NCAA Finals Dream Match Up: Kentucky vs. Duke

March has arrived and that means the NCAA Tournament more appropriately called March Madness. Sitting at the top of the odds chart to win the National Championship are the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky is 29-0 and can move to 30-0 on Tuesday with a win over the Georgia Bulldogs.

Looking down the road if we may, odds makers through their crystal ball or algorithms whichever you believe, see Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin and Arizona as the teams with the best odds of winning the national championship.

Many believe it could be a battle between Duke and Kentucky with Kentucky sitting at 39-0 in the national championship game against the Duke Blue Devils and Coach K.

Duke would be the only team that could beat Kentucky and they are peaking just at the right time. The Blue Devils have won 9 straight games after losing back-to-back games to North Carolina State and Miami.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team has played well all season with the exception of a few games where they did not shoot well. He added that you do not beat teams like Wisconsin, Stanford, Michigan State and Notre Dame unless you are good. He claims his players have also matured since the season started.

Duke has Jahlil Okafor as well, arguably the best player in the nation, just ask Coach K, he will be more than happy to tell you that.

That would mean the year’s best player would be against the country’s best team, what other matchup would anyone really want to see.

Since 1984-85, when the tournament was expanded to 64 teams, just four national championship games have had two No. 1 seeds. Some of the best final games came from the matchups, including Duke vs. UConn in 1999, North Carolina vs. Illinois in 2005, Florida vs. Ohio State in 2007 and Kansas vs. Memphis in 2008.

With Kentucky vs. Duke, you will also have the most hated and most loved teams in the nation in the eyes of college basketball fans. This matchup might not reach the 24.1 rating and 35 million viewers that the Indiana State/Larry Bird vs. Michigan State/Magic Johnson drew but it could especially if Kentucky reaches the final at 39-0.

Mike Krzyzewski is 8-1 at Duke against Kentucky. Kentucky coach John Calipari is attempting to reach his third Final Four in the past three years and his second national title in three years.

It might be a long shot, but that is what sports betting is all about, long shots. Let’s hope the Basketball Gods are looking down upon college basketball and the NCAA Finals feature Kentucky vs. Duke.

No. 3 Gonzaga Faces Rival Saint Mary’s

The No. 3 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs visit the Saint Mary’s Gaels on Saturday night. Gonzaga is 27-1 straight up and 12-11-2 against the spread. Saint Mary’s is 20-6 SU and 16-6-2 ATS. Gonzaga opened as an 8.5-point favored by currently is -6.5.

Even though Gonzaga has just 1 loss straight up this season, the Bulldogs are 1-4 ATS over their past five games played. Of course, it makes it a bit more difficult when those five games the Bulldogs were favored by 10 points or more.

Besides a win by 8 points over Pepperdine, none of the past five games has been close even though they have failed to cover.

Gonzaga has one of the country’s best offenses even if the competition it faces is not the best in the country. The Bulldogs have the best field goal percentage in the nation and score an average of 80 points per game.

The defense for St. Mary’s is just average but on offense they are competitive. However, the first time the two meet earlier this season Gonzaga covered a 15-point spread.

Gonzaga is in the top 20 in the country for defensive field goal percentage. In January in the first meeting between the two, the Bulldogs held St. Mary’s to 36% shooting, while Gonzaga hit 53% of its shots. St. Mary’s could only score 47 points, which is its lowest output of this season.

Gonzaga has won 20 straight games for the third time in team history. The Bulldogs have won 10 of the past 12 regular season titles outright. St. Mary’s, who are in second place this season, was the winner of the conference in 2011-12 one season after both teams split the title.

Gonzaga has won 7 straight against St. Mary’s, with the past 6 by an average margin of 19.7 points.

St. Mary’s has won 9 of its past 10 on its home court. The Gaels will retire the jersey of former Gaels star Patty Mills, who now plays for the San Antonio Spurs, at the game tonight.

It is the first time all season that St. Mary’s will be the underdog at home. Gonzaga has not covered a spread in any of its past six games on road, but remember the spreads have been large in each game.

