LAS VEGAS — An hour after the NCAA Tournament brackets were released on Selection Sunday, I sat beside South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews in his property and discussed their many angles.
On the topic of it being a wide-open, wild tournament, Andrews almost seemed ready to nod, but he stopped.
“We say that every year,” he laughed. “We’ll see in the first and second rounds, there will be a lot of upsets. Then, usually, once we get to the Sweet 16 and regional finals, it’s a little more formed.”
With a few rounds of attrition, count on most — if not all — of the Final Four being bluebloods, the usual suspects who are the earners of their respective leagues, we howled and agreed, as Roundball Darwinism typically plays out.
Not this year, though. Those guffaws were on us.
“Definitely no chalk,” Andrews wrote in a text message Monday morning of the remaining quartet, “[remaining] in this tournament.”
For the first time since the current format took hold in 1985, no No.1-seeded teams advanced to the Elite Eight. And, again for a first, the Final Four is void of 1, 2, or 3 seeds.
Final Four Betting Lines
Here are live point spreads for FAU vs. SDSU and Miami vs. UConn from top sports betting apps.
Early Final Four Lines Posted in Las Vegas
At 6 p.m. on Saturday, No. 5 San Diego State (31-6, 19-15-2 ATS) plays No. 9 Florida Atlantic (35-3, 24-11-1 ATS) in the first national semifinal in Houston. The Aztecs opened at most shops as 2-points favorites, with a 131.5 total.
The other national semi, slated to tip off at 9 p.m., features No. 4 UConn (29-8, 25-11-1 ATS) and No. 5 Miami (29-7, 22-14 ATS). The Huskies opened as 5-point favorites, with a 149.5 total. Both are on CBS.
Downtown at the Golden Nugget, director of race and sports Vinny Sanzare saw the usual heavy traffic enjoy the roller-coaster tourney zaniness over the past two weekends.
“I’ll say this, whoever ends up cutting down the nets next Monday night, it’ll make for a great story,” he said. “There are so many storylines, things that have led to this point, that have been great. It really sends a message that anything is possible.
“I think the parity and the way the tournament has played out, the way these four have played, there’s no clear-cut choice, just as it’s been the last two weeks. It’s still wide open.”
Sanzare noted that excitement in his book has been constant.
“We’ve had great energy in our book each evening, each day we’ve had the games on. People rooting for everybody. Lots of positive energy, everyone feeding off each other. It’s great to see and hear that.
“People have ridden this wave.”
Might all of that positive energy have something to do with 2020, when the pandemic eliminated the NCAAs — and just about every sport on the planet — on the eve of the event?
“I think people are appreciative and grateful,” Sanzare said. “It’s the old saying, You don’t know what you have till it’s gone.”
Bet the Final Four at Caesars SportsbookClaim $1,250 First Bet + 1000 Tier Credits + 1000 Reward Credits®
Use Caesars Promo Code ‘TODAYFULL’ to claim a $1,250 first bet on Caesars, plus 1000 Tier Credits + 1000 Reward Credits toward the company’s loyalty program. Visit Caesars here to get started.
How Final Four Lines are Moving on Las Vegas Betting Boards
Six days after I chatted with Andrews, he was in a hospital recovering from an emergency appendectomy. He returned to work last Thursday. He took Monday off and reported that he has recuperated well and is doing fine.
On Tuesday morning, the South Point still has the Aztecs favored by 2, with a 131.5 total. UConn has eked up to a 5.5-point favorite, with an unchanged 149.5 total.
Monday evening, Caesars had moved Aztecs-Owls to a 132 total. The Mirage had shaved SDSU to -1.5 points, at -115. Wynn had altered the Miami-UConn total to 150.
DraftKings offered a UConn-Miami total of 149, with a +200 moneyline on Miami, -240 on the Huskies. It had -130 on the Aztecs’ ML, +110 on FAU.
Final Four Storylines: ‘Not as Stunned as we are’
Sanzare liked that San Diego State is in the spotlight. The Aztecs are in the Mountain West Conference, same as the local Division-I institution, UNLV. He said it gives the league credibility.
(Not to mention valuable pieces of the NCAA Tournament financial pie, with each game the Aztecs play. That’s more than $2 million per game, a total sum that is evenly divided among league institutions over a six-year stretch.)
“And Florida Atlantic and Miami, those two campuses are less than 50 miles apart from each other,” he said. “Who would have thought of that, to have that, potentially, in the final?
“That isn’t a prediction, just geography. A possibility. Not saying that’s going to happen. So many storylines.”
He, too, trumpeted the West Regional to which Vegas just played host, and the Final Four it will stage in 2028.
“Vegas is a mecca for the tournaments,” Sanzare said. “The city has shown that, obviously, we know how to host events.”
Players on each of the surviving squads have impressed him in other ways.
“Their body language, the way they act and carry themselves, they are acting like they’ve been there before, not taking it for granted, savoring the moment. After their victories, I’ve just been very impressed with that.
“I give credit to their coaches for giving them that mindset, that confidence, to say, ‘Okay, we deserve to be here.’ It isn’t cockiness or arrogance; it’s a confidence they have, the appreciation of being there.”
Then he just might have delivered the line of the NCAAs.
“They’re not as stunned as we are.”
Also read: UConn favored in update 2023 NCAA Tournament odds | Live March Madness odds
SDSU’s Stout Defense, ‘Rich Pedigree’
In San Diego State’s nine-game winning streak, foes have averaged 56.9 points.
