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Point spreads for the Final Four semifinal games are historically high

In Sports
April 03, 2024

Most of this NCAA tournament has been defined by favorites.

No. 1 overall seed UConn has rolled over everyone, and is now 10-0 against the spread over the last two NCAA tournaments. Every No. 1 and No. 2 seed was in the Sweet 16, a rare occurrence. Favorites are 36-28 against the spread in the tournament, and double-digit favorites are 15-3.

Given that theme, it shouldn’t be surprising we have a historically chalky Final Four.

UConn is an 11.5-point favorite at BetMGM in one semifinal game against Alabama, and Purdue is a 9.5-point favorite over NC State in the other. If that seems abnormally high, it is.

There has never been a Final Four in which both semifinal games have spreads this high.

A pair of big Final Four favorites

When you get down to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, you expect great matchups. For the most part, that has happened.

According to Sports Odds History, since it started tracking national semifinal point spreads in 1963, only 18 national semifinal or national championship games had a spread of 9.5 or more. Incredibly, John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty of the late 1960s and 1970s accounts for eight of those games.

Never before in a single Final Four have both semifinal games had spreads of 9.5 or more points. That streak ends this year, assuming there’s no big line movements before tipoff Saturday.

Purdue center Zach Edey and his Boilermakers are big favorites vs. NC State. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Purdue center Zach Edey and his Boilermakers are big favorites vs. NC State. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

On one side of the bracket, we have a strong No. 1 seed in Purdue against No. 11 seed NC State, which has amazingly won nine must-win games in a row to stay alive. Even though the Wolfpack is on a fantastic run with some great wins, their power rating is still nowhere near the Boilermakers, leading to the big spread. The other spread is high because UConn is blowing everyone out. The Huskies have won all 10 of their NCAA tournament games the past two seasons by at least 13 points. Alabama is a good team, but even with the big spread bettors are flooding BetMGM with UConn action. As of Monday, 64% of bets and 81% of money on the UConn-Alabama point spread were on the Huskies.

The matchups have led to a historically lopsided Final Four, at least on the odds board.

Big Final Four underdogs have done well vs. spread

Just because there are two big spreads, we could still get some close games.

Underdogs in those 18 Final Four games with a spread of more than nine points have gone 11-7 against the spread. However only two — 1985 Villanova over Georgetown and 1999 UConn over Duke, both in the title game — have won straight up.

UConn’s spread is very rare. Only nine times has a Final Four spread been above 11.5, according to Sports Odds History, and six of those games were Wooden’s UCLA teams. Only twice since 1974 has there been a spread higher than 11.5 points. In 1996, Kentucky was favored by 14 over Syracuse in a national semifinal, and in 2021 Gonzaga was favored by 14.5 over UCLA. Take heart Alabama: Both of those big underdogs covered.

It has been an odd tournament due to the dominance of favorites. Public bettors have done much better than usual. Usually everyone’s bracket is busted by now, but in Yahoo’s Bracket Mayhem more than 45 percent of players had either UConn or Purdue winning it all.

Hopefully we at least get two competitive games this Saturday. The odds aren’t optimistic.

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