Pick: Gonzaga 62-57

With No NBA Tonight, My Focus is on the College Hardwood

Wright
Wright
Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats look to avenge an earlier loss to Seton Hall.

The National Basketball Association is still on their All-Star Break which means I turn my attention to the college scene. Believe it or not, we are already getting close to conference tournament time for some of the smaller conferences and before you know it, the big boys will be on stage as they prep for the tourney.

Seton Hall (+16.5) at Villanova – The Wildcats score five more points per game than do the Pirates and they give up five points less per game than does Seton Hall. That doesn’t bode well for the Pirates. Head-to-head the two teams have seen Villanova win seven of the last ten meetings but the Pirates own a two-game winning streak right now.

Trends: Seton Hall is 1-11 straight up in their last 12 road games at Villanova… The Wildcats are 12-3 SU in their last 15 games against Seton Hall… The Pirates are 2-5 SU in their last seven road games… The Wildcats are 2-4 against the spread in their last six game at home versus the Pirates.

The Pick: The Pirates rebound better than ‘Nova does so I like them getting the points but I like the Wildcats to win.

Dixon
Jamie Dixon and the Panthers have a tough assignment at Virginia.

Pittsburgh (+13) at Virginia – The Panthers are coming off of a very important home win over North Carolina but this road test is a different monster altogether. Both teams are scoring in the upper 60’s each game but the Cavaliers are allowing a paltry 50 points per game defensively while Pitt gives 65 per game. The Panthers are a little board on the offensive glass than is Virginia but everything else favors the Cavs tonight.

Trends: Pitt is 1-5 straight up in their last six road games… UVA is 1-5 against the spread in their last six games… The Panthers are 0-4-1 ATS in their last five road games… The Cavs are 13-1 SU in their last 14 games at home.

The Pick: I like UVA to cover considering Pitt’s road woes of late.

Kansas (+1) at West Virginia – There really isn’t a stat to point to in this game that makes you jump on one side or another. Both teams score over 70 points per game and both give up about 65 per game. KU is a little better on the defensive boards while the Mountaineers hold an edge in offensive rebounding.

Trends: Kansas is 4-2 straight up in their last six road games… WVU is 15-3 straight up in their last 18 games at home… The Jayhawks have won three of the last four times they’ve played the Mountaineers… West Virginia is 1-4 against the spread in their last five games.

The Pick: I like the Mountaineers to cover at home but I expect a close contest throughout.

Clemson (+4) at Georgia Tech – This is a contest of two ACC teams who are not always used to being also-rans but that’s where they find themselves in 2015. The Tigers are 15-10 and are holding out hope of an NCAA berth but an NIT bid is more likely. Georgia Tech is under .500 and is going to need to pull off a miracle in the ACC Tournament in order to advance to the NCAA Tournament in March.

Trends: The Tigers are 8-17 straight up in their last 25 road games… Georgia Tech is 2-11 straight up in their last 13 games… Clemson has won five of the last six games in Atlanta straight up versus the Yellow Jackets… GT is 1-5 against the spread in their last six games at home against the Tigers.

The Pick: I love Clemson here getting the points.

Saturday College Basketball Bits and Pieces

This weekend has a number of good college basketball matchups.

After visits to the Elite Eight four straight seasons, it looks as if Florida will miss March Madness this season. The Gators are 12-10 straight and 7-13-1 against the spread. If they do not go to the Big Dance, it will be their first miss since 2008.

Nevertheless, if Florida can defeat the nation’s top ranked and undefeated Kentucky Wildcats they would be back in the bubble conversation once again.

However, if the Gators lose then their only hope for postseason play is spelled N-I-T.

Kentucky on the other had is an entirely different story. The Wildcats are an impressive 22-0 SU and 11-11 ATS. Kentucky defeated Georgia on Tuesday at home in its last game. The Wildcats did not look that well but sill won by 11.

UK’s size is almost unheard of with three players who are 7-footers and six in all that are 6-foot-9 or taller.

