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Final Four handicapping: All about the 3

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

March 30, 2018 12:01 AM

Time to crunch the numbers for the 2018 Final Four. The question still remains…can anyone beat Villanova? Plus, stat recaps from the NIT Championship and Opening Day of Major League Baseball as we close out the week in VSiN City.

NCAA Final Four: Holy Trinity Previews
We’ve updated the national rankings in our key handicapping categories. Those are "adjusted defensive efficiency" from kenpom.com…and "rebound rate" plus "turnover avoidance" from teamrankings.com. Defense, rebounding, and guard play have been our “Holy Trinity” in this year’s Dance (using turnover avoidance as a proxy for how elite guards play quarterback on a well-run offense.)

We’ll take the matchups in the order the games will be played. Remember that the telecasts will be on TBS. 

Michigan (-5/129.5) vs. Loyola-Chicago (6:05 p.m. ET on TBS)
Loyola-Chi: #19 defense, #103 rebounding, #225 TO avoidance
Michigan #4 defense, #150 rebounding, #2 TO avoidance

Michigan was built to do well in the postseason back before the postseason even started. They had improved “recent form” rebounding late in the regular season, and were nationally elite in the other two categories. Yes, they were lucky to beat Houston, and struggled past Florida State. And, they also lucked into an incredibly fortunate draw with victims seeded only 14-6-7-9. But, it wasn’t luck that dominated Michigan State and Purdue in the Big 10 tournament, nor Texas A&M in the Sweet 16. 

If the Wolverines are hitting their treys, they’re National Championship caliber. If they’re not, they can still find a way to win a nailbiter. 

Loyola is stuck in a twilight zone of not being as “lucky” as their critics are saying (first three Dance wins by a combined FOUR points), and not being as “for real” as their supporters suggest. Yes, they were the best team in the Missouri Valley Conference, and deserved a better seed than #11. Loyola’s name was very much in the hat of talented teams. Basketball’s gods pulled the Ramblers name out vs. Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada even though this collection of talent couldn’t manage a top 100 national finish in rebound rate or a top 200 ranking in turnover avoidance despite facing a mid-major schedule (teamrankings.com doesn’t make adjustments for schedule strength…Jeff Sagarin of the USA Today ranks the full season schedule strengths at Kansas #4, Villanova #21, Michigan #27, and Loyola #113). 

Loyola is justifiably an underdog to Michigan. Handicappers must determine if current posted lines of Michigan -5 or Michigan -5.5 (depending on the store) capture the true distance. Clearly, respected money has been coming in on Michigan to push the line up a tick at so many spots late in the week. 

The biggest strike against Loyola could be that turnover-prone offense facing the #4 defense. We’ve seen that blow up in some team’s faces this postseason. Loyola HAS to shoot well on treys to make up for that. We already know that Michigan doesn’t “need” treys to advance, though the Wolverines may need treys to win comfortably. 

Villanova (-5/155) vs. Kansas (8:35 p.m. ET on TBS)
Kansas #41 defense, #152 rebounding, #62 TO avoidance
Villanova #13 defense, #59 rebounding, #13 TO avoidance

Villanova’s excellence and balance is on full display there. Out of 351 teams that play Division I basketball, the Wildcats reached the top 13 in two different critical categories. Kansas has been playing better than those rankings through the tournament. And, our brief mention of Sagarin’s strength of schedule are a reminder that nobody’s more battle tested than the Jayhawks this season. 

We were about to mention three-pointers again…because that category has loomed so large in the fate of these teams. We didn’t include it in the Holy Trinity initially because teams have less ability to perform “on command” in long range shooting. But, if this category is “evolving” to have more consistency because college kids have improved the consistency of their skill sets, we’ll have to rethink that for the future. 

Let’s look at these two perspectives. These are full-season numbers…

Three Point Shooting Percentage
Kansas #9
Loyola #11
Villanova #15
Michigan #107

Wow…three teams in the national top 15 in pure percentage have survived to the Final Four. Were you surprised Michigan ranks so low? They have a “live by the three” reputation in the media, and have been living pretty large with scoreboard results in the postseason. But, 5 of 16 vs. Montana, 8 of 30 vs. Houston, and 4 of 22 vs. Florida State show that it’s been other categories driving Michigan’s Dance advancement. 

Three Point Rate (or emphasis)
Villanova #14
Michigan #59
Kansas #79
Loyola #217

These are rankings in the percentage of shots from the field that are three-pointers. Note how Loyola shoots well from long range but still mostly emphasizes the inside game. Villanova is super-dangerous because it attacks with the trey and makes them. Though, we saw last week vs. Texas Tech that the Wildcats can create points elsewhere if the bombs aren’t falling. Villanova was 4 of 24 vs. Texas Tech, but 29 of 35 on free throws with a 51-33 edge in rebounds. 

