Final Four Picks
The preliminaries are over, and the NCAA men’s basketball Tournament is down to its Final Four, and you can expect the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to go ballistic for Saturday’s semifinal matchups – especially when the home team takes the court.
No. 5 Butler vs. No. 5 Michigan State (6:07 p.m. ET, CBS)
The Bulldogs (32-4 SU, 16-20 ATS) are the sentimental favorites to win March Madness. That’s a tall order, but the Bulldogs are in good shape for the semifinal as 1-point favorites with a total of 126. Butler was –1.5 earlier in the week and is still available at that price at scattered books; the Spartans (28-8 SU, 15-20 ATS) have been getting slightly more action according to the consensus reports.
While Michigan State has the cachet of playing in the Big Ten and making the Final Four last year, Butler is the better team according to efficiency, ranking No. 12 in Division I compared to No. 23 for MSU. The Spartans are also missing point guard Kalin Lucas (14.8 points, 4.0 assists per game) after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the second round against Maryland. They did well to beat Northern Iowa (+1.5) and Tennessee (-2) without Lucas, but neither of those teams was as good as Butler this year.
The Bulldogs have set the tone for this matchup by using their stifling defense to upset Syracuse (-6) and Kansas State (-3.5) and easily cash in the UNDER. Both these teams take a limited number of shots in a half-court offense; the UNDER is 8-1 in Butler’s last nine games and 13-10 for Michigan State since the start of Big Ten play. Our forecast for Saturday calls for more of the same.
Picks: Butler –1, UNDER 126
No. 2 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Duke (8:47 p.m. ET, CBS)
On paper at least, this should be the best game at the Final Four – including the championship game itself. The Blue Devils (33-5 SU, 22-13-2 ATS) have been sticking it to their haters all year, making huge coin and brushing aside all four of their March Madness opponents thus far. The Mountaineers (31-6 SU, 17-19 ATS) are also 4-0 ATS at this Tournament and splitting the action down the middle with Duke priced at either –2 or –2.5, depending where you shop. The total is 131 points.
Duke is the most efficient team in the nation with the most efficient offense and the third-best defense. While the betting public focuses on shooters like Jon Scheyer (18.2 points, 4.8 assists per game), center Brian Zoubek (7.6 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game) and forward Miles Plumlee (5.1 rebounds in 16.6 minutes) are busy on the offensive glass, making sure Duke’s shooters get multiple opportunities to win.
West Virginia’s ability to defend against the Devils has been compromised by the apparent loss of guard Truck Bryant (9.3 points, 3.1 assists per game) to a broken foot. But the Mounties (No. 5 in team efficiency, No. 10 on defense) have had success with a 1-3-1 zone, leaving the UNDER a compelling choice at 7-1 in their last eight games and 4-1 in Duke’s last five.
Picks: Duke –2, UNDER 131