NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of the Final Four

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Associated Press

Texas Tech, led by former UNLV coach Chris Beard, is heading to the Final Four after beating Gonzaga in the Elite Eight on March 30, 2019.

Sat, Apr 6, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Four of the last five national champions have covered in every NCAA Tournament game en route to the title.

Only one of the four teams left this year has a chance to pull off the perfect against-the-spread run. Michigan State and Auburn have each covered in their last three games but failed to beat the number in escapes from round-of-64 upsets. Virginia is just 2-2 against the spread in the tournament, as it cashed against neither Gardner Webb in the round of 64 nor Oregon in the Sweet 16.

That leaves Texas Tech as the surest gambling proposition through the first two weekends. The Red Raiders knocked off Gonzaga and Michigan as underdogs after covering double-digit spreads versus Northern Kentucky and Buffalo.

Read Talking Points’ picks below. The blog has gone 34-28-2 against the spread picking every game including 7-2 in top-confidence plays.

Texas Tech plus-2.5 vs. Michigan State The combination of best coach and best player is a hard one to bet against. That’s the exact reason why so many people are loading up on the Spartans in tonight’s primetime game. It’s also the exact reason why the blog is backing Texas Tech. Not to take anything away from Tom Izzo, a deserved legend and Hall of Famer, but where are there any indications that he’s done a better job than Texas Tech’s Chris Beard this season? Beard took a team picked to finish in the middle of the Big 12 and turned them into one of the top defensive powerhouses of college basketball’s recent era. He also took a three-star recruiting prospect in Jarrett Culver and turned him into a surefire NBA Draft lottery pick, and more importantly, the best player in college basketball. Michigan State’s Cassius Winston might get more acclaim, but there’s not a single overall metric that would indicate he’s more invaluable to his team than Culver. These are two remarkable teams with standout talent to pair with masterful coaching. It deserves to be a pick’em. Points on either side are the play.

Virginia minus-5.5 vs. Auburn The near-annual cliché is rearing its head again with this year’s Final Four. Many have said each of the four national semifinalists are playing the best they have all season. “Peaking at the right time” has a nice ring to it, but it’s also patently false. Virginia has not played anywhere close its to peak throughout the tournament. Just consider the point spreads. The Cavaliers’ two covers were both highly fortunate, as they beat the number by 1.5 points in a 63-51 second-round win over Oklahoma and administered an all-time bad beat in an 80-75 overtime, Elite 8 victory against Purdue. It’s highly unlikely Virginia continues to play below its season-average efficiency. That should terrify Auburn. And it’s not just situationally where Virginia has an advantage. It’s also schematically. The week to prepare highly favors Virginia coach Tony Bennett’s analytical style to Bruce Pearl’s strength as a motivator. Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite has made a star turn in the tournament and is set up to build on it further against Auburn. The Sweet 16 injury to Chuma Okeke leaves the Tigers perilously thin in options to combat the Cavaliers inside. Auburn is going to have to try to shoot Virginia out of U.S. Bank Stadium, and even though it’s worked in previous rounds, it’s hard to foresee it repeating here.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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