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The NCAA tournament wraps up with the Final Four on Saturday and the championship game Monday. It’s a unique field, with a variety of conferences, seeds, expected teams and surprises. Certainly the biggest shocker came out of the East Region, where UCLA advanced from a First Four team to a Final Four team by winning five games, including knocking off the top two teams in the region. The other three teams are not completely unexpected and, from a season-long power rating perspective, are deserving of a shot at a title. The point spreads set up for the semifinals don’t exactly ooze drama, with Gonzaga and Baylor expected to meet Monday night in the final. But as we’ve seen over the last two weeks, anything can happen. Let’s look at the futures market and how it relates to my four sets of strength ratings, as well as readdress some of the trends that were posted in the VSiN tournament guide that will be in play for the upcoming weekend.
DraftKings odds to win each region
For the third straight week, I’m including a chart of the percentage chances to reach the championship game per my strength ratings sets. I have updated them all based on the current bracket and the teams’ ratings after the second weekend of tourney action. If you’ve come to trust one rating over another, I encourage you to use that analysis in comparing with the odds offered by DraftKings. Again, though, I have taken the average of the four ratings sets to come up with one overall percentage chance for each team to reach each round.
Here are the four remaining teams and their chances:
Odds to win NCAA title
Baylor: + 225
Houston: + 500
UCLA: + 1600
A few observations from the findings:
— Again, we find Gonzaga as an overwhelming favorite at 57.1%, according to my four-ratings average calculations, with DraftKings having the Bulldogs massively overpriced at -250. That price set represents a chance of about 70%. This is a recurring pattern that started at the outset of the tournament, when oddsmakers had Gonzaga as 13.9% overvalued. Here the Zags are about 12.9% overvalued. As a value bettor, I can’t endorse that price. However, as an analyst with a bit of common sense, there is a reason coach Mark Few’s team is such a heavy favorite. It almost feels as if the Zags are motivated to simply mow through the competition and cover every point spread along the way.
— Baylor has to be worthy of consideration at + 225. If not for Gonzaga, the Bears would be commanding the majority of the attention. With a price of + 225, I figure the oddsmakers are giving them about a 29% chance to win the crown. My four-rating average says 24.6%, with the Effective Strength Indicator giving the best chance at 31.5%. That rating is a purely statistical model that reveals overall team strength for the season, so if any team shows value, it would be the Bears.
— Houston has been extremely impressive, particularly on the defensive end of the court. That is of no surprise to anyone who has followed the Cougars this season. UCLA has gotten hot at the right time. My problem with backing either is that both will have to pull back-to-back upsets against two of the best teams in recent college basketball history, according to my Power Ratings. In fact, Gonzaga’s current Power Rating of 99 is the highest I have ever had, and I’ve been doing this since 2001. For Houston, I don’t think stopper DeJon Jarreau can guard all five players at once, and for UCLA, it’s unlikely Johnny Juzang can keep up the torrid offensive play he has shown. Neither team has the horses to pull these mega back-to-back upsets against offensively prolific Gonzaga and Baylor. An upset by Houston wouldn’t shock me. Two would. It seems as if the Zags and the Bears have been on a collision course for supremacy since their regular-season game got canceled in December.
Readdressing the trends for this weekend
Last weekend’s round-by-round trends again fared pretty well, particularly for the Sweet 16 underdog action. Let’s look at the Final Four and championship trends that were posted in the VSiN tournament betting guide and apply the angles to the upcoming games.
Final Four Games
— In the Final Four, outright winners own a record of 31-5-2 ATS (86.1%) since ’01, although most recently, Virginia did beat Auburn in 2019 without covering.
Gonzaga and Baylor are sizable favorites. This trend indicates that if both win, both are likely to cover. Also, any ATS win by UCLA or Houston would likely be accompanied by an outright upset.
— Final Four No. 1 seeds are 14-5 SU and 10-8-1 ATS (55.6%) since ’01 when not matched against another No. 1 seed.
Gonzaga and Baylor will be taking on non-No. 1 seeds Saturday.
— Final Four favorites of five points or more are on a solid surge of 16-3 SU and 11-7-1 ATS (61.1%) over the last 22 years.
As of now, Gonzaga is a hefty 14-point favorite over UCLA. Baylor was teetering on the edge of qualifying for this trend as a five-point favorite over Houston.
— The last five non-power-conference teams to reach the Final Four and face a power-conference team have gone 3-2 SU and ATS.
Although a 3-2 record isn’t exactly scintillating, it stands as proof that non-power-conference teams such as Gonzaga and Houston are competitive once they reach this stage.
— On totals, the last seven Final Four games that had posted numbers of 130 or less went Under, producing just 112.2 combined ppg on average. In all other games, totals are 19-14-2 Over (57.5%) in the Final Four since ’99.
Over the total would be the lean on both games this weekend, according to this angle.
— The two semifinal games of 2019 went Under the total, slowing a string of 7-2-1 Over in the previous five years.
Again, Over is the lean, and in both games, the favored team is well known for its offensive efficiency and high pace.
— Championship game favorites of three points or more are on a 12-2 SU and 11-3 ATS (78.6%) run, while those favored by 2.5 or fewer are just 4-4 SU and ATS since ’98.
In all four projected matchups for the 2021 title game, there will be a favorite of three points or more. Good chance the better team wins and covers Monday night.
— Only once in the last 20 years did the championship-winning team not cover the spread. That was Duke against Butler in 2010.
Don’t try to sneak in an underdog cover if you don’t think they can win outright.
— In the last 12 championship games matching non-equal seeds, the better seed is on an 11-3 SU and 10-4 ATS (71.4%) run.
Anything but a Baylor-Gonzaga matchup will match non-equal seeds.
— Over the last 21 years of championship games, excluding the improbable 2014 matchup of No. 7 vs. No. 8, teams seeded No. 3 or worse are just 2-8 SU and 3-7 ATS (30%).
Doesn’t bode well for UCLA sneaking out of Indianapolis with a title in tow.
— Bettors have gone just 5-10 ATS in their last 15 championship games when moving opening lines toward one team or the other.
Good opportunity to fade any line movements Sunday and Monday.
Conference Trends for Final Four and Championship
Houston (No. 2 Midwest) vs. Baylor (No. 1, Big 12)
— American Athletic teams are 11-2 Under the total (84.6%) in their last 13 tourney games as underdogs.
Baylor (No. 1 South) vs. Houston (No. 2, American Athletic)
— Since 2002, Big 12 teams are just 1-4 SU and ATS (20%) when favored in the Final Four. Four of those games went Over the total
UCLA (No. 11 East) vs. Gonzaga (No. 1, West Coast)
— Pac-12 teams have performed well as underdogs lately in NCAA tourney games, going 34-16 ATS (68%) since ’11.
— Double-digit-seeded Pac-12 teams have been hard to knock out. They are 26-18 SU and 32-12 ATS (72.7%) since ’09, including 9-0 ATS in 2021!
Gonzaga (No. 1 West) vs. UCLA (No. 11, Pac-12)
— With a 3-0 SU and ATS run in 2021, West Coast Conference teams are now 14-0 SU but 5-9 ATS (35.7%) as double-digit favorites in the NCAA tourney since ’99.