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Last weekend saw plenty of upsets, with 3 of 4 underdogs toppling their more favored opponents. This weekend the Final Four play down to two, with the winners earning their spot in the 2019 National Championship Game. Here is our picks for Saturday night's Final Four action:
Auburn vs. Virginia
Auburn is the closest thing this tournament has to a Cinderella story but the clock is about to strike midnight.
Virginia’s defense is downright nasty. 55.4 points allowed per game on 38.4% is just unfair. Perhaps even more damning is Virginia’s 3-point defense, allowing only 28.7% from deep. Unfortunately for Auburn, they are insanely reliant on the 3-ball: a whopping 43.4% of their points have come from beyond the arc this season. Auburn’s biggest strength – their 3-point shooting – should be effectively neutralized here.
They may be known for their defense, but the Cavaliers are quietly one of the better offensive teams this season. Though Auburn scores more points per game, Virginia shoots better (47.4% from the floor compared to 45.1%) and is more efficient (1.141 points per possession compared to 1.117). The Cavaliers have the ability to not only stifle the Tigers’ offense but also pick on their mediocre defense (108th in points allowed, 176th in shooting percentage allowed).
These two teams are also trending in opposite directions. In their last game, Auburn was missing Chuma Okeke and put up their lowest point output of the tournament. On the other side, Virginia saw Kyle Guy snap his cold streak and put up their highest point output of the tournament.
As impressive as their run has been, Auburn is simply outmatched here. Virginia would have won by double-digits against Purdue were Carsen Edwards not draining contested NBA-range 3’s; look for them to win soundly on Saturday afternoon.
1u - Virginia -5.5 @ -110
Texas Tech vs. Michigan State
This game will be a gritty defensive battle. Both teams rank in the upper echelon of defenses this season in strong offensive conferences. Texas Tech has held every March Madness opponent – including the notoriously high-scoring Gonzaga and Buffalo – to under 70 points; Michigan State has done the same.
Though they are both accomplished defenses, Texas Tech is notably better. The Red Raiders edge the Spartans in points allowed (3rd compared to 30th), defensive efficiency (1st compared to 16th), shooting percentage allowed (2nd compared to 3rd), and 3-point percentage allowed (11th compared to 31st).
One of Texas Tech’s defensive strengths is forcing turnovers; opponents turn the ball over on 22.6% of their possessions while facing the Red Raiders (10th in the country). Michigan State isn’t particularly careful with the ball, turning it over on 18% of their possessions (166th in the country). On the season, Michigan State has lost 6 games; in all 6, they lost the turnover battle by a wide margin.
Texas Tech has looked more dominant in their Final Four run thus far. Gonzaga has better offensive and defensive stats than Michigan State and fell to Texas Tech by 6. I expect Texas Tech to win outright, but take the free points just in case.
1u - Texas Tech +2.5 @ -110
By Luke Greenberg