Dave Tuley: Saturday’s first national semifinal is one that many people had predicted, with the notable exception of those who had Illinois in the Final Four. Baylor opened as a 4.5-point favorite Monday night at Circa and the number has settled in at -5. I have this number at closer to pick-’em, so the original lean is on Houston + 5. However, I have a conflict of interest as I have the “Gonzaga/Baylor to win NCAA men’s title” future at +120, so I still need Baylor to get to the championship game and I’m not interested in betting Houston just as a hedge.
The better bet looks to be on the Over, as I set this total at 140 points, pretty much right between what we saw in Houston’s 67-61 win over Oregon State (closing total of 130.5) and Baylor’s 81-72 win over Arkansas (closing total of 148). This should also be right in between those games when it comes to pace of play.
Mick Cronin will coach up-and-coming UCLA against Gonzaga, a powerhouse in the mold of John Wooden’s Bruins, in a Final Four game Saturday.
David Stall: It’s certainly not easy to jump in front of Baylor, but I think this line is a point or so too high. Baylor has been the best team in the nation not named Gonzaga all season, but even so I can’t pass up a team as good as Houston getting a handful of points. The Cougars are one of only four teams in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, including No. 1 in defensive effective FG% and second in offensive rebounding percentage. It isn’t always pretty but it’s an avalanche of high level athletes who usually overwhelm opponents. Obviously Baylor will be the toughest test they’ve had to this point but they have the talent to do it.
It’s also worth noting that Houston takes care of the ball very well, checking in 41st in turnover rate. That’s even more critical against a Baylor defense that is third in the nation in forcing turnovers. If you can get a shot up, you actually aren’t in horrible shape: Baylor ranks 120th in effective FG% defense and certainly isn’t immune to allowing some nice, clean looks. I’m not quite calling for a Houston outright win, but I will say five points feels high in a game I fully expect to come down to the final minutes.
Pick: Houston + 5
UCLA vs. Gonzaga (-14, 145)
Matt Youmans: Expect this number to go up and close as the largest point spread in a Final Four game since 1985. The Zags are 4-0 ATS in the tournament and winning by 24 points per game, so the betting public will stick with what has worked. I’m not going to emphasize the weak schedule Gonzaga has faced the past three months or make a case for UCLA pulling off a stunning upset. The Zags are legit, the Bruins are lucky to be here, and that’s why the line is headed north of 14.
USC attempted to run with Gonzaga and trailed by 19 at halftime, so it’s no secret UCLA coach Mick Cronin hopes to limit possessions in a shortened game. The Bruins have committed only 36 turnovers in five games, with point guard Tyger Campbell totaling 20 assists against six turnovers, and that type of efficient play will be needed just for the underdog to stay within striking distance. UCLA’s Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez are big guards who can get to the paint and score. Some bookmakers expect this line to hit 15.5 or 16, and that’s when I’ll bet it. I’m not playing this until it appears the point spread has reached its peak.
Pick: UCLA + 15.5/16 (waiting for the best number)
Dave Tuley: Saturday’s second national semifinal features No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga going for the first undefeated season since Bob Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana team. The Bulldogs will face the last remaining low seed in No. 11 UCLA, which has had to win five games already, including the First Four. UCLA is also the last remaining team from the Pac-12, which is 13-2 ATS (not counting the Oregon-USC Elite Eight game). The Bruins were especially impressive in taking down the East Region’s No. 2 seed, Alabama, in the Sweet 16 and then No. 1 seed Michigan in the Elite Eight, so it’s tempting to ride the hot hand.
Reminders of UCLA coaching great have followed the Bruins during their unexpected trek from the First Four to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.
The Bruins needed overtime to get past Bama and only beat Michigan 51-49. However, it’s hard to fade equally red-hot Gonzaga, which is 4-0 ATS in the tourney despite having to lay huge spreads and just dismantled UCLA’s Pac-12 rival, USC, to reach the Final Four. Early money has come in on Gonzaga, moving the line from -13 and -13.5 to -14 (and it was even at -14.5 at DraftKings late Tuesday night). The Over was also bet early from 143.5 at Circa to 146 at most books early Wednesday.
My initial thought is to fade that move with the way Unders have been performing at Lucas Oil Stadium. I know it’s sacrilege not to have a bet on a Final Four game, but I’m passing for now and seeing how high the side and total get bet.
Pick: Pass (lean to UCLA + 14 and Under 146)
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