Final Four Picks: Reading Between the NCAA Tournament Betting Lines for Wisconsin vs. Kentucky

Darin Zank

Monday, March 30, 2015 8:17 PM GMT

The NCAA Tournament Odds spread is out for the Final Four between Kentucky and Wisconsin game, as is the total. But might those figures move during the week, possibly in directions more to our favor?

Undefeated Kentucky is the early betting favorite, of course, and carries a large public following. But Wisconsin looks like one of the best underdogs we've seen in a while. Will the square action push the spread toward the Wildcats? Or are there enough dog bettors to keep the line steady?

NCAA Tournament Picks, Futures Odds & Betting Consensus Report: Who's Kentucky's Biggest Threat?

The Early Action
Shortly after Kentucky closed out Notre Dame Saturday night some books opened their betting on this game with UK favored by five points; most books posted the Wildcats at -5.5 or -6; and a few others offered Wisconsin at +6.5. As of Monday morning almost the entire Final Four betting market was chalking UK at -5, indicating some early action on the Badgers. One book, Heritage, had dropped the Wildcats to -4.5.

According to Sagarin's PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com, which we like to use for comparisons, Kentucky should be favored by four points for this game.

As far as the total was concerned, Sportsbook opened this game on the low end at 129, while 5Dimes started it off on the high end at 133.5. By Monday morning almost every shop in the market listed its total at 131.

 

When Last They Met
Kentucky was also favored for last year's national semifinal showdown over Wisconsin, but only by one point. However, the background on that game was a bit different.

Nobody doubted the 'Cats had the talent to make a run in the NCAA tournament. But going into the NCAA tournament the consensus said Kentucky had underperformed during the regular season, going just 24-10, and was still vulnerable. They were great, but very young, and still beatable.

The Badgers also were not the team then they are right now. Last year Wisconsin started 16-0, struggled through a 1-5 stretch, then ended with an 8-1 run, entering the NCAA tournament at 26-7. And they were three-point underdogs when they beat Arizona in the West Regional final.

Last year's national semifinal went off with a one-point spread, and ended with Kentucky winning 74-73 on that 3-pointer from way downtown by Aaron Harrison in the last few seconds. Sometimes those guys who make the lines really know what they're doing.

Also, the total on that game went off at 138, then played OVER with two minutes to spare, as the teams combined to shoot 48 percent from the floor. If the teams combine to do that again Saturday, that game will go OVER, too.

This year the teams are a combined 73-3, and might be the best two teams in the country. And everybody knows it, so there's no uncertainty.

 

Which Way Will These Lines Go?
Kentucky is once again “Kentucky,” and that still means a lot out in the NCAA Tournament Futures Odds Markets. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is a relative newcomer to this whole “basketball's big stage” thing, and while most bettors recognize the Badgers are a very good team, most bettors also still think Wisconsin plays a methodical game in an attempt to cover up certain deficiencies. At the moment, though, with this Badgers team, that's not really the case.

Then there's the whole “undefeated” thing. The Wildcats come in at 38-0, and a lot of people think they'll get to 40-0. On top of that a lot of people are rooting for Kentucky to go perfect. And our guess is that sentiment will lead to a certain amount of action coming in on the 'Cats as this week progresses.

Finally, even though the Big Ten has two teams in this year's Final Four, it's still not exactly known for its basketball prowess. Sagarin's conference ratings rank the Big Ten as the fourth-best conference in college basketball this season, with the SEC at No. 5. But perception often means more than reality when it comes to sports betting.

In the end we figure that while the spread on this game initially moved toward the underdog Badgers, that movement will reverse itself, and by Saturday the spread will have bounced back toward Kentucky. Our guess is most books will send this game off with a spread of six or seven points.

Also, as a certain percentage of bettors begin to back the 'Cats, we foresee a pairing with the OVER on the total. Keep in mind when placing your NCAA Tournament Picks that if Kentucky gets up by 8-9-10 points late, Wisconsin might have to resort to playing foul-from-behind near the end. And two minutes worth of that might go a long way toward taking this game OVER its total. So we won't be surprised if the total on this game edges its way up to 132 or 133 as game-time approaches.