Final Four: Kentucky 5-Point Chalk Versus Wisconsin

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The Kentucky Wildcats meet the Wisconsin Badgers in a rematch of last season’s Final Four. The point spread has moved in the direction of the underdog Badgers despite the Wildcats being undefeated on the season.

The current line has Kentucky as 5-point chalk with the point total on 131. The line opened last weekend with Kentucky favored by between -6 and -6.5 but money on Wisconsin has come in to push the line down.

Kentucky was just a No. 8 seed last season in the tournament but defeated the No. 2 seeded Badgers 74-73 as a favorite by 1-points.

Willie Cauley-Stein, who will could be a first round pick in the NBA draft later this month, returns to play for Kentucky after missing last season’s Wisconsin game due to an injury.

Wisconsin has not reached the national championship game since 1941. Kentucky on the other hand, lost last season’s national title game to UConn, but won the national title in 2012.

The OVER has cashed in 3 of the past 4 Wisconsin games, while the UNDER has cashed in each of the past 3 games for Kentucky. Wisconsin is averaging 80 points per game on offense and giving up nearly 72 per game on defense. Kentucky is averaging 70 points a game on offense and allowing just 52 per game on defense.

Kentucky had covered the number in only 1 of its 4 NCAA Tournament games. In their last game, the Wildcats survived a tough battle with Notre Dame 68-66 as 11-point chalk.

A win such as that, which came on two last second foul shots by Andrew Harrison, can either propel a team to victory in its next outing, or cause them to lose focus ad be vulnerable in their next game.

Kentucky has great height with its starters averaging 6-foot-9 with its backcourt tandem of twins at 6-foot-6 each.

Wisconsin is led by All-American Frank Kaminsky, who of late has been helped by forward Sam Dekker. The two have scored more than 55% of Wisconsin’s points during the tournament.

However, against the Kentucky defense scoring will not come easy. The Irish gave the Wildcats the game of their life, but scored just 66 points and in the end lost. Dekker could do damage if he is given space to drive against a bigger player such as Cauley-Smith.

Many bettors have gone with Wisconsin in this one, as Kentucky is just 1-3 ATS during this tournament. The number has been bet down from Kentucky -6.5 to its current -5, which gives value to go with the favorite. Kentucky has been able to cover a number of spreads that have been inflated this season, and now can be had cheap. Take the Wildcats less the 5 points.

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East Region Final: Louisville vs. Michigan State (-2.5)

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The two lowest seeds remaining in the NCAA Tournament face off today when the No. 7 seeded Michigan State Spartans play the No. 4 seeded Louisville Cardinals for the East Region title and a trip to the Final Four to play against the winner of Duke and Gonzaga.

Michigan State is the lower seeded team, but is favored in this game by 2.5 points with the total points sitting on 128.5. One thing is certain, two of the best college basketball coaches will be on the sidelines at this game, with Rick Pitino leading Louisville and Tom Izzo leading the Spartans.

Michigan State is 26-11 SU and 21-16 ATS. The Spartans have been an underrated team but has proceeded to knock higher seeds out. The Spartans defeated No. 3 seed the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sweet 16 to reach this game. The Spartans now have been the favorite the past two games even though they have been the lower seed.

Louisville is 27-8 SU and 14-19-1 ATS. Six years ago, the Cardinals were a No. 1 seed and were upset by Michigan State, but three years ago, Louisville has its revenge when they defeated the Spartans who at the time were a No. 1 seed during the Sweet 16. Louisville is 2-0 SU and ATS in its last two appearances in the Elite Eight.

Under Izzo, the Spartans are 6-2 SU while 5-2-1 ATS over its past eight games in the Elite Eight.

This is the only region that has had the top three seeds eliminated. The Spartans defeated the No. 2 Sooners and Virginia the No. 2 seed. Louisville has not had to face any opponent higher that Northern Iowa at No. 5.

Louisville cashed as an underdog of 2.5 points in its 66-53 win over Northern Iowa in its round of 32 game, which improved the team to 8-3-1 ATS over its past 12 games as a dog, with six outright wins during that run.

Michigan State has won six straight as a favorite and 10 of its past 11 with an 8-3 mark ATS.

