In this post-PASPA era, sports betting is becoming increasingly acceptable along social/political lines. To feed the growing beast, below is an in-depth preview of this year’s Final Four. #FadeTheNoise or #FollowTheNoise is entirely up to you and, as always, this is a tout-free zone.
Texas Tech (31-6) vs. Virginia (34-3)
Consensus line/total (from Sports Insights): Virginia -1, 117.5 total
Trendy trends: Texas Tech is 13-2 ATS in its last 15 games; Virginia has dropped five of its past eight ATS; Both teams have gone under in four of their past five games.
No blue bloods. No one-and-done NBA future megastars. No coaching legends. This year’s national title game may not pack the pizzaz needed to lure the common viewer, but the fresh meat is downright refreshing. Take note, NFL.
Unquestionably, Texas Tech/Virginia is a battle of performance equals. Yours truly, after all, once described Tech as “The Virginia of the West.” Between the two of them, the metric darlings rank inside the top-20 in 15 different offensive and defensive categories. Given the game’s historically low proposed game total (117), the U.S. Bank Stadium scoreboard operator may need to slam a half-dozen Mountain Dew Amps to stay engaged, but it’s another dramatic contest sure to come down to the bitter end.
From start to finish, this has been one of the most enthralling NCAA Tournaments to date. Nail bitters. Explosive individual performances. Buzzer beaters. Controversial whistles. We’ve all ran the emotional gamut. Monday’s title clash may not resemble a breakneck pro game, but it will be a beauty all its own.
Who will be showered with confetti as “One Shining Moment” blares in the background? More importantly, which team will cover? Here’s are four key areas to watch:
1) Gaining the inside edge. If there was ever a basketball matchup that best resembled two corpulent sumo wrestlers battling in a peanut butter filled pit, this is it. Virginia’s pack-line defense rarely cracks. As a group, the Cavs relentlessly contest shots and limit second chance opportunities. Tech, similar in its asphyxiating nature, also swarms around the tin. The Red Raiders rank No. 2 nationally in two-point percentage D, surrendering a mere 41.8 percent. Both schools allow a combined 0.85 points per possession. The activities of Tariq Owens, Norense Odiase, Mamadi Diakite and De’Andre Hunter in and around the paint will play a pivotal role.
2) Off the bounce penetration. How UVA’s Ty Jerome/Kihei Clark and Tech’s Matt Mooney/Jarrett Culver execute off the dribble could prove to be difference making. Auburn’s Jared Harper logged occasional success against the Cavs when racing past his man in the half-court. Michigan St.’s Cassius Winston, meanwhile, did an excellent job drawing contact in similar situations versus Tech. For each, probing and finding lanes will be critical when angling for high-percentage shots or kicking it out to a dead-eye shooter along the perimeter.
3) Three-point production. In a contest where either team owns few advantages, long ball conversions become even more valuable. On the season, Virginia splashed 39.3 percent from distance. However, slightly chilled in the postseason, it’s converted on just 30.9 percent of its downtown opportunities. The Red Raiders, however, have swished a more palatable 35.7 percent in the NCAA Tournament. If Davide Moretti (45.8 3PT%), Kyle Guy (42.5%) or another gunner unloads, he could push his respective squad over the top.
4) X-factors. Outside of the usual suspects discussed above, the Red Raiders’ Brandone Francis and the ‘Hoos’ Braxton Key could sway the outcome. The former drilled multiple high-leverage shots in the semifinal warmup. The latter, meanwhile, has barely made a beep of late, scoring two points in his past three games. But Key’s combined 14 points and 12 rebounds against Gardner-Webb and Oklahoma earlier in the Dance displayed his upside. “Enigmatic” best characterizes Francis and Key, but they house unsung hero potential.
Most believe UVA/Texas Tech will be a pre-shot clock era reenactment, a crawling contest destined to finish in the 40s. Fading the majority, however, is almost always the smart money move. Something weird, something wacky is bound to change the course of either program’s history.
Expect the Red Raiders to gain the upper hand in multiple categories above, becoming the first team ever to lose its conference tourney opener and march on to take the national title.
Chris Beard’s bunch, which I placed a title ticket on at 50/1 back in January, is disciplined, unflappable and my pick to hoist the hardware. Guns WAY up.
My pick: Texas Tech money line (-101), Texas Tech 63 Virginia 60
Additional action: OVER 117.5 (-105)
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