March Madness peaks this weekend in Detroit with the last quartet of schools set for Saturday battle to determing Monday's NCAA Championship matchup. Jeff Adrien and the UConn Huskies get the ball bouncing in the first game of the Final Four lineup on CBS when they take on Tom Izzo's Michigan St. Spartans. The nightcap finds Tyler Hansbrough and the North Carolina Tar Heels hoping to bounce the Villanova Wildcats.
Detroit is where the rubber meets the road. And it’s the host city for the Final Four portion of the 2009 NCAA men’s basketball Tournament.
Each round of March Madness has been loaded with quality teams; we don’t have all four No. 1 seeds like we did last year, but we do have two No. 1s and a pair of worthy adversaries to look at this Saturday. The betting odds are squarely in favor of the top seeds.
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Connecticut (-4, 133½)
Saturday, Apr 4, 6:05 p.m. (ET) CBS
The Spartans (30-6 SU, 20-12-1 ATS, No. 8 Pomeroy) aren’t getting much support in this matchup. Market reports as we went to press had about 85 percent of bettors on UConn against the spread, although a little over half of moneyline wagers were on the Spartans at +165. The early (and presumably sharp) money was very much on Connecticut’s side.
It certainly hasn’t been easy for the Huskies (31-4 SU, 15-14 ATS, No. 1 Pomeroy) to make any money this season. But most of their troubles against the line were in much chalkier situations, such as 1-6 ATS when favored by 15 points or more. UConn was also unusually poverty-stricken in Storrs at 2-9 ATS. Playing as a smaller favorite in front of what should be a partisan MSU crowd at Ford Field might be just what the doctor ordered.
The Huskies definitely have the better statistical resume on both offense and defense. They do have their weaknesses, like 34.1 percent shooting from long range and 68.0 percent from the free-throw line. But UConn does the bulk of its work in the interior – which happens to be where the Huskies will encounter three rebounding monsters: Goran Suton (8.1 boards per game), Raymar Morgan (5.3) and Delvon Roe (5.0 in just 17.9 minutes). Michigan State’s offense relies on the second-chance opportunities they create off the glass.
Again, this is one of the areas where UConn shines. The Huskies have Hasheem Thabeet (10.9 boards per game) and Jeff Adrien (10.0) vacuuming up the ball, and Thabeet is also good for 4.3 blocks per game. This is the second-tallest team in Division I according to Ken Pomeroy’s “effective height” metric (taking into account the players and their minutes played). Michigan State is No. 45 in this department and likely to lose that important rebounding edge against Connecticut.
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 1 North Carolina (-7, 159)
Saturday, Apr 4, 8:45 p.m. (ET) CBS
You can find North Carolina at -7½ at some books, but it looks like this line will stay pretty tight with about half the betting public on either side. The story’s a little different against the moneyline; early action was on UNC, then a wave of Villanova money came in. The Wildcats peaked at about 80-percent support before drifting down toward 60 percent Friday morning. The total has also dipped from 162 to 159 points.
The Tar Heels (32-4 SU, 15-19 ATS, No. 3 Pomeroy) were even less profitable than UConn going into the Tournament, although both No. 1 seeds are 4-0 ATS after four rounds at the Big Dance. North Carolina’s weakness with chalk is evident in this range at 4-8 ATS when laying between five and 12 points. Villanova (30-7 SU, 19-14 ATS, No. 12 Pomeroy) is 6-4 ATS this season as the underdog. In their one relatively recent matchup at the 2005 Sweet 16, the Tar Heels edged the Wildcats 67-66 as 11-point favorites.
There will be some differences in Saturday’s matchup. The total is four points higher than it was four years ago. Neither team has the same stopping power as it did in 2005 – although both are excellent at the defensive end. North Carolina continues to have the best offense in Division I; Villanova is a better raw shooting team than it was, but not quite as unorthodox (or efficient) as that four-guard set featuring Allan Ray and Randy Foye. Villanova’s allure at the pay window is nonetheless very much present at these odds.