NCAA Tournament Final Four Betting Preview
It’s been a crazy tournament full of wild upsets and thrilling finishes.
Despite the early-round upsets highlighted by the No. 15 seeded St. Peter’s Peacocks reaching the Elite Eight, we now have four blueblood teams that many expected to reach the Final Four (outside of the No. 8 seed UNC). Fans and sports bettors will be treated to two awesome games as the Duke Blue Devils will face the University of Carolina Tarheels and the Kansas Jayhawks will face the Villanova Wildcats. After an incredibly unpredictable first four rounds of action, Kansas is the only No. 1 seed remaining. However, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, Duke is the slight favorite to win it all at +150 with Kansas slightly trailing at +185. Meanwhile, Villanova is listed at +450 and North Carolina is the biggest longshot at +500.
Now let’s dive into each game and find the best bets for these two matchups.
No. 2 Villanova Wildcats vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (-4.5)
Villanova has thrived over the last decade. They have one of the best programs in the country and are led by arguably the best coach in all of college basketball once Mike Krzyzewski retires after this season. Although Jay Wright has led the team to a nine-game winning streak and a second-place finish in the Big East, it feels like the Wildcats are not getting the respect they deserve, despite being a No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Villanova is just two wins away from its third NCAA Tournament since 2016. This program has evolved into one of the best programs in all of college basketball. That said, they did have one of the easier paths to the Final Four. Nova crushed Deleware in the first round by 20 points before cruising past Ohio State (71-61) for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Fortunately for the Wildcats, the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers fell flat on their faces against the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines. Michigan played a good game but Nova advanced to the Elite Eight after a hard-fought eight-point victory. Yet again, the Wildcats lucked out as the top seed in the region, Arizona, were upset by the No. 5 Houston Cougars. While Houston is a decent team, they are nowhere nearly as talented as Arizona. Nova played one of their worst games of the tournament against Houston, converting a dismal 28.8% of their field-goal attempts. They also lost their second-leading scorer, Justin Moore, after he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Despite all of that, Houston couldn’t take advantage of their opportunity and Villanova’s 15-of-15 from the charity stripe sealed the deal and clinched a spot in the Final Four.
Nova ranks in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, the top 20 in defensive efficiency, and are ninth in overall efficiency. However, they have yet to be truly tested by an elite team. That will change on Saturday when they face the Kansas Jayhawks. And without Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels is going to have to play the game of his life. Samuels has scored in double figures and has converted at least 55% of his shots in all four games to this point in the tournament. The Senior forward is coming off a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double against Houston.
Kansas was the only No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four but they actually had an even easier path than Villanova. The Jayhawks have yet to face a team ranked in KenPom’s Top 25. The Jayhawks trounced Texas Southern by 27 points before meeting a decent Creighton team in the second round. Despite not being in the starting lineup, Remy Martin willed Kansas to victory with a team-high 20 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in 29 minutes off the bench. Martin only averaged 8.6 points per game in the regular season so his performance was critical as Kansas edged Creighton in the second round by seven points.
Next up in the Sweet Sixteen, the Jayhawks were challenged by the Providence Friars, the No. 4 seed in the Region. Providence led with under six minutes remaining before Kansas turned on the jets. Once again, Martin was extremely clutch off the bench with a game-high and season-high 23 points in 27 minutes. Jalen Wilson was just as pivotal in the Jayhawks’ five-point victory, as he tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds. Fortunately for Kansas, both Auburn and Wisconsin (the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the Midwest Region) were upset in the second round. Therefore, the Jayhawks only had to beat the No. 10 Miami Hurricanes to advance to the Final Four. Kansas trailed by six at halftime before producing perhaps their best half of basketball all season. They quickly erased the deficit and won by a whopping 26 points. After sixth man Remy Martin led the team in scoring in the first three games of the tournament, Naismith Player of the Year Finalist Ochai Agbaji finally produced a solid stat line with a game-high 18 points while converting 75% of his field goals.
So now, two of the top coaches in college basketball – Jay Wright and Bill Self – will face off for a chance at the title. Both coaches have tons of experience and both teams have a boatload of talent. That said, Kansas is the clear favorite. This will be the second game of the tournament that Villanova will enter as the underdog (they were three-point dogs against Houston).
Losing Justin Moore could be the reason that Nova’s championship aspirations get cut short this weekend. Not only did they lose their second-best scorer but the Wildcats are not a team known for their depth. Caleb Daniels has been an excellent sixth-man but he will likely enter the starting lineup and nobody else on the bench has averaged more than 10 minutes per game. That could be a huge problem for Nova.
Meanwhile, Kansas is one of the deepest teams in the country. Kansas has gotten this far despite mediocre performances from Big 12 Player of the Year Ochai Agbaji and big man David McCormack. Both finally performed well in the Elite Eight but the fact that Kansas was able to get that far despite their top players underperforming is a testament to their depth.
Considering the fact that Kansas has huge momentum after overcoming a deficit at the half in the Elite Eight and their much deeper bench, I expect the Jayhawks to win this game by a decent margin. Now with Agbaji and McCormack having broken through the glass, the Jayhawks should cover the spread against the undermanned Villanova Wildcats.
The Pick: Kansas -4.5
University of North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Duke Blue Devils (-4)
Will this be Coach K’s last game? North Carolina would love to disrupt a storybook ending for the greatest college basketball coach in the history of the game. Despite Coach K’s age, his team is a group of youthful energetic kids, but we have witnessed these young men mature on their way to the Final Four. The Blue Devils have had to face some very tough opponents yet they have survived unscathed. Duke lucked out in avoiding a matchup with Gonzaga but they still had to beat Arkansas (who defeated Gonzaga) in the Elite Eight, a ferocious Texas Tech squad in the Sweet Sixteen, and a solid Michigan State team in the second round of the tournament.
Duke has been incredibly clutch and their ability to get buckets in crunch time has been instrumental in their success. The Blue Devils have a ton of offensive firepower but the Tar Heels might be the only team that can match Duke’s high-powered offense.
North Carolina erupted for 95 points and a 32-point margin of victory over Marquette in the first round of the tournament. Then, they shocked the world by defeating Baylor, the No. 1 seed in the East in a thrilling overtime game. But the fun didn’t end there. These Tar Heels like being the underdog and in the Sweet Sixteen, they upset the No. 4 UCLA Bruins. Ironically, their easiest game was in the Elite Eight when they dispatched the Cinderella team of the tournament – St. Peters – by a whopping 20 points.
North Carolina and Duke have been ACC rivals for as long as anyone can remember and this year, they play very similar styles. Interestingly enough, neither of these teams won the ACC Tournament this year. Virginia Tech defeated Duke in the championship game back on March 12. That’s the last time Duke lost. UNC hasn’t suffered a defeat since also losing to Virginia Tech in the semi-finals of the ACC Tournament. North Carolina lost by 13 points and Duke lost by 15 points. Don’t forget that North Carolina (despite being an 11-point underdog) defeated Duke in early March. The seeding in this matchup is irrelevant. The Tar Heels are playing like a top-10 team in the nation right now.
Both of these programs can do a little bit of everything. Both teams are great in transition and can get up and down the court in an instant, yet they each also are some of the best halfcourt teams in all of college basketball. Duke has the coaching edge (Krzyzewski over Hubert Davis) and Duke has the more talented lineup with immense upside. When all of Duke’s offensive weapons are on point, they are nearly unstoppable, evidenced by their second-half performance in the Sweet Sixteen against Texas Tech when they converted 70.8% of their field goals. Duke's Paolo Banchero may be a top-five pick in this year’s NBA Draft. He will be the best player on the court during this matchup. Duke ranks as the most efficient offense in the country according to KenPom. There is no way to truly stop the Blue Devils. But North Carolina might be able to outscore them. Duke is also the worst defensive team of the teams still alive. We have seen UNC pull off plenty of upsets and we have already seen them defeat Duke earlier this month.
All that said, I believe that the Blue Devils have matured immensely throughout this tournament and while I’m iffy about the spread, I’m confident that they will defeat the Tar Heels and advance to the championship game.