Ultimate 2018 Final Four Betting Guide: Predictions, Analysis, Trends and More!
Today marks the last time in the 2017-18 college basketball season that we will have multiple games on the same day. (I teared up typing that.) That said, it’s a bittersweet day, as we have two outstanding Final Four matchups that almost nobody predicted 100% accurately. (Only 550 brackets of 17.3 million entires on ESPN picked the Final Four correctly. I think we found the Loyola alums!) We have a little bit of everything in San Antonio. Two No. 1 seeds that have each won national titles over the past decade and two non-No. 1 seeds that own the country’s only 10-plus game winning streaks. Both games have almost identical spreads, but dramatically different totals. Expect two very different games on Saturday. Should be a little bit for everybody. OK, enough chatter, let’s get into our Final Four betting guide.
Below, we will examine the matchups on both ends of the floor, look at trends, interesting nuggets and sharp action. We will also provide our experts’ favorite bets for both Saturday games.
Don’t forget to check back here up until tip for insight into last-minute sharp action, significant line moves and any other betting market info.
All spreads as of Friday evening.
#11 Loyola Chicago vs. #3 Michigan -5 | O/U: 130
San Antonio, TX | 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS
By Jordan Majewski
Loyola big man Cam Krutwig will be the most important player on both ends of the floor Saturday night. Let’s dive into the reasons why.
When Loyola chicago has the Ball
The all-caps, bold print question for the Ramblers is how many minutes can Krutwig play? If he can go 20-25 minutes, Loyola will have a more than legitimate shot to win. If he’s limited to only 10-15, that means Michigan’s game plan to keep him off the floor worked, and the Wolverines will likely play for a national championship.
The disparity in Loyola’s efficiency in the tournament with Krutwig on and off the court is staggering. Offensively, the Ramblers have scored 1.21 points per possession (ppp) with Krutwig on the court, but just .96 ppp when he’s off. Those splits represent an almost equal amount of possessions in both scenarios. Krutwig’s ability to command attention in the post makes the spacing in head coach Porter Moser’s 4-out motion offense infinitely better. Krutwig is not just an efficient back-to-the-basket scorer, as he is also an outstanding passer out of the post.
With Krutwig on the court, not only will Moser’s ball-screen-continuity offense run more efficiently from the perimeter, but Krutwig himself will also have an advantage in the post against Michigan big man Moe Wagner. To put it bluntly, Wagner is a very poor post defender, grading out in just the 25th percentile nationally in ppp allowed, per Synergy. Wagner is also foul prone when forced to defend at the rim. If Moser can get Wagner off the floor by pounding the ball inside early and often (which Loyola tends to do, as it ranks 36th nationally in shot rate at the rim), the Ramblers could easily continue their dream run.
Now let’s imagine the opposite scenario, where foul trouble allows Krutwig to stay on the floor for only 10-15 minutes, similar to the Nevada game. Loyola’s inside-out motion attack will become significantly less potent and more predictable. Without Krutwig, Moser typically shifts 6-5 forward Aundre Jackson down to the 5. Intuitively, you would assume the spacing improves with five players capable of playing on the perimeter, but that is not the case with Loyola. Additionally, Michigan’s strength defensively lies on the perimeter, where guards Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (MAAR) are plus on-ball defenders. The Wolverines can more effectively limit point guard Clayton Custer’s dribble penetration off hand-offs and ball screens.
Michigan has reached the Final Four as a result of its elite defense, which ranks fourth nationally in efficiency rating. Even with the 99-point explosion against Texas A&M, the Wolverines have only scored 1.05 ppp in the tourney, which is well below their season-long output. Make no mistake, if Michigan wins this game, it will do so on the defensive end. That elite defense becomes impenetrable if Wagner doesn’t have to defend Krutwig in the post. Early foul trouble on either player could ultimately decide the outcome.
When Michigan has the Ball
While I just effusively praised Michigan’s defense, head coach John Beilein also runs one of the best offensive systems in all of college basketball. From the 2 Guard offense to its methodical pick and roll, Michigan forces teams to defend for 20 seconds or more until it finds the right matchup to exploit. That matchup typically involves Wagner in screen and roll, where he can operate in space off the dribble in an isolated matchup, roll to the rim, or slip off the screen in pick-and-pop action. The ability of 6-6 Charles Mathews and 6-4 MAAR to both lead pick and roll at the point of attack also creates a multitude of matchup issues for opposing defenses.
