So we’re down to the Final Four. For as much chaos as we’ve seen in this bracket, three of the four teams that are still remaining were in the top four of my own power personal power ratings before the NCAA Tournament started. The obvious exception is UCLA. I thought Gonzaga, Baylor and Houston would all get here. I was far from alone in that assessment, but wanted to mention it anyway!
Last month I wrote about how defensive efficiency is key
this time of year. Sure enough, both Gonzaga and Houston rank in the top eight nationally in that regard. Baylor is 28th and UCLA is 45th (per KenPom). Several teams ousted in the Elite Eight, like Michigan (4th), USC (7th) and Arkansas (11th) were all pretty high in the defensive efficiency ratings. Personally, I was a little surprised that both Loyola Chicago (2nd) and Alabama (3rd) didn’t make it to the Elite Eight.
Interestingly enough, the team that will likely finish #1 in the defensive efficiency ratings at KenPom is Memphis and they just won the NIT.
But you didn’t come here to read about the NIT.
Gonzaga is -250 to cut the nets down and given how they’ve looked so far those odds seem LOW. The 30-0 Zags have won all but one of their games by double digits this season. The exception was 87-82 against West Virginia on December 2nd, the third game of the season. Not surprisingly, Gonzaga opened as a 13.5-point favorite over UCLA and that number has already jumped to -14 as of press time. It’s the single largest spread we’ve seen in a Final Four game since the 1996 National Title Game between Kentucky and Syracuse (UK won but did not cover).
For the record, the largest spread in semifinal history occurred in 1972. Ironically, it was UCLA over Louisville and the Bill Walton-led Bruins covered the 17-point number in a 96-77 victory. This weekend’s number will not get that high, even though Gonzaga is just the sixth team since 1985 to win its first four Tournament games by 15+ points. As you (probably) already know, two more straight up wins and Mark Few’s team becomes the first team to go unbeaten since Indiana in 1976.
The semifinal with more intrigue will be Baylor (-5) vs. Houston. Like the Gonzaga-UCLA game, the total has ticked down a half-point from the opener so far. If you are wondering, in a hypothetical National Title Game matchup vs. Gonzaga, Baylor would be a 5-point underdog. Houston would be +9.5. But these teams should only worry about each other for right now, not Gonzaga.
Baylor is 3-1 ATS in its four Tourney wins. The lone game they did not cover was the 1st round vs. Hartford, a 79-55 win where they were laying 25.5. Houston is 2-2 at the betting window in its four games, the worst ATS mark among the Final Four teams. Gonzaga is 4-0 ATS. UCLA is 5-0 ATS (they were in the “First Four.”)
Two of UCLA’s five wins required overtime. The win over Michigan was by two points.
Houston and Gonzaga are both 3-1 Under in Tourney action. UCLA is 3-2 Under. Baylor is 2-2.
Another intriguing aspect of the Gonzaga-UCLA matchup is tempo. Gonzaga plays at the 6th fastest adjusted tempo in the nation. UCLA is among the 20 SLOWEST. Houston plays slow as well (328th) while Baylor (186th) is middle of the pack in that regard.
Gonzaga is #1 in the country (by a lot) in points per game scored at 91.6. Baylor is 6th (83.7 PPG). Houston (55th) and UCLA (126th) are much further down the list in points per game, but both are in the top 13 in offensive efficiency (as are Gonzaga and Baylor).
Houston is #2 in the country in points allowed at 57.6 per game. None of the other three are close to that as Baylor is next highest at 62nd while UCLA and Gonzaga are outside the top 100. But all three still allow fewer than 69 PPG.
It should be an exciting finish to the NCAA Tournament! I’m looking forward to it.