The Final Four!

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Jim Feist - 3/30/2015 12:55 PM
by 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 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana 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. North Carolina started 17-4 but as February started the Tar Heels showed vulnerability, losing 6 of 10. A year ago Syracuse started hot before losing its first game February 19. From that point on they struggled to score and win, getting bounced by NC State in the ACC tourney.
It works the other way, too. A team can have a tough non-conference schedule or need time to work in new pieces, then get hot down the stretch. Last season Michigan State overcame injuries in mid-season before getting healthy - - and hot, ripping through the Big 10 tourney, 3-0 SU/ATS.
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. Two 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.
Kansas always seems to have the spotlight on it. This season they started great, then had some erratic play down the stretch, including losses at Oklahoma, Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. The previous season the Jayhawks had a late season injury to 7-footer Joel Imbiid (11 ppg, 8 rpg), the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a huge blow. The 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 last season getting bounced by Mercer, 78-71. This is nothing new. Gonzaga was taken down by Wichita two years ago, and four years ago No. 1 seed Pitt saw its hopes crushed in a loss to Butler, 71-70. A few years ago No. 2 seed Georgetown took itself out of the tournament, blowing a 46-29 lead by trying to stall against Davidson with far too much time left.
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 10 Finals Fours?

Score - Line
Florida 53 -6.5
UConn 63 - -126
Wisconsin 73 - 139
Kentucky 74 -2

Wichita State 68 -131
Louisville 72 - -11
Syracuse 56 - 131
Michigan 61 -2

Ohio State 62 - 3
Kansas 64 - 136
Louisville 61 - 136.5
Kentucky 69 -8

Butler 70 - 3.5
VCU 62 - 133
Kentucky 55 - 131
UConn 56 - +2.5

Butler 52 - 1.5
Michigan State 50 - 125
West Virginia 57 - 130
Duke 78 - -2.5

Michigan State 82 - 135
UConn 73 - 4
North Carolina 83 - 7.5
Villanova 69 - 160

Kansas 84 - 158
North Carolina 66 - 3
UCLA 63 - 135
Memphis 78 - 3

Georgetown 60 - 1
Ohio St. 67 - 130
UCLA 66 - 131
Florida 76 - 3

G. Mason 58 - 132
Florida 73 - -6
LSU 45 - -2
UCLA 59 - 123

Louisville 57 - 144
Illiniois 72 - -3
Michigan St. 71 - 153
North Carolina 87 - -2

Georgia Tech 67 - 139
Oklahoma St. 65 - -4
UConn 79 - -2
Duke 78 - 144

Marquette 61 - -4½
Kansas 94 - 153½
Syracuse 95 - 153
Texas 84 - -3

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 15-9-1 against the number, with 12 dogs winning straight up, including UConn last year. In addition, the games have gone 12-6 under the last nine 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.
Even looking at totals, a similar pattern emerges. The last 13 years the "over/under" has been almost equal, 14-12 under 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 20 years, there have been 24 "unders" and 16 "overs" in the Final Four, with 21 dogs covering while 18 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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