Well folks, it's hard to believe it, but it's time: It is Final Four Saturday. A year after we got no tournament at all, we are down to the Final Four, and about as compelling a group of teams as anyone could've possibly asked for. We've got the two best teams all season playing in Indy, a third team which was in the Top 10 all year, and a fourth which was the Pac-12 preseason favorite that struggled at times, but hit its stride at the perfect time.
It's funny, it's exciting. And now it's time to make some gambling picks.
Before we get to the picks, a reminder: The picks are sponsored by ManScaped. Fellas, you might have a little sweat on these games tonight - so grab ManScaped to keep yourself fresh. And ladies, grab some ManScaped for your man. We all know he needs it. They're the best in below the waist grooming, and have everything to fit your needs. If you go to ManScaped.com promo code "TORRES" you get 20 percent off your first purchase plus free shipping.
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By the way, in addition to this write-up, you can also watch my Final Four video preview here.
Now, to the picks:
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 1 Baylor
Spread: Baylor (-5.5)
It's an old Southwest Conference matchup as we have a showdown between two elite teams from the state of Texas. And while it might not feel like it - since they have such different personnel - these two teams kind of have the same identity: Tough, physical, fearless.
Really though, that's kind of my concern with Houston in this game. Throughout this tournament we've seen that if you can deal with their physicality, they are beatable. That's not to take away from what they've accomplished, and not to take away from the fact that this is Kelvin Sampson's most skilled offensive team since he got the school. At the same time, the facts are indisputable. Remember, Rutgers (one of the most physical teams in the country) nearly beat them in the second round, and after a slow start, Oregon State was able to cut into Houston's lead and almost pull off the upset against the Cougars Monday night. It took the Beavers most of the first half, but once they got their legs under them, they were able to hang tough.
And that's the thing that would worry me if I was a Cougars fan: Baylor might not be big, but they are physical. If you don't believe me, just ask Arkansas fans, who saw Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague, Adam Flagler and Jared Butler "grown man" the young Hogs' backcourt. Mitchell was especially impressive, forcing his way to the basket for a couple big buckets late.
Ultimately, I do think this game stays close for a half, and maybe the first part of the second half. But Baylor is too skilled, and too tough to let this one get away.
I got Baylor at -5 earlier this week, but I'd take them at -5.5 as well.
The Pick: Baylor (-5 - would play them at -5.5 as well)
No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
Spread: Gonzaga (-14.5)
On the one hand, this number feels preposterously high. How could any team - no matter how good they are - be favored by 14.5 points in a Final Four game?!
At the same time, let me counter that by also saying this: We've seen three, four, five, six, 10 really good teams this year think they have the blueprint to beat Gonzaga. And then those same teams proceeded to get run out of the gym. Heck, last round, it became trendy to say "USC can keep things close against Gonzaga." Gonzaga was up 19 at halftime and cruised to victory.
Therefore, with due respect to the Bruins, I'm sorry, but I just don't see UCLA as having enough offensive juice to beat Gonzaga. After all, this was a team that had 51 points in their Elite Eight game against Michigan. Twenty eight of those 51 points were scored by one guy (Johnny Juzang).
Does "a team scores 51 points, with one guy scoring 28" really feel like the blueprint to beat Gonzaga? Not to me it doesn't.
If anything, if I were betting this game, I'd probably take the Zags first half line which is about 8.5 at most sportsbooks. The 14.5 for the game scares me, only because we know that the backdoor will be open late.
Still, ultimately, UCLA is a balanced enough team offensively and defensively where I could see, in theory, them keeping it close in the first half.
Because of it, I'll stay away. But if I were betting anything, it would be the Zags first half.
Unofficial Pick/Lean: Gonzaga (-8.5 - first half)
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