March Madness Final Four Best Bets, Predictions, and Where to Watch
The NCAA March Madness tournament has been action-packed with upsets, Cinderella runs, and players stepping up to the plate to show why they deserve the honor of being crowned champions of the NCAA tournament. We are down to the final four, and both games will be on Saturday starting with the Villanova Wildcats taking on the Kansas Jay Hawks. Then, the day ends with the battle of blues between Duke and the University of North Carolina.
The Tobacco Road rivalry undeniably takes center stage for Saturday's showdowns -- storylines abound as they've never faced each other in an NCAA Tournament, and it comes in what will either be Coach K's last or penultimate game as a head coach — but the betting spreads on the doubleheader are both within 4.5 points. Even No. 1 seed Kansas taking on a thin Villanova team that just lost second-leading scorer Justin Moore is expected to be a close one.
A national championship win for Kansas or Villanova would propel each respective head coach, Bill Self or Jay Wright, to the front of the line when it comes to debating the best coach in the sport. That debate, of course, will be on the table because the most successful coach in the history of Division I men's college basketball, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, is retiring after this tournament.
Coach K's retirement tour going this far is the greatest story anyone could ask for out of the 2021-22 season, but the perfect ending would be getting a final four win against Tobacco Road rival North Carolina after the Tar Heels handed the Blue Devils a loss in their final home game at the end of the regular season.
First-year coach Hubert Davis is also trying to make some of his own history, having already done so with a Final Four appearance in his first year on the job.
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2022 Final Four predictions
(1) Kansas vs. (2) Villanova
6:09 p.m. | TBS, March Madness Live
It's impossible to boil down any matchup to one specific injury or facet of the game ... in most cases. However, could it be this simple in this matchup? Villanova, already thin on depth, is even more razor-thin after losing second-leading scorer and minutes leader Justin Moore to an Achilles injury in the Elite Eight. KU has the depth advantage, and it's pretty close between them in terms of talent. Maybe Caleb Daniels steps up for Nova and Jay Wright rides five or six guys for 35+ minutes with success, either way, I think the injury definitely tilts this one heavily in favor of the Jayhawks.
The Jay Hawks are an experienced team playing with a ton of confidence, boasting four seniors, a junior, and two sophomores in their seven-man rotation. Two of those seniors have the potential to be the best player on the floor, but we have yet to see them play at the same time. Agbaji was the Big 12's leading scorer, the Big 12 Player of the Year, and an All-American, and in this tournament, we’ve seen the rise of transfer guard Remy Martin who was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Midwest Regional despite coming off the bench as a sixth man.
On the other hand, Villanova wins games at the margins. It's a team that ranks in the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency and top 20 nationally in defensive efficiency, but its ability to close out games -- a particularly important strength in the tournament -- comes at the free-throw line. Villanova is currently on track for an all-time team performance at the free-throw line, connecting on 83.0% of its team attempts over the season heading into Saturday's national semifinals. Only one other team in the country finished above 80% and only one other team in this Final Four has a mark above 75% (North Carolina at 76.5%). Hitting nearly every free throw is how Villanova outscores its opponents in the final minutes of the game, and it's a reason why the Wildcats have yet to trail during the second half of this NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats are fortunate to have an experienced roster, but they also have an unusual luxury in that their best player, senior point guard Collin Gillespie, has Final Four experience. Gillespie was a backup point guard on the 2018 championship team behind starter Jalen Brunson and a star-studded roster that saw four of its five starters become NBA draft picks following the club's second national title. Gillespie played eight minutes and scored three points in Villanova's 95-79 win over Kansas in the Final Four.
Prediction: Kansas +4
(2) Duke vs. (8) North Carolina
8:49 p.m. | TBS, March Madness Live
Duke and North Carolina split the regular-season series, but UNC played spoiler in its win by beating Duke on their home court. That's because the Tar Heels' win came in Coach K's last game at Cameron Indoor. It’s wild that the two teams who make up the best rivalry in college basketball have never faced off in the NCAA Tournament, but here we are waiting to see if the revenge narrative will succeed for Duke.
With a win in the Elite Eight, Mike Krzyzewski passed John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances (13) in NCAA Tournament history. All five of Duke's national championships have come under his leadership and with this 2021-22 season announced as his last before retirement, this tournament run has brought one of the stories of the year right to the game's biggest stage in the Final Four. Duke has the most talented rotation of any team in the Final Four and the highest ceiling of any team in the Final Four in terms of performance.
When all of Duke's offensive weapons are clicking -- as they were in the second half of the Sweet 16 win against Texas Tech, going 17-for-24 (70.8%) from the field -- the team is almost unstoppable.
What has always been a strong frontcourt with Banchero and Mark Williams has been balanced in this tournament with Jeremy Roach's emergence and 3-point shooting from 6-6 forward AJ Griffin. Duke ranks as the most efficient offense in the country, and the wins against a pair of elite defensive teams in Texas Tech and Arkansas suggest there hasn’t been anyone who can totally stop the Blue Devils. You can only hope to contain, and/or outscore them over 40 plus minutes.
It's also good to consider that of the four teams remaining in this tournament, Duke does rate last in adjusted defensive efficiency just slightly behind their Tobacco Road rival and national semifinal opponent North Carolina.
The Tar Heels already ruined one big moment for Coach K this campaign when they posted a 94-81 victory on March 5 in the legendary coach's final regular-season home game. Four of UNC's five starters reached the 20-point mark in the win, with junior forward Armando Bacot leading the way with 23 on 10-of-11 shooting. Senior forward Brady Manek also was a force, recording 20 points and 11 rebounds for the third of his four double-doubles in the 2021-22 season.
There has been a stylistic shift in North Carolina's lineups with the transition from Roy Williams to Hubert Davis, but he's maintained at least one traditional big that can run the floor with Armando Bacot. North Carolina has four players capable of scoring 20 plus on any given night, and that versatility of scoring options makes them a dangerous team to face in terms of game planning.
In this tournament alone we've seen guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis each score 30 points, Brady Manek has scored 26 or more twice and Bacot has had a double-double in every postseason game (ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament) the Tar Heels have played hard this year.
This will be a very tight game with high numbers on the scoreboard, but the lack of defensive consistency from Duke sways me towards the narrative of the underdog. Although revenge may taste sweet, I believe ending a dynasty will taste even better, especially in the first year appointed as Head Coach.
Prediction: North Carolina -4