This game should be both physical and tough between two programs playing head to head the third time in the past seven NCAA tournaments. Each team has played well in the tournament, which is not surprising due to their top coaches, However Michigan State seems to be playing better and carry more overall momentum.

The game should be close throughout, with the spread never being more than single digits the entire game.

Pick: I look Louisville to cover and the UNDER to cash out.

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Arizona Meets Wisconsin in Rematch from Last Year’s …

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The West Region final tips off tonight from the Staples Center in Los Angeles between the No. 2 ranked Arizona Wildcats and the No. 1 seeded Wisconsin Badgers.

The current line has Arizona favored by 1.5 points with the point total sitting on 133.5.

Wisconsin is playing a second rematch in this tournament as, the Badgers eliminated Oregon for the second consecutive year. Now, the team meets Arizona who they knocked out of the tournament last season 64-63 in overtime.

In that win, Wisconsin erased an early deficit of eight points and took a lead of 5-points late in the game. The game eventually went to OT and Frank Kaminsky the talented big man for Wisconsin scored 6 points in the extra period to win the game.

Arizona defeated Xavier 68-60 to reach this point. The win was Arizona’s 14 straight.

Arizona did not cash as a favorite by 11.5 points.

Over the past five games played, Arizona is 2-3 against the number after going 13-2 ATS in 15 games prior to that.

Wisconsin’s win on Thursday was its 9 straight. The Badgers covered 6-point chalk in its 79-72 win over North Carolina.
The Badgers are an underdog for just the first time all season. Last season they also were given points in their 74-73 loss to Kentucky in the Final Four as a dog of one point.

Last season against Arizona, the Badgers were 3.5-point dogs and triumphed by 1 point.

The Badgers were 0-4 against the number to end February, but have gone 5-3 ATS over their past 8 games. The three ATS losses were on spreads as a favorite by 12 or more points.

Arizona did not have Brandon Ashley their 6-foot-9 forward in last year’s tournament game. This season he is scoring 12 points per game and hauling down 5 rebounds. He will likely play head to head with Kaminsky.

In Elite 8 Saturday’s the last decade, the underdog is 14-6 ATS. Wisconsin is 8-3-1 against the number in its past 12 games in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona is 15-5 against the number in its past 20 games overall.

With both teams mirror images of one another in a number of ways, especially when it comes to defense this game is hard to pick.

Arizona has revenge on its mind and has had one year to let it bother them.

The Wildcats not only did not have Ashley but nor did they have freshman sensation Stanley Johnson last season against Wisconsin.

I like Arizona and the UNDER.

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New Indiana Law Troubles the NCAA Ahead of the Final Four

Final Four
Final Four

The Final Four could find itself at the center of a political debate in Indiana.

The State of Indiana is due to host the NCAA’s Final Four next weekend in Indianapolis and suddenly, there will be a lot more discussion about it than just basketball. The NCAA is extremely concerned about a new law passed this week and signed by the governor allowing businesses in the state to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender persons.

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NCAA boss Mark Emmert is none to pleased about Indiana's new law.

The last thing I want to do is make this blog into a political op-ed piece so I won’t. Instead, the NCAA can speak for me. President Mark Emmert voiced concerns in the hours after Indiana Governor Mark Pence signed the bill into law.

“We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill,” Emmert said. “Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

Where Emmert has to be most concerned is with the image of his organization looking as though they support the new measure by keeping the Final Four in the state capital. Logistically of course, moving the Final Four to another city so close to the event would be extremely difficult and very unlikely. Therefore it isn’t going to happen.

What could happen however could be much more substantial. The NCAA is headquartered in Indianapolis there would be intense pressure from many people to move the operations out of the Hoosier State. We’ve seen this type of thing before in Arizona when that state was refusing to recognize the national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Several professional sports leagues and the NCAA threatened to no longer come there for their major events. Eventually, the measure passed in Arizona and the state has hosted Super Bowls, World Series games and NCAA tournament games in the years since. In other words, money usually can trump political discourse and if the NCAA chooses to leave they could become the pied piper leading other businesses and corporations out of town.

An Ode to Dean Smith

While I was never a fan of late North Carolina Coach Dean Smith mostly because I thought he should have won more titles, he proved to me what a class act he was when I saw what he left for his former players yesterday. Smith left behind about $36,000 in $200 increments for all of his former players. From Michael Jordan to James Worthy each former Tar Heel received a check from Smith’s estate with a letter.

