NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Gonzaga vs. Baylor

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Michael Conroy / Associated Press

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) celebrates making the game winning basket against UCLA during overtime in a men’s Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Gonzaga won 93-90.

Mon, Apr 5, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Just when it was getting difficult to drown out the grievances about the underwhelming nature of this year’s NCAA Tournament, Jalen Suggs, Johnny Juzang et al. showed up and produced an instant classic.

Suggs’ buzzer-beating bank shot also delivered the showdown that’s been building all season, the one game everyone has wanted to see from the beginning of the season. Tonight’s Gonzaga vs. Baylor final is without question one of the most anticipated national championship games in history.

This year’s tournament might not have featured as much madness as in past years but it’s peaking at the end. The overall gripes, in fairness, do feel hard to argue against and betting does provide a lens to help prove it.

Gonzaga’s 93-90 overtime victory over UCLA as 14.5-point favorites was only the 10th time out of 65 tournament games that the point spread has come into play. The 15% mark is down about 10% from historic averages.

That’s not a perfect measure for excitement, of course, considering the point spread also doesn’t matter in outright upsets, which are usually among the tournament’s most thrilling moments. But an inordinate number of upsets were also lopsided games this year.

Disappointing or not, the NCAA Tournament has been undeniably frustrating this season from a personal perspective. After a decent first weekend, I’ve mostly tanked since with a 29-34 (11-11 on plays, 7-10 on leans and 11-13 on guesses) record picking every game.

The only hope is that I can go out on a high note by hitting what shapes up to be a terrific championship game.

Read below for my final pick on the NCAA Tournament.

No. 1 seed Gonzaga -4.5 vs. No. 1 seed Baylor, over/under: 159.5. The saving grace of my frustrating tournament has been watching futures positions on Gonzaga coming to fruition. I could easily now lock in a profit and attempt to arbitrage by taking the points with Baylor, but the truth is, I haven’t given that route much serious consideration. If I’m going to arbitrage off of a position, I want there to be value on the other side I’m playing. I don’t think there’s value on Baylor here. Gonzaga looks like the right side. This prospective championship-game number was posted at 6 all week at Circa Sports — and 5.5 elsewhere but Circa took the highest limits — but crashed 1.5 points after the results of Saturday’s semifinals.

Should it have? I don’t think so. Baylor played its best game of the season in blowing out Houston 78-59 as 5.5-point favorites, scoring 1.34 points per possession and hitting 45% of its 3-point attempts. That efficiency is unlikely in a second straight game. Gonzaga, meanwhile, was far better than a 3-point victory against an 11-seed indicates. Like Baylor, UCLA was unconscious from the floor. Based on the field-goal attempts taken, Gonzaga was expected to win by 22 points according to the Shot Quality model. Statistics are available far and wide to show how improbable the Bruins’ performance was — and the Zags still won.

This team is who we thought they were — an all-time great that now has the rightful opportunity to become the first squad in 45 years to finish the season undefeated with a national championship victory. An otherworldly performance from an opponent that pushed them to the brink isn’t worth a 1.5-point shift in the line. Baylor is great as well and would have probably been the best team in the nation on a typical year, but this isn’t a typical year. This is a year with one team looming large over the rest. I don’t think I’ll add to my Gonzaga futures by laying the points, but it’s the only real option on the spread. This number was too reactive to the Final Four and now sits a little short.

Lean: Gonzaga -4.5.

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

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