Every so often, I try to stop and explain to my readers that there is no such thing as a “moneyline prediction.” Sometimes editors use keywords like “moneyline prediction,” and I’m guilty of calling a lot of my recommended straight-up bets predictions even though that’s not what they really are.
Moneylines are almost always unequal odds, like (-200) vs (+175). I may make a prediction that the (-200) team is more likely to win the game. But if I don’t think the favorite would win at least 2 out of every 3 times over the underdog, then the (+175) is the better wager.
No handicapper can predict an outcome with absolute certainty, and no outcome is determined before it happens. I gave up trying to “lock-down” pick anything years ago. But I’m pretty good at winning a majority of bets over time, a product of successfully handicapping each team’s real chances to win, lose, or otherwise produce an outcome, compared to what Vegas and the betting public thinks.
Case in point – Virginia most likely has a 51% or better chance to beat #5 seed Auburn in a Final Four tip-off this Saturday at 5 PM in Minneapolis. But are Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers a worthwhile bet at their current (-240) ML?
In fact, Auburn could make a mean bet to cover (-5) in addition to a SU underdog pick.
Bennett is telling the media candidly that he had no idea how hard it was to get to a Final Four, and perhaps the same is true of his cagers. Last year’s ignominious loss to UMBC in the Round of 64 could have set an ordinary program back for years, even generations if they were unable to return. UVA has been winning under pressure that few teams feel on a nightly basis.
The ACC school is not geared to scoring 80+ points per game like the Auburn Tigers are. In fact, the only March Madness contest in which the 2018-19 Virginia Cavaliers have scored more than 70 points in regulation was the Round-of-64 opener against #16 seed Gardner-Webb…in which Virginia scored all of 71 points.
That doesn’t matter as much when you can defend with disciplined guards and agile big men in the paint. Bennett decided early in Saturday’s Elite Eight contest with Purdue that opposing phenom Carson Edwards was going to win the game by himself or not at all. Edwards had a legendary 40+ minutes, scoring more than 40 points and pushing UVA into overtime while some of his teammates floundered.
Rebounding often becomes the focal point of playing defense at the Big Dance. In 2019, it appears that impeccable perimeter guarding is the ticket. Let a sharpshooter slip to the corner without a defender in his face, and all it takes is a momentary look for accurate present-day bombers.
Virginia is a (+150) bet to win the NCAA title at Bovada Sportsbook. The number is deserved if not quite accurate. But I like taking high-tempo teams that can shoot against the Cavaliers.
The way to beat UVA is to hit outside shots while daring Bennett’s cagers to take ordinary 3-point looks of their own. Meanwhile, you must win the turnover battle and play frantic defense against the transition game. The Auburn Tigers fit both of those categories, especially after watching the squad gallop back to put a crimp in UNC’s FIBA-style fast breaks.
Let’s not forget that the Tigers knocked off North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, prevailing in dominant 97-80 fashion with power forward Chuma Okeke earning a double-double while the squad’s guards rained 3-point bombs all night. It’s hard to keep the momentum against Auburn because the squad can warm up from the field at almost any time.
A subsequent 77-71 win over Kentucky, in which Bryce Brown and Jared Harper combined for 50 points from the backcourt, may have been even more impressive.
Look hard at Auburn (+5) against the spread and especially the Tigers on the (+200) moneyline for Saturday.
It’s also wise to consider the Under (130). Remember that when basketball tournaments are held in football stadiums, as the Final Four will be, some shooters can have issues. Some statisticians say it doesn’t bother anyone from long range…I don’t agree.
But even if Auburn takes a slight dip in 3-point shooting %, that won’t matter if the same happens to Virginia. In fact, the Tigers are probably better at scoring points in sloppy games. Offense will remain UVA’s Achilles Heel, and even a healthy Jack Salt on defense won’t help contain the 5th-seeded underdog if the Cavaliers miss shots and allow swift guards to run the other way.
There are a bunch of potential outcomes in the 2019 Final Four…just like always. The best % single-game pick is Auburn to advance, not because the Tigers are sure to win, but because 2-to-1 odds are a gross undervaluation of Sir Charles’ alma mater.
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.