College Basketball Final Four Odds, Picks: How Stuckey is Betting Saturday’s Games (April 2)
Rob Carr/2022 Getty Images. Pictured: The Duke Blue Devils on the Final Four court in New Orleans.
What a Final Four we have with four of the most successful programs of this century meeting in New Orleans to determine this year’s national champion.
Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Villanova. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Before I share my thoughts on each matchup from a betting perspective — in addition to a few player prop looks — let’s do some Final Four housekeeping.
Since 2005, unders in the Final Four have gone 16-16, but first half overs have actually gone 11-8-1 over that span, per Action Labs. Historically, pace has actually been faster in the first half of Final Four games than it has been in the Elite Eight.
Perhaps there are more nerves leading up to the Final Four compared to when teams actually reach that final weekend.
Over that same time, favorites have gone 17-14-1 in the Final Four. And relevant to both matchups this year, favorites of six points or less have gone 14-8-1, covering by an average margin of 3.4 points per game.
This will mark the first time the Superdome hosts the Final Four since 2012. You may hear that unders went 3-0 that year by an average of 9.5 points per game.
However, the Superdome also hosted the Final Four in 2003, when overs went 3-0 by an average of 9.3 points per game. Fun fact, Kansas finished runner-up in both of those tournaments.
In conclusion, handicap these particular matchups and don’t worry about the historical trends.
That seems like a good transition into Saturday’s games.
Let’s take a look at each matchup, starting with the matchup between Villanova and Kansas in a rematch of the 2018 Final Four. Interestingly enough, the winner of the past three meetings in the tournament between these clubs has gone on to win the national title.
North Carolina vs. Duke -4 | O/U: 152.5
Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS
Believe it or not, this will mark the first-ever meeting between these two rivals in the NCAA Tournament. It will also mark the first Final Four clash of two conference foes who split two previous meetings that season.
Additionally, it’s actually only the fourth intra-conference matchup since 2000. The previous three included:
- 2000: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin (Sparty went 4-0)
- 2001: Duke vs. Maryland (Duke went 3-1)
- 2016: North Carolina vs. Syracuse (North Carolina went 3-0)
In their season split, UNC and Duke won on the other’s home court in convincing fashion by double digits. The winning side scored a whopping 94 and 87 in those two contests, with the total points getting to 154 and 174.
I see major advantages for each offense here.
Duke arguably possesses the most talented offense in the nation. The Blue Devils are also on quite a roll, scoring at least 78 points in all four tournament wins. That includes an uber-impressive second-half explosion against the No. 1 defense in the country in Texas Tech.
On the flip side, I still have major questions about the Duke defense, specifically off the ball, which we saw burn the Blue Devils a few times leading up to the tournament.
Now, it hasn’t really cost them in this event, but they also haven’t faced an elite offense. Each of their four opponents ranked outside the top-30 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, per KenPom. Plus, it’s not like their defense shut down those foes; their offense was just that dominant.
UNC ranks 18th in that category. The Heels will present the toughest test for Duke’s defense by far since these teams last met.
Some may point out that Duke closed as an 11.5-point favorite in early March at Cameron Indoor Stadium. In a vacuum, that would make this current line too small after adjusting for home court.
However, that game had a lot of public support surrounding the Coach K final home game narrative. Plus, not only did the Heels get a significant bump for winning that game by 13, they’ve continued that momentum ever since. They’ve arguably produced the most impressive results over the first two weekends of the tournament.
Per BartTorvik, the Heels are actually the No. 1 team in the country adjusted for opponents since Mar. 1. That’s only a seven-game sample size, but that’s fairly significant when we are dealing with small sample sizes overall anyway. UNC has been that good.
Ultimately, I think this is a fair line, but my gut says this will come down to the wire, so I’d lean UNC.
That said, this matchup is ripe for live betting opportunities. I expect a higher-scoring game with plenty of runs. There’s a good chance you can get a better live number on whichever side you prefer.
In regards to the total, I’d lean over. We should get an up-tempo affair between two excellent offenses going up against a pair of shaky transition defenses.
Per Synergy, Duke grades out in just the 32nd percentile in transition defense. Meanwhile, UNC grades out even worse (28th percentile). Plus, both offenses should hold an edge in the half-court.
