The 2017 Final Four!

Jim at the Book 2by Jim Feist

 

It is a great week for sports fans with the start of baseball, the NBA stretch run, the Final Four and the culmination of the college basketball season next Monday in Phoenix for the national championship. It’s clear that it’s not the teams the start the season hot, but the ones that get hot when it really matters — March and April!
   Many things happen over the course of a long season. Some teams play great basketball in December and January, only to break down from injuries or run out of steam down the stretch. A year ago Iowa started 20-5 until the offense and defense started to struggle in late game situations, dropping six of eight down the stretch (1-7 against the spread run). This season South Carolina started 19-4, then faded, then got hot again. Mand Bay Book
   It’s important to examine how a team played with overall stats, but also in three different sections: early non-conference play, conference play, then tournament time. Last year Villanova lost the Big East championship to Seton Hall, then roared through the Big Dance with a spectacular run. Four  years ago Miami started 22-3 before the national spotlight and a key injury took a toll, losing in the tourney to Marquette, 71-61.   The previous year Missouri started 17-0 before stumbling in midseason, while Villanova won 16 of 17 to start the season, then broke down with injuries and poor play, finishing 3-10 SU, 1-12 ATS.
   The  Kansas Jayhawks may have won the title seven years ago, but nine years ago it was a very different story: The Jayhawks started 20-1, only to go 3-6 straight up and 1-8 against the spread the last nine games. They never made it to the Final Four because of a 64-63 loss to Bucknell as a 13½-point favorite.
    Other times an easy early season schedule, youth, bad coaching, untimely injuries, bad luck, poor team chemistry or a combination of these can cut down a potentially great team. Youth and a loss of its best players toppled Florida after winning back-to-back titles and prevented a North Carolina repeat in 2010.
  Duke has seen its title hopes dashed in recent years, a stunning loss to Lehigh as 11-point chalk and three seasons ago getting bounced by Mercer, 78-71. This is nothing new. Gonzaga was taken down by Wichita four years ago, and five years ago No. 1 seed Pitt saw its hopes crushed in a loss to Butler, 71-70.  It is very easy for sports bettors to look into trends to try and predict the future. Trends can be helpful if there are reasons to support it. For example, from a betting perspective, what stands out about the last 12 Finals Fours?
Score – Line  
2016
Syracuse 66
North Carolina 83  (-9.5, 145)
Oklahoma 51
Villanova 95 (-2, 145)
2015
Michigan State 61
Duke 81  (-5, 139)
Wisconsin 71
Kentucky 64 (-5, 131)
2014
Florida 53  -6.5
UConn  63 –  -126
Wisconsin  73 –  139
Kentucky  74  -2
2013
Wichita State 68  -131
Louisville  72 –  -11
Syracuse  56 –  131
Michigan  61  -2
2012
Ohio State 62  – 3
Kansas  64 –  136
Louisville 61 –  136.5
Kentucky  69  -8
2011
Butler  70  – 3.5
VCU  62 –  133
Kentucky  55  – 131
UConn 56 –  +2.5
2010
Butler  52  – 1.5
Michigan State  50 –  125
West Virginia  57  – 130
Duke 78 –  -2.5
2009:
Michigan State  82 – 135
UConn  73 –  4
North Carolina  83  – 7.5
Villanova 69 – 160
2008:
Kansas  84 – 158
North Carolina  66 –  3
UCLA   63  – 135
Memphis 78 – 3
2007:
Georgetown 60 – 1
Ohio St.  67  –  130
UCLA   66 – 131
Florida  76 – 3
2006:
G. Mason 58 – 132
Florida 73 – -6
LSU   45 – -2
UCLA  59 – 123

2005:

Louisville 57 – 144
Illinois   72  – -3
Michigan St. 71 – 153
North Carolina  87 – -2
2004:
Georgia Tech 67 – 139
Oklahoma St. 65 – -4
UConn 79 – -2
Duke   78 – 144
2003:
Marquette 61 – -4½
Kansas 94 – 153½
Syracuse 95 – 153
Texas  84 – -3
2002:
Indiana  73 – 134
Oklahoma 64 -6½
Maryland 97 – 168
Kansas 88 – -1½
What stands out is that it has been the day of the dog. The underdog is 15-11-1 against the number, with 12 dogs winning straight up, including UConn three years ago. In addition, the games have gone 12-8 under the last ten years. You can even make an argument that this would be the right time of the college hoops’ season to take a shot with the dog on the money-line.  However, this is where one needs patience, because trends can also be a fool’s paradise.
   If you go back to the previous three Final Fours before that content analysis, 1999-01, we find Duke topping Maryland 95-84, Arizona blowing out Michigan State 80-61, Michigan State beating Wisconsin 53-41, Florida topping North Carolina 71-59, UConn beating Ohio State 64-58 and Duke surviving Michigan State 68-62. What stands out is that the favorite won and covered in five of six, for a hefty 5-1 spread record. The favorites swept last season, as well.
    Even looking at totals, a similar pattern emerges. The last 14 years the “over/under” has even, 14-14 in the Final Four. The three years before that the “under” prevailed at a 5-1 clip. All of a sudden, those who look solely at trends as the key to the sports betting kingdom are stuck at close to a .500 winning percentage ATS.
   For the record, going back the last 21 years, there have been 24 “unders” and 18 “overs” in the Final Four, with 21 dogs covering while 20 favorites have gotten the money with one push. Again, trends are worth examining, but there needs to be reasons behind them if you’re serious about putting down hard earned money on a side. Perhaps the most significant stat that stands out is that 16 of the 21 dogs that covered ended up winning the game outright, which shows how competitive and relatively evenly matched the games become when teams get this far in the season.

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