The gist of the letter was basically to say “thank you” and to go spend the money on a nice dinner. While Smith certainly made plenty of money during his time running the Tar Heels’ program, he left the game right about the time when the massive contracts for collegiate coaches were really becoming the norm. Still, this was a very honest and caring thing for Smith to do and I certainly wanted to give props to him for it.

 

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Utah Meets Duke in South Region Semifinal

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The Utah Utes the No. 5 seed in the South Region played the No 1 seeded Duke Blue Devils in one of the region’s semifinal games. Both Utah and Duke have won as well as covered the number in their two games in the NCAA Tournament so far.

Something must give however when the two meet in Houston tonight following the first semifinal game between the UCLA Bruins and Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Duke is currently favored by 5.5 points with the point total sitting on 134.5

This is the first time Utah has been in the NCAA Tournament since 2009. The last time the Utes reached the Elite 8 was in 1998.

Duke a perennial powerhouse has reached the Elite 8 just twice over the past 10 years – 2010, 2013 – and losing here would be a huge disappointment for the Blue Devils. Duke is 6-1 against the number in its past 7 games played. The UNDER has cashed in each of the past four games played by Duke.

Utah reached the Sweet 16 with wins over Stephen F. Austin by the score of 57-50 and over Georgetown 75-64.

Duke punched its Sweet 16 tickets with wins over Robert Morris by 29 points and over San Diego State by 19 points. Jahlil Okafor their freshman phenom who is averaging 23.5 points per game on 78% shooting leads the Blue Devils. He is one of three starters for Duke who are freshmen along with Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. All three look very confident on such an important stage.

Duke is averaging 80.4 points per game and is hard to stop when it is at its best. Delon Wright a senior at point guard for Utah will be an important factor in starting Utah’s offense and stopping Duke’s backcourt.
Freshman Jakob Poeltl the Utah center will have the task of stopping Okafor. He must slow Okafor down and must score a few point inside to keep the Duke defense honest.

Utah’s only hope is to control Okafor without getting into major foul trouble.

A huge difference exists between the point spread and the power ratings between these two teams. Many look at this game as a pick ‘em and not as Duke by 5.5 points. Utah’s defense is much better than Duke’s.

Utah could very well win the game outright, let allow cover the 5.5 points on the spread. A moneyline bet on Utah would not be a bad decision by any means.

With Utah’s strong defense, the UNDER could also be a good choice to take. The two plays look to be Utah and the UNDER.

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Tonight’s Games in the Sweet Sixteen

Bob Huggins
Bob Huggins

Can Bob Huggins and his Mountaineers pull off the upset of Kentucky?

Here are my thoughts on tonight’s Sweet Sixteen action.

West Virginia (+13.5) vs Kentucky – In case you didn’t notice, this kind of a big game. It’s not your ordinary Sweet Sixteen game simply because of what’s at stake. The Kentucky Wildcats are four wins away from the first unbeaten season since the mid-‘70’s Indiana Hoosiers.

If I’m the Mountaineers, I look at this line and immediately I’m playing the “disrespect” card. Bob Huggins’ team has beaten some good clubs this year including fellow Sweet Sixteen teams NC State and Oklahoma as well as Kansas.

WVU will dial up the heat with pressure defense but will Kentucky’s guards crack?

Trends: UK is 8-3-1 against the spread in their last 12 games… West Virginia has gone 19-13 ATS this season… The Mountaineers rebound better offensively by a margin of 16.5 to 12.9.

The Pick: I like West Virginia getting a bunch of points.

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Mike Brey has to put his emotions aside and get his Irish focused on the Shockers.

Wichita State (-1.5) vs Notre Dame – This is easily my most difficult game to pick for tonight. Wichita State is so tough and they get every loose ball while Notre Dame can shoot the lights out if you aren’t careful.

I’d be remiss if I ignored the fact that ND Coach Mike Brey is dealing with the loss of his mother who passed away just prior to their game this past weekend. Will it factor in? I don’t think so but certainly his attention isn’t 100% on the Shockers.

At the same time, WSU Head Coach Gregg Marshall has to know his name has been tossed about for several openings or “potential” openings. Will this distract him? Hard to say.

