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Final Four

   by Jim Feist - 04/01/2013

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 in Atlanta, Georgia 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. Miami is a good example, starting 22-3 before the national spotlight and a key injury took a toll, losing in the tourney to Marquette, 71-61.
The last two years 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. Six years ago Clemson started 17-0, then failed to even make the Big Dance after a 4-10 SU, 5-9 ATS run.
Kansas may have won the title five years ago, but seven 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. North Carolina suffered from too much youth and not enough defense in an uneven campaign, getting smoked by Duke in the ACC tourney (69-53) and by Kansas in the Big Dance (70-58). 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 saw its title hopes dashed a year ago in a stunning loss to Lehigh as 11-point chalk, but this is nothing new. Gonzaga was taken down by Wichita this March, and two 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 nine Finals Fours?

Score - Line

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 12-8-1 against the number, with 11 dogs winning straight up. In addition, the games have gone 12-10 "under" the total, although the "under" is 10-4 the last seven 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. The last eight years the favorites are 9-6-1 ATS.
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 11 years the "over/under" has been almost equal, 12-10 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 16 years, there have been 22 "unders" and 14 "overs" in the Final Four, with 18 dogs covering while 17 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 15 of the 18 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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