Bits and Pieces

Arkansas could be without Michael Qualls its second leading scorer in its showdown on Saturday with Mississippi State. Qualls sprained a knee and is listed as questionable.

Georgia could get leading scorer as well as rebounder Marcus Thornton back for its game on Saturday against Tennessee. Georgia is 0-2 without Thornton in the lineup.

Alabama’s Rickey Tarrant, the second leading scorer is doubtful for the Crimson Tide’s games against LSU. He injured his leg in Alabama’s loss to Florida and has sat out two straight games.

Georgia Southern leads the nation with a 12-1-2 against the spread record.

Pepperdine is 15-8 straight up and 15-4-2 against the spread with its 80-74 win on Thursday over BYU. Pepperdine swept BYU this season. The Cougars slim hopes of an NCAA bid were destroyed completely with the loss.

Kourtney Roberson from Texas A&M is a question mark for the Aggies Saturday game versus Missouri because of an injury that has not been disclosed.

As of late in the day Friday, it was unknown what the playing status of  Malek Harris and Marcus Foster was. Both were suspended just prior to Kansas State’s game against Texas Tech.

Already without Briante Weber their starting guard, VCU must face their opponents this weekend without Treveon Graham who is scoring over 16 points per game while grabbing 6.6 rebounds. He is doubtful against St. Bonaventure after spraining an ankle last Wednesday.

Two Top 10 Teams Face Tough Conference Games on the Road

A championship caliber college basketball team can win on the road when they are supposed to. On Saturday, two teams in the AP top-10 will face tough road tests when the No. 6 ranked Wisconsin Badgers visit the Michigan Wolverines in a Big 10 showdown and the No. 7 ranked Arizona Wildcats visit California in a Pac-12 showdown.

Wisconsin is favored by 10.5 points in its game. The Badgers are 5-1 in conference play, but the only loss was to Rutgers almost two weeks ago, as a road favorite by 15 points.

Wisconsin is 2-3-1 ATS in Big 10 action and the total has cashed to the OVER in 4 of the 6.

Frank Kaminsky is the leading scorer for the Badgers. The 7-footer is scoring just under 17 points a game, while the team is averaging almost 74 per game.

Michigan is coming off a win of 54-50 over Rutgers as a road dog by 2.5 points.

The Wolverines are 5-2 SU and 4-3 ATS in Big Ten play.

Michigan overall is 12-7 SU and 6-12 ATS, with the total cashing to the UNDER in 11 of 17.

Wisconsin is 3-7-1 against the number in their past 11 Big Ten games. However, Wisconsin is 9-4-1 against the spread over their past 14 games after a win straight up.

The point total has cashed on the OVER in 8 of their past 10 games versus conference opponents.

Michigan is 2-8 ATS in its past 10 games at home and 4-10 against the number in its past 14 games overall. The total has cashed on the UNDER in five of Michigan’s past six games played at home.

Head to head between Michigan and Wisconsin, the team at home has covered the number in five of the past seven games overall. The UNDER has cashed in the past four games between the two played at Michigan.

Out west, No. 7 ranked Arizona plays at California. Arizona is favored by 11.5 points.

Arizona won its last outing 89-82 over Stanford as a road favorite of 3.5 points. It was the Wildcats fifth win in its six conference games.

The only loss in the conference was to Oregon State 58-56, as a road favorite of 10 points.

In Pac-12 play, Arizona is 4-2 against the number. In four of the six conference games, the total has cashed UNDER.

California is 4-17 ATS in its past 21 conference games. The Golden Bears have not covered in five of their past six games played at home.

The total has cashed OVER in 18 of California’s past 24 games against teams with a winning straight up record.

Mercer Upset Helps Books Win Big on Friday at NCAA Tournament

Friday’s second day of the Round of 64 was a day for the books as sportsbooks rolled to a big win in the NCAA Tournament.

One of the big reasons the sports books such as Bovada and sportsbook.com did so well on Friday was the huge upset of Mercer over Duke.

