Final Four Previews


Kentucky's dreams for an undefeated season and a National Championship almost came to an end last weekend when a fired up group of Notre Dame Fighting Irish battled tooth and nail until the final seconds. You can't say Kentucky was lucky to win. But, they weren't head and shoulders above ND during those 40 minutes. What's going to happen Saturday in the Final Four when Kentucky has to face a Wisconsin group that's even better than Notre Dame?

The Kentucky Wildcats can't just coast and assume things will take care of themselves. They almost learned that the hard way vs. the Irish. And, now, they're facing their toughest opponent of the season in terms of computer ratings, NBA-ready talent, and coaching acumen. Nobody in the SEC was as good. Nobody in pre-conference action was as good.

Of course, you can look through the same lens from the other direction for Wisconsin! They faced their toughest opponent to date last week vs. Arizona. They needed to shoot lights out from long range to escape with a victory as a 1-point underdog. Can they keep making ALL of their treys like that against an opponent who would have been about -4 over Arizona? What happens if the shots aren't falling against what is now Wisconsin's toughest opponent of the season?

Let's see what JIM HURLEY'S key handicapping stats have to say about the matchup. You regular readers should have these virtually memorized by now. But, we're assuming a lot of first time readers will be checking in for the Final Four. Shield your eyes when you get to Wisconsin's defense!

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Kentucky: 119.4 per 100 possessions (#5 in the nation)
Wisconsin: 127.5 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)

The latest numbers from Ken Pomeroy's statistical website show that both of these teams are great on offense once you adjust for pace and caliber of opposition. Wisconsin is extremely efficient because they wait for good shots...and then let their best shooters take them. Kentucky is much better than realized because they get a lot of second-chance points off offensive rebounds, and some cheapies off takeaways. You probably heard the TV announcers last week talking about how Wisconsin had the most efficient offense in the country. There's been less hype about Kentucky being right up there in the national rankings with them.

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Kentucky: 85.6 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)
Wisconsin: 96.4 per 100 possessions (#54 in the nation)

This is where Wisconsin runs into big trouble. They're not even top 50 after you adjust for pace and opposition. That's hidden from too many by their slow pace. Announcers last week were suggesting Wisconsin had one of the best "defenses" in the country. That's a scoreboard illusion created by holding onto the ball so long on offense. When it comes to GUARDING people, the Badgers aren't very good by Dance standards. You saw that last week when all they could do was grab Arizona and send them to the free throw line through the second half. Kentucky is championship caliber on both sides of the floor. Wisconsin has a championship caliber offense (that might be due to cool off!) but a defense that is overmatched by quality. They made up for that last week with red hot shooting. They will need to do so again.

Pace Ranking
Kentucky: #250
Wisconsin: #345

Wisconsin is one of the slowest teams in the country, which can be a problem if they fall behind and have to play catch up. Kentucky is slower than average, though some of that is created by their offensive rebounding. They "shoot" faster than their pace ranking would make it seem, but extend possessions with offensive boards. Wisconsin will try to slow things WAY down to stay within striking distance. Kentucky may fall into the trap of letting them do that.

Against the Spread
Kentucky: 19-17-2
Wisconsin: 20-17-1

Fantastic job from both teams. It doesn't seem that way because Kentucky is barely above break-even after the vigorish, and Wiscy is only up about a unit. But...these teams have been priced like champions all season...and have to play to near-perfection to cover spreads. That ATS mark for Kentucky suggests they are championship caliber because they've been priced as champions from the get-go. Wisconsin's right there with them. A reminder to sports bettors that you can't get rich betting on most superpowers during the regular season! The lines are just too high.

Las Vegas Line: Kentucky by 5, total of 131.5

Fun price to play around with. Kentucky is never that low. Wisconsin is never getting that many points. If you're a fan of either team, the price seems like a steal! Note that Kentucky -5 is less than half of the -11 we saw vs. Notre Dame last week. The Wildcats can play under par for half the game and still get the money. Wisconsin may have had trouble covering +5 vs. Arizona if they had a "normal" shooting game from long range. Very tough call in that light...because Wisconsin's three-point performance will probably determine the final margin. That can be the hardest thing to handicap in a 40-minute spring (as Arizona backers will remind you!)

This is an early look at Kentucky/Wisconsin. We'll cover Duke/Michigan State tomorrow. Our official releases won't be up until Saturday morning. You can build your bankroll Friday night with some great NBA! Game day BEST BETS can always be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours Friday, or Saturday before the Final Four tips off.

Here's what's coming up the next few days in the NOTEBOOK...

Saturday: NCAA Final Four Preview...Duke vs. Michigan State
Sunday: NBA Preview...Golden State vs. San Antonio (big one!)
Monday: NCAA Championship Preview (Saturday's Survivors clash!)
Tuesday: MLB Preview...Los Angeles Angels vs. Seattle Mariners (budding rivalry!)
Wednesday: MLB Preview...San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers (same here!)

Will Kentucky beat Wisconsin on the way to a historic championship run? The man with the answers is always just a few clicks away. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!


Thinks couldn't have worked out better for Duke this postseason. Falling in the semifinals of the ACC tournament gave them an extra day of rest without costing them a #1 seed in the Big Dance. They were put in a region with a relatively unimpressive #2 seed in Gonzaga. They were put on the opposite half of the brackets from #1 Kentucky...which gave them a friendly pathway to the finals. And, now, they happen to face the only non #1 seed to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis when they take on #7 seed Michigan State in the early game Saturday. 

How does this team catch so many breaks year in and year out!

Beating Michigan State is far from a sure thing though. The Spartans are playing much better than a #7 seed this month...and should have been at least a #4 seed anyway. MSU also beat Virginia on their way to Indy, which is the team that won Duke's ACC conference. Of course, Sparty announced its intentions to go deep in the Dance by taking eventual #1 seed Wisconsin to overtime back in the Big 10 tournament.

Duke better not start thinking ahead to Kentucky (and Kentucky better not look past Wisconsin!). Let's see what JIM HURLEY'S key indicator stats have to say about Michigan State's upset potential in the first semifinal. Maybe Duke is a team of destiny. Or, maybe this is just going to be another Dance upset that derails their title hopes.

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Duke: 121.5 per 100 possessions (#3 in the nation)
Michigan State: 115.2 per 100 possessions (#13 in the nation)

Though longtime readers of the NOTEBOOK know that we emphasize a "defense wins championships" theme, it's telling that we have four elite offenses in the Final Four. It's become so hard to score these days that only the best offenses have a chance to string together tournament victories! Duke gets a slight edge here in the adjusted efficiency numbers tabulated by college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy. But, only a slight edge. The mainstream media will be talking about Duke's "potent" talent while Michigan State is the "win ugly" team that has to invent ways to score. That's a misleading by-product of pace differentials. On a per-possession basis, Michigan State has been much better than realized this season.

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Duke: 93.4 per 100 possessions (#19 in the nation)
Michigan State: 95.4 per 100 possessions (#46 in the nation)

The downside of pace illusions for Michigan State is that their defense isn't as good as believed. Like Wisconsin, once you adjust for pace and strength of schedule, they're down around #50 in the nation rather than being elite. It's odd to think of MSU being a team that has to "outscore" people. But, that really is the case once you account for tempo. They're too soft too often, and have to make up for that with offensive efficiency. Duke has a good defense by past standards, though playing in the dome in Houston last week created some illusions about their ability to get stops. Edge to Duke on both sides of the floor.

Pace Ranking
Duke: #123
Michigan State: #253

Duke likes to push tempo and attack the basket. Michigan State prefers to slow it down, though they also pound the paint rather than hoping to make a bunch of treys. That means officiating could play a big role here. Duke has no depth! If both teams attack the basket at a reasonable pace while refs are blowing their whistles...that probably favors the underdog. If Duke can keep its starters on the floor, they'll be able to express the advantages we just learned about on both sides of the floor.

Against the Spread
Duke: 22-14-1
Michigan State: 22-16

Yesterday we were very complimentary of Kentucky and Wisconsin, two teams who broke even against very high prices. This is even more impressive. Duke (of all teams!) was actually underrated by the markets this season! They're always priced aggressively, so this represents a stellar performance. Michigan State was also better than expected, particularly once "tournament basketball" took center stage. Sparty always peaks late.

Las Vegas Line: Duke by 5.5, total of 137.5

The line has been slowly rising through the week...which is likely the result of public money gradually hitting the board. Squares like to bet favorites...particularly when a TV team like Duke is the favorite! If you prefer the Blue Devils, hopefully your money is already in play. If you're looking at Sparty, you might see as much as +6 before tipoff of visiting tourists continue to lay the chalk.

JIM HURLEY annually has a HUGE PARLAY in the FINAL FOUR. You'll be able to purchase Saturday's BIG, JUICY WINNERS right here at the website with your credit card in the hours leading up to tipoff. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 Saturday morning or early afternoon.

We'll spend a day in the NBA Sunday before returning Monday to preview the National Championship game matching Saturday's winners. Here's what's coming up the next several days as we transition from college hoops to the NBA and MLB...

Sunday: NBA Preview...Golden State vs. San Antonio
Monday: NCAA Championship Preview
Tuesday: MLB Preview...Los Angeles Angels vs. Seattle Mariners
Wednesday: MLB Preview...San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers
Thursday: NBA TV Preview...Chicago at Miami or Portland at Golden State on TNT
Friday: MLB Series Preview...Detroit Tigers at the Cleveland Indians
Monday April 13: MLB Series Preview...Washington Nationals at the Boston Red Sox

Wow...powerhouses on parade whatever the sport! The single biggest college basketball betting day of the year is upon us. Be sure you keep riding THE ROAD TO RICHES with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!


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