What are the odds: Final Four picks


Jessie Matias/TNS

Kihei Clark (0) of the Virginia Cavaliers.

By Colin Martin, Staff Writer

Talk about a wild Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Only one No. 1 seed remains for the Final Four this weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Virginia needed a buzzer beater to send its game against Purdue to overtime, where the Cavaliers eventually prevailed 80-75. In the East Regional Final, Michigan State upset Duke 68-67, likely meaning the end of Zion Williamson’s and RJ Barrett’s college careers as the pair are expected to declare for the NBA Draft.

I struggled a bit last weekend in my picks, going 3-5 and bringing my season record to 40-30. I’m hoping to dominate both Final Four games, where we’ll see No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 1 Virginia followed by No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Michigan State. My gut tells me that Virginia will end up cutting down the nets on Monday night, but anything can happen during March Madness.

Never bet before? Here are two quick definitions. The spread is a figure that oddsmakers set that predicts by how much a team is expected to win or lose. The over/under is a prediction of the final combined score of both teams.

No. 5 Auburn (30-9) vs. No. 1 Virginia (33-3)

Saturday, April 6, 6:09 p.m. ET, CBS

Spread: Virginia -5.5

Over/under: 131

Analysis: For the first time in school history, the Auburn Tigers are in the Final Four thanks to energetic head coach Bruce Pearl. The Tigers beat Kentucky 77-71 last Sunday in the Elite Eight and Charles Barkley, former Auburn player and NBA Hall of Famer, said it was “the greatest day in Auburn basketball history.”

Auburn has outperformed expectations all season long, as they won the SEC Tournament Championship over Tennessee — the school’s first conference title since 1985, when Barkley was on the team. The Tigers then started the NCAA Tournament by narrowly escaping New Mexico State, 78-77, before dismantling Kansas 89-75.  Auburn shocked many when they upset No. 1 seed North Carolina, a favorite to win it all, 97-80. Sophomore forward Chuma Okeke had 20 points and 11 rebounds in the victory, but tore his ACL late in the game and has been out of the tournament since.

Losing their star big man at a crucial part of the season was difficult, and many expected Auburn to lose to a bigger Kentucky team. But junior guard Jared Harper scored 26 points and senior guard Bryce Brown added another 24, as Auburn used their speed to beat Kentucky and advance to the Final Four. They’ll have a tough matchup against a veteran Virginia team that loves to slow down the pace and play defense. But if Auburn is going to play for their first ever National Championship, then its fast-paced transition offense will be the key to victory.

What a difference a year makes. Last season, Virginia became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed when they fell to UMBC. Thanks to great coaching by Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers bounced back and had a tremendous regular season. They went 16-2 in ACC play, but lost to Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals 69-59. Despite the loss, Virginia still earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Cavaliers avoided a repeat of their 2018 NCAA Tournament loss by beating Gardner-Webb 71-56. They went on to beat Oklahoma 63-51, then avoided being upset by No. 12 Oregon 53-49. Virginia then faced the Purdue Boilermakers in the Elite Eight in what was easily the best game of the tournament so far.

Trailing 70-68 with seconds remaining, first-year guard Kihei Clark made an unbelievable pass to junior forward Mamadi Diakite who drained a short jump shot as time expired to send the game into overtime. It was all Virginia from there thanks to junior guard Kyle Guy, who led the team with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Virginia seems to be the team of destiny this season, especially with heavy favorite Duke being knocked out already. There wouldn’t be a better story than seeing Virginia go from being on the wrong end of the biggest upset in NCAA history to winning a National Championship. It may finally be Virginia’s year, but Auburn’s speed could give them trouble on Saturday night — at least enough to keep the game close enough to cover the spread.

Bet: Auburn will cover the spread, and bet the over.

Graphic by Anna Goetz | Staff Graphic Artist
Projected point total for University of Virginia vs. Auburn University.

No. 3 Texas Tech (30-6) vs. No. 2 Michigan State (32-6)

Saturday, April 6, 8:49 p.m. ET, CBS

Spread: Michigan State -2.5

Over/under: 132.5

Analysis: Coming off of a Big 12 Regular Season Championship shared with Kansas State, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are in the Final Four for the first time in school history. Head coach Chris Beard was recently named the Associated Press men’s basketball coach of the year. Along with an NBA top-10 projected pick, sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, the Red Raiders are made for March Madness.

Unlike the other teams in the Final Four, Texas Tech hasn’t had much difficulty on its way to Minneapolis. They easily beat Northern Kentucky 72-57 before dispatching Buffalo 78-58. Many bracketologists expected No. 2 seed Michigan to end the Red Raiders’ season in the Sweet 16, but instead they crushed the Wolverines 63-44. Culver had 22 points in that beat down, and he’s led the team in scoring every game this tournament.

In the West Regional Final, Texas Tech faced off against a strong No. 1 Gonzaga team. The Red Raiders had their closest game yet, beating Gonzaga 75-69 to advance to the Final Four. They shot 39.1 percent from three while holding the Zags to only 26.9 percent, showing why they’re one of the best defensive teams in the country. Texas Tech will have another very tough matchup against a veteran Michigan State team.

The Michigan State Spartans are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2015. That season, the Spartans lost to eventual National Champion Duke 81-61. They’re still led by the same guy — head coach Tom Izzo, who is determined to win the second National Championship of his career. The 64-year-old head coach won a National Championship in 2000, and has been to the Final Four a total of eight times.

The Spartans have been on a tear this season, winning the Big Ten Tournament Championship 65-60 over rival Michigan to earn a No. 2 seed in the East Region. They started their journey to the Final Four by beating Bradley 76-65, then Minnesota 70-50. In the Sweet 16, the Spartans faced off against LSU, one of the best rebounding teams in the country. But they had no issue out-rebounding the Tigers 41-34, eventually winning 80-63.

That win earned the Spartans a date with Duke, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. The star-studded Blue Devils, filled with future top NBA Draft picks like Williamson and Barrett, struggled mightily against Michigan State. Fifth-year walk-on senior Kenny Goins hit a 3-point shot to put Michigan State up 68-66 with 34.3 seconds left in the game. The Spartans held on to win 68-67, as junior guard Cassius Winston finished the game with 20 points. His veteran leadership has been on display all tournament and is just what Michigan State will need if they hope to play for a National Championship on Monday night. However, Texas Tech’s stifling defense will be his toughest challenge yet, and you can expect a low-scoring affair.

Bet: Texas Tech covers the spread and bet the under.

Graphic by Anna Goetz | Staff Graphic Artist
Projected point total for Texas Tech University vs. Michigan State University.