3-seed, is in the Elite Eight for the fourth time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Ducks have lost their last three, including to Kansas in 2002.

In the West, both 1-seed Gonzaga (35-1) and 11th-seeded Xavier (24-13) are each in the regional finals for a third time.

“All the games we feel the pressure to move on, to advance,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “This one, a little bit more because that Final Four is the goal of everybody.”

Here are things to know about the NCAA Tournament’s second week:

HEADLINING NAMES: The Midwest final features a national player of the year candidate in Kansas’ Frank Mason III and a preseason Associated Press All-American in Oregon’s Dillon Brooks. Mason, a 5-foot-11 senior, is averaging 20.9 points on 49 percent shooting, while Brooks – a 6-7 junior – is averaging 16.3 points.

LEGACY: Gonzaga’s Few has built a consistent winner in the Pacific Northwest, though that Final Four is the glaring omission from the resume. Still, Few has routinely refused to be consumed by the pursuit.

“It would be awesome for the school and for the Spokane community to be able to feel good about and hang their hat on,” Few said. “But my legacy is going to be about other things, at least as far as I’m concerned.”

SUMNER’S ABSENCE: No one expected Xavier to be here, especially after losing point guard Edmund Sumner to a season-ending knee injury in January. The Musketeers also lost six straight before regrouping to reach the Big East Tournament championship game and now an Elite Eight after upsetting 2-seed Arizona on Thursday night.

“We’re all tough guys,” junior guard J.P. Macura said. “We stuck together. And we’ve been playing tough together. And we’re not really backing down from anybody. And if you have that mentality, you can beat a lot of teams.”

BLUEBOOD BRACKET: Kentucky beat UCLA in the South Region semifinals on Friday night in Memphis, Tennessee, to claim a matchup of teams with a combined 19 NCAA titles. Now the second-seeded Wildcats are preparing for another marquee name in 1-seed North Carolina, which cruised past Butler, on Sunday.

A NEW SEC TOURNAMENT: The Southeastern Conference enters the regional finals standing alone among leagues. The SEC has three of the eight teams still standing with Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina – and is assured at least one Final Four team considering the Gators and Gamecocks play Sunday in the East final.

FINALLY, AN OVERTIME: The Gators’ 84-83 win against Wisconsin on Friday night on Chris Chiozza’s running 3-pointer marked the first overtime game of the tournament. And that came only after Badgers guard Zak Showalter hit an off-balance 3 with 2.5 seconds left in regulation to force the extra period.

FAREWELL: It didn’t take long after UCLA’s loss to Kentucky for star freshman point guard Lonzo Ball to say he was moving on from the college game. He had been considered a likely one-and-done NBA prospect all year and called Friday’s loss “my final game for UCLA.”

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.