The Best Early Bets for the Final Four

Final Four Basketball Background

For the first time in two years, we will have Final Four basketball. The basketball world will have all eyes on Indianapolis this Saturday night to find out which two teams will advance for the right to play for the National Championship. It’s still early, and the lines can change. But if you jump on these now, they will be locked in and so will the profits that you could reap from them.

Saturday, April 3, 4:14 pm ET – No. 2 Houston vs. No. 1 Baylor (-5) O/U:135

The winner of the Midwest Region in the NCAA Tournament was the No. 2 seed Cougars. They were able to advance to the Final Four after a 67-61 win over No. 12 seed Oregon State in the Elite Eight. Guard Marcus Sasser led the way with 20 points on five three-pointers Monday night. Houston defeated four double-digit seeds en route to its first Final Four appearance since 1984, the last of three consecutive trips.

The Cougars did not win another NCAA Tournament game following that 1984 trip until 2017.

The amazing turnaround is due in large part to head coach Kelvin Sampson. Ironically, this is the same guy who left the state of Indiana in 2008 in disgrace after recruiting violations that tainted his name and made him unemployable in college basketball for the next five years. This was courtesy of a show-cause penalty applied by the NCAA that many thought was well deserved. That’s in the past now, however, and Sampson’s current team stands on the precipice of making history.

Sampson’s team will take on the winner of the South Region, the No. 1 seed Bears. Baylor’s path to the Final Four was quite different than Houston’s. The Bears’ only double-digit seed opponent was their opening round matchup against No. 16 seed Hartford. Baylor then went on to defeat No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 5 Villanova, and finally No. 3 Arkansas, 81-72, on Monday night in the Elite Eight.

Guard Macio Teague led the team with 22 points against the Razorback on 8-of-18 shooting from the field. Remarkably, this is the first Final Four trip since 1950 for the Bears. Coach Scott Drew has received a fair amount of criticism in recent years for being unable to take Baylor all the way despite making the tournament eight times in his tenure. So, in many ways, this is a matchup of two elite head coaches who are finally getting the respect they deserve.

The Cougars are led by third team All-American guard Quentin Grimes, who averages 18 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Grimes has stayed on track throughout the postseason, averaging 18.4 points per game in both the American Athletic Conference and NCAA Tournaments combined.

Houston Cougars LogoHouston has plenty of depth, with three players on the second team All-American Athletic conference team, including AAC Defensive Player of the Year award winner DeJon Jarreau. Jarreau fought through a hip injury throughout the first weekend, but he appeared to be playing at 100% by the second weekend.

This is a great sign for the Cougars, who have been advancing primarily with their dominant defense that has allowed just 55.7 points per game in the NCAA tournament.

Nonetheless, Houston’s defense has not yet seen an offense as powerful as the one the Bears possess.

Baylor averaged 83.8 points per game this season, which is good enough for third in the country. First team All-American guard Jared Butler leads Baylor with 16.5 points per game, but he also has made his presence felt on the defensive end with a team-leading two steals per game.

Baylor Bears LogoButler’s backcourt running mate, third team All-American Davion Mitchell, leads the team with 5.3 assists per game while shooting over 50% from the field and over 45% on three-point attempts. The Bears also have two elite guards that come off the bench in Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer who have averaged roughly 23 and 16 minutes per game.

These two Texas teams have done everything big this season, including covering the spread at an insane rate. Houston is 18-7 against the spread, while Baylor is 15-9. The Cougars have the slight advantage on paper at covering the spread, but they played in a much weaker conference. Baylor can beat Houston even if the Cougars turn this game into a rock fight, but Houston has no chance if this game is played at Baylor’s pace.

This is an awful matchup for Houston because the Bears are basically the same team but one that just happens to do everything a little bit better. The Cougars have had a great season, no doubt, but they caught a break playing all double-digit seeds in the NCAAs up to now and their domination of those opponents has skewed this spread. Baylor should be favored by around 9 points. Back the Bears in a game, they could easily win by 10 to 15 points.

The Bet
Baylor -5
-110

Saturday, April 3, 7:34 pm – No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (-14.5) O/U: 145

The surprising winner of the East Region is the No. 11 seed Bruins who have gone from the First Four to the Final Four. They’re only the second team to ever accomplish that feat, dating back to only VCUs historic run back in 2011. UCLA is not the traditional Cinderella story, considering they boast the most national championships in all of Division I basketball. But the Bruins had to upset four teams en route to their first Final Four since 2008.

UCLA entered the tournament on a four-game losing streak before going through Michigan State in the First Four, BYU, Abilene Christian, and then Michigan in the Elite Eight on Tuesday night, 51-49. Their opponent will be the No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga Bulldogs who are looking to become the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to complete an undefeated season, conveniently in an NCAA tournament exclusively played in the state of Indiana. The Bulldogs have steamrolled their way through their first four opponents in the Big Dance, winning all four games by at least 16 points.

UCLA Bruins LogoGuard Johnny Juzang leads UCLA with 15.5 points per game, and his importance to the team was never more evident than on Tuesday night against Michigan when he accounted for over half the Bruins’ points with a 28-point output. UCLA is built on their defense and that is largely due to second-year head coach Mick Cronin.

Cronin has brought the same defensive intensity to Los Angeles that his teams displayed for years in Cincinnati. The Bruins have not allowed over 65 points in regulation since their First Four matchup against Michigan State.

Despite all that and the feel-good Cinderella story surrounding this UCLA team, the Bruins are obviously in for their toughest test against Gonzaga by far. The Bulldogs are led by their three talented All-Americans in big man Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, and future lottery pick Jalen Suggs. Gonzaga has averaged 88.3 points per game so far in the NCAA Tournament and Timme has been the leader of the charge with 30, 22 and 23-point outputs, respectively, since the Round of 32.

This is a challenging game to bet on with the spread being so large and two teams that operate at very different paces. Both teams have covered every spread in the Big Dance, and they’ve been playing their best basketball of the season.

Gonzaga Bulldogs LogoThe best value for this game is to target the total, with the Bulldogs being the better team it will be very difficult for the Bruins to slow them down. It is the lowest total that Gonzaga has seen this tournament and the line has over-adjusted due to UCLA’s recent defensive performances.

No team has slowed the Bulldogs down this season, and it is unlikely to start in the Final Four against an 11-seed. Back Gonzaga to have another 80+ point performance with the pace at a high enough rate for the Bruins to do their part, and push this game over the total of 145.

The Bet
Over 145
-110

*Odds courtesy of MyBookie

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Joe Menzer / Author

Joe is an award-winning writer and editor who has covered the NBA, NFL, NASCAR, golf, various collegiate athletics and other sports for newspapers, Turner Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN. He has been on the beat for seven Super Bowls, six Daytona 500s and numerous NBA playoff series and All-Star Games. He once was dispatched to Rome, Italy to spend time with an NBA draft choice who opted to play overseas, after which he produced an award-winning series of stories. He also is passionate about fantasy sports and breaking down games in ways that even novice gamblers can use to make their most intelligent wagering decisions.

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