Thursday’s first day of the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament ended up being a small winner for sportsbooks. However, on Friday, the games gave sportsbooks such as betonline and topbet a huge win as favorites were just 7-9 against the number with four underdogs not only covering by winning outright, which included the aforementioned Mercer upset of Duke 78-71. That win by Mercer paid out +750 on the books’ moneyline.

Duke had been one of the most popular public bets for the week and ruined many bettors’ parlays.

UCLA was sluggish during the first half of their game against Tulsa late Friday night but came back to win 76-57 to cover a spread of 9 points, which the books as many had put their money behind Tulsa.

The handle thus far on the NCAA Tournament has been very large and has surprised many bookmakers. Usually the first Thursday of March Madness handles more money due to more money being available as it is the first round of the tournament.

Once a bettor loses their bankroll, smaller amount are put up.

Usually Friday ends up being a difficult day for the house as parlays are carried over from the previous day that puts the house at a big risk.

That was not the case for this year’s tournament with bettors doing okay on day one, giving them more money to lay on Friday’s lineup of 16 games.

On Thursday, the favorites finished the day at 8-7-1 against the spread with just two underdogs Dayton and North Dakota state winning outright.

An important game for the books on Thursday ended up being Oregon vs. BYU. The Ducks ended up cruising to victory by 21 points to cover as a 5.5-point spread as the favorite. However, that blow to the books was lessened when the normally high scoring teams did not pay the OVER scoring just 153 points on a 158 point line.

The two teams played earlier in the season with Oregon winning in OT 100-96 to go well OVER that game’s 173 total.

With Saturday behind and the books taking another strong day, Sunday’s games will whittle the field to its final 16 for next Thursday and Friday’s Sweet 16 lineup, which should be interesting to see how the bettors go.

However, there are still 8 games to be played on Sunday that could give the public its first win or maintain the books solid first weekend start to the tournament.

Odds Halved for Louisville to Repeat as National Champions

The NCAA Tournament starts Tuesday with the First Four. On Sunday night, a new list of futures odds for the NCAA Tournament championship were released. Skyrocketing up the board were the Louisville Cardinals.

The odds for the Cardinals were cut by more than half, which was more of a result of the brackets and regions than on any betting action driving the price down for the Cardinals.

Upon the brackets and regions being unveiled Sunday night, the odds for Louisville were set at 15 to 1 to be a repeat Champion.

By early on Monday, the squad under the tutelage of legendary coach Rick Pitino was moved to 7 to 1, where that currently sit on Bovada and topbet as the third pick with Arizona to repeat as champions.

Odds makers on betonline and sportsbook.com said the change in odds did not have anything to do with a large money bet.

Many of the odds being used were ones used during the course of the season, but once the odds are put into brackets then it is easier to see how teams matchup against one another. Louisville has played very well during the last two months of the regular season and the season ending conference tournament.

The top two shortest odds remain the Florida Gators at 9 to 2 and the Michigan State Spartans at 5 to 1. Both teams saw slight adjustments upward since the odds were opened on Sunday night.

Five Tips to Think About

  1. The Big 12 has the most teams in the Big Dance with seven, but the Big Ten is the toughest conference. Rating the conferences has the Big Ten at top followed by the Big 12, the Big East, Pac-12, ACC, the SEC and the AAC.
  2. Over the last 20 years, only on three occasions did a pair of teams hold the No. 1 and 2 spots in the polls for eight consecutive weeks during the regular season. All of those six teams reached the Final Four and produced the eventual national champion those three seasons. This season they happen to be Syracuse and Arizona.
  3. Only two schools are ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Louisville the defending champions and Wichita State the only undefeated team in the nation. The seeding has Louisville very low at No. 4 and they could meet in the Sweet 16 against the Shockers.
  4. Of the past 16 national champions, 5 lost their conference season ending tournaments – Kentucky, North Carolina (twice), Syracuse and Maryland. Pay attention to Villanova.
  5. San Diego State a No. 4 seed is attempting to establish a new reputation for the Mountain West Conference. No team from the conference has reached the Elite Eight and teams from the MWC are 3-9 during the last two tournaments. Since the conference was formed 15 years ago it representatives in the Big Dance are a combined 17-38.

