NCAA Tournament Picks: Breaking Down the Final Four

Kevin Stott

Thursday, April 2, 2015 5:07 PM UTC

Thursday, Apr. 2, 2015 5:07 PM UTC

There must be something in the Lake Michigan water because the Big Ten’s Wisconsin and Michigan State have both made it all the way to the Final Four in Indianapolis this weekend. But do either near 5-point underdogs have a chance at making it to Monday’s final? Let’s examine and make a pick.

How ‘bout that Big Ten Conference? It was predicted to be another down year for the Big Conference. and its participants in this year’s Big Dance—outside of Wisconsin—given little chance to thrive in this year’s NCAA Tournament. But here we have half of the Final Four made up of Big Ten teams, with Wisconsin and Michigan State still playing after four straight wins in the Tourney. And with a big upset (Ohio State over Oregon) in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship college football game this past January, maybe the sports’ media’s general propensity to be somewhat East and West Coast-centric, has opened a hole in the Midwest (geographical region) in which sports gamblers can potentially find a little value. Something to keep an eye on. Anyway, on Saturday we have that world-famous (well maybe not) NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament continuing with the Final Four set to be held at Lucas Oil Stadium Indianapolis. The East’s #7 seed, aforementioned Michigan State (27-11) and Head Coach Tom Izzo, will meet Mike Krzyzewski and the South Region’s #1 seed, Duke (33-4), in Saturday’s first Semifinal, (TBS, 6:09 p.m. ET/3:09 p.m. PT; Odds: Duke -5, 140; Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook). Saturday’s second semifinal matchup will see the nation’s top-ranked and undefeated team, Kentucky (38-0)—the #1 seed in the Midwest Region—and Head Coach John Calipari locking horns with the West Region’s #1 seed Wisconsin (35-3) in the nightcap (TBS, 8:49 p.m. ET/5:49 p.m. PT; Odds: Kentucky -5½, 131; Pinnacle). And, like almost all Final Fours, this one can’t help but be great. Let’s take a quick looks at The Players (teams), the players (players), the Odds and Trends and some other things and see if there are any perceived edges in the current point spreads, which have both been sitting around the 5-point mark like a turtle basking happily on a rock in the middle of a calm lake in the summer sun. And no pun intended: Odds are these odds probably will stay very close to, or where they both are sitting at right now (Wednesday afternoon).


Game 1—Michigan State (27-11) vs. Duke (33-4)
Michigan State Spartans Starting Lineup Last Game
F—Branden Dawson (11.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg)
F—Gavin Schilling (5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
G—Travis Trice (15.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.1 apg)
G—Denzel Valentine (14.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.4 apg)
G—Lourawls Nairn Jr. (2.2 ppg, 2.3 apg)

Duke Blue Devils Starting Lineup Last Game
C—Jahil Okafor (7.5 ppg, 8.75 rpg. 1.2 bpg)
F—Justise Winslow (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
G—Tyus Jones (11.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
G—Quinn Cook (15.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.7 apg)
G—Matt Jones (6.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg)

Game 2—Kentucky (38-0) vs. Wisconsin (35-3)
Wisconsin Badgers Starting Lineup Last Game
F—Frank Kaminsky (18.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
F—Sam Dekker (13.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
F—Nigel Hayes (12.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
G—Josh Gossler (6.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
G—Bronson Koenig (8.6 ppg, 2.4 apg)

Kentucky Wildcats Starting Lineup Last Game
F—Willie Cauley-Stein (9.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
F—Karl-Antonio Thomas (10.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
F—Trey Lyles (8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
G—Aaron Harrison (11.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
G—Andrew Harrison (9.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.6 apg)


The Teams, Advantages, Trends and Concluding Thoughts
The Big Ten’s Michigan State (22-16-1 ATS) defeated Louisville, 76-70 in OT in the East Regional final to get here to this Final Four, while ACC opponent Duke (22-14-1 ATS) rolled over Gonzaga, 66-52 in the South Regional final. On the other side of the Bracket, the SEC team potentially on the verge of making some history and finishing as the first undefeated college basketball team in Men’s Division I since Indiana back in 1976, Kentucky (19-17-2 ATS), goes up against the other Big 10 participant in this Final Four, Wisconsin (20-17-1 ATS). In the first game, it will be crucial for Duke (19-6-1 ATS L26 Saturday games) to try to get some significant scoring from its Bench, which had o points in last weekend’s win over the Bulldogs, meaning the Blue Devils (9-1 SU Neutral site) reserves C Marshall Plumlee, F Amile Jefferson and G Grayson Allen will have to step up for for Duke (+333 To Win NCAA Championship, bet365). On the other hand, the Spartans (#4 in nation in Assists) bench contributed 25 points in Michigan State’s (+750) exciting win over the Cardinals last weekend with G Bryan Forbes (14 points), F Matt Costello (8) and F Marvin Clark Jr. (3) providing all but 1 point of the Bench scoring. Look for Forbes to possibly play a big role if Sparty upsets Duke on Saturday afternoon in Naptown.

Saturday’s second Semifinal game is between titans Kentucky (9-0 SU Neutral site) and Wisconsin—a rematch of last year’s Final Four semifinal, won by the Wildcats, 74-73 (Kentucky -1—Push, 138—Over) as Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison connected on a 3-pointer with just 5.7 seconds left on the clock to give his team the win and send them to the championship game. This time around, the Wildcats will have the obvious Height Advantage, especially with the tall (6-6) Harrison Twins in the backcourt. And, Kentucky also seems to have the slightly stronger Bench heading in. Against Notre Dame, in its thrilling 68-66 win last Sunday evening in the Midwest Region final, the Wildcats Bench combined for 15 points as G Devin Booker (10 points), G Tyler Ulis (3) and F Marcus Lee (2) helped top-ranked Kentucky (-140 To Win NCAA Championship, bet365) get over the hump against a very game Notre Dame squad. Where Wisconsin (+425)—which defeated Arizona, 85-78 in the West Region final—will have some strength is in its’ Calm and Composure, especially should the Badgers get down early, and in their potential for hot outside shooting from 3-Point Land from all five of their (last game) starters—Koenig (60 made 3s), Dekker (48), Kaminsky (35), Gossler (48) and Hayes (35)—as well as Duje Dukan (28) on the bench. If Wisconsin (+220 Moneyline, Mirage) is hitting its shots from outside the arc, the Badgers could very well be the team that knocks off the undefeated giants from the Bluegrass State this weekend in Indianapolis. Also, you know that Wisconsin (and coach Bo Ryan) gained much valuable experience in that 1-point loss in last year’s Final Four to Kentucky. Memory is a great Teacher and Motivator.

As far as Trends here, the Over is 8-3 in the L11 Michigan State games overall, while Duke Overs are 8-3 L11 when playing the Big Ten. Combined with a Blue Devils ATS record of 19-6-1 Unders in their L27 Road games at a Neutral Site, and the tendency for big games to often go Under, and a case can be made for the Under (140 highest left on Don Best screen Wednesday afternoon, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook), although when these two met earlier this season, Duke won 81-71 as an 8-point favorite and the game went over the posted Total (144½) by 7½ points. As far as Trends in the Kentucky-Wisconsin contest go, Wildcats games have gone Under in 15-3 of their L18 Non-Conference tilts, while Unders are 8-2 in the L10 Kentucky games played at a Neutral site. Purrrrrrr.

The two winners of Saturday’s Final Four will meet in the Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday (April 6) night (CBS, 9 p.m. ET/6 PT).

FINAL FOUR PICK: Kentucky-Wisconsin Under 131½ (Mirage)

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