Clearly the favorites control their own destiny based on the Holy Trinity stats (and, they won in the last round despite shooting a combined 8 of 46 on treys!). The dogs are capable of covering or pulling upsets if chalk stays shaky on treys. Loyola’s the most vulnerable to flounder because of that lousy turnover avoidance ranking lining up against an elite defense. Kansas better make sure it re-filled its emotional tank after that draining overtime win over Duke. 

Best of luck with your picks! Let’s take a quick look at our estimated “market” Power Ratings so you can have a sense of possible Championship point spreads as the games finish. 

NCAA Tournament Estimated “Market” Power Ratings
89: Villanova 
84: Kansas 
83: Michigan 
78: Loyola-Chicago

We had Michigan and Loyola both a point higher last time we ran these. And, that could still be right. But early chatter from Vegas oddsmakers and offshore sites suggest that Kansas would be a slight favorite over Michigan if both teams advance. The universality of that chatter suggested we should drop the Wolverines and Ramblers. And, we have to do that in unison because Saturday’s spread has them five points apart. 

We’ll run Saturday’s box scores on Monday when we preview the championship extravaganza. With the Big Dance winding down, we’re now back to our five-days-a-week schedule. Don’t forget that VSiN will be providing special LIVE BETTING updates throughout both Final Four semifinals. Back by popular demand after so many of you let us know you loved them in the college football playoff and the Super Bowl. Listen on Sirius XM channel 204, or watch live on our website at vsin.com. 

The NIT Champion was crowned Thursday night… 

NIT Championship: Penn State finishes fantastic run by crushing Utah 
Remember that 24-0 blitz from Penn State in the semifinals that turned a 13-11 advantage into a 37-11 chasm against Mississippi State? Similar story Thursday night. Penn State led Utah 43-41 with 7:44 to go in the third quarter. A couple minutes later it was 49-41…then it was 54-43…then it was 61-45 (an 18-4 sprint)…and you don’t catch Penn State from that far behind the way this team has been playing in recent weeks. 

Penn State (-4) 82, Utah 66
Two-point Pct: Penn State 64%, Utah 44%
Three Pointers: Penn State 9/22, Utah 10/24
Free Throws: Penn State 9/11, Utah 6/9
Rebounds: Penn State 34, Utah 27
Turnovers: Penn State 10, Utah 9
Estimated Possessions: Penn State 66, Utah 64
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Penn State 23-28-22, Utah 55-49-63
Market Watch: The earliest openers of Penn State -3 or -3.5 depending on the store didn’t last very long. Sharps bet it up to -4 quickly…and should have taken it even higher. Contrarian interest on the dog after the move didn’t pan out. 

Awesome up and down the stat line. Penn State crushed inside, and shot well outside to counteract Utah’s own sharp long-range shooting (both over 40%). More free throws. More rebounds. A scoring victory on “1’s and 2’s” by a count of 55-36, and an amazing 82 points in a low-tempo game. 

Should Penn State have been in the Dance? It’s easy to say yes after this run. But, they were only a #4 seed in the NIT! That means THIS committee saw at least a dozen NIT teams as superior (though the markets and computer ratings would have disagreed vehemently). Great sustained performance from the Nittany Lions in this tournament. 

Major League Baseball: Opening Day results
Here’s a quick stat recap from the daytime season openers. If you were with us last baseball season, you know we like to use “Total Bases Plus Walks Drawn” as an offensive story-teller. That sum gives you more information at a glance than the raw run total. Doesn’t hurt that it turns a baseball score into a football score, because most bettors have time-proven instincts for what football scores mean. It’s also a super-simple “runs created” proxy, because dividing the sum sport-wide by four gets you very close to the runs count. It does take four bases to earn a run. 

Seems like we started using bullpen numbers in these for the playoffs because so many teams were trying to stack quality arms from the sixth on. We’ll keep that feature on the days we recap baseball. 

Chicago Cubs (-200) 8, Miami 4
Total Bases Plus Walks: Chicago 27, Miami 18
Starting Pitchers: Lester 3.1 IP, 3 ER, Urena 4 IP, 5 ER
Bullpens: Chicago 5.2 IP, 0 ER, Miami 5 IP, 2 ER

Ian Happ led off the 2018 season with a first pitch home run, likely setting the tone for another season of high home run counts thanks to new ball construction and adjusted swing planes (if the exhibition slate was any indication). Great bullpen work by the Cubbies after Lester didn’t shine. 

NY Mets (-135) 9, St. Louis 4
Total Bases Plus Walks: St. Louis 14, New York 23
Starting Pitchers: Martinez 4.1 IP, 4 ER, Syndegaard 6 IP, 4 ER
Bullpens: St. Louis 3.2 IP, 4 ER, NY Mets 3 IP, 0 ER

Thor threw 10 strikeouts with no walks allowed. But, he still needed run support because his pitches travel very far when sluggers connect. You’ll see a lot of good bullpen work for winning teams today. 

