Early Final Four Betting Outlook: Loyola’s Chances, One Seeds Clash
© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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Only three games left in a tournament that has given us a little bit of everything. We saw the first win by a No. 16 seed, epic Nevada comebacks, Cinderella runs, multiple buzzer-beaters and many thrilling (or heartbreaking) betting victories. And after 64 games over the course of 13 days, we have trimmed the field from 68 teams to the final four of Villanova, Kansas, Michigan and Loyola-Chicago.
Only Villanova has had a relatively easy path to San Antonio, covering all four games as a favorite with ease. Jay Wright’s crew has been living in #GreenDotCity all tournament. Speaking of Cinderella and buzzer-beaters, while Loyola-Chicago also remains undefeated against the spread, the No. 11 seed won on a buzzer-beater against Miami on the first Thursday of the tournament! The No. 3 seed Wolverines also stayed alive because of an improbable buzzer-beater against Houston. And Kansas punched the last ticket to San Antonio in overtime against Duke in an absolute classic. (Grayson Allen will see this shot in his nightmares for years to come.)
We have a five-day break to analyze these games from every angle, but we wanted to take a quick initial look at both matchups for those who are looking to get down early action or just looking for Monday morning reading material. We will start with Loyola-Chicago’s chances against Michigan, then finish up with the prime-time showdown between No. 1 seeds Villanova and Kansas. Let’s dive in.
2018 FINAL FOUR
#11 Loyola-Chicago vs. #3 Michigan -5 | O/U: 129
Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET | San Antonio
Analysis: For the Miracle Ramblers, this game is all about how long coach Porter Moser can keep Cameron Krutwig on the floor. The Loyola big man has an advantage offensively in the post, but he simply can’t defend in pick-and-roll. Considering Michigan coach John Beilein has a week to game-plan and tweak his potent pick-and-roll offense, I expect Krutwig to be routinely exploited on the defensive end. That means we’ll likely see the super small Loyola lineup, with 6-foot-5 forward Aundre Jackson at the 5 for much of the game. That lineup has been effective this tournament, but it really limits Loyola’s ability to efficiently score at the rim, and few offenses in the country have worked inside out better than the Ramblers. It’s why they’re in San Antonio.
Defensively, Michigan simply doesn’t allow teams to get to the rim off the dribble. The Wolverines allow the 18th-lowest field-goal attempt rate in the country, while Loyola shoots the ball at the rim at the 36th-highest rate nationally. Strength on strength, but I give the edge to Michigan. So much of Loyola’s offense is predicated on point guard Clayton Custer forcing defenses to collapse on his penetration, but guard Zavier Simpson has become a stellar on-ball defender. He can do enough to contain Custer’s penetration into the paint and subsequent elite decision-making.
The easiest way for Loyola to get the ball inside against that stout Michigan defense is via the post, but, again, Krutwig won’t be able to defend Moe Wagner in pick-and-roll. This is essentially the same problem Loyola had against Nevada, but this time it’s against a team that has a top-five defense in terms of efficiency rating. Sadly, I think this marks the end of the Loyola-Chicago magic.
Early ATS lean: Michigan -5
Early O/U lean: Under 129
#1 Kansas vs. #1 Villanova -5 | O/U: 154.5
Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET | San Antonio
Analysis: What a backcourt battle between two elite point guards in Jalen Brunson and Devonte’ Graham. There won’t be any shortage of offensive firepower. Villanova has the most efficient offense in the country, while Kansas ranks fifth in that department. Both teams attempt 3s at a high clip and hit over 40%.
However, the immediate difference could be the mobility of Villanova’s essentially 5 out ball-screen motion vs. the immobility of Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike. Asking Azubuike and Lagerald Vick/Svi Mykhailiuk to cover Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall is asking a lot. I simply don’t think they’re capable of doing it for 40 minutes.
Conversely, Villanova has the ability to defend at key positions against KU. Namely, Jay Wright can sic Mikal Bridges on Malik Newman, who has been a wrecking ball this tournament. Newman basically destroyed Duke’s zone from the top of the key and the corners, but Bridges has length and athleticism that Newman hasn’t faced on the perimeter in March.
With the exception of Penn, Kansas hasn’t held an opponent under 1 point per possession in this tournament, while Villanova has only allowed West Virginia to barely creep over the 1 PPP mark. Nova’s combination of elite offense and improving frontcourt defense should get it to the national championship game.
Early ATS lean: Villanova -5
Early O/U lean: Over 155
Loyola-Chicago guard Marques Townes pictured above; Photo credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports