TST’s best bets for men’s, women’s Final Four

The Sporting Tribune's Danny Burke shares his analysis on the men's and women's semifinal games.

The Final Four is finally here. The annual doubleheaders of college basketball that grips the nation is set for Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

As you fire up that app, where should you direct those hard-earned dollars (or bonus bets).

Let’s give you some food for thought before you press the “place bet” button.

Men’s semifinal: N.C. State vs. Purdue (-8.5), 3 p.m. Saturday

Three weeks ago, the conversation surrounding North Carolina State coach  Kevin Keatts involved termination. 

Then a miracle occurred. 

With less than five seconds remaining in the ACC tournament semifinals, the 10th-seeded Wolfpack were on the brink of elimination against the third-seeded Cavaliers. Virginia guard Isaac McKneely had a chance to ice the game at the free-throw line. Instead, he missed the front end of a one-and-one and N.C State senior Michael O’Connell banked in a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. 

The Wolfpack won, 73-65. Then they overcame the Tar Heels, 84-76, in the ACC championship game and reigned atop the conference. 

N.C. State earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and claimed the No. 11 seed in the South region. 

Four wins later they are making the school’s second Final Four appearance. The other one was a legendary run in 1983 that ended with coach Jimmy Valvano running around looking for someone to hug after the Wolfpack beat the Houston Cougars.

It would make a great tale if they repeated that magic. However, the chances are slim.

On Saturday night, N.C. State will attempt to contain 7-foot-4 senior Zach Edey, the two-time player of the year. This task is seemingly impossible considering he has averaged 30 points and over 16 rebounds during the tournament. 

The Boilermakers have a KenPom ranking of second in adjusted offensive efficiency and 16th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They also rank second in three-point shooting (40.6%). 

The Wolfpack are not the same club, statistically. They are listed at 40th in adjusted offense, 45th in adjusted defense and 141st in 3-pointers (34.7%).

This Purdue team clearly has a different vibe around them and are poised to compete for the title. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where fan-favorite DJ Burns Jr. produces great game against Edey.

 Even if N.C. State pulls Burns out of the paint, the Boilermakers have enough length to appropriately counter. 

North Carolina State’s other big man, Mohamed Diarra, will presumably be matched up on Edey, who has averaged 13.5 free throw attempts during the tournament.

It’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when — Diarra gets in foul trouble. And when that occurs, the pressure will increase, their depth will narrow and the underdog will start playing like the team their underlying metrics suggest they are. 

The Cinderella story comes to an end this weekend. Purdue gets a spot in the championship game and a chance to avenge their first round loss in 2023, which happened to be the biggest upset in tournament history. 

Play: Purdue -8.5 (-110); risk 1.10 units to win 1.00 

Men’s semifinal: Alabama vs.  UConn (-11.5), 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Wagering against the University of Connecticut seems like one of the more unappealing bets you could make. They Huskies have covered each of their four tournament games and won by an average margin of 27.8 points. 

The Crimson Tide have not endured quite as smooth sailing in the month of March.

Nevertheless, they’ve made it to Glendale, and have a shot at claiming the crown. In order to do so, they have to overcome the top-ranked adjusted offense, and fourth-ranked adjusted defense, according to KenPom. 

Alabama can at least match up offensively (ranked third),  but are susceptible on the defensive front (104th). Coach Nate Oats’ offense is attempting over 46% of their shots as 3-pointers (19th) and making more than 37% of them (21st). 

In order for the Tide to stay competitive, they need to hit their threes. The Huskies, however, have held opponents to shooting less than 31% from beyond the perimeter (28th). 

That doesn’t mean Alabama will struggle from downtown, but it’s not an encouraging sign. 

The better wager appears to be the first-half spread, where UConn is laying -6.5 points.

Over their last two games in the first half, UConn led Illinois 28-23 in the Elite Eight; in the Sweet 16, UConn led San Diego the Aztecs, 40-31.

The Huskies ended up outscoring the Illini 49-29 and the Aztecs 42-21 in the second half of those games. 

What UConn does so efficiently is implementing and executing adjustments. They wear their opponents down and keep their foot on the pedal. 

The fear in taking the full-game spread on the Crimson Tide is their potential inability to connect on threes and failures in finding alternate sources of scoring post-halftime. They certainly have the capability of getting hot at the opening tip and can introduce a formidable defensive strategy, but at some point the Huskies will prevail. 

Again, this is just a lean. Don’t step in front of the freight train that is UConn. 

Lean: Alabama 1H +6.5 (-110)

Women’s semifinal: UConn vs. Iowa, 6 p.m. Friday

Arguably the most exciting matchup in college basketball features Caitlyn Clark and the Hawkeyes vs. Paige Bueckers and the Huskies. 

Must be nice to be a UConn fan this time of year.

This showdown features storylines galore. Most notably, how Clark says she always dreamt of getting recruited by UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

That never happened and now Clark has the perfect opportunity to make him regret it. 

Not that they need any more motivation. Aside from that, how do these teams stack up against one another?

We are all aware of how proficient the Hawkeyes are on the offensive front: They possess an effective field-goal percentage of 58.4%, average 1.04 points per play and are shooting almost 40% from beyond the arc. 

Conversely, UConn has an effective field-goal percentage of 55%, averages 0.97 points per play but is only connecting on 28.5% of their threes. 

The Big Ten representative also has the edge on the glass, with a 54.5% rebound rate compared to the Huskies’ 53.9%. Iowa is a more efficient group when it comes to free throws, earning a 20.7% free throw rate and making 78% of those opportunities; UConn has a 14.9% FTR and connects on 74.9%. 

The Huskies do get the nod defensively, though. They limit teams to under 36% shooting, whereas the Hawkeyes’ opponents are making 39.6% of their attempts. 

The difference in this setting is Clark. Her range is unmatchable and often unguardable. 

Clark will enact her revenge on UConn’s program and seal Iowa’s admission to the championship game. 

Play: Iowa moneyline (-140); risk 1.40 units to win 1.00