Every year, we hear about how the NCAA Tournament is the place where anything can happen. There’s a reason why it’s called March Madness. That may not have been more evident than in this year’s edition of the tournament. Nearly every favourite saw an untimely end to their run to a championship, leaving us with a mishmash of underdog teams.
We now have the most unlikely Final Four perhaps ever. Three of the four teams have never been this far into the dance before and each one will want their Cinderella story to continue. What we, as fans and bettors are left with, is one of the most interesting quartets in NCAA Tournament history and the perfect setup to what should be an all-time Final Four.
Let’s take a deeper look at the two matchups taking place on Saturday and see what there is to keep an eye on as we get closer to a national championship game.
|(5) San Diego St.||-3 (-110)||o131.5 (-110)||(9) Florida Atlantic||April 1, 6:09 PM|
|(4) Connecticut||-5.5 (-110)||o148.5 (-110)||(5) Miami-Florida||April 1, 8:49 PM|
(9) Florida Atlantic vs. (5) San Diego State (-3, 131.5 o/u)
Time (ET): 6:09 PM
Odds to win the tournament: Florida Atlantic (+550), San Diego State (+375)
Previous tournament games:
Round of 64 – FAU 66, Memphis 65 (Owls covered as 1.5-point underdogs, teams played under 153-point total)
Round of 32 – FAU 78, FDU 70 (Owls didn’t cover as 15.5-point favourites, teams played under 148.5-point total)
Sweet 16 – FAU 62, Tennessee 55 (Owls covered as 5.5-point underdogs, teams played under 131.5-point total)
Elite Eight – FAU 79, Kansas State 76 (Owls covered as 1.5-point underdogs, teams played over 144-point total)
San Diego State
Round of 64 – San Diego State 63, Charleston 57 (Aztecs covered as 5-point favourites, teams played under 142-point total)
Round of 32 – San Diego State 75, Furman 52 (Aztecs covered as 5.5-point favourites, teams played under 137.5-point total)
Sweet 16 – San Diego State 71, Alabama 64 (Aztecs covered as 7-point underdogs, teams played under 137.5-point total)
Elite Eight – San Diego State 57, Creighton 56 (Aztecs covered as 2.5-point underdogs, teams played under 134.5-point total)
Which team is truly more unlikely to have gotten here? Both come from conferences that don’t necessarily scream “basketball powerhouse” but each has taken a tough path to get here, nonetheless. This game will also create perhaps one of the most difficult to predict Final Four matchups ever.
FAU has shown the ability to play strong defence or light up the scoreboard where needed. Against San Diego State, featuring defensive stalwart Nathan Mensah guarding the rim, things are going to be tougher for FAU. The Aztecs also do not allow perimeter shooting easily. Their defence wears teams down over the length of the game, making every basket a tough one, and this is how they’ve found success in this tournament so far.
On the flip side, the Aztecs’ offence isn’t great. They have turned the ball over 43 times during the tournament as compared to 36 turnovers they have forced. FAU is going to need to capitalize on potential ball security issues to punish the Aztecs and advance to the finals.
Betting stat to know: San Diego State is holding its opponents to just 28.2% from three this season. While FAU isn’t necessarily known for its proclivity from the three-point line, it’ll need to knock down a few from deep to win. FAU will have its hands full on the offensive side of the court as it tries to do what no team has done thus far: break down the Aztecs defence.
Best bet: San Diego State has been an under-machine. Going back to the regular season, the Aztecs have cashed the under in 12 consecutive games. Their totals from the first four games of the tournament read: 120 points, 127 points, 135 points, and 113 points. The only anomaly comes from one of the best-scoring teams in the nation, Alabama, hitting a whopping 64 points. FAU has shown it can play tight defence, too, so the under is a logical play in this one.
(5) Miami (FL) vs (4) UConn (-5.5, 148.5 o/u)
Time (ET): 8:49 PM
Odds to win the tournament: Miami (FL) (+450), UConn (-115)
Previous tournament games:
Round of 64 – Miami (FL) 63, Drake 56 (Hurricanes covered as 2-point favourites, teams played under 146-point total)
Round of 32 – Miami (FL) 85, Indiana 69 (Hurricanes covered as 2-point underdogs, teams played over 145.5-point total)
Sweet 16 – Miami (FL) 89, Houston 75 (Hurricanes covered as 7.5-point underdogs, teams played over 139-point total)
Elite Eight – Miami (FL) 88, Texas 81 (Hurricanes covered as 3.5-point underdogs, teams played over 149-point total)
Round of 64 – UConn 87, Iona 63 (Huskies covered as 9.5-point favourites, teams went over 141-point total)
Round of 32 – UConn 70, St. Mary’s 55 (Huskies covered as 4-point favourites, teams pushed 125-point total)
Sweet 16 – UConn 88, Arkansas 65 (Huskies covered as 3.5-point favourites, teams went over 140-point total)
Elite Eight – UConn 82, Gonzaga 54 (Huskies covered as 3-point favourites, teams played under 153.5-point total)
As even as FAU and San Diego State are, this one looks like a David vs. Goliath matchup on paper. Miami has had perhaps the toughest path here, going through several high seeds on its way here. UConn, meanwhile, has absolutely crushed everything in its path. While everyone anticipated that Alabama or Houston would be the dominant force in the tournament, it has been the Huskies that have had a resounding answer for every opponent they have faced. The Huskies now sit as a comfortable tournament favourite as a result.
Miami has been one of the most offensively exciting groups in the tournament. Aside from a quiet round of 64 matchup against Drake, Miami has topped 85 points in each of its matchups. The Hurricanes dominated Indiana, put the boots to tournament-favourite Houston, and outgunned a great offensive team in Texas. With more than 80 points in their last three games, they can go toe-to-toe with just about anyone.
UConn, on the other hand, has shown that nothing will get in its way. Even with slow first-half starts against both Iona and St. Mary’s, the Huskies put the pedal to the metal in the second half and coasted to easy wins. In the Sweet 16, they dominated Arkansas on both ends of the floor and somehow managed to put an even worse beatdown on Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.
Despite being a four-seed, UConn is the clear favourite in the tournament from here on out. The Huskies have earned it by winning every game by a minimum of 15 points. They have the ability to lock down their opponents or pour it on. In the last two, they’ve done both with devastating results to the opposition.
Betting stat to know: Adama Sanogo has quietly been one of the best scorers in the tournament. The focus has been on other guys like Drew Timme of Gonzaga or Markquis Nowell of Kansas State – both gone, by the way – leaving Sanogo as the active points-per-game leader at 20. He’s the driving force of one of the nation’s most dynamic offences. If Miami has a hope of winning, it’lll need to keep Sanogo at least somewhat in check.
Best bet: As boring as it is to stick with point totals for both games, it’s the soundest pick for a few reasons. For starters, both are capable of putting up points in bunches. Miami’s totals (ignoring the Round of 64) have been 119, 154, 164, and 169. UConn’s totals have been 150, 125, 153, and 136. The over of 149.5 points is definitely at risk with two teams who have shown the ability to consistently put up 80+ points. Hammer the over and enjoy the show.