A couple of the usual suspects open Final Four action in the first national semifinal Saturday in Indianapolis when Duke and Michigan State clash. The Dukies are favored by a couple of buckets; now, will that line shrink, to the benefit of Duke backers? Or jump, in favor of those who like Sparty?
Like the other national semifinal this game is also a rematch of a game played not all that long ago, a Duke victory over MSU back in November. Does that outcome have an effect on Saturday's betting odds?
The Early Action
Not too long after Duke finished off Gonzaga Sunday evening most books opened their betting on this match-up with the Blue Devils favored by 4.5 points, others with the Dukies favored by five. By Monday afternoon almost every shop in the market was chalking Duke at -5, indicating perhaps some early action on the favorite.
If we went by Sagarin's PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com the Dukies would be favored by 6.5 points for this game.
Also, most of the Final Four betting market, outside of a few wildcatters, opened the total on Saturday's contest at a very exact 139.5, and that number was holding steady in the early betting.
Behind the Lines
This game, like the one that will follow between Kentucky and Wisconsin, is also a rematch, and one more recent. The Wildcats beat the Badgers in last year's Final Four, but Duke and Michigan State have already met once this season, back in November, an 81-71 Blue Devils victory on a neutral court in, all of all places, Indianapolis, although not at the same arena. That game was played at the home of the NBA's Pacers, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, while the Final Four is being played at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Duke was basically a known factor at that time, ranked No. 4 in the country. But the Spartans were a work in progress, ranked No. 20, and struggling. In fact, MSU “only” went 9-4 through non-conference play, and sat at 15-8 heading into February. But Sparty is definitely a better team now than it was that night back in November, with 12 wins in their last 15 games, including victories over Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisville their last three times out.
The Blue Devils were favored by eight points that night back in November, and just hung on for the cover.
Also, that game went off with a total of 144, then played OVER, as the teams combined to shoot 52 percent from the floor.
Which Way Might These Lines Go?
Although these two programs have made the Final Four many times since the current coaching regimes took over, none of the players have; this is Duke's first Final Four since 2010, Michigan State's first since 2011. So the experience factor is about a wash.
A decent portion of the betting public will bet Duke in this game just because it's “Duke” and that still means a lot out in the NCAA Tournament Futures Odds Markets. And there's nothing really wrong with that, considering the Dukies are 22-14 ATS this season. And yet another portion might bet against Duke for exactly the same reason. Some people love the Blue Devils, and some people hate 'em. All in all, our guess is more bettors are apt to take Duke, rather than fade them, and that might push the spread in favor of Michigan State, who's already a live dog at +5.
As mentioned above the line on the meeting between these teams back in November was Duke -8; now, the Dukies are just as good now as they were then, while Michigan State is better. So we don't believe the line on Saturday's game should be that large again. But it is likely to go up from five. We won't be surprised if the Dukies eventually go off at -6 or -7.
As far as the total on this game goes, Duke is known for pushing the ball and throwing it in from 3-point land, while Michigan State is known for grinding games out. Keep that in mind when placing your NCAA Tournament Picks. But at some point bettors might notice that the Blue Devils have played six UNDERS in a row this postseason. They've also held their four opponents in this NCAA tournament – Robert Morris, San Diego State, Utah and Gonzaga – to 56, 49, 57 and 52 points. So we expect the total on this game to drop by at least a point or two by the time tip-off rolls around.