With that said, similar to Michigan, Loyola excels at defending the pick and roll at the point of attack. Per Synergy, Loyola allows just .649 ppp to pick-and-roll ball handlers, which grades out in the 95th percentile nationally. Thanks to perimeter defenders such as guard Ben Richardson and the versatility of Donte Ingram and Jackson, Moser can switch on every screen. The Ramblers’ defense is extremely active on the perimeter and keeps offenses away from the rim by walling off the paint (again, much like Michigan). However, once again, this end of the floor also totally revolves around Krutwig. Simply put, he can’t defend Wagner in screen and roll. Moser’s only chance to defend Wagner is to effectively go small with Jackson at the 5, but as I mentioned above, that severely handicaps the Rambler offense.
With all of that in mind, we’re left with a chess match centering around how and when Moser gets Krutwig on the floor, and how Beilein attacks him when he is on the court. From what we’ve seen from Moser against versatile, 5 out offenses such as Michigan’s, Krutwig likely won’t be a significant part of the game plan. As a result, we will probably have a major defensive battle on our hands. Although, I must say expecting Moser to play a certain way is a fool’s errand, as he’s extremely adaptable in-game.
By Bryan Mears
WHo Can Better LimiT Penetration
If you’re big into coaching matchups, this is nirvana. Beilein and Moser are two of the best coaches in college hoops, which they’ve shown in this tournament. Both squads actually have two similar weaknesses:
- Neither gets to the foul line much
- Both struggle with protecting the rim
They instead rely on their defensive schemes to prevent penetration. Michigan, in particular, ranks 18th in frequency of shots allowed at the rim. Both have excellent pick-and-roll defenses that can switch on the perimeter to deter penetration. That is probably the most important factor in the game. Whichever team wins that battle likely plays for a national title.
Also, I wanted to mention an interesting trend I found. Since the 2005 NCAA Tournament, the under has hit in only nine of 29 (31%) games when two teams that play at a pace of 70 possessions per 40 minutes or fewer meet in the Sweet 16 or later. The narrative of things slowing down, teams playing with more of a purpose and offenses tightening up at the end all seem to get overrated by the betting market. For what it’s worth, both Final Four matchups qualify for this trend.
No. 1 Thing I’m Watching For
Will Loyola Have a Halftime Lead?
I mentioned this last week, but Loyola Chicago has been absolutely dominant when it takes a lead into halftime. The Ramblers are 26-0 in their last 26 games in which they have led at intermission. That streak dates back to January of 2017. Loyola is a well-schooled team with an excellent point guard.
The Ramblers are doing more than just holding on for wins in the second half. They have dominated ATS in the second half over the last two seasons, compiling a 41-18-2 (69.5%) record, while covering by an average of 3.1 points per second half. Since 2010, 262 different teams have had at least 20 second-half lines recorded over a two-year span in the Bet Labs database. Of that data set, no team has a better 2H spread win % than Loyola Chicago’s over the last two seasons.
In its four NCAA Tournament victories, Loyola has yet to trail at the half. If the Ramblers take a small lead into the half against Michigan, I will look to continue following the second-half trend by backing them in the second half.
Did You Know?
By Evan Abrams
Loyola joins some special company: Over the past 20 years, only four other teams have reached the Final Four after being listed as an underdog in the first round:
- 2006 George Mason
- 2011 VCU
- 2011 Butler
- 2013 Wichita State
Coincidentally, the first team to do it, George Mason, was coached by Jim Larranaga, who now coaches the Miami team that lost at the buzzer vs. Loyola-Chicago in the first round.
Of those four teams, only VCU and Butler won all four of its games listed as the underdog en route to their Final Four game. None of the four teams won the national championship game, but Butler did get there.
By John Ewing
Is this the game Loyola’s Cinderella run ends? History isn’t on its side. In Final Four and championship games since 2005, favorites of -250 or greater (such as Michigan) have gone 10-1 straight up.
By PJ Walsh
Betting has been very balanced so far, with 56% of tickets on Michigan and 52% of overall dollars wagered on Loyola Chicago. With books seeing good two-way action, the line sits at Wolverines -5.5, right where it opened at Bookmaker.eu.
My Favorite Bet
Jordan: Under 129.5
Stuck: Will look at Loyola 2H if it has a halftime lead
Wes: Over 129.5
#1 Kansas vs. #1 Villanova -5 | O/U: 155
San Antonio, TX | 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS
By Jordan Majewski
Jalen Brunson vs. Devonte’ Graham is exactly what this country needs right now. Let’s examine which team will have an advantage on each end of the floor.
