While other matchups in the Elite Eight feature some of the nation’s best players, such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Kentucky’s litany of future NBA draft picks, the East Regional final features a different kind of star-studded affair. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Louisville’s Rick Pitino are two of the best coaches in the country and after working their March magic yet again, their teams will square off in Syracuse, N.Y. on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four. The fourth-seeded Cardinals and seventh-seeded Spartans are the two lowest-seeded teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament.
After his team knocked off the region’s No. 2 and 3 seeds in the last two rounds, Izzo is one win away from his seventh trip to the Final Four – all since 1999. “He is the best at what he does,” Spartans guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. told reporters. “We’re real confident in whatever he tells us to do. As long as we focus on what he tells us to do, we’ll be fine.” Regarding Pitino, who has been to seven Final Fours – one with Providence, three with Kentucky and three with Louisville, Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell told reporters: “Everybody has bought into the mentality that Coach wanted and everybody wants the same goal.”
TV: 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS
LINE HISTORY: Most online books opened Louisville +2, but quickly moved the line to +2.5. The total opened at 128.5 and has yet to shift.
INJURY REPORT: N/A
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “Louisville has been faded in every game since the tourney started and nothing has changed here. Michigan State’s run in the Big Ten tourney, as well as past pedigree, has made it a very public play throughout the Dance. About 75 percent of our bets are on the Spartans, and a lot of it is square money.” – John Lester, Senior Lines Manager at Bookmaker.eu
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (26-11 SU, 21-16 ATS, 19-15-2 O/U): Travis Trice has increased his scoring in all three games of the tournament, going from 15 points in the opener to 23 in an upset of second-seeded Virginia and 24 against Oklahoma, as the senior guard is shooting 10-of-22 from 3-point range in the Big Dance. The Spartans have reached the Elite Eight despite Denzel Valentine shooting 7-of-23 over the last two games and a disappointing team-wide 58.8 free-throw percentage in the tournament. “One more victory would be one of the more sweeter moments of my career,” acknowledged Izzo, who is 12-9 in the NCAA Tournament when his team has the lower seed.
ABOUT LOUISVILLE (27-8 SU, 13-19-2 ATS, 13-17-1 O/U): The Cardinals dismissed Chris Jones – the team’s third-leading scorer – from the team in late February but still are one win from their third Final Four trip in the last four seasons. The catalysts for Pitino’s latest magical run have been Terry Rozier, who had 17 points and a career-high 14 rebounds in the Sweet 16, and Harrell, whose 24 points against the Sooners were his most since Feb. 11. “I can’t say enough about him because he’s the toughest guy I’ve ever coached and he never lets me down,” Pitino said of Harrell, who is 12-of-14 from the foul line in the tournament after shooting 58.3 percent over the first 32 games.
*Spartans are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games.
*Cardinals are 26-10 ATS in their last 36 neutral site games.
*Over is 7-3 in Spartans last 10 overall.
*Under is 4-0-1 in Cardinals last 5 non-conference games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 60.06 percent of Covers users are backing Michigan State -2.5 with 56.7 percent on the under.
Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Duke Blue Devils (-2.5, 145)
Gonzaga is one win away from its first trip to the Final Four, but the last remaining obstacle is a significant one. The Bulldogs have lost only twice all season – by a total of six points – but now they must get past Duke when the teams meet Sunday in Houston in the South Regional final. Second-seeded Gonzaga is in its first Elite Eight since 1999, while top-seeded Duke is one win from its 16th appearance in the Final Four and its first since 2010.
The Blue Devils won the national championship that year with a veteran lineup, but the current group of Duke stars is a trio of freshmen complemented by a sturdy senior in the backcourt. Justise Winslow starred in Duke’s Sweet 16 victory against Utah, while fellow freshman Jahlil Okafor matched a season low with six points and hopes to bounce back against Gonzaga with NBA scouts watching him closely. The Bulldogs rode their two big men, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis, to a regional semifinal win against UCLA but likely need more production from their star players on Sunday.
TV: 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS
LINE HISTORY: Duke opened at either -2 or -2.5 initially, but was -2.5 at most books rather quickly. The total opened at 146.5 before dropping to 144.5, then rebounding to 145.
INJURY REPORT: N/A
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “Somewhat split on this game as far as action but we’ve taken some serious sharp money on the Zags. Many of those bettors jumped on the under as well, dropping it 2.5 points from the open. Two high-scoring teams, they love the under. I think we’ll see the total climb back up a bit tomorrow as the public takes a look.” – John Lester, Senior Lines Manager at Bookmaker.eu
ABOUT GONZAGA (35-2 SU, 18-14-2 ATS, 19-13 O/U): Karnowski and Sabonis are the third- and fifth-leading scorers for the Bulldogs, but they combined for 30 points and 17 rebounds while their teammates struggled to 13-of-47 shooting against UCLA. Among the players who need to step up Sunday are Kyle Wiltjer, who averages a team-high 16.8 points but totaled eight on 4-of-12 shooting Friday, and Kevin Pangos (11.8 points), who went 1-of-7 from 3-point range en route to 10 points against the Bruins. “The one accomplishment that we haven’t done is reach the Final Four and we finally have an opportunity to do that,” said Bulldogs coach Mark Few, whose team went 10-of-16 from 3-point range in the round of 32 before going 3-of-19 in the Sweet 16.
ABOUT DUKE (32-4 SU, 21-14-1 ATS, 18-16 O/U): A native of Houston, Winslow shot 8-of-14 from the field and 3-of-4 from the arc en route to 21 points and 10 rebounds against Utah to finish with his third double-double in the last four games. “Justise played like a man all night. He did everything we needed,” said senior guard Quinn Cook, who had 11 points to join Winslow and freshman Tyus Jones (15) in double figures. The Utes employed constant double-teams on Okafor, who attempted only six shots and only took one free throw while committing four turnovers in perhaps the worst game of his Blue Devils career.
*Bulldogs are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games vs. a team with a winning S.U. record.
*Blue Devils are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games overall.
*Over is 5-1 in Bulldogs last 6 non-conference games.
*Under is 5-0 in Blue Devils last 5 overall.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 52.14 percent of Covers users are on Duke -2.5 with 60.5 percent on the over.