GAMBLING GUIDE

2018 Final Four: How to bet the games

2018 Final Four: How to bet the games
It's time to get your Final Four gamble on. Twitter

Down to four teams, March Madness takes center stage in San Antonio Saturday evening. After all the dust has cleared from the turmoil of the initial rounds, we find ourselves with some intriguing matchups from a stylistic perspective. Let's jump right in!

Favorites 42-22 Straight up
Favorites  28-35-1 ATS
Over-Under    27-36-1

Odds to win the NCAA Championship
Villanova -102
Michigan +248
Kansas +390
Loyola Chicago +1260

ATS this season
Loyola-Chicago 23-9-1
Villanova 26-12
Michigan 24-12-2
Kansas 20-16-1

Michigan vs. Loyola (Michigan -5 O/U 129.5)

The Sister Jeans have been nothing short of spectacular, giving fans a Cinderella story to get behind. But, just like any good story, everything must come to an end. This Loyola team has pulled off something only three other teams have accomplished, taking an 11 seed to a final four, the only problem is neither of the other teams were able to advance to the championship game. The Ramblers gameplan is simple:

1) Slow the game down
2) Move the ball around
3) Take smart/efficient shots
4) Use the shot clock
5) limit the transition

The gameplan has worked to perfection thus far, the Ramblers are shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from long range during this incredible run, all while holding opponents to 42.5 percent shooting and 29.9 percent from deep. Loyola has only scored 70+ in 1 game out of the last 9,  playing right into Michigan's trends, where opponents have failed to surpass 70 points on 28 occasions. During this tournament, they have been even more vexatious, limiting opponent shooting to 37.7 percent from the field. With both teams playing at a slow tempo, and both teams struggling in rebounding, I expect this game to be dictated by late opportunities in the shot clock and extended possessions.

The Pick
Conclusively, the Wolverines will prove to be too big on the inside and the presence of Moe Wagner will serve as the deciding factor in a low scoring game. The Ramblers shoot over 40 percent from deep, but they do it by shooting low volume from behind the arch. Instead, they wait for defenses to get overly aggressive late in shot clocks and punish them for overplaying. Luckily for the Wolverine faithful, Michigan is the best team in the entire nation at limiting opponents from 3.

Michigan -5
1st half -3
1st half Under 59.5

Villanova vs. Kansas Villanova -5 O/U 154.5

Villanova leads the way as the favorite and deservingly so. The Wildcats have won all of their tournament games by double digits and are 4-0 ATS. Even more impressive, Villanova is on a nine-game win streak during the last month, blowing out 8 of their 9 opponents by double digits.  On paper, these teams are very similar:
  

                         Offense | Defense  | Tempo | SOS
Villanova          1                    13            160         16
Kansas              5                   41            150           2

What ultimately will be the factor is the ability of the Wildcats to spread the ball out. In the Elite 8 matchup vs. Texas Tech, they played horribly but still managed to win big and cover the line. They did so by doing other things right and limiting their opponent's strengths. Villanova only ran an eight-man rotation and had five players score double digits. Both teams shot under 35% for the game, but the biggest disparity was on the boards, where the Wildcats dominated 51 to 33. When an efficient team is shooting bad, they must do other things right, and the Wildcats also dominated from the free throw line outshooting Tech by 17 from the charity stripe. Thier opponents, the Kansas Jayhawks, come into this game as 5 point underdogs and as of late they have thrived in that role and are 6-1 straight up and ATS in their last 7 games when getting points.

The Pick
This Villanova team is special on the attacking end, and many are saying they are the best team they've ever seen offensively. They have now won 134 games in the last four years surpassing that of the 1997-2001 Duke team. Kansas will need to rebound well and limit the Wildcat second chances, and Udoka Azubuike will be key. The only problem is he has been dealing with foul trouble all tournament long, and that's a bad recipe facing a team that shoots 78% from the stripe, eighth in the nation. In the end, the rebounding and efficient shooting will be enough to get them to win, and free throws will be key to covering the line.

Villanova -5
Over 154.5

Plays

Michigan -5
Michigan 1st half -3
1st half Under 59.5

Villanova -5
Over 154.5

For any questions or comments reach me at @JerryBoKnowz on twitter

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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