Trends: The Shockers are 18-14-1 against the spread this year… The Irish are 15-13 ATS this season… Notre Dame has won five in a row.

Xavier (+10.5) vs. Arizona – The Musketeers are probably the team flying lowest below the radar in the Sweet Sixteen but any basketball fan knows this is a very good program. In both wins of the tournament, Xavier had to defeat teams with momentum. In the opener they beat an Ole Miss team that hung 90+ points on BYU and then had to beat the feel good story of week one Georgia State.

As good as Xavier is, they will need near perfection to beat Arizona. The Wildcats have won 20 of their last 21 games and are riding a very talented group of starters and role players. If the Musketeers will have a chance, they need to limit Arizona’s field goal shooting. The Wildcats are 6th in the country at just a shade under 49% on the season.

Trends: The Wildcats have won five straight games… The Musketeers are 17-17-1 against the spread this year… Arizona is 23-13 ATS this season.

The Pick: Give me Xavier and the points as they give the Wildcats some trouble early.

North Carolina (+6) vs Wisconsin – The Big Ten Champs got a bit of a wake-up call from Oregon in the round of 32. While I don’t think the Badgers were ever in harm’s way, it was a good dose of reality for them heading into a game with a traditional power. Wisconsin will go as Frank Kaminsky goes.The seven-footer is a match-up nightmare because of his ability to shoot from the outside and he’s an excellent passer as well.

Tar Heels’ Head Coach Roy Williams has already said the team will play tonight without sophomore center Kennedy Meeks who’s dealing with a knee problem. He reportedly practiced in Los Angeles during the team’s first practice there. Despite him being in a slump recently, his presence on the court is important.

Trends: The Badgers are 18-17-1 against the spread this season… The Tar Heels are 20-16-1 ATS in the 2014-2015 season.

The Pick: I like the Badgers to cover behind some stifling defense.

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West Region Sweet 16 Lines

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The NCAA Tournament West Region has two intriguing games on Thursday. The region has been dominated by the favorites with three of the top four seeds in the Sweet 16. The current odds have Arizona at 5 to 6 to win the region, with Wisconsin at 8 to 5, North Carolina at 7 to 1 and Xavier at 20 to 1.

North Carolina No. 4 vs. Wisconsin No. 1

The Badgers are favored in this matchup by 6.5 points with the point total sitting on 144. North Carolina defeated Harvard 67-65 in the round of 64 and followed that up with a round of 32 win over Arkansas 87-78.

North Carolina is 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS over its past six games.

Justin Jackson North Carolina’s freshman guard scored four of his 14 points late in the game to thwart a rally by the Razorbacks. Marcus Paige led the Heels with 22 points.

Kennedy Meeks a power forward for North Carolina is doubtful for the game with a sprained knee.

Wisconsin defeated Coastal Carolina and Oregon to reach the Sweet 16, but failed to cover in both games. Wisconsin is 18-1 SU and 8-10-1 ATS over its past 19 games played.

Frank Kaminsky is the best player on the Badgers and one of the best in the nation. He scored 27 against Coastal Carolina and 16 versus Oregon.

Xavier No. 6 vs. Arizona No. 2

Arizona is favored by 10.5 points in this matchup, with the point total sitting on 135.

Xavier defeated No. 11 Ole Miss and then No. 14 Georgia State both straight up and against the spread to reach the Sweet 16.

The Musketeers are 4-1 ATS over their past 5 games played with the UNDER cashing in four of the five. Matt Stainbrook is the top big man for Xavier, while Jalen Reynolds a sophomore forward has come up big in the first two games of the tournament.

Arizona has been a big roll since mid February. The Wildcats are 13-0 SU and 10-3 ATS over their past 13 games played. In their opener, they defeated Texas Southern, but did not cover a 23.5-point spread. However, in their second game against Ohio State, the Wildcats covered a 10-point spread, winning by 15.

Arizona is No. 6 in the nation in shooting. Its leading scorer is Stanley Jackson a freshman forward.

Xavier is 19-5-2 ATS in its past 26 games in the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona is 14-4 against the spread in its past 18 games after a SU win with the OVER cashing in 7 of their past 10 games against teams from the Big East.

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