The stage is set for an NCAA Tournament Final Four filled with storylines and intrigue this weekend in San Antonio, Texas. Kansas and Villanova, a pair of No. 1 seeds, will face off in one of Saturday’s two Final Four semifinal matchups while Michigan (a No. 3 seed) takes on the tournament’s Cinderella darling, the 11th seed Loyola Chicago Ramblers.
When it comes to mentioning the great story Loyola Chicago and Sister Jean have become across the national landscape, the veteran bettor and handicapper in me would be remiss if I didn’t mention that despite Loyola Chicago being heralded everywhere as a Cinderella, the Ramblers have only been slim underdogs of no more than 6 points in any of their first four tournament victories against Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State, and three of those games had Loyola Chicago as a 1 or 2 point underdog.
It’s not like any of those victories were monster upsets by any stretch of the imagination. Those who actually watched Loyola Chicago play during the regular season, including seeing them go on the road and take down an NCAA Tournament team the Florida Gators early in the season, know this is a veteran, experienced, talented team that has great chemistry and knows how to execute in crunch time. Loyola Chicago has made their backers quite happy going 4-0 SU and ATS in this tournament in their wins while also cashing gigantic futures tickets already for some.
The Ramblers were 100-to-1 (+10000) at William Hill U.S. to win the South Region, which cashed following the team’s South Regional Final win over Kansas State on Saturday. Loyola Chicago was priced at 300-to-1 (+30000) at Will Hill to win the entire tournament. The largest bet placed at William Hill for Loyola to win the tournament was $150, which would pay out $45,000 if the Ramblers are able to get it done. Loyola Chicago would become the lowest seeded team in NCAA Tournament history to win the national title. They’ll face a Michigan team that was involved in one of the most bizarre and peculiar ATS finishes in recent memory in an NCAA Tournament game.
Michigan held a 10 point lead down the stretch but that margin got trimmed down by Florida State in the final few minutes and the margin was 4 points in the final 15 seconds when Florida State made the choice not to foul Michigan at that point in the game when the Wolverines had the ball, conceding defeat in a 58-54 loss that proved to be a tough result for sportsbooks considering the game opened Michigan -5 and closed at Michigan -3.5 before tipoff, setting up a perfect middle situation with the game landing on 4.
On Sunday, Villanova continued their dominance in this tournament with a win and cover as 6.5 point favorites against Texas Tech, winning 71-59. Villanova has the most efficient offense in the country but their defense has gotten better and better throughout the season and has surrendered 41.7% or less to each of their first four opponents; that is a large part of why they’ve gone 4-0 ATS in each of their four tournament wins to advance to the Final Four.
Duke and Kansas engaged in an OT thriller that lived up to the billing of a battle between two bluebloods and a battle of 1 and 2 seeds with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The game going to OT was a tough beat for Under bettors, which would have cashed their ticket in regulation time but the 72-72 tie after 40 minutes prevented that from happening. Kansas employed a tremendous strategy of attacking the Duke 2-3 zone defense that had played a major part in the Blue Devils’ late season surge.
So the two Final Four matchups are set. At the time of this writing, Michigan is laying -5 against Loyola Chicago with a total of 129 in the first semifinal. Villanova is also laying -5 against Kansas with a total of 155 in the second semi. Loyola Chicago is a remarkable 23-9-1 ATS this season but faces a Michigan team on a massive ATS streak of their own, checking in at 10-2-1 ATS in their last 13 games.
Villanova, despite being one of the premier teams in college basketball all season, have managed to retain pointspread value as evidenced by their 26-12 ATS record on the season, including their perfect 4-0 ATS mark here in the tournament. Kansas is only 20-16-1 ATS this season in comparison to Villanova but the Jayhawks have only been underdogs of +5 or more this season once.
I wouldn’t bet against seeing more drama this weekend.