Final Four Picks: Red Raiders Have Value as Underdogs (Again)

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard celebrating with star guard Jarrett Culver
Coach Chris Beard and guard Jarrett Culver lead Texas Tech into the Final Four as an underdog for a third straight game. Photo by Twitter user @jarrettc08.
  • The 2019 Final Four sees #1 Virginia favored by five over #5 Auburn
  • #2 Michigan State is laying 2.5 points to #3 Texas Tech
  • What are the best bets for the national semifinals in Minneapolis this Saturday (Apr. 6)?

The 2019 Final Four (Apr. 6 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis) features three coaches making their first appearance, plus Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, who’s making his eighth. 

The Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers, the #1 seed out of the South, will face Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers, the #5 seed from the Midwest.

On the other side of the bracket, Chris Beard’s Texas Tech Red Raiders, the #3 seed from the West, will pit their top-ranked defense against Izzo’s Spartans, the #2 seed from the East.

Below, find our best bets for both matchups in the 2019 Final Four.

Side note: our best bets are up 14.2 units ($1,415.91 on $100 wagers) to date.

Bet the Under in Auburn vs Virginia

Team Spread Moneyline Over/Under
#5 Auburn +5.0 (-105) +130 O 131.0 (-110)
#1 Virginia -5.0 (-115) -150 U 131.0 (-110)

Let’s get one thing out of the way off the top: this under play has nothing to do with the fact that the game will be played on a raised floor in a massive domed stadium.

The studies are in and that doesn’t actually affect three-point shooting.

What does affect three-point shooting? Good defenses.

Auburn shot 39.8% from beyond the arc in [its first three tournament] games.

Through the first three games of the tournament, Auburn had the good fortune of playing some lackluster units.

New Mexico State ranked 84th in defensive efficiency overall and 113th at guarding the three-point line; Kansas and UNC were 17th and 15th, respectively, in overall defensive efficiency, but well outside the top-100 in three-point defense (122nd and 119th).

Auburn shot 39.8% from beyond the arc in those three games.

Virginia is fifth in overall defensive efficiency and third in the nation in three-point defense (28.7%). There is an element of luck to three-point defense, but Tony Bennett’s Cavs have been in the top 30 in four of the last five seasons. His packline defense results in a lot of tough looks from distance.

Against an Auburn team that scores 43.4% of its points from three (seventh-most), that bodes well for a low-scoring game.

Virginia’s soporific tempo does, as well. The Cavaliers are literally last of all 353 Division I teams in terms of number of possessions per game. While Auburn has a reputation as a run-and-gun team that excels in transition, they actually only rank 153rd in the country in tempo.

The Cavaliers are literally last of all 353 Division I teams in terms of number of possessions per game.

When Auburn isn’t forcing turnovers (which they do at the highest rate in all of college basketball), they aren’t playing at a breakneck speed. Virginia comes in armed with the 12th-best turnover percentage and one of the headiest ball-handlers you could hope for in Ty Jerome.

Unless Bennett foolishly relies on freshman Kihei Clark (and his concerning 19.7 TO%) in this matchup, UVA should be able to keep the turnovers under control.

The Play: Under 131.0 (-110) 

Bet Texas Tech moneyline versus Michigan State

Team Spread Moneyline Over/Under
#3 Texas Tech +2.5 (-110) +140 O 132.5 (-115)
#2 Michigan State -2.5 (-110) -160 U 132.5 (-105)

Most analytics have this as basically a toss-up. It’s a one-point game at both KenPom (67-66 MSU) and Haslametrics (66.38-65.94 MSU).

As discussed elsewhere, Texas Tech is the only team in the Final Four that is 4-0 ATS. Chris Beard’s squad has been the most consistent performer to date, and its defensive tenacity is something that is very repeatable from game-to-game.

Their ability to guard the three-point line and force contested shots has led to opponents are shooting just 19.1% from three in the tournament.

Michigan State has hit at 37.9% from beyond the arc over the last  three games. When they struggled from range against Bradley in the first round (5/19 from three), they found themselves trailing a #15 seed with under seven minutes to play (before pulling away for a 76-65 win).

There is no denying that Cassius Winston will be the best point guard Tech has faced in the tournament. But if you look at Texas Tech’s losses, it’s mostly rangy wings and stretch-fours doing the damage, with the odd bigger guard have a breakout game. For example …

  • when they were shocked by West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament, 6’7 freshman Emmitt Matthews went off for 28 points, shooting 8/10 on two-point FGs;
  • in their 68-64 setback to Iowa State, 6’6 Marial Shayok and 6’9 Michael Jacobson combined for 34 of ISU’s 68 points;
  • when they fell to Kansas, 6’9 Dedric Lawson led the Jayhawks with 25 points on 9/14 from the field.

Cassius Winston is just 6’1 and not all that speedy. He has a cerebral game that excels at the college level, but the Red Raiders have both the athletes and the coach to slow him down.

When Winston is not at his best, this Spartan offense is a completely different animal.

The play: Texas Tech moneyline (+140)

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