Final Four bettors need to focus on defending

Final Four bettors need to focus on defending

March 28, 2017 3:00 AM
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Here’s my look at the two Final Four matchups on Saturday and the key handicapping factors to pay attention to from a betting perspective.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs were 3-0 SU but 0-3 ATS in their first three tournament games, notching non-spread covering wins against South Dakota State, Northwestern and West Virginia to get this far. However, they picked the right time to put together their best and most complete performance of the NCAA Tournament in the Elite 8 against Xavier on Saturday. The Bulldogs rolled to a commanding 83-59 victory, cashing in for their backers with relative ease as 8.5 point chalk for the Zags’ first ATS win of the tournament.

Gonzaga had played good defensively in their first three tournament wins but it wasn’t until the Xavier game on Saturday that the Bulldogs got their mojo back at the offensive end of the court. Gonzaga shot 47.5% from the field, including 12-for-24 50% shooting from the perimeter, and it was a massive bounce-back game for Nigel Williams-Goss who led the team with 23 points in the win after he had after a rough performance against West Virginia.

Gonzaga will face South Carolina in the first semifinal with the Bulldogs currently a 6.5 point favorite in that game.

The Gamecocks have turned into the Cinderella darlings of the tournament with an impressive 4-0 SU and perfect 4-0 ATS march through to the Final Four, notching wins and covers against Marquette, Duke, Baylor and Florida. They have done it with defense that has held their four opponents to a combined 89-for-223 from the floor and a 40% field goal percentage.

The Gamecocks have found much greater flow and have just started making shots on a more consistent basis with head coach Frank Martin (who has done another outstanding job) allowing this team to be more assertive and aggressive with the basketball. South Carolina and Gonzaga are both ranked in the Top 5 in the country in defensive efficiency rankings yet the total sits up in the 138 to 138.5 range, which speaks to the fact Gonzaga has a very efficient offensive team and South Carolina has improved by leaps and bounds at that end of the floor, shooting at a 48% clip in their first four tournament games.

Oregon vs. UNC

North Carolina is a 4.5 to 5 point favorite with the total sitting in the low 150’s. Kansas looked like a force that couldn’t be stopped in their first three tournament games until they ran up against Dana Altman and his Oregon Ducks, who put the defensive clamps down on a juggernaut Kansas team that found it easy to score the ball at will throughout the tournament to that point.

Oregon had struggled at the defensive end of the court since Chris Boucher, their best rim protector, interior defender and shot blocker, went down with a season-ending torn ACL injury, but Dana Altman made some strong adjustments including getting Jordan Bell more court time, and that move paid off in a big way with Bell turning in dominant efforts in terms of interior defense in the Ducks’ two victories over the weekend against Michigan and Kansas.

The improved Oregon defense will get a major challenge in the Final Four this weekend from a North Carolina team that is not the best shooting team anyone will see, but the Tar Heels crash the offensive boards better than anyone in the country with so many of their points coming from converting on their own misses.

North Carolina is ranked first in the country by a wide margin in offensive rebounding percentage and also tops the nation in total rebounding rate. Oregon ranks 128th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and that definitely is a concerning aspect of this matchup for the Ducks as they lack interior depth with very little else in terms of low post strength and size outside of Jordan Bell.

North Carolina has exchanged pointspread wins and losses to this point going win, loss, win, loss from an ATS perspective in their first four tournament games.

Oregon started out the tournament losing their first two games ATS as larger favorites against Iona and Rhode Island but played much better in their most recent two games against Michigan and Kansas, and they went either 1-0-1 ATS or 2-0 ATS in those two games, depending on what number each individual bettor got with the Ducks in the Michigan win. Oregon is showing signs of getting better and better as the tournament has progressed.

The Final Four will tip off on Saturday and bettors shouldn’t be surprised if they end up caught in the midst of more “March pointspread Madness” this weekend.