Vegas veteran Benjamin Eckstein, author of America’s Line, brings three decades of experience to make weekly picks in his “Ecks & Bacon” column.
Final Four picks
LAS VEGAS — Can’t remember which one of the 279 websites where I read this, but this is the first time in 31 years that one of the so-called Blue Bloods will not be in the Final Four. We’re talking North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, UCLA and Louisville. That’s THIRTY-ONE YEARS! WOW!
Now for the Sportsbook of the first game on Saturday between Virginia and Auburn. Speaking of Blue Bloods, Charles Barkley’s Tigers beat Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky, back to back to back, to make it to their first EVER Final Four. That was VERY impressive. And the last W against Kentucky was WITHOUT one of their best players, Chuma Okeke. Auburn rumbles into the party on a 12-0 straight-up PERFECTO and has covered eight of the last 10.
Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers come in with an impressive resume as well, winning 13 of the last 14, but against the spread, the ’Hoos have managed to cover only three of the last seven. Not necessarily calling for the outright upset, but would buy the hook, push the line to +6, and watch Sir Charles cry on national TV. Crying because, as we all know, Barkley is a ferocious sports bettor, and he’ll be all over Auburn plus the points.
In the nightcap, we’re gonna roll with Texas Tech +2.5 points over Michigan State. Of course, we WILL buy the hook and push Tech to +3. What else can the Red Raiders do? They rolled into the Sweet 16 against the second-best defensive team in college hoops, Michigan, and blew the Wolverines away 63-44. Then they looked at the daunting task of facing the NUMBER ONE offense in the country in the Elite Eight, Gonzaga. You think the Raiders were nervous? Nah. They held the ’Zags to ONLY 69 points, almost TWENTY points below their season average of 87.6.
What about any other matchups with the Big Ten? Gotcha. Aside from the Michigan game, Tech stomped on Nebraska 70-52. More? OK. TT has won 13 of the last 14 straight up, covered seven of the last eight, and steps onto the court in Minneapolis working on an 8-0 spread PERFECTO on the road. It ain’t gonna be easy, but we’re backing the beard, Chris Beard!!!
For your wagering pleasure, here are your spread stats of the day. The Nuggets might not catch the Warriors for the top seed in the Western Conference, but you know they’re gonna bring some heat to this ESPN matchup against the Blazers. Denver has been on a sweet roll, winning nine of the last 13 straight up, but against the spread, the Nugs have covered only four of the last 12.
They’ve also been stingy with points allowed and have gone UNDER in 10 of the last 12 games. Portland brings a similar portfolio to the table, winning eight of the last nine straight up, but have done WAY better against the spread, covering four of the last five. Looking at the big picture, the Nuggets’ overall spread log sits at 40-38, 24-15 at home and 29-26 as a favorite. The Blazers’ overall spread mark is 44-33-1, 21-18 on the road and 13-15 as an underdog. Light tickle to Portland.
Also skating onto the NHL ice, and got a play to the Blue Jackets over the Rangers.
PLZ hit me on Twitter over the weekend, @vegasvigorish, just in case anything pops.
Benjamin Eckstein is a nationally syndicated sportswriter/oddsmaker. His column, America’s Line, with the Ecks & Bacon appetizer, has run in the New York Daily News and over 100 other papers since 1988. You can follow him online at www.americasline.com. He is beloved by most, when he picks Sportsbooks, and detested by others, when he picks the occasional loser. If you wanna piece of Eck, hit his email...email@example.com.