March Madness Finals Betting Preview
Gonzaga (+1) vs. North Carolina (-1)
If the spread is any indication, we are in for classic NCAA National Championship game on Monday night when the Gonzaga Bulldogs and North Carolina Tar Heels square off.
That’s the expectation whenever two No. 1 seeds wage battle, but one-point spreads put a lot of pressure on the product. They are, essentially, pick ’em lines. There is a slight chance a push occurs, which you should consider, but the miniscule possibility doesn’t really impact the way you bet. You’re looking for a winner in whatever wager you place.
On Monday night, that winner, knowing what we know, should be North Carolina.
It’s not that Gonzaga isn’t worthy. They have been spectacular for most of this March Madness tournament. They rank first in the country in points allowed per 100 possessions, and they will force North Carolina to play their game—a hyper-slog that emphasizes half-court offense and pesky defense. It, of course, would not be a shock if they took down the Tar Heels.
At the same time, North Carolina, while known for their offense, has shown they can win any type of game this month. Very few of their outings have been high-octane affairs. In fact, three of their last four games haven’t even come close to reaching the above over/under (more on this soon).
They were displaced from their comfort zone early and often in their last two contests versus the Kentucky Wildcats and Butler Bulldogs, respectively. And they still won. Those two victories came by a combined three points, but wins are wins, and we’re not rolling with them to cover some huge seven-point or double-digit spread.
If you’re Gonzaga, how do you beat this team, a squad that has shown it can win in more fashions than you, while playing a much tougher schedule than you? You don’t give up, obviously, but you have to be pinpoint precise on the defensive end.
In the event this does turn into a high-scoring game, Gonzaga is in a much worse place still. They like to run their offense through the interior, like North Carolina, but with fewer opportunities for their orbiting shooters. They aren’t built to prop up huge scoring totals or erase big deficits.
And though their defense can win games on its own, even against equals or perceived superiors, the margin for error is too slim for us to feel confident taking them in this one.
Now, as for the over/under, the sportsbooks seem to have set this one a little high.
Only three of the last 10 NCAA National Championship tilts have hit the 155-point yardstick. The game is ever-changing, from year-to-year, with elevated paces and three-point rates. But only one of those 155-point covers have come truly recently, in the last five years.
North Carolina is always liable to hang a ton of points on its opponents, but don’t be fooled into thinking their offense has been spectacularly fast over the tournament. Their five games are averaging sums south of 155 points—and that’s with it being buoyed by two higher totals.
Bake in Gonzaga’s top-ranked defense, and this game, even if it’s not played the Bulldogs’ way to a T, figures to whiff on the over. And that’ll be doubly true if either team busts out a seven- or 10-point lead at any stage of the game.
This is the time of year when coaches instruct their players to protect leads rather than drive them up. We’ll see a lot of tip-toeing by the leader as they try to burn through the shot clock and limit their opponent’s number of possessions. And anytime that stands to happen, the under is always the best dice roll.
The Pick: North Carolina (-1), under
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