Top Five Odds for National Champion

Florida 9 to 2

Michigan State 5 to 1

Arizona 7 to 1

Louisville 7 to 1

Kansas 10 to 1

March Madness is Underway. Are Yor Ready?

Final Four
Final Four
March Madness is upon us so make sure you choose those upsets wisely.

There’s a really good chance that you are sitting in the office today but you have yet to do a darn thing related to your job. Oh sure, some of you really dedicated folks may have checked your schedules and done some things on the computer by now but you aren’t fooling anyone. It really is OK because there’s an excellent chance your boss is probably doing the same thing you are on this Monday morning.

What all this means is that if you’re reading this then you’ve already printed an NCAA bracket or two and you’ve filled out numerous brackets on-line at ESPN, CBS and Yahoo. Well, I’m here today to remind you of a few things as you go back and check and then re-check your brackets many times between now and Thursday at noon.

First and foremost, leave your Final Four selections alone. Barring an injury that is announced between now and Thursday, your gut feeling is usually right on the first time around. If you’re going to make changes to your original Final Four selections then you better have a darn good reason.

The biggest reason you might want to make a change is if you have all four number one seeds slotted. This is because only once since 1979 have all four number one seeds advanced to the Final Four. Otherwise, leave your Final Four picks the way you first have them. You’ll only regret the moves later on.

FGCU
Is there a team in this year's field like Florida Gulf Coast from 2013?

When you start to look for upsets, you should know there is always one spot on the bracket where you should start. Almost every year without fail, at least one of the five-twelve match-ups will end up as an upset. The trick is knowing which one to select and I wish I had the answer for you on that but there isn’t a very good pattern. All I can tell you is that it will happen. A 12-seed will upset a five-seed and you can take that to the bank.

If you’re really brave, then you’ll look for the upset in the two vs. fifteen match-ups. This upset has occurred six times and most recently was last year when Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Considering the number of tournaments and the fact that this has only happened six times, you’ll want to be careful. That said, don’t dismiss it.

At some point, the inevitable will finally happen. Someday, somehow, a number 16 seed will eventually knock off a number one. It has yet to happen in the history of the NCAA Tournament but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been close calls. Several times in the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s, number one teams were pushed to the brink before escaping.

North Carolina trailed Fairfield at the half and then had to pull away late with the Stags within three points with three minutes two go. Perhaps the most famous instance however was when top seed Georgetown escaped Princeton by a single point. Granted, it hasn’t come as close in the recent decade but that doesn’t mean it won’t finally happen.

Are you feeling frisky enough to make such a selection? Keep this in mind if you do want to choose a 16 over a one. Pick the game where you feel that one seed has the slimmest chance of reaching the Final Four. Think Gonzaga from last year. Also, you need to make sure of your office pool’s scoring system. Sometimes round one games are worth significant amounts of points compared to other rounds because these games are often more difficult to pick. Therefore, check that out first.

Now…. Don’t you have some work to get back to?

Kentucky Laying 2 at Home vs Florida in SEC Showdown

College basketball has a great lineup of games scheduled for Saturday with an SEC showdown between Florida and Kentucky highlighting the docket.

Kentucky has been an enigma all season. The Wildcats are as talented as any college team in the country, but have played inconsistent and made it hard for statisticians to figure them out.

Depending on who you speak to the Wildcats are ranked as high as 14th or as low as 50th. The statistical formulas used are different and it is up to debate as well as to which formula is best. The Wildcats have at times started five freshmen.

Odds makers on Bovada and topbet currently have Florida as the number eighth ranked team and Kentucky 12th.

On Saturday, more will be found out about the Wildcats as they play the Florida Gators at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. The Gators and Wildcats are one and two respectively in the SEC and the only two teams ranked in the conference.

