Final Four preview and predictions
A most unlikely Final Four to decide the 2023 college basketball national champion. Millions of brackets are busted with No. 9 Florida Atlantic up against No. 5 San Diego State, and No. 4 Connecticut battling No. 5 Miami. Only one of those teams fits the profile of a NCAA Tournament champion, and that's UCONN with a top-20 ranking in KenPom's adjusted Offensive and Defensive efficiency rankings. That profile has produced 19 of the last 20 NCAA Tournament champions.
Alabama, Houston and UCLA fit that profile as well as popular picks and bets throughout the tournament, and so did Texas. But those four teams failed to make the Final Four, and the elimination of Alabama and Houston busted approx. 40% of brackets in many online NCAA Tournament pools that picked those two teams to win it all.
The leading online sportsbooks are cleaning up, and in my Final Four coverage in Forbes, I interviewed a BetMGM sports betting executive who said, "Tournament results have been written like a script by the sportsbooks regardless of results going forward."
Here are the college basketball adjusted efficiency rankings for each of the Final Four teams, according to KenPom (from 363 NCAA teams).
- Connecticut: Offense 3, Defense 11
- Miami: Offense 5, Defense 104
- Florida Atlantic: Offense 24, Defense 30
- San Diego State: Offense 75, Defense 4
Final Four Odds
Odds courtesy of BetOnline and Sportsbetting.ag. Games at RNG Stadium in Houston and CBS carries the TV broadcast coverage.
Saturday, April 1
No. 9 Florida Atlantic vs No. 5 San Diego State (-2.5) | Total: 132 (opened -1.5) - 6:09 p.m. ET
No. 5 Miami vs No. 4 Connecticut (-5.5) | Total: 149 (opened -4.5) - 8:49 p.m. ET
As of Friday morning ahead of Saturday's Final Four games, the spread handle (money bet) is even between UConn and Miami at BetMGM. But the San Diego State Aztecs have taken 75% of the spread bets. Despite the line moves slightly upward on the two favorites, the underdogs Florida Atlantic (+127) and Miami (+210) have taken nearly 70% (FAU) and 60% (MIA) of the moneyline bets and BetMGM and many online sportsbooks.
Final Four Notes
At Final Fours in domed NFL stadiums, the basketball court is raised 27 inches. "Like you’re on a stage," Aztecs forward Jaedon LeDee said.
The biggest adjustment is with perimeter shooting, since there is no immediate backdrop behind the baskets like in a traditional arena. It's a good 40 yards before any fixed seating areas, messing with depth perception. The farther back the backdrop, the harder it is to adjust your eyes.
To that end, and after a few years of dreadful shooting, the NCAA added a Thursday practice to give teams three chances to adjust. There’s a mandatory open practice Friday that fans can watch for free, plus an optional shootaround Saturday morning.
"It feels like you’re outdoors at the park," Bradley said. "Even though you're in an enclosed space, it's so big that the sound doesn't really transfer like a usual indoor space. You have to alter your mind a little bit, think that you're outdoors playing. You have to start in close and work your way back, instead of start pulling 3s right away. Find the rim and get familiar with it, then work your way out."
I didn't bet the totals (yet), as the SDSU-FAU total came out lower than I anticipated. I do have a parlay tied to UCONN moneyline and a smaller one to complete UCONN (-5). In a March Madness full of surprises and all top seeds (#1, #2, #3) out of the tournament, Miami has overachieved under it's superior coach Jim Laranaga. I cashed in a sportsbook payout total bet on the 'Canes Round of 32 game with added info I tweeted out. I also made more money on another total bet along with an FAU team total 'over' in the Elite Eight.
I thought Miami's run would end against Houston's top defense in the Sweet Sixteen when I discussed the NCAA Tournament and betting on March Madness on two CBS News segments. But the Hurricanes rose up again with another offensive onslaught to pull off the easier than expected upset 89-75 as a 7.5-point underdog. The Hurricanes hit 11-of-25 three-pointers and shot 51.7% from the field in that victory. The only thing holding me back from an 'over' the total bet in the UCONN-MIA game is the stadium and setting with emotions also at a high level.
As I mentioned in my Final Four coverage in Forbes, the 2011 Final Four at NRG Stadium had low scoring games with shooting struggles including the ugly 53-41 championship game when No. 3 UCONN beat No. 8 Butler. The 2016 Final Four at NRG Stadium had better shooting and more scoring and Villanova's dominant 6-0 SU/ATS run through the tournament included scoring 95 and 77 points in a pair of Final Four wins and national championship title.
You can watch and wager with live betting as the game unfolds and you see the pace and shooting in the early going of the first half, and adjust your wagering strategy. But along with the proven profile of an NCAA Tournament champion favoring Connecticut, I like the Huskies proven performance, shooting and depth as UCONN has scored 82 points per game on 49.5% shooting including 41.5% from 3-point land during their 4-0 SU/ATS run to the Final Four. Hopefully the stadium, setting and emotions don't slow the hungry Huskies. A team total 'over' 77.5 points is in play for UCONN, who will send the Hurricanes home and make Miami its next victim in victory.
You can bet on it.
FairwayJay is a proven sports handicapper and insightful analyst with proven winning results including in college basketball. He chips in additional sports betting coverage and reporting on industry news and events. Read more great insights from FairwayJay and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay