WagerBop was wrong to suggest that Baylor’s early defeat would be 2022’s biggest NCAA Tournament surprise. Final Four favorites Gonzaga and Arizona suffered Sweet Sixteen elimination from Arkansas and Houston respectively, and the Big Ten proved to be as disappointing in March Madness as top seeds from western states. ACC basketball teams, such as men’s finalist North Carolina, have played with chips on their shoulders after being written-off in the regular season.
As opposed to 2022’s Cinderella-laden Sweet Sixteen round, the Final Four in New Orleans has been showdown of college basketball elites. KU defeating recent March Madness champion Villanova by 13 points could have easily been the biggest story of Saturday night. That wasn’t the case as Kansas was improbably upstaged by #8 seeded UNC in an instant classic.
North Carolina is attempting to become only the 2nd team seeded #8 in a regional bracket to win 6 times and earn a national championship. UNC went into Saturday night’s slug-fest with Duke University as close to a 2-to-1 money-line underdog. However, the spirited Tar Heels outshot the Blue Devils in the closing moments of Carolina’s 81-77 national semifinal victory, sending Coach K into the sunset.
Scroll for WagerBop’s best bets on each national championship game, beginning with the women’s tip-off on Sunday night.
South Carolina vs Connecticut: Predicting the Women’s NCAA Championship Game Against the Point Spread
USC has not proven to be the “invincible” brand of team that Connecticut once utilized to rack-up national championships in the early 21st century. South Carolina lost the postseason SEC Championship Game to #7 conference seed Kentucky, went ice-cold from the field against the Miami Hurricanes in a surprise Round of 32 grudge match, and survived a tough challenge from North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen round.
There are, however, solid angles behind South Carolina’s (-188) moneyline odds to win on Sunday night, beginning with the fact that the Lady Gamecocks boast a cager considered to be the very best of this year’s women’s field.
6’5″ power forward Aliyah Boston took center stage on the hardwood against Louisville on Friday, grabbing 18 boards to go with 66.7% shooting accuracy from the field. Boston represents a new era of women’s ballers with the athleticism, power, and stamina to dominate against any caliber of defense.
UConn is scoring points like it’s the 2000s again, illustrated by the Lady Huskies’ 75-58 win over Indiana and 91-87 OT triumph over NC State in the Women’s Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight respectively. There is also no questioning the team’s heart following Friday’s gritty 63-58 win over #1 seed Stanford, in which standard sister guards Lexie and Lacie Hall were held to just 7 points in 77 combined minutes played. But it’s that OT victory over NC State that’s helping to keep UConn’s point spread at a grim (+4.5) prior to Sunday’s championship game.
6’5″ center Elissa Cunane of the Lady Wolfpack hurt Connecticut’s defenders with 18 points and finished just 1 rebound shy of a double-double in the Elite Eight contest, perhaps providing a blueprint for how South Carolina could attack UConn with Boston in the paint. Cunane is listed at only 190 pounds, making the headache of facing Boston potentially even worse for the Huskies.
The Dome Effect on outside shooting has already shown up once in 2022, when Duke and North Carolina went unexpectedly cold on wide-open jump-shot looks in the opening half of the men’s Division 1 final on Saturday. In the women’s final, a potential dual-squad shooting bugaboo makes South Carolina more vulnerable to UConn head coach Geno Auriemma’s clever tactics.
Provided that the contest comes down to finesse, UConn could simply out-score South Carolina in the 4th quarter. Paige Bueckers maintained her outstanding postseason form with a team-leading 14 points against Stanford. Don’t underestimate the underdogs’ defending, either, as UConn has held all but 1 tourney opponent to under 60 points.
Pick: Connecticut ATS (+4.5)
Kansas vs North Carolina: Over/Under Pick on the Men’s Title Tilt
WagerBop has avoided all “Over/Under” predictions throughout most of 2022’s March Madness, partly because readers could easily blame any erroneous picks for highly stressful NCAA Tournament betting experiences. Basketball provides few more intense fan experiences than cheering for an O/U prediction to pay off in the waning moments of elimination games. You may see half-court specialists begin running to the basket, fast-break teams work to drain the clock, coaches call for “fouling games” to extend the final 2:00 when losing, and overtime looms as a potential kill-switch for a successful low-side prediction on the O/U.
But by now, most college basketball fans have chosen a “side” to bet on in the North Carolina and Kansas championship game, and it isn’t for us to tell readers who to take on the point spread or the moneyline. Over/Under picks on college basketball are a matter of pure analytics, and no alumni will be offended (or pundits outraged) by a simple prediction on the game’s combined total.
A consensus (152.5) O/U line on Monday’s tip-off could prove to have been handicapped too conservatively in hindsight. It’s not a coincidence that FanDuel Sportsbook’s (-115) odds on an “Over” (152.5) finish are slightly more generous than its (-105) payoff odds on low-side predictions winning.
Kansas moneyline bettors could be picking the “Under” a little more often, thinking that another easy KU victory could negate the Jayhawks’ wonderful fast-break transition game’s effect on the point total, discouraging a North Carolina team that’s losing by 10-20 points in the closing moments from participating in a fouling game, and thus preventing an “Over” result due to late free-throws and desperate lay-ups.
Kansas undoubtedly offers the best full-court passing opponent UNC has faced in the tournament, especially since the Duke-UNC scoreboard belied a game that consisted of roundhouse blows delivered by each team’s best scorers in half-court action. KU’s shooting guard Ochai Agbaji is a (+135) favorite to win Most Outstanding Player after scoring 21 points in Saturday’s win. Jalen Wilson’s double-double was arguably a much bigger factor in the Jayhawks’ 81-65 victory, though Wilson is only a (+2500) odds prop bet to win the award following a quieter March Madness.
North Carolina has been undervalued at every turn, partly due to the team’s unlucky #8 regional seed, and also because the ACC received poor reviews from hoops analysts following a so-so 2021-22 regular season campaign. UNC is on a historic mission to become 1 of only 2 such lowly seeds to ever win the big dance, and appears in Monday’s tip-off after ending Coach K’s career.
Hubert Davis may be expected to employ a cautious game plan, limiting his team’s prodigious offensive rebounding potential to help contain KU’s fast break. How easily armchair historians forget that the same game plan was anticipated from Jim Valvano in the 1983 final, only for the Cinderella team (from the ACC, no less) to use a faster-than-expected tempo to wear down “Phi Slama Jama” stars by the 2nd half. If Kansas does the expected and romps to a 15-point halftime lead on Monday, then North Carolina will be forced to scrap any half-court strategy and run to the basket. If UNC takes an unexpected lead midway through the game, then KU’s fast-break tactics will be “transitioned” into high gear. Turnovers could lead to quick points in the opposing direction.
North Carolina has averaged more than 80 points-per-game during the Tar Heels’ not-so-surprising run to Final Four glory. That offsets any concerns left over about the ACC from the conference schedule’s outcomes, and provides hope that UNC sharp-shooters Caleb Love and Brady Manek won’t be pressured out of rhythm by a favorite which combines WCC speed with Big 12 size, power, and skill.
Pick: Over (152.5)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.