In the Aztecs’ wild run to their first Final Four, their defense has been stout, having yielded only 57 points to Charleston, 52 to Furman, 64 to Alabama, and 56 to Creighton.
Those four squads combined to shoot 17 percent (16-for-94) beyond the 3-point arc.
“San Diego State is different, defense-first,” Sanzare said. “Obviously, to win the game, you have to score more points than the other team. But they do it in a different style than what most of the country is used to seeing.
“It’s something fresh, something different.”
He noted the rich pedigree of Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher, the longtime lieutenant to Steve Fisher, who guided Michigan to the national championship in 1989 with six consecutive victories after Bill Frieder left for Arizona State.
In ’97, Fisher landed at San Diego State, and Dutcher took over the Aztecs when Fisher retired in 2017.
Under Dutcher, SDSU is 150-46, including 4-3 in the NCAAs after three previous first-round exits.
FAU Follows Larranaga’s Path
Florida Atlantic is only the second team, since ’85, to advance to the Final Four without having previously won an NCAA Tournament game.
The first to do it was George Mason, in 2006, which just happened to be coached by Jim Larranaga, the 12th-year boss of the Miami Hurricanes.
The Patriots dropped three previous first-rounders in the NCAAs before breaking through in Larranaga’s ninth season, 2005-06.
They beat Michigan State in their opener, then doused North Carolina, Wichita State, and Connecticut, before losing to Florida, 73-58, in Indianapolis.
Larranaga, 73, grew up in the Bronx and played at Providence, leading the Friars in scoring as a sophomore and junior.
His senior season, future NBAer Ernie DiGregorio became a teammate and Providence beat Louisville in the 1971 NIT, in New York, before losing to ranked North Carolina.
The Hurricanes are 11-5 in the NCAAs under Larranaga.
FAU and Under Cashing for Bettors
FAU has dispatched Memphis, Duke, Tennessee, and Kansas State to reach Houston, and the Aztecs, in Saturday’s first semifinal.
In the tournament, the Aztecs covered their first two games, as 5.5- and 4.5-point favorites, and their past two, as 6.5- and 2.5-point underdogs. All of their games have finished Under their projected totals.
In fact, Under has cashed in SDSU’s past 12 games, and 14 of its past 15.
Since 2008, among teams that have played more than 400 lined games, St. Peter’s tilts have finished Under most frequently, at 57.9 percent. Then comes Fairfield (57.2%), Virginia (56.9%) and the Aztecs (56.4%).
FAU has covered eight of its past 11, and five of its past seven have ended Under.
After dropping its four pre-NCAA games against the number, Miami has covered its past four in the Big Dance — as a slim favorite against Drake, and as a 1.5-point dog against Indiana, an 8-point dog versus Houston, and 3.5-point dog against Texas.
Four of its past five totals have gone Over.
UConn hasn’t dropped consecutive games against the spread in two months, going 13-4 in those 17 games. It was favored in every NCAA game, covering the spread by 14.5 points against Iona (87-63 victory), 11.5 vs. St. Mary’s (70-55), 19.5 vs. Arkansas (88-65), and 25.5 against Gonzaga (82-54).
Eight of the Huskies’ past 12 have finished Under.
They also own a 17-8 lifetime edge on the Hurricanes and have won six of the past eight meetings. They last met in November 2019, and UConn won, 80-55, in Miami.
On the other side of the bracket, San Diego State is 2-0 lifetime over Florida Atlantic. In Fisher’s second and fourth seasons, respectively, former UNLV forward Sidney Green took his Owls to San Diego and lost, 91-75 and 90-57.
Final Four Teams’ Pre-Tournament Odds
Former oddsman Dave Sharapan, a longtime Vegas sportsbook fixture and popular podcaster, rang Sunday and informed me of what $100 on the Hurricanes’ moneyline could have been rolled into in those four games.
“Four thousand, nine hundred and sixty dollars!”
He also marveled over the fact that of the four remaining teams, the lowest win-it-all odds before the tourney was UConn’s 20-to-1 payback.
“I’ve never seen that,” he said. “That never happens.”
Final Four Team Strengths
According to stats guru Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive figures for the national semifinalists, UConn’s prowess at both ends of the court is impressive.
Each team, with offensive and defensive rankings in parentheses:
UConn (3, 11)
San Diego State (75, 4)
Florida Atlantic (24, 29)
Miami (5, 104)
And in a most esoteric category, luck, KenPom rates Florida Atlantic a 37, San Diego State 56, Miami 131, and the Huskies 311.
Final Four Expert Picks
Among the experts we tapped for their betting opinions each week of this tourney, two have survived with winning angles to earn repeat performances.
In Florida, handicapper John Murges has made a tidy sum on the Hurricanes and isn’t altering his tactics.
He has San Diego State beating Florida Atlantic, Miami over UConn, and the ’Canes (which he installs as 2.5-point favorites in this potential championship game) zapping the Aztecs for the crown.
Matt Youmans, of the Vegas Stats & Information Network, checked in with -110 on UConn to win it all. He bought the ticket at Circa Sports.
“I’m no fan of [Dan] Hurley, and his crying and whining,” Youmans said, “but he’s coaching the most complete team on both ends of the floor. Some are saying the Huskies had an easy path to the Final Four.
“While that’s not necessarily true, they did make it look easy.”
This is the Huskies’ sixth Final Four. Of their four championships, the most recent arrived in 2014 and three were earned in Texas.
The combined previous Final Four appearances for the other three teams in Houston this weekend?