However, there’s not much margin for error with a total this high. For example, if the teams get super tight late in the game and start to slow it way down, the over could be doomed.
You also have these teams playing in a new venue (football stadium), and unders have been on fire with rumors that the balls have been a little too inflated. That means I’ll probably stay away from the total.
Bet to Watch: North Carolina live
Villanova vs. Kansas -4.5 | O/U: 133
Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS
One of the first things that sticks out to me in this matchup of two excellent coached teams is the pace clash.
Villanova sits in the bottom-15 nationally in Adjusted Tempo, while Kansas ranks 61st, per KenPom. If Villanova can slow this game to a halt from start to finish, it will have a very good chance of pulling off the small upset — even without Justin Moore.
Speaking of Moore, his loss is huge. He’s valuable in many facets of the game for the Wildcats.
His contributions start on the offensive end of the floor in the pick-and-roll, or by posting up smaller guards on the low block, but he is also a tremendous on-ball defender, where he puts his impeccable footwork on display on a nightly basis.
I have him worth close to two points to the spread in a game I would’ve projected Kansas as a very small favorite if both teams were at full strength.
You could argue he’s worth more since Villanova doesn’t have an abundance of depth (323rd in bench minutes), and the sample size without him is fairly minuscule.
However, losing a key player can work in a team’s favor in that first game playing shorthanded. Not only can it serve as a rallying point — where everybody else steps up — it introduces uncertainty.
I’m sure Jay Wright will spend the week implementing some new looks that Kansas doesn’t have on film.
For what it’s worth, Moore did miss one game this season against a very formidable opponent in UConn. Villanova won that game 85-74 and led by 23 with just under 10 minutes left in regulation.
Offensively, Villanova runs pick-and-roll at a top-15 frequency nationally. It also scores at the 12th-highest rate in terms of points per possession in those sets, per Synergy.
Kansas is elite defending the ball handler in the pick-and-roll (91st percentile), but struggles at times against the roll man (37th percentile). The Jayhawks also excel at defending the 3, but do have some deficiencies in the post.
Villanova gives up transition opportunities on 13.1% of possessions (118th), but more importantly, it grades out in the 94th percentile defending those possessions. That’s critical against the Jayhawks, who are nearly unstoppable in transition.
In general, Kansas wants to attack the rim, but Villanova’s defense ranks in the top-20 in both rate and efficiency at the rim.
However, Kansas could have a decided edge on the offensive glass, where it ranks top-40 in the country. If this turns into a half-court battle, second chance points could be its best path to scoring.
I think this spread is a bit too high for a very veteran Villanova squad that should control tempo and keep Kansas out of transition. The loss of Moore stings, but that sting might not be as painful in the first game without him.
Keep in mind this Kansas team just closed as only a 5.5-point favorite against Miami in a much more favorable matchup. It has also had trouble building margin as a favorite throughout the season.
I’m going to wait to see if I can get five or more, but I will be on the side of Wright, who’s seeking his third national title since 2016.
Bet to Watch: Villanova
Player Prop Thoughts
In the first game, look for Wright to work through Eric Dixon and Jermaine Samuels in the post and in pick-and-roll at a much higher frequency without the services of Moore.
In the one game without Moore against UConn, Dixon had 24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. I’d look for him to go over 8.5 points, which he’s done in 20 of 37 games.
Let’s take a quick look at UNC-Duke next.
What changed in the second meeting for the Heels? Well, UNC basically couldn’t miss. It’s also worth noting that lockdown defender Leaky Black moved off Paolo Banchero and onto A.J. Griffin. After Griffin went for 27 in the first meeting, Black held him to just five points.
Banchero was the primary beneficiary with Brady Manek guarding him instead of Black. As a result, his scoring output increased from 13 to 23 points.
I anticipate the Heels will utilize a similar game plan. Therefore, Banchero over points and Griffin under would make sense on the surface.
Speaking of Manek, he shot 11-of-20 from 3 in the two meetings and scored 20 and 21 points. I expect him to get more open looks against a Duke defense that can get lost in the sauce off of the ball. I’d only look at the over points total for the ex-Sooner.
Lastly, I think Armando Bacot’s rebounding total is too high at 12.5. That’s his season average, but he only grabbed 12 total rebounds (seven and five) in the two meetings vs. Duke this year.
He’s also gone under this number in 20 of 37 total games.