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March Madness Final Four: Championship Game Prediction and Prop Bets!

So, here we are. Championship Monday. A lot of you had Louisville in the finals, almost none of you had Michigan in the finals, and you sure as shit didn't have then knocking off Wichita State (barely) and Syracuse (barely, again), respectively, to get there.

So let's establish that right out of the shoot here before I give you some "items" for tonight's game that you can root for along with me -- nobody knows anything.

Jay Bilas, who watches more college basketball than virtually any other human and, unlike the other humans in that conversation, can actually articulate convincing arguments for his opinions well -- he had Duke winning the whole thing, and had New Mexico in his Final Four.

New Mexico lost on the first day of the tournament.

So, understand, and repeat after me, nobody knows anything.

So how does a guy like Jay Bilas, and virtually every self-proclaimed "expert" for that matter (really, every human being), get roped into a bracket that looks like a slice of Swiss cheese by the time Sunday afternoon of the first weekend of the tournament is over? Because people try to get cute, try to look smart, and think that picking upsets is the way to do it. Are some of those picks based in logic? I guess.

But there's something to be said for going with the safe play.

If you had picked the higher-seeded team in the tournament (with the assumption that the four number one seeds were seeded in this order: Louisville, Kansas, Indiana, Gonzaga), under a 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring format, you'd have 84 points with a shot at 116 points if Louisville won tonight. It's not a methodology that will allow you to win any multi-million participant brackets (some freak always has the finals right, even in weird UConn vs Butler type seasons), but you could win an office pool that way, or come close. (Example: In our Gow Media office pool, you'd finish in second place out of 25 entries if Louisville won tonight, just by picking chalk seeds the whole way.)

(By the way, if you need a gauge for what drives the seedings by human beings, know that using the power ratings for the teams involved in all of the games to pick winners, under the 1-2-4-8-16-32 format, you'd have the exact same total points as you would picking the chalk seeds.)

Kind of a boring, conservative way to approach the tournament (call it the Schaubian Method), but the point is, especially heading into tonight, that more often than not, the best team finds a way to win this thing. Certainly, once we've gotten down to the Final Four the best team of those four has emerged victorious a vast majority of the time the last decade.

Here are the teams involved in the last nine Final Fours with their seeds (winner in CAPS):

2012: 1 KENTUCKY, 4 Louisville, 2 Ohio State, 2 Kansas Kentucky was the best team all season, and this Final Four was as much coronation as it was tournament.

2011: 3 CONNECTICUT, 4 Kentucky, 8 Butler, 11 Virginia Commonwealth This was the "black sheep" Final Four here in Houston. Connecticut wasn't the best team in the field, but they were the hottest, having won five games to take the Big East tournament the week before. They were easily the best of these four teams.

2010: 5 Michigan State, 5 Butler, 2 West Virginia, 1 DUKE Duke was in the mix as the best team in the country all season, and again, was easily the most highly touted of these four teams, although a Gordon Hayward prayer goes the other way, and we are having much different historical conversations.

 

The ghost of Chris Webber hangs heavy....
The ghost of Chris Webber hangs heavy....

2009: 2 Michigan State, 1 Connecticut, 3 Villanova, 1 NORTH CAROLINA This was the Hansbrough/Lawson/Ellington Tar Heels. Another coronation.

