The long wait is over. March Madness returns today with a pair of Final Four matchups. Up until this point, contrarian bettors have done well in the NCAA Tournament as dogs have gone 35-28 ATS (56%). Unders have also quietly stolen the show, going 37-24 (61%).
For extensive Saturday betting analysis be sure to join Michael Lombardi, Patrick Meagher and myself this morning from 10 a.m. ET to 12-noon on The Lombardi Line. We'll be dissecting all the big matchups and updating the top lines moves and late sharp action across all the major sports. We'll also be joined by Bill Berman and Thomas Gable at The Borgata in Atlantic City.
In the meantime, let's discuss where the money is flowing for today's Final Four games...
5:14 p.m. ET: Houston vs Baylor
For the first time ever, two Texas teams are facing off in the Final Four as 2-seed Houston (28-3) faces 1-seed Baylor (26-2). Houston has taken care of business against four double-digit seeds in the NCAA Tournament, beating 15-seed Cleveland State 87-56, 10-seed Rutgers 63-60, 11-seed Syracuse 62-46 and 12-seed Oregon State 67-61. Houston was favored in all four games and went 2-2 ATS. Now they face powerhouse Baylor, who has beaten 16-seed Hartford 79-55, 9-seed Wisconsin 76-63, 5-seed Villanova 62-51 and 3-seed Arkansas 81-72. The Bears were favored in all four games and went 3-1 ATS.
This line opened with Baylor listed as a 5-point favorite. For much of the week this line has remained frozen and refused to budge. Early in the week we saw the -5 get juiced up toward Baylor (-115), signaling a possible rise to -5.5. But books never actually moved to -5.5, possibly signaling a reluctance to hand out the hook to Houston backers. Over the past 24-hours, we've seen the juice even out at -5 (-110). In fact, some books are now juicing up the Houston side (+ 5 at -115). In other words, late money seems to be breaking Houston's way. It seems more likely the line will fall to 4.5 than up to 5.5.
One thing we do know is that Houston offers a distinct Ken Pom edge. Ken Pom has Baylor winning by just one point (72-71), which provides actionable value on Houston at the current number. March Madness short dogs (+ 5 or less) are 13-7 ATS (65%) this NCAA Tournament. When the line stays the same or moves toward the dog those teams are 20-13 ATS (61%). Houston also has value as a slow paced dog (24-20 ATS, 55%). We've also seen some under money show up, dropping the total from 136 to 134.5. March Madness unders that stay the same or fall are 27-17 (61%) this NCAA Tournament. The under is 3-1 in Houston games this NCAA Tournament. The total is 2-2 for Baylor. Houston's pace is 64.4, one of the slowest in the country. Baylor is also on the slow end at 67.9.
8:34 p.m. ET: UCLA vs Gonzaga
This primetime showdown features a David vs Goliath matchup between 11-seed UCLA (22-9) and 1-seed Gonzaga (30-0). UCLA is the Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament and the highest remaining seed left in the Final Four. The Bruins are also the only 5-0 team in March Madness, winning their First Four game over 11-seed Michigan State 86-80, then beating 6-seed BYU 73-62, 14-seed Abilene Christian 67-47 before upsetting 2-seed Alabama 88-78 and 1-seed Michigan 51-49. Now they have their toughest challenge yet in Gonzaga, who is only two wins away from the first undefeated champion season since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, led by Bobby Knight. Gonzaga is a perfect 4-0 ATS in the NCAA Tournament, covering all favorite spreads they've had to lay. Gonzaga crushed 16-seed Norfolk State 98-55, then brushed aside 8-seed Oklahoma 87-71, 5-seed Creighton 83-65 and 6-seed USC 85-66.
This line opened with Gonzaga listed as a 13.5-point favorite. Early money jumped at laying -13.5 with Gonzaga, driving the line up to -14. At times during the week we saw the -14 get juiced up to -115, signaling a possible rise to -14.5. Any book that went to 14.5 immediately got hit with UCLA + 14.5 buyback, dropping the line back to 14. It seems like dueling sharps targeted Gonzaga -13.5 and UCLA 14.5. Ken Pom has Gonzaga winning by 12 points (83-71), which provides a slight edge to UCLA at the current number. Double digit dogs are 8-6 ATS (57%) this NCAA Tournament.
This total opened at 146 and has dipped slightly to 145.5. When the total is 140 or more, the under is 17-9 (65.4%) this NCAA Tournament. If the line stays the same or falls, the under is 10-4 (71.4%). The under is 3-2 in UCLA games this March Madness. The under is 3-1 in Gonzaga games thus far. UCLA's pace is 64, one of the slowest teams in the nation. Gonzaga is one of the fastest at 74.2.