When Kansas has the Ball
Where Michigan vs. Loyola likely turns into a defensive battle, Villanova and Kansas should provide us with offensive fireworks. Kansas features one of the nation’s elite offenses, as head coach Bill Self is a certified genius on that end of the court. It all revolves around Graham’s ability to read and react off ball screens and Self’s ubiquitous weave action. Graham has lethal weapons on the perimeter in Self’s 4-out offense, with deadly corner shooter Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman, who has torched opponents in the month of March. That said, the strength of Villanova’s defense lies in its ability to switch 1 through 4. Nova has the perimeter defenders in Phil Booth and especially long-armed Mikal Bridges who can at least partially limit Graham and Newman.
However, you can exploit Villanova at the rim. KU big man Udoka Azubuike will have a massive physical advantage over any Nova post defender, from Omari Spellman to Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. KU’s talent on the perimeter almost guarantees a one-on-one matchup for Azubuike. KU’s offense revolves around its prolific and efficient 3-point offense, but if the Jayhawks advance to the title game, they will likely get there as a result of a big effort at the rim.
Side note: Jay Wright will occasionally use 1-2-2 zone pressure to slow down offenses, but that will certainly not work against Kansas. Svi would end up with countless wide open 3s in the corner, as Graham handles the press with aplomb.
When Villanova has the Ball
Simply put, Villanova has the best offense in the country. When the Cats are clicking, they’re virtually impossible to defend. Every player on the floor can shoot, dribble and pass, while their shot/pump fakes are akin to Peyton Manning audibles. They completely shake up the offense on the fly without ever missing a beat from an execution standpoint.
The hidden wrinkle in Villanova’s offensive game that separates it from every team in the country: Brunson’s post-up game. Brunson’s skill and intelligence running the offense are obvious, but when the 6-3 guard backs down his man, Villanova presents an inverted look that simply hasn’t been seen outside of the heyday of Wisconsin’s swing offense. Additionally, whereas Villanova doesn’t necessarily have a weak link switching on defense, KU has a few — namely Svi and Lagerald Vick.
And while Spellman will be at a disadvantage against Azubuike at the rim, he will force the KU center to defend in pick and roll, where he naturally struggles. The mobility of Spellman and Eric Paschall in the frontcourt presents a major matchup issue for KU. Guard Marcus Garrett is probably the best defensive option in this scenario, but he still gives up several inches in height. Plus, he’ll hurt Kansas offensively, as the Wildcats can abandon their defensive assignments on the perimeter against Garrett.
We should ultimately see an outstanding display of offensive basketball, orchestrated by two certified offensive geniuses on the sidelines. Neither Nova nor KU fouls at a high rate, while both teams have certain matchups they can exploit offensively. This should be a perfect foil to the defensive battle I expect in the first game of the night.
No. 1 Thing I’m Watching For
A Slow Start
A new venue. Nerves. Just random poor shooting. A number of factors could contribute to a slow start in this game. If so, I’ll pounce on a live over, as I think this matchup will inevitably turn into a shootout. I will look to jump on anything in the 140s.
By Wes Reynolds
Obviously not many situational spots to consider in the Final Four, as you will get maximum effort from both teams.
I did mention in the Elite Eight betting guide that Villanova was due for some 3-point shooting regression after making 82 triples over six postseason games (Big East tourney included). That regression did indeed occur, as the Wildcats shot 4-for-24 outside the arc against Texas Tech. Yet, they still won by a dozen points. Their defensive performance was severely overlooked. This Nova team can win in a variety of ways.
Personally, I am playing some Kansas ML as a hedge against a preseason 27/1 future on Villanova. The over 154.5 will be my only true position in this game. Both teams went under in regulation in their Elite Eight games, which I think has actually slightly contributed to a total that has value on the over.
Did You Know?
By Evan Abrams
In his career, Bill Self is 8-3 SU and ATS in the NCAA Tournament when facing a coach who has won a national championship. Self has won those meetings by an average of 6.2 PPG, covering the spread by more than five points per game. In fact, Self has covered and won each of his past five games in this situation dating back to the 2012 NCAA Tournament. And since the 2002 NCAA Tournament, he is 8-1 SU and ATS in this spot. His only loss over that span came against Tom Izzo and Michigan State in the 2009 Sweet 16.
By John Ewing
As of Friday evening, 57% of spread tickets were on Kansas +5. (You can find live numbers here.) Popular underdogs in the NCAA Tournament have compiled just a 101-129-5 (44%) ATS record since 2005.
By PJ Walsh
Villanova opened as a 5-point favorite and 57% of tickets are on Kansas and the points. The percentage of money splits are even more drastic, with 79% of dollars also wagered on the Jayhawks.
My Favorite Bet
Jordan: Over 154.5
Stuck: Villanova -5 (looking for live over opportunity)
Mears: Over 154.5
Wes: Over 154.5
Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writers and is based on their research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.
Top photo: Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo (10) and Jalen Brunson (1); credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports