Slaying the sportsbook is a monstrous task. Some days bettors take up residence in a penthouse suite. Other times, they curl up in the nearest ditch, shirtless. In an attempt to avoid complete destitution, I will post my picks, whether profitable or penniless, through the NCAA tourney. Check out this weekend’s Final Four selections below:
Gonzaga vs. South Carolina (54 percent of spread tickets on Gamecocks per SportsInsights)
Midseason when my shiny, shallow head conceived the idea Gonzaga was a national championship-caliber team many people didn’t buy the bluster. After all, this was the same school that fell short of mammoth expectations several times previously.
But here we are.
In a battle of Final Four rookies, the well-seasoned group from Spokane is the veteran club most likely to cash. The Bulldogs, who rank top-13 in offensive and defensive efficiency, are the most complete team remaining. They feature abundant post punishers – Shem Karnowski, Zach Collins, Kllian Tillie and Johnathan Williams – depth and an experienced and battle-tested backcourt. Nigel Williams-Goss, terribly overlooked on the national scene, is a premier distributor, scorer and defender. His timely execution on either end is one of the main reasons why the Zags finally hurdled the Elite Eight hump.
Forget Xavier, South Carolina is THE Cinderella story of this year’s NCAA Tournament. When the pumpkin carriage arrived to usher it off to Greenville mid-March, it was a sickly offensive team that would struggle tossing a ping-pong ball into an open dumpster. Entering the Dance, it ranked north of No. 150 in offensive efficiency. However, complementary options Chris Silva, Duane Notice and Maik Kotsar stepped up and provided much needed scoring support to primary options Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier. Tallying 1.17 points per possession in the postseason, the Gamecocks finally added much needed balance to a scheme that was almost exclusively reliant on turnovers and second chances only weeks ago. That’s why it, like Gonzaga, made school history.
Ultimately, Gonzaga’s suffocating defense (0.87 points per possession allowed in the NCAA tourney), demoralizing size and slick ball-handling will transform Cinderella back into a floor scrubber.
Prediction: Gonzaga (-6.5) 70 South Carolina 62
BONUS PICK: Under 138.5 (The Zags have hit the under in seven of their last nine contests)
Oregon vs. North Carolina (51 percent of spread tickets on UNC)
Mea culpa, I was 10,000 percent wrong on Oregon.
Tabbed as “one of the tournament’s biggest busts,” the Ducks, metaphorically speaking, have left a present on my freshly washed ride. Their journey to college basketball’s grand stage, sans the services of Chris Boucher, is nothing short of remarkable. Unfazed and undaunted, they fought tooth and nail to escape the Midwest region, evidenced in their come-from-behind win over Rhode Island in the Round of 32 and smashing of Kansas. Oregon’s impressive overall execution – it ranks top-18 in offensive and defensive efficiency – deadly three-point shooting (Tyler Dorsey 17-for-29 from distance in NCAAT) and shot-thwarting defense (Jordan Bell 12 total blocks) are common tenets of great tourney teams.
Among the schools still alive, Oregon showcases the most talented starting five.
Too hot a take?
North Carolina, as most predicted, is back in the Final Four. With unfinished business on the mind, it’s the prohibitive Vegas favorite to hoist the hardware. The Tar Heels clog the paint, generate a ridiculous amount of second-chance opportunities and, due to their extraordinary length, athleticism and quickness, defy many opponent shots, an overlooked attribute. In the NCAA Tournament, the Heels have surrendered just 0.95 points per possession.
This game boils down to two points: 1) Bell must avoid whistles and neutralize UNC’s horde of bigs; 2) Oregon needs to control tempo and limit Carolina transition opportunities.
For some crazy reason, I believe Dana Altman, who has worked magic this tournament, to find a way to satisfy those requirements.
Prediction: Oregon (+5) 74 North Carolina 72
BONUS PICK: Under 151
Drive the cup on Brad, follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise