The opportunities to bet on college basketball are dwindling, so it only makes sense to throw all your money on the last three games, right? Fine, maybe not, but you can still analyze the games and make some bets, even if they are normal sized.
I had some success looking at five-game averages (found at BartTorvik) in prior rounds and that's how I'll attack both Final Four games Saturday. It doesn't always make sense to put everything into these numbers, but they are at least a snapshot of how each team is playing.
Baylor -5 versus Houston, over/under 134.5
Five-game adjusted efficiency numbers
Baylor offense 118.4, defense 89.29; margin 29.11
Houston offense 119.44, defense 86.84; margin 32.6
The main reason Baylor is an underdog according to the five-game averages is because its offense has had a couple mediocre performances in the tournament in wins against Hartford and Villanova. On the other end of that, the Bears had one of their most-efficient offensive performances of the season in the win against Arkansas, a team that rates near the top 10 in defense.
As for Houston, its five-game averages are almost exact compared to its seasonal numbers. The best thing about the Cougars is that they rarely falter on either end of the court, resulting in a 28-3 record. The difference between them and other top teams is that their upside is usually capped. Sure, they've had big games against the AAC, but their offensive efficiency has been consistently mediocre against NCAA tournament-level teams.
That'll be a problem for Houston in its hardest game of the season by far. Prior to the tournament, the Cougars played just three NCAA tournament teams and have since had the easiest route ever to the Final Four, in terms of seeding. Overall, they haven't beaten a team ranked better than a 6-seed all season, meaning a matchup against Baylor, who has been a top-two team all season could present a problem.
That being the case, this isn't a free win for Baylor, no matter what the results show. Houston is level in terms of the metrics for a reason. It has a similar trio of guards who can fill it up when needed along with a slew of bigs who can body up anyone in the paint. The Cougars haven't played that well offensively in the tournament, but it's not like the Bears have, either. It's also a wonder if Baylor's penchant for letting guys go 1-on-1 a little too often will come back to bite them against a team with the 10th-best block percentage in the country (per KenPom).
The best team Baylor has faced in terms of block percentage and two-point defense is Texas Tech, who ranks 35th and 28th in those categories, respectively. When those teams last played, Baylor won 88-73 off the back of a ridiculous 15-of-24 mark behind the arc.
I think Baylor's depth will be enough to win this game, but Houston has enough playmakers in Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau, along with an elite defense, to keep this competitive throughout. The only way Baylor opens this game up and wins by double-digits is if it catches fire from deep and hits 10-plus threes. While that's possible from the best three-point shooting team in the country, I'm not sure it's something to bet on. But because Houston knows it can't win this game in a scoring fest, it will keep things as low scoring as possible, and I think under 130 points is likely.
Gonzaga -14.5 versus UCLA, over/under 145.5
Five-game adjusted efficiency numbers
Gonzaga offense 130.4, defense 89.49; margin 40.91
UCLA offense 118.93, defense 89.14; margin 29.79
After watching the Bruins celebrate like they won the national title in their win against Michigan, I'm not sure many will be backing them to win this game. The spread opened as -14 and was -14.5 as of Thursday with the possibility of going higher. The five-game averages show how dominant Gonzaga has been, mainly on the offensive end. While these teams rank almost evenly on the defensive end over the last five games, Gonzaga's offense remains the difference, which is what happened in its win against USC.
UCLA has had success slowing games down and playing how it wants, leading to an ugly win against Michigan. Unfortunately, it's hard to see that happening to Gonzaga, one of the most-efficient college offenses of all time. The Bulldogs have had at least 70 possessions in all but four games this season (Michigan had 59 possessions against UCLA). One of them was a 98-75 win against Virginia, a team that plays exactly how UCLA wants to play. Another is the Round of 32 game in which Oklahoma was only competitive for a period because it made almost every shot in the first 10 minutes.
It's always possible Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez and Jules Bernard all black out from distance, but do you want to bet on that? Bernard was on a recent streak of 16-straight field-goal attempts without a make, while Jaquez oddly barely looked at the hoop against Michigan. Even if Juzang reaches 30 points, the Bruins may need 40 points from everyone else to cover, assuming Gonzaga scores more than 80 points again.
UCLA gave up numerous open looks near the hoop against Michigan and that's something Gonzaga excels at. Drew Timme should easily win a battle in the paint against UCLA's bigs who battled foul trouble against Michigan. The Gonzaga guards will also have a noticeable size edge over Tyger Campbell, who will likely be backed down and posted up multiple times by Andrew Nembhard and Jalen Suggs. Juzang and Jaquez have had a great tournament, but the only way for the Bruins to cover is if those guys continue to hit the majority of their shots and they keep Gonzaga below 70 points.
Given how dominant the Zags have been, I'm leaning on their versatility to score at all five positions while also playing as a top-five defense. Unless multiple players catch fire for UCLA, I expect Gonzaga to be up by 20 points at some point in the second half with the only worry for a cover being that they slow things down and become lackluster in the final 10 minutes, something that's happened in recent games.
I like the over because the Zags should control the pace, but again, when they take their foot off the pedal, nothing is guaranteed. In the win against Creighton, they scored four points in the final five minutes. But, since it's the Final Four, maybe they won't back down for 40-straight minutes.