This year’s NCAA Tournament Final Four is a star-studded affair – on the court and along the sideline – and the action kicks off Saturday when Duke takes on Michigan State in the first national semifinal from Indianapolis. The Blue Devils are 8-3 all-time in the national semifinals under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, while Tom Izzo has led the Spartans to the Final Four for the seventh time since 1999.
The winner squares off with Kentucky or Wisconsin in Monday’s national championship game. Duke, the No. 1 seed from the South Regional, reached this point by holding its first four NCAA Tournament opponents to 53.5 points on 36.8 percent shooting, highlighted by a suffocating performance against Gonzaga in the regional final. Michigan State, the No. 7 seed from the East Regional, has limited the opposition to 33.9 percent shooting and 23.7 percent from 3-point range during its four tournament wins, capped by an overtime triumph against Louisville in the Elite Eight. This game is a rematch from Nov. 18, when the Blue Devils posted an 81-71 victory on this same court as part of the Champions Classic.
TV: 6:09 p.m. ET, TBS
LINE HISTORY: Duke opened as -4.5 favorites, but quickly moved to -5. Totals across Vegas and online opened at either 139 or 139.5 before being bet down to 138.
INJURY REPORT: N/A
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “I’ve been booking for almost 20 years and I cant remember a Final Four Saturday that we have had smaller decisions than we will this season. We’ve had 53 percent of bets and 52 percent of cash on Duke in this one.” – Mike Jerome of TopBet.eu
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (27-11 SU, 22-16 ATS, 20-15-2 O/U): The Spartans shot 50 percent in the first matchup but allowed the Blue Devils to shoot 54 percent, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range, while struggling to contain Jahlil Okafor down low. “We got our feet wet there,” Izzo told reporters this week in reflection of that night, when his team was led by senior forward Branden Dawson (18 points, nine rebounds). “We realized what we weren’t good enough at. It gave us a barometer to try to figure out who we are.” Who they are offensively is a team that relies heavily on two players – senior guard Travis Trice (19.8 points in the NCAAs) and junior guard Denzel Valentine, who has filled up the box score in the tournament to the tune of 13.3 points, six rebounds and 4.5 assists.
ABOUT DUKE (33-4 SU, 22-14-1 ATS, 18-17 O/U): Okafor, the likely No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft, shot 8-of-10 for 17 points in the first game against Michigan State, although the freshman center is struggling of late, totaling 15 points on 7-of-16 shooting in the last two games. “We got better (since November) and they did too,” Okafor told the media this week. “They are a better team. That’s just a game that was part of our journey. It’s going to be a different game this Saturday and we’re looking forward to it.” Okafor is complemented by two more stud freshmen – swingman Justise Winslow, who posted double-doubles in the round of 32 and the round of 16, and point guard Tyus Jones, who registered 15 points in each of the last two contests.
*Spartans are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600.
*Blue Devils are 6-0 ATS in their last 6 non-conference games.
*Over is 5-1 in Spartans last 6 vs. a team with a winning S.U. record.
*Under is 6-0 in Blue Devils last 6 overall.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Fifty-one percent of Covers Consensus users are on Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
Kentucky Wildcats vs. Wisconsin Badgers (+5, 131)
Kentucky is two wins away from an undefeated season, although a familiar road block stands in its path to perfection. The Wildcats are back in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four for the fourth time in five seasons and for the second straight year, their national semifinal opponent is Wisconsin – a fellow No. 1 seed that will attempt to pull the upset Saturday in Indianapolis.
The teams played a thriller in Arlington, Texas, last April with the Wildcats escaping with a 74-73 triumph on Aaron Harrison’s NBA-range 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left. This time around, Kentucky is deeper and more experienced, although it needed two late free throws by Andrew Harrison to prevail against Notre Dame in the Midwest Region final. Wisconsin is likely a better squad as well, led by All-American big man Frank Kaminsky and blossoming forward Sam Dekker. Kentucky leans on the Harrison twins in the backcourt and a collection of athletic big men, highlighted by freshman Karl-Anthony Towns.
TV: 8:49 p.m. ET, TBS
LINE HISTORY: Books opened Wisconsin as a 6-point dog before taking a full point drop to +5 quickly. Books opened the total anywhere from 133 to 131, but have settled at 131 Friday.
INJURY REPORT: N/A
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “Also can’t remember a Final Four Saturday where neither semifinal game has had a line move. Both Kentucky and Duke opened as 5 point favorites and both games are still at -5. 54 percent of cash and 53 percent of bets are taking Wisconsin plus points.” – Mike Jerome of TopBet.eu
ABOUT KENTUCKY (38-0 SU, 19-17-2 ATS, 15-23 O/U): The Wildcats are two wins away from becoming the first undefeated team since Indiana in 1975-76 and if the game is close, fans can expect one of the Harrisons to take the final shot. “The biggest thing is you cannot be afraid to miss the game-winning shot. It’s not that you want to make it; it’s that you’re not afraid to miss it,” Wildcats coach John Calipari told reporters. “You’re not afraid to make a play and it go wrong. You have to have amnesia. You have to be willing to risk. Those two have it. They both have it.” Towns certainly was not afraid of the big stage in the Elite Eight, when he shot 10-of-13 for a career-high 25 points after going 0-of-3 for one point against West Virginia in the Sweet 16.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (35-3 SU, 20-17-1 ATS, 18-20 O/U): The Badgers have won each of their last three games by seven points, including a hard-fought win over Arizona in the West final as Kaminsky recorded 29 points and Dekker set a career high for the second straight game, finishing with 27 points. Kaminsky may win the Wooden Award, but he has plenty of frontcourt help in the form of Dekker and Nigel Hayes while Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig are also 3-point threats for Wisconsin. “We know what we’re up against,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan, whose team has won 20 of its last 21, said to reporters. “Our guys are pretty smart guys. They know what it’s going to take – a pretty perfect game or close to it, to get these guys.”
*Wildcats are 1-4-1 ATS in their last 6 NCAA Tournament games.
*Badgers are 14-5-1 ATS in their last 20 neutral site games.
*Under is 15-3 in Wildcats last 18 non-conference games.
*Over is 4-0 in Badgers last 4 games following a ATS win.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Sixty-three percent of Covers Consensus users are backing the Badgers.