Could anything be better than South Carolina and North Carolina hooking up for Monday’s championship game? Who doesn’t like a chance to see a David beat a Goliath?
The No. 1 seed, and highest rated team in Las Vegas – North Carolina, possibly facing an improbable No. 7 seeded Gamecocks, who hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973 but just won four straight as underdogs to make its first ever Final Four.
Who doesn’t want to see that?
What a fantastic story this game would be, which also mixes in some American colonial history. People love to root for the longshot and William Hill sportsbooks have South Carolina as the longest odds remaining at 15-to-2. On March 9, after they were on a miserable 1-9 ATS run, the Gamecocks were listed at 300-to-1.
The Tar Heels will be participating in their 20th Final Four and are posted as the 7-to-5 favorite to win it all, one season after losing on a last-second shot in the championship game to Villanova. They’ve beat opponents by an average score of 85-70 and lead the nation in rebounding margin with 13 more boards a game than their opponents. Yes, nothing could be finer than an all Carolina final. Let’s call the Tar Heels -8.5 in this possible matchup.
But don’t tell my friends in the Pacific Northwest any of that Carolina nonsense. They’ll have none of it. They’ve been celebrating non-stop since Saturday at their favorite hipster bar. Their two main teams – No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 3 seed Oregon – made the Final Four and will be representing the region like never seen before in the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga’s 83-59 win over Xavier (+8.5) sent the Zags to its first Final Four ever after the Bulldogs experienced so many heart breaking defeats in past NCAAs. The critics always said, “They play in the WCC and don’t have the tough games like other top seeds; they’re not battle tested.” And up until Saturday, the critics were always proven correct.
But all the Zags have done this season is lead the nation in scoring margin (22.3), which has helped them be the top covering team at 23-9-1 ATS. They run an efficient offense that shoots over 50 percent from the field, but what is most impressive is its defense, which allowed opponents to shoot only 37.5 percent this season. In their last two games they held Xavier to 35% and West Virginia to 26%.
The Zags are the second choice to win it all at 3-to-2, odds significantly less than the 60-to-1 opening odds set after last year’s tournament.
Oregon comes in making its first Final Four since winning the first ever NCAA Basketball Championship in 1939. They lead the nation in blocked shots (6.3 per game) and Jordan Bell had a block party Saturday in the Midwest Final with eight blocks against a bewildered Kansas squad that had won its first three tournament games by an average of 26 points.
Oregon didn’t need +6.5 and paid out at +250 on the money-line in the 74-60 upset. The Ducks have now gone 18-7 ATS in its last 25 games and are 9-to-2 to win the next two games.
To make this Pacific Northwest thing happen, the Ducks will need to get past North Carolina, who are 5-point favorites, and the Zags (-6.5) will have to get by South Carolina.
For business purposes in the sportsbook I asked Station Casinos sportsbook director Jason McCormick what match-up would create the most excitement with bettors and he said, “I think the No. 1 seeds of Gonzaga and North Carolina would drive the most handle, but future win wise, I’d like to see South Carolina vs. Oregon.”
For those looking for a great viewing experience for the Final Four games this weekend, and doing so on the cheap, Station Casinos is offering $2 Buds and Bud Light’s while the games are on at all their sportsbooks aroundtown.