Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 30, 2018 at 3:00 PM
VILLANOVA AND MICHIGAN FAVORED SATURDAY, BUT BOTH KANSAS AND LOYOLA MIGHT BE LIVE DOGS
If there's one thing that's clear from studying the last four teams standing in this year's NCAA Tournament, it's that there are no pretenders. All four of Villanova, Kansas, Michigan, and Loyola-Chicago play smart basketball and emphasize fundamentals.
*Defense wins championships...and we have four teams who play excellent defense. That may be less clear to some of you who only look at final scores. But, when you adjust for pace and schedule strength...Villanova has a top 15 defense, Kansas a top 40 defense (out of 351 Division I teams).
*Smart offense in the modern game involves working the ball around to get open-looks on three-pointers. All four offenses do that, though Loyola does it less emphatically because it attacks the basket directly more often. Loyola hits 40% of the treys it does take, which is the same as making 60% of two-pointers. All four offenses have MULTIPLE guys who can drain treys.
*Generally speaking, slower is better in terms of pace because you make fewer mistakes, keep fresh, avoid foul trouble, and maintain your composure. Michigan and Loyola are both VERY slow teams. Villanova and Kansas have great athletes, but play at an average pace even though the media likes telling you both want to run. There are no "out-of-control" teams left that try to overwhelm you with speed and athleticism.
Sure, Loyola caught a few breaks in close games to keep advancing. Michigan needed a miracle to beat Houston. Kansas had to go overtime to beat Duke, and had trouble protecting late leads against Seton Hall and Clemson. We're not saying these are PERFECT teams. You usually need a few breaks to go your way in an event like this. The combination of skill sets and a some good fortune has launched those three to the Alamo City. Only Villanova can say every win was comfortable, with four double-digit victories so far.
How do you handicap games matching teams who are generally fundamentally sound? You have to look for weak spots that can be exploited. For this four...
*Loyola-Chicago is turnover prone, which gets hidden by its slow pace. Once you adjust for possessions you can see that the Ramblers have a tendency to lose the ball in traffic. This could prove to be the key that prevents them from getting past Saturday. Tough to win outright as a dog if you lose the turnover battle.
*Michigan is a poor free-throw shooting team, which makes it harder to seal close leads under pressure. Also, its three-point shooting comes and goes. The Wolverines shot very well in the blowout of Texas A&M (and in the Big 10 tournament), but have struggled draining open looks in their other NCAA Tournament games.
*Kansas isn't very good at rebounding by Dance standards. Head coach Bill Self has talked about this in many press conferences. The Jayhawks must keep overcoming weaknesses in this area. Tougher to do against an elite opponent like Villanova, especially in a letdown spot after the most intense game of the whole tournament.
*Though you have to go back to regular season play to remember this, Villanova can be taken out when the treys aren't falling, or when it gets overconfident. If you stand eye-to-eye with Villanova and don't blink, you can take them down to the wire. Remember that the Wildcats weren't even the #1 seed in the Big East tournament because Xavier had a better league record.
It's the job of JIM HURLEY and his TEAM OF EXPERTS to put all the pieces together to find you BIG, JUICY WINNERS. It looks like both point spreads are going to end up around -5 for the favorites, which does leave room for this event's recent underdog dominance to continue. Loyola has been an underdog every time it's taken the floor. Kansas won as a dog last week vs. Duke, and shorthanded in the Big 12 finals against West Virginia.
That said, Villanova just beat West Virginia and Texas Tech by double digits, teams who were within a bucket of Kansas in Big 12 Power Ratings all season. And, Michigan wins big when things are going well, as Texas A&M, Purdue, and Michigan State can attest this month. PROVEN WINNERS know the trick for when to ride dogs and when to get off. JIM HURLEY has been winning NCAA Tournament bets for 30 years, and is 22-9 going into the Final Four!
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