Atlanta (plus 110) 8, Philadelphia 5
Total Bases Plus Walks: Philadelphia 19, Atlanta 23
Starting Pitchers: Nola 5.1 IP, 1 ER, Teheran 5.2 IP, 4 ER
Bullpens: Philadelphia 3.1 IP, 6 ER, Atlanta 3.1 IP, 1 ER

Exciting matchup of two projected also-rans. Nick Markakis won it with a walk-off three-run homer. 

Milwaukee (-130) 2, San Diego 1 (in 12 innings)
Total Bases Plus Walks: Milwaukee 14, San Diego 12
Starting Pitchers: Anderson 6 IP, 0 ER, Richards 7 IP, 1 ER
Bullpens: Milwaukee 6 IP, 1 ER, San Diego 5 IP, 1 ER

Baseballs weren’t flying out of the western pitcher’s parks. Very low offensive base counts for a 12-inning game. Both teams scattered their runners until the Brewers snuck the ultimate game winner across the plate. 

San Francisco (plus 270) 1, Los Angeles Dodgers 0
Total Bases Plus Walks: San Francisco 15, Los Angeles 11
Starting Pitchers: Blach 5 IP, 0 ER, Kershaw 6 IP, 1 ER
Bullpens: San Francisco 4 IP, 0 ER, Los Angeles 3 IP, 0 ER

Parlay killer! Everyone trying to outsmart the market by including the Dodgers in money line parlays took a hit here. Kershaw had seven strikeouts with just two walks, but zero run support. San Francisco did win the offensive battle, but could only turn a home run, two doubles, five singles, and two walks into just one run. 

Baltimore (-125) 3, Minnesota 2 (in 11 innings)
Total Bases Plus Walks: Minnesota 11, Baltimore 16
Starting Pitchers: Odorizzi 6 IP, 0 ER, Bundy 7 IP, 0 ER
Bullpens: Minnesota 4 IP, 3 ER, Baltimore 3 IP, 2 ER

Nobody expected a pitchers’ duel with Odorizzi and Bundy. Both were unblemished with seven strikeouts. 

Houston (-160) 4, Texas 1
Total Bases Plus Walks: Houston 20, Texas 9
Starting Pitchers: Verlander 6 IP, 0 ER, Hamels 5.2 IP, 3 ER
Bullpens: Houston 3 IP, 1 ER, Texas 3.1 IP, 1 ER

A 4-1 score makes it sound like a sleepy game. Houston did reach 20 offensive bases. Verlander coasted through the afternoon with just five strikeouts. Don’t forget that Houston’s “road” offense last year was historically great. 

NY Yankees (-170) 6, Toronto 1
Total Bases Plus Walks: New York 25, Toronto 8
Starting Pitchers: Severino 5.2 IP, 0 ER, Happ 4.2 IP, 2 ER
Bullpens: New York 3.1 IP, 1 ER, Toronto 4.1 IP, 3 ER

Might be the blueprint for the Bronx Bombers all season. Big offensive totals and a stingy bullpen set to protect the starters. 

Tampa Bay (plus 150) 6, Boston 4
Total Bases Plus Walks: Boston 17, Tampa Bay 14
Starting Pitchers: Sale 6 IP, 0 ER, Archer 6 IP, 4 ER
Bullpens: Boston 2 IP, 6 ER, Tampa Bay 3 IP, 0 ER

Brent Musburger talked about “The Magnificent Seven” on “My Guys in the Desert” the other day, in line with our look at Regular Season Win totals showing seven teams breaking the 90-win barrier. Boston goes on the list with the LA Dodgers of teams who LOST as pricey favorites the first time out. So tough to win laying the biggest chalk over time because the bullpen might let you down (as happened here), or the offense may not be able to string much together. The Dodgers fall at -300, while the Red Sox fall at -170. Already tops what the rest of the “seven” can do as chalk. Plus, a lot of parlays fall too. (Don’t forget how much money the Cubs and Indians burned last year in the first half of the season.)

Oakland (plus 110) 6, Los Angeles Angels 5 (in 11 innings)
Total Bases Plus Walks: Los Angeles 27, Oakland 26
Starting Pitchers: Richards 5 IP, 4 ER, Graveman 5 IP, 5 ER
Bullpens: Los Angeles 5 IP, 2 ER, Oakland 6 IP, 0 ER

That would have been a heckuva football game. Much of the offensive damage was done early. 

Chicago White Sox (plus 120) 14, Kansas City 7
Total Bases Plus Walks: Chicago 42, Kansas City 17
Starting Pitchers: Shields 6 IP, 4 ER, Duffy 4 IP, 5 ER
Bullpens: Chicago 3 IP, 2 ER, Kansas City 5 IP, 9 ER

And, how’s THIS for a football score. 42-17! SIX home runs for the Chisox. Sharps have been down on Kansas City in summer betting. You probably heard the story about Gill Alexander of “A Numbers Game” trying to bet that Under when it first went on the board in Las Vegas. 

Have a great weekend! See you Monday.

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