As gamblers everywhere prep for Final Four betting this coming Sunday, April 3rd, it’s hard not to think about the precarious upsets that have prevailed over the course of this entire tournament. I mean, Syracuse is here. Seriously. What the hell.
The Orange are such an unlikely entry in to this stage that 0.83% of all brackets online had them getting this far. That’s why the Final Four betting line they face this weekend against the UNC Tar Heels is what it is. By comparison, UNC was in 51.84% of all Final Four submissions prior to the start of the tournament.
Oklahoma came second thanks to the awe inspiring scoring of Buddy Hield. The Sooners were in 38.29% of all Final Four brackets, while people fell asleep on Villanova for very good reasons. A mere 11.12% of the brackets had Villanova reaching this level.
So are we in for more unpredictable action, or is it safe to go chalk? Well, fortunately for us, the oddsmakers handed us a favor in the first game. Let’s look at the Final Four betting matchups and figure out what to do with our money.
#2 Oklahoma Sooners +2.0 over #2 Villanova Wildcats (6:09pm EST)
The Oklahoma Sooners continued their March Madness rampage by burying the number-one seeded Oregon Ducks, punching their ticket to a Final Four betting round appearance. It was more of the same from the Sooners, who used an +18.0 point first half to shoot down the Ducks, continuing a spree of early blowouts.
The star of Oklahoma remains Buddy Hield, who threw up 37 points and continued his rise as the best player in the entire tournament bar none. The senior from Freeport has now averaged 25.4 points per game throughout the year, including 29.3 in four March Madness matchups. A crisp 8-for-13 night against Oregon proved that he is the cream of the crop without a doubt.
First half points have been the key to this team’s success. The Sooners put up a +19.0 first half against Texas A&M, while they also had a +13.0 point differential against VCU heading in to the break. They put up mirror +8.0 halves in the first round against Cal State Bakersfield as well.
It’s safe to say that no team presents a defensive threat to Oklahoma like Villanova will. The Wildcats post the best defensive rating in adjusted efficiency with a mark of just 92.6 points allowed per one-hundred possessions. That’s the best defensive output left in the tournament, and one that Villanova hopes to maintain after a rousing win against the favored Kansas Jayhawks.
Their defense is not the only reason Villanova is favored in this Final Four betting battle. Ranking 4th in adjusted offensive efficiency, the Wildcats are a downright dirty scoring team as well. The 64 points they managed in the win over Kansas were by far their lowest of the tournament. They’d averaged 88.3 points per game before slowing the pace in the Elite Eight round to stifle the tournament favorites.
That’s what makes Villanova such a double edged sword in the most positive way possible: they can choke you out defensively and slit your throats on the other end. This team has multiple gears, a tasty and tempting quality that gamblers love. Adapt or die.
What I worry about for their sake is their ability to control Oklahoma specifically. Villanova has shown a distinct weakness when playing teams with capable backcourt studs. Their five losses this season came against teams that fit that bill. Virginia, Seton Hall, Providence and Marquette were four teams that handed them a loss this year. The fifth was Oklahoma back in December.
The thing about these losses isn’t just that they happened, but that they were brutal. Villanova’s point differential overall is a brazen +13.9 for the regular season. In those five losses, they gave up a -9.0 point differential on average. And it’s all because they just can’t handle dynamic backcourts.
Which brings us back to the man who is putting up these things we call “Buddy Buckets”. Hield is quite literally unstoppable. Back in December, he went just 6-for-17 on a poor volume day and ended with just 18 points as his teammates did the rest.
A lot has happened in four months. Hield is better than ever (a terrifying prospect) and if Villanova focuses all of their efforts on shutting him down, then his teammates are more than capable of grinding out the Wildcats. By the way, the defensively capable VCU Rams tried to slow down Hield and he exploded for a 29-point effort in the second half against them.
In shorter terms, this is a matchup nightmare for the Wildcats. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to show that they’re able to corral a pair of backcourt scoreboard busters, but they’ve never really been able to do it.
What makes this game so fascinating for the purposes of handicapping and Final Four betting isn’t Villanova’s ability to stop Oklahoma. Instead, it’s the other way round. Can the Sooners stop Villanova from running wild on the opposite end?
I say that it doesn’t matter. The Sooners have shown an ability to completely control the opening minutes of a game, set the tone and establish the tempo that they want to play. In no uncertain terms, they’ve had eight exceptional halves of basketball. They’ll make it ten this weekend, proving once again that Villanova’s major flaw is their inability to account for seriously talented scorers from the outside.
I’d like to believe that they can figure out how to cover up this glaring weakness. The truth is that they don’t have the personnel for it.
#1 UNC Tar Heels -9.0 over #10 Syracuse Orange (8:49pm EST)
A lot of people will be tempted by this line for a variety of reasons. Syracuse hosted UNC back in early January, losing 73-84. They followed that up with a visit to Chapel Hill in late February and lost 70-75. So the downside is that they lost both teams pretty squarely. The upside is that they managed 70+ points in each game.
Familiarity will go a long way in developing a feel for this particular matchup. Syracuse has a defense that ranks out far better than you’d expect. Their adjusted defensive efficiency is 94.3 per one-hundred possessions, a mark that ranks them 16th in the nation. For reference, UNC is ranked 21st amongst all college programs.
We saw what Syracuse’s defense was capable of as they slammed the brakes on Virginia in a comeback performance for the ages. Down by 14 points at halftime, the Orange blasted the Cavs with a second half score of 47-27 using a full court press for the rest of the game.
If you’re betting on Syracuse to use that strategy to silence UNC, then you’d be foolish. That’s what we call an “ace in the hole”. You unleash that type of game plan as a last ditch elixir to keep hope alive. Jim Boeheim has basically shown his cards. The Tar Heels will know exactly what to expect.
From a sheer talent standpoint, everything about this Final Four betting line is justified despite what many people saw Syracuse accomplish last weekend. You just can’t do that twice against two teams that are that much better than you. It’s also safer to say that Virginia thought they had their Elite Eight game in the bag coming out of intermission. You could just tell. They thought they were going to cruise. UNC won’t make that mistake with a chance at a national title on the line.
Let’s also not forget that Syracuse was down by 14 points against Virginia as well. A very similar outcome could befall them against the supremely gifted Tar Heels, who rank out as the best overall offense in the country by all metrics. These Tar Heels know how to beat these Orange men. That’s why you shouldn’t get too crafty with your picks this weekend even if that UNC -9.0 line feels like a great point cushion to lay on in Final Four betting.