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

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Darron Cummings / Associated Press

Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley, right, shoots over Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, left, during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

Fri, Apr 2, 2021 (2 a.m.)

One Final Four is typically lopsided while the other projects for a bit more parity.

This year shapes up similarly, only with the roles reversed — The women’s NCAA Tournament is much more open odds-wise than the men’s. Gonzaga is a runaway favorite to win the latter, now sitting at -200 (risking $2 to win $1) at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook to win two more games and claim the first national championship in program history.

That’s even better the foremost current college basketball dynasty as the Connecticut women are only -120 (risking $1.20 to win $1) to take home another title. The Final Four is when women’s lines become widespread across virtually all Nevada sports books, and this year, the aforementioned Huskies are a 13.5-point favorite over Arizona while Stanford is a 6-point favorite against South Carolina.

That could provide some extra action for those left struggling to adapt to the now-diminished men’s schedule but it’s not my specialty. I’ll continue on picking every game in the men’s tournament after an underwhelming last two rounds to drop my record to 29-32 (11-10 on plays, 7-10 on leans and 11-12 on guesses).

There’s plenty at risk as the final three games will determine whether it’s a profitable tournament for the plays.

Read my handicap on the two Final Four games below, labeled in one of three confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

No. 1 seed Baylor -5 vs. No. 2 seed Houston, over/under: 134.5. Houston has reached the Final Four without having played anywhere near its best. That probably deserves more praise than it’s received. Yes, Houston has played a historically easy set of opponents — not a single team without a double-digit seed — but it’s pretty much shut them all down, at least defensively. Baylor, on the other hand, has played close to its peak. Namely, the Bears have played close to their peak for the last three halves where they’ve bombarded Arkansas and Villanova with their shooting ability. Baylor isn’t going to shoot 8-for-15 from the 3-point line against Houston, though. No chance. The Cougars have the best defensive efficiency numbers in the nation and their ability to guard the perimeter isn’t far off from the top either. There’s rightfully a lot of talk about Baylor’s Big Three guards —Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague — but in Houston, the trio is finally finding a complement. Quentin Grimes, DeJon Jarreau and Marcus Sasser are just as efficient. With the dearth of non-conference play, it’s been a strange college basketball season to quantify but no set of analytical ratings would suggest there are this many points separating these two teams. Houston was going to have a real chance in this prospective matchup all along, but with the way the tournament has played out and the ensuing perception it’s caused, the Cougars now have a much better chance than the odds suggest. Play: Houston +5.

No. 1 seed Gonzaga -14 vs. No. 11 seed UCLA, over/under: 145. This number fell right in line with my projection. In cases like that, I’m often guilty of being contrarian just for the sake of being contrarian and taking the side no one else is betting. That would be UCLA here, obviously. No one is interested in backing the Bruins against the Bulldogs, but it’s for good reason. Gonzaga is a wrecking unit laying waste to everything in its path. Gonzaga has legitimized claims of its potential to be one of the best college basketball teams of all time with four straight covers and wins by an average of 24 points per game in the tournament. The market hasn’t come close to pricing the Zags efficiently, and it’s possible that it’s also not doing so here. UCLA has covered five games in its own right, and with more ease than Gonzaga — beating the spread by a stunning 12.5 points per game as opposed to the Bulldogs’ mere mortal 4 points per game. But it’s the way the Bruins have won that leaves a little to be desired. They’ve had to escape overtime twice, benefit from a historically poor free-throw shooting performance and get plenty of other open shots to miss. That’s not guaranteed to regress immediately, of course, but if there’s any team it seems likely to do so against, it’s Gonzaga. The overall No. 1 seed is just too good to pick against. Guess: Gonzaga -14.

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

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