Everyone knows that Florida is a legitimate contender for the national title, but the Gators have not won a game since 2007 in Rupp Arena. Odds makers at sportsbook.com and betonline are quick to point out that Billy Donovan, the head coach for Florida, is 2-8 SU against the Wildcats since John Calipari took over the reins for Kentucky.

Kentucky this season is 19-5 SU and 13-8-1 ATS. The Wildcats have won 22 straight home games and are 9-3 ATS this season at Rupp Arena. Overall, the Wildcats have won three straight and have played well against talented opponents.

However, the team has lost to mediocre teams such as LSU, Arkansas and Baylor, which makes it difficult when it comes to handicapping Kentucky.

With Florida, it is a different story. The Gators are 22-2 SU and 9-8-3 ATS and have won 16 straight games. The two losses suffered by Florida were at Connecticut and at Wisconsin earlier this season. The Gators biggest wins have been against Memphis, Kansas and twice versus Tennessee.

Five of the last six games between Florida and Kentucky have played to the UNDER, averaging just over a combined 129 points.

For both teams this is a big statement game. Kentucky looks for its fifth consecutive win, while Florida goes for number 17 in a row.

The Gators have reached this point thanks to their defense, which is giving up just fewer than 58 points per game.

The game should be low scoring. Florida has been UNDER in seven of its past nine games played.

The best option is taking the +2 points with Florida and the UNDER.

Hoop Notes

  • More bettors have placed money on Arizona to win the national championship than any other school in the country. Second is Wichita State, then Kansas and Syracuse.
  • Pittsburgh visits North Carolina following its heart breaking loss to Syracuse. Pittsburgh has lost five consecutive games against the spread. North Carolina has won five consecutive SU and ATS.

Memphis Laying Just 4 at Home, Cincinnati Laying 3 on the Road

A full lineup of college basketball is on tap for Saturday, but two interesting games match the No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats visiting the SMU Mustangs and the No 23 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs visiting the No. 24 ranked Memphis Tigers.

Cincinnati is 21-2 SU and 9-8-1 ATS this season. The Bearcats have won 15 straight games but will be facing a tough SMU team that is 17-5 SU and 14-5 ATS.

Cincinnati has covered just two of its last seven games played, while SMU has covered 9 of its past 10.

The Bearcats defeated the Mustangs 76-67 on New Year’s Day and covered the spread of 7.5 points.

Cincinnati had all it could do to win its last game. The Bearcats held off Connecticut 63-58 at home with forward Sean Kilpatrick strengthening his case as player of the year in the American Athletic Conference.

Kilpatrick scored 26 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 6 assists. He hit two free throws to clinch the win with only 4 seconds left on the clock.

SMU has won 12 straight home games and looks to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. On Thursday, the Mustangs defeated Temple by the score of 75-52.

SMU has not beaten a team in the Top 10 since 1987.

The UNDER has cashed in 10 of the past 14 SMU games. Cincinnati has a record of 3-11 ATS over its past 14 games on the road. The Mustangs are 6-0 against the number in their past six games at home.

Pick: SMU(-3) less the points

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are 21-3 SU and 11-10-1 ATS and will be going for their eighth consecutive win. The Bulldogs are underdogs on Bovada and betonline by +4 points in their game against Memphis.

The Tigers are 17-5 straight up and 12-7 against the number. The teams played for six straight seasons, ending in 2011, with Memphis going 5-1 SU in the six games.

Memphis is led by Austin Nichols, its freshman forward, who had 18 points in the Tigers rout of Rutgers, earlier in the week.

The UNDER has gone 5-0 in the last five games overall for Gonzaga. Gonzaga has a record of 18-6-2 ATS over its past 26 games after a loss ATS.

Topbet and sportsbook.com show that the underdog has a 5-0 ATS record over the past five games played head to head between the two schools.

The UNDER has cashed in 12 of the past 17 games Memphis had played.

This is the first time Gonzaga has faced a ranked opponent all season. It is also the first time Gonzaga is the underdog this season. However, the small -4 spread does not indicate the overall superiority of Memphis and the huge advantage playing on its home court.

Pick: Memphis (-4) less the points