After a season unlike any other due to COVID-19 pauses and playing the entire tournament inside a bubble, the 2021 NCAA Men's Final Four is finally less than 24 hours away.
Sharp bettors search out desired numbers when placing their respected wagers instead of placing bets solely on who will win or lose a particular game in a specific sport. In this year's NCAA men's tournament, we find the highest spread ever posted from oddsmakers in a Final Four matchup since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 - displaying the No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga Bulldogs as an overwhelming 14.5-point favorite over the No. 11 seed UCLA Bruins. For those bettors looking to avoid placing an against the spread wager (ATS), sportsbooks are demanding you lay $1,430 to find a winning return of a mere $100 on all moneyline bets.
The Bulldogs are the only undefeated team this season at 30–0 and have looked unstoppable, outscoring opponents by a combined 96 points in four tournament victories. To get to the championship game, the Bulldogs face a UCLA club that is the biggest surprise of March Madness. The success of the Pac-12 conference, which sent four schools (Oregon State, UCLA, USC, and Oregon) to the Sweet 16, have posted an incredible 14–3 (82%) against the spread (ATS) mark—with the Bruins now the only team left representing the conference in the Final Four.
On the other side of the bracket, NCAA bettors will get treated to No. 1 Baylor taking on No. 2 Houston. The Bears, who will be making their first Final Four appearance since 1950, will face a Cougars club that has won 11 consecutive games.
Upon a deeper dive, we discover that we need to go back to 2013 to find the last time oddsmakers posted a double-digit point spread in a Final Four game. In that contest, sports bettors were looking at the Louisville Cardinals as 10-point favorites over Wichita State. To find another double-digit favorite in the Final Four, we need to go all the way to 1999 when the Duke Blue Devils were an 11.5-point favorite over Michigan State. Research reveals that in both games, the favorites won and advanced to the Championship game. However, in both contests, the underdogs easily covered the spread as Louisville won four points (72-68), with Duke previously only prevailing by six points (68-62).
The question for sports bettors then becomes, can UCLA continue that trend of underdogs covering these exorbitant spreads against a Gonzaga team many consider among the greatest teams in NCAA history?
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The Vegas Whispers' sharp information, shared directly by SI’s Vegas insider Frankie Taddeo, struggled in the Sweet 16 after an excellent opening weekend and currently stands at 4–5 ATS in March Madness plays shared here at SI Gambling. The NCAA tournament betting plays have followed up major financial success, thanks to Alabama (+220), Illinois (+375) and Georgia Tech (+2500) all delivering conference tournament championship victories in the SEC, Big Ten and ACC, respectively, for all SI PRO members.
In addition to the Vegas Whispers, the unofficial respected plays and information have gone 32-25-0 ATS since February in college basketball for SI PRO subscribers.
Historical Trends in the Final Four
Last 10 Tournaments—Favorites
- Straight-up (SU): 15–5 (75%)
- Against the spread (ATS): 9-10-1 (47.4%)
Last Two Tournaments—Favorites
- Straight-up (SU): 3–1 (75%)
- Against the spread (ATS): 2–2 (50%)
Note: We cannot track by "better" seed in this round because often the “same” seeds can meet each other after emerging from their region. (e.g., No. 1 vs. No. 1; No. 2 vs. No. 2)
Twice in the last three tournaments the underdogs have come out ahead in ATS wagering: 2019 (2–0) and 2017 (2–0). However, one interesting trend to highlight is that five of the 10 (50%) underdogs that have covered ATS have won the game outright: 2019 (Texas Tech +3), 2015 (Wisconsin +5), 2014 (Connecticut +7), 2012 (Kansas +3) and 2011 (Connecticut +2) and advanced to play in the championship game.
The Vegas Whispers sharps found value on Thursday when they targeted a futures market that does not involve any point spreads or demand, laying negative odds. In overall Championship futures, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are now being offered at odds of -200 or higher to earn the first title in school history. Sharp bettors always look for value, and laying over two-to-one against your bankroll is not a wise investment in most cases. The sharps believe that the two remaining No. 1 seeds will advance to the title game, but they are avoiding the pre-game demand of sportsbooks to lay the points in either game.
The market they targeted is known as the “NCAA Tournament Championship Exacta.” In this market, bettors are required to correctly pick the winners of both Final Four games and the eventual National Champion. In this futures market, the Vegas Whispers sharps found value in Gonzaga beating Baylor at odds of +125. These odds can currently be found at Circa Sports in Las Vegas, as well as FanDuel and PointsBet. In this wager, bettors will avoid points spreads or outrageous moneylines. Instead, you need to have both favorites advance on Saturday and then have Gonzaga, the best team in the country, cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
Play: Gonzaga over Baylor +125
Against the Spread and Straight-Up Numbers in the NCAA Men's Tournament
In the opening round, favorites went 21–11 straight-up (SU) but posted an 18–13 (58.1%) ATS mark.
Favorites went 10–6 SU and 9–7 ATS in a thrilling second round that saw No. 15 Oral Roberts (+330), No. 12 Oregon State (+225), No. 11 Syracuse (+155), and No. 8 Loyola Chicago (+285) pull off outright upsets.
In the Sweet 16, favorites went 6–2 SU and 5–3 ATS, with only two underdogs winning straight-up, when No. 12 Oregon State (+255) and No. 11 UCLA (+245) notched victories over No. 8 Loyola Chicago and No. 2 Alabama, respectively. One eye-popping trend in the Sweet 16 was games cashing 6–2 to the under against the totals posted by oddsmakers.
In the Elite Eight, favorites went 3–1 SU and 2–2 ATS, with only one outright upset by an underdog when UCLA, at odds of +260, came through for their backers. Once again, backing the under against the posted total was the way to go as three of the four Elite Eight games stayed under the betting projections by sportsbooks.
Through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, favorites are ahead 40–20 SU while underdogs hold a slim advantage at 30–29 ATS. Over the last 12 games of the tournament, betting the under is red-hot, going 9–3 (75%).
Also, a correlated wager to the "Championship Exacta" emerged mid-week, once again involving Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are 4-0 ATS thus far in the tournament, thanks to being the most balanced team in the field. However, thus far, sharp bettors appear reluctant to get involved in the 14.5-point pre-game spread.
Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs, a projected top-five overall NBA lottery pick, is a big reason for their success. He was stellar once again in the Elite Eight, filling up the stat sheet with 18 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. The star all-around talent was just two assists shy of posting a triple-double against USC while running the show for a Bulldogs.
Gonzaga leads the country in scoring at an average of 91.6 points per game thanks to his leadership and decision-making. For Gonzaga to break down a dominant UCLA defense in the Final Four and then overcome a formidable Baylor club in a potential Championship matchup, Suggs will need to display once again the maturity and production he has put forth all season.
The Baylor Bears have been sensational all season, posting an outstanding 26–2 record. One of the keys to their success is the play of one of the best backcourts in the country led by Jared Butler (16.5 points per game). Baylor also gets solid production from MaCio Teague (15.9 points per game) and Davion Mitchell (14.0 points per game). All three talented guards shoot above 39.6% from three-point range, forming arguably one of the nation's best trios from beyond the arc.
Exceeding all expectations of a freshman placed in a prominent role, Suggs has cemented himself as a top-three overall lottery pick in this year's upcoming NBA draft. Armed with projections of the Bulldogs capturing the title, the sharps turned their attention to the Most Outstanding Player (MOP) market. On Wednesday, DraftKings Sportsbook MOP futures market listed Gonzaga's star big man Drew Timme as the favorite at odds of +250, followed by Corey Kispert at +350, Jared Butler +400, MaCaio Teague +400, Davion Mitchell +500, and then Suggs at +900.
As the sixth overall betting choice, the sharp money jumped in, and it was shared immediately with our SI PRO community as well on SI's Final Four Live Stream. Late Thursday afternoon, DraftKings Sportsbook made a sizable adjustment in their MOP market, moving Suggs up to the second overall betting choice while slicing his odds to less in more than half to +400.
Play: Most Outstanding Player Award (MOP)- Jalen Suggs +900
Note: (shared with SI PRO & on the SI Final Four Live Stream) --now being offered at +400 at DraftKings Sportsbook
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