March Madness Final Four could be one for the ages

Does Wisconsin have what it takes to stand in the way of Kentucky's perfect season?

Does Wisconsin have what it takes to stand in the way of Kentucky’s perfect season?

It’s usually at this time of year that the NBA plays second fiddle in the basketball world for the duration of the NCAA tournament. Fans tune in to see the stars of the very imminent future in a tournament which provides the kind of drama that has often dissipated in the later stages of the NBA, where playoff seeding is the only real incentive left.

The NBA has been holding its own this year thanks to one of the most enthralling MVP races in history but be assured – this year’s Final Four will steal the attention right back. We are set up for an incredible 3 games with 3 great teams and, quite frankly, one solid team with a great coach. There are reasons that all 4 could take home the Championship but it seems only fair to start with the team that could well go down as the best college team ever.

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Men’s NCAA Basketball Betting Odds – Outright Winner

Kentucky -150
Duke +325
Wisconsin +450
Michigan State +800
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

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Betting Odds: Kentucky (-238) vs Wisconsin (+200)

At first glance, saying this Kentucky team could be the best college team ever sounds like an exaggeration. Yet the facts are simple: they have a chance of being the first team to ever go undefeated, they are already only the second team ever to go unbeaten through the regular season and they’ve matched the record for most wins in an NCAA tournament already. Not only that, they have most experts’ number 1 pick for the NBA Draft and may have 3 of their players going top 10 and 7 being drafted.

Intertops Sportsbook Final Four free bet contest

Last year they played Wisconsin at this stage of the tournament and beat them – Wisconsin’s roster has stayed relatively similar whilst Kentucky is much improved. It honestly feels picky to try and give reasons why Kentucky will lose but Notre Dame gave them a hell of a game in the Elite 8 and frankly, had they not abandoned the strategies that got them so close, we may be talking about another famous CBB upset. That’s really all you can aim at Kentucky – they have an experienced roster backing up the Twin Towers of Towns and Cauley-Stein with Aaron Harrison’s clutch play engrained in Wisconsin minds from last year’s encounter. They simply have to be favorites but this is no walkover, far from it.

Wisconsin come into this game with revenge on their minds and boasting the best offense in the country. All the talk is of Kentucky but it cannot be forgotten that Wisconsin have the best college player in the country in their midst. Frank Kaminsky has an NBA-ready body of skills – he can shoot the ball all the way out to three and boss down low. He doesn’t have the ceiling of an Okafor or a Towns but he is the most technically gifted player in the tournament right now. When he goes to the NBA he may struggle with the extended line and most certainly will struggle with the quickness of NBA athletes but those are questions for the future – right now you can guarantee Kentucky are trying to figure out how to stop him.

Just one problem: Sam Dekker. It is true that Wisconsin’s roster has stayed similar to last year but their players are improved with Dekker right at the forefront. He has been one of the best players in the tournament so far, average 21.7 points and 5.5 boards. Dekker has made his name off his smart cutting ability but showcased his range in the Elite 8 against Arizona as he led Wisconsin through a tight game. Much like that game, we know Frank Kaminsky will get his but can Dekker step up as a secondary scorer again? It will be especially important against two great defensive big men who will play Kaminsky as well as anyone.

Betting Odds: Duke (-235) vs Michigan State (+195)

The Blue Devils are back again, led by possibly the best coach in CBB history and an absurdly gifted young big man who, frankly, is becoming more underrated as people see more of him. Jahlil Okafor is suffering from a common problem – as people realise just how good certain players are, they start to try their best to find their flaws and pick holes in their games. It is part of the reason players like Dante Exum and Emmanuel Mudiay have seen their stock remain so high in recent years – we simply don’t see as much of them as others.

The simple facts with Okafor are that he is nearly unstoppable in the post one on one. He hasn’t had a great tournament and yet has been vital to Duke’s success, he cannot be left on his own, commanding a nearly automatic double team. His post game is superb, his footwork incredibly clean for such a young player and he rebounds well. Of course he has his faults but they tend to be focused on by the same people who decided Blake Griffin could only dunk.

Besides, Okafor’s relatively mediocre tournament has merely allowed another superb prospect to shine through. The lack of Winslow talk has been a little bizarre – his NBA comparison is perhaps Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but he is much more polished offensively than MKG and brings the quality defence. He has put up some great lines in the tournament including possibly the best stat-sheet stuffer of a performance so far with 13 points, 12 boards, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. He brings absolutely everything. Between these two great prospects (and Tyus Jones, who on another team would shine a lot more) and Coach K, it’s hard to see past another Championship game for Duke.

When compared to the other 3 rosters in the tournament, Michigan State looks incredibly average. It is nearly unanimous on all Big Boards that they won’t have a single first round pick in the upcoming Draft. This is not to say that Michigan don’t have any good players. Travis Trice has scored well throughout the tournament and in Denzel Valentine they have a player who will fill up the stat sheet – an efficient scorer who will get boards and assists. However, they don’t come close to the gifts of an Okafor, Towns or Kaminsky. They have taken out the 2, 3 and 4 seed in their own Conference to get here so they haven’t been lucky with their draws. Yet they went an unremarkable 24-11 in the regular season and are the only non-1 seed in the Final Four. So how have they managed to get here? It all comes down to one man – Mr March, Tom Izzo.

Izzo is one of the finest coaches in CBB, wanted by the Cavs during LeBron’s first stint, and earned his nickname for good reason – his teams always come alive in the tournament. He has been to the Final Four 7 times – and though he only has one national Championship, he has rarely had the riches of a Duke or Kentucky. When looking at the rosters, it is nearly impossible to bet against Duke. Yet, Izzo has proved time and time again he thrives upon the underdog status.

This promises to be one heck of a Final Four. Strap in, it’s going to be a fun ride.

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter.

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March Madness 2015 is Kentucky’s to lose

Can anyone stop Kentucky this year?

Can anyone stop Kentucky this year?

Kentucky is the best team in the country. There is no more obvious statement in the whole sports world right now. With a 34-0 record – which included victories over Kansas, North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisville – Kentucky is the undisputed best team in the country. But what is scariest is not their 30 point demolitions of Kansas and UCLA, instead it is the back-to-back near upsets they faced against Ole Miss and Texas A&M which both went to overtime, with the A&M game ending in double overtime. It was those two games where Kentucky showed that they can grind out wins even when everything is against them.

And it is that mental fortitude which will come in handy in the tournament where they will have a target on their back every single game they play. Throw in the fact that they ended up losing in the final last year to an 8 loss UConn team and this Kentucky is going to be hellbent on going 40-0 and winning the tournament.

 

2015 NCAA March Madness Outright Betting Odds:

Kentucky +110

Wisconsin +750

Arizona +800

Duke +850 

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Looking at the top seeded teams in this year’s tournament it is just impossible to not see Kentucky emerging victorious. They are the best coached team in the country and have a size advantage that no other team can match, with Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns – two NBA-ready 7ft players. Most teams would be lucky to have one of these guys, but Kentucky has two, and it makes them completely unplayable in the paint. The smart money is on Kentucky, they are a step above every other team in the country and when you look at the odds this notion is clearly reflected. March Madness, the most unpredictable tournament in the world, is predicting one thing; and that is, to the disdain of every college hoops fan, a Kentucky victory.

But even though Kentucky is the smart bet, it is no fun rooting for the team who is overwhelmingly perceived as the tournament favourite, especially when it is a team as universally disliked as Kentucky.

 

So if you’re not going to back Kentucky then who is there left to bet on? The second tier of teams (despite all being #1 seeds) are Wisconsin, Duke and Villanova. Villanova can be crossed off the list immediately purely for being a Big East team. Yes, they have a 32-2 record and have beaten down on their conference, but how many Big East teams are actually going to make it to the second round of the tournament? And they ended up splitting the series with the best team they faced, Georgetown, that featured them getting blown out by 20 on the road. Villanova are also placed in one of the toughest regions this tournament with Louisville, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Virginia all lying in wait. It is hard to back a Big East team to win the tournament given the conference’s recent history in tournament play.

Virginia look like the team to beat in this region, finishing the season with the #1 ranked defense and only 3 losses (to Duke, Louisville and UNC by a combined total of 12 points). This Virginia team has been excellent all year and will be a great match-up to Kentucky if both progress that far. In a tournament like March Madness where there is more money to be won betting on teams who are not #1 seeds then Virginia (+1100 with AllYouBet.ag) are the most logical choice if you want an outside shot but don’t want to be taking a punt on a sub-elite Kansas or Louisville team.

 

The other team apart from Virginia where there is good value is Wisconsin, who, despite being widely considered the second favourite behind Kentucky, come with some pretty favourable odds. The main reason behind Wisconsin being seen as the second best team in the tournament is Frank Kaminsky, a 7ft behemoth who is widely regarded as the best offensive player in the country. If Wisconsin manage to reach final to presumably face off against Kentucky, then the match-up between Willie Cauley-Stein and Frank Kaminsky will be fantastic to watch, pitting an undefendable player against the best defender in the country. Wisconsin can go as far as Kaminsky wants to take them and it is never a bad move to bet on the team that features the best player in the country, especially as the earliest Wisconsin can play Kentucky is the final game of the tournament.

Kentucky may be the heavy favourite for the tournament but that creates a lot of value elsewhere with Wisconsin and Virginia being prime examples.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – Wisconsin to win NCAAB West is +150 with AllYouBet.ag

 

mattm MATT MCGRATH writes about American football, be it college or NCAA (because betting on unpaid student athletes is fun and definitely ethically correct). Follow him on Twitter.