Sharp positions emerge for Final Four

April 5, 2019 12:02 AM

With such a long lead time between the final buzzer in the Elite Eight and the opening tip of Saturday’s Final Four, college basketball betting market observers have had no trouble deciphering sharp intent.

Auburn vs. Virginia (CBS, 6:09 p.m. ET)

First numbers up offshore were either Virginia -5 or -5.5. Sharps nudged any fives up higher in short order. This despite the fact that underdogs had dominated against the spread in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 with an 8-4 records against the spread (that was 9-3 ATS at the end of regulation)…and in full awareness that Auburn had been on fire as an underdog in recent weeks.

A quick recap of how the Tigers have roared in this price range: Auburn (plus 4.5) beat Tennessee 84-64 for the SEC Championship (covering by 24.5), Auburn (plus 5.5) beat North Carolina 97-80 in the Sweet 16 (covering by 22.5), Auburn (plus 4.5) beat Kentucky 77-71 (in OT) in the Elite 8. 

Sharps knew that…and still bet Virginia at -5, without any sort of buy back on Auburn when plus 5.5 was painted everywhere for days. Even with Virginia failing to cover in a tight win over Oregon last Thursday, and needing a miracle to cover in overtime against Purdue last Saturday. 

Why is “shaky” Virginia laying so many points to red-hot Auburn? Sharps believe the style matchup favors the Cavaliers. Virginia has a good chance to slow Auburn way down, forcing the Tigers to compete with three-pointers in a high-pressure environment inside an NFL dome with an odd shooting backdrop. 

If you believe the traditional theory that “defense and rebounding wins championships,” Virginia brings the superior defense to the floor (ranked #5 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency, compared to #29 for Auburn) and outrebounded Oregon and Purdue last week 73-62, while Auburn lost the battle of the boards to North Carolina and Kentucky 81-73. 

Sharps will take Auburn at plus 6 if they see it (meaning it would take Virginia by 7 to beat them), but their lack of interest in the Tigers at plus 5.5 is telling.  

*Texas Tech vs. Michigan State (CBS, 8:49 p.m.)

This one has been see-sawing between Michigan State -2.5 and -3 all week. A preponderance of sharps have made it clear that they like Pomeroy’s #1 defense Texas Tech when getting the full three. This should be a hard-fought slugfest, and every half-point matters in potential nail biters. 

Though, there are some math-minded pro bettors that believe Sparty’s #9 ranked defense can come close to cancelling out Tech. Michigan State has the more dangerous offense (#5 compared to #28 with Pomeroy), and the superior rebound rate (Michigan State #6, Tech #118 according to teamrankings.com), which helps bring in some informed money on the favorite at -2.5. 

We’ll have to see if public money on game day puts extra weight on either side of that see-saw. Recreational bettors generally prefer betting favorites that seem affordable, which suggests there’s a good chance the market will settle closer to three than 2.5. Dog lovers will continue to hit Texas Tech plus 3 hard if it becomes more readily available before tipoff.

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