Then there were four. After a chaotic, wild and madness-filled first several rounds of the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, the field is down to four teams: #Virginia, #2 Michigan State, #3 Texas Tech and #5 Auburn. The action starts today, Saturday, April 6th (6:09pm ET & 8:49 PM ET live on CBS).
In a lot of ways, this isn’t the Final Four that people would have expected given the teams these four had to beat in order to get here. As the lone remaining #1 seed, Virginia enters this round as the clear favorite with the major USA oddsmakers, but as March Madness showed us being the favorite isn’t exactly the most secure spot for a team to be in.
They will face the lowest seed left in the field, #5 Auburn, one of the hottest teams throughout the tournament and with huge victories themselves. Then there is #3 Texas Tech, one of the strongest teams in the country headed into March Madness and that has continued over the first several rounds. They clash with #2 Michigan State, who have the championship pedigree and tournament resume.
Looking at the odds, from #1 Virginia down to #5 Auburn, the four seeds are ranked in order in terms of their chances to take home the prize. Again however, betting the favorite hasn’t always been the smart play in this tournament, especially lately as recent rounds saw #1 Duke, #1 North Carolina, #1 Gonzaga, #2 Kentucky, #2 Michigan and #2 Tennessee all go down to lower seeds in games they were favored to win. Historically, the Final Four has produced some pretty big upsets as well, so no seed is safe this weekend.
Let’s break down both final games to note some key factors that could determine which teams are one step closer to cutting down the nets and reaching the championship game.
#1 Virginia vs #5 Auburn Predictions & Picks
Last year’s Virginia team was several weeks into their postseason vacation at this point, following their first round historic loss to #16 UMBC. No #1 seed had ever fallen to a #16 until then and so the Cavaliers have to carry around the worst March Madness loss of all-time. As head coach Tony Bennett said to his team prior to this year’s tournament, that’s part of their legacy and they need to own it. They would also need to own what was about to happen next and the run they’d proceed to go on.
The last remaining #1 seed, Virginia might as well have been considered the least likely to make it this far of the quartet given last year’s results. A lot of people seemed to count them out before the games were even played as Virginia entered the tournament on a loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship. The Cavaliers still earned a #1 seed and began their journey of redemption with an easy first round victory over #16 Gardner-Webb. From there, Virginia went on to defeat #9 Oklahoma, #12 Oregon and #3 Purdue.
The Cavaliers have found success this tournament due to their solid offensive play but most importantly their ability to take care of the ball. It is a well-known element of basketball that the team with the fewest turnovers in a game is normally the one that comes out on top. Virginia ranks 11th in the nation in this category, only giving up the ball in less than 15 percent of their total possessions. The Cavaliers have also been making the most of these possessions, ranking 19th among all NCAA teams in the postseason, with 267 points scored per game over the first four games.
After winning the SEC Championship by 20 points over eventual #2 Tennessee, the Auburn Tigers entered March Madness on a roll and have since maintained that early momentum. After a close, one-point victory against #12 New Mexico State in the first round, Auburn has taken out three college basketball powerhouses in short order by defeating #4 Kansas in the second round, #1 UNC in the Sweet 16 and #2 Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
How has Auburn managed to do so well against some of the nation’s top teams? For starters, their three-point shooting has been nearly lights out this tournament, as the Tigers are averaging over 40 percent from long distance over their first four games. Additionally, Auburn’s defense has been the best in the nation as the Tigers lead the country in forced turnover rate. Auburn relies on its ability in transition to hit fast-break points and create scoring opportunities, all of which stem from creating turnovers on defense.
While this is not the most favorable matchup for Virginia, the Cavaliers are on a redemption mission and for them, it doesn’t end until they are holding the trophy. They will need to play well against the hot Auburn and take advantage of Chuma Okele’s absence for the Tigers, notably in the form of De’Andre Hunter. If they do both of these things, Virginia should manage to end Auburn’s Cinderella story and end up playing for the title. Our Virginia vs Auburn predictions go like this:
- Take Virginia -6pts @ best odds of -105 with Bovada.
- Go under 132pts @ -115 with Bovada. The other bookies have the line at 131pts for -110.
#2 Michigan State vs #3 Texas Tech Predictions & Picks
Virginia may be the sentimental favorite and on-paper favorite, but right behind them has to be Michigan State, which has played some of their best basketball ever since winning the Big Ten tournament in mid-March.
The Spartans opened up their NCAA tournament with a win over #15 Bradley, and then subsequent victories over #10 Minnesota, #3 LSU and #1 Duke. The win over Duke was perhaps the one that surprised people the most. Even though the Blue Devils hadn’t been playing their best, they entered as the #1 overall seed and were picked by nearly 70 percent of the country, who filled out brackets, to go all the way. For the Spartans, this win was a confidence booster because if they could beat longtime rival Duke, they could beat anybody.
Two-time champions, one-time runner-ups and 10-time Final Four participants, Michigan State is one of the more seasoned veterans of playing this late into the tournament, experience that will no doubt be beneficial to them against the red-hot Red Raiders. What will also be beneficial is their toughness, something that was on full display against Duke thanks to the solid performance by Cassius Winston, one of the best players in the country.
Texas Tech actually lost their championship game in the Big 12 tournament, but they have shown to be one of the hottest and most electric teams in the country since. Led by Jarrett Culver and the best defensive unit left in the field, the Red Raiders easily dispatched #15 Northern Kentucky in the first round before picking up dominant victories over #6 Buffalo and #2 Michigan. In the Elite Eight, they played #1 Gonzaga and triumphed, with their third 70+ point performance of the tournament.
During the regular season, Texas Tech ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency but throughout March Madness, their offense has nearly matched the defense. In fact, since February, the Red Raiders moved from 75th to 30th in the country in offensive efficiency and are playing like a team that feels complete on both sides of the ball. The Final Four predictions for this Michigan State vs Texas Tech preview are:
- Our pick is Texas Tech Red Raiders +2.5pts @ -110 with Bovada. The rest of the sportsbooks are +2pts.
- Look for the under on 132 total points being scored @ -110 with Bovada, Bookmaker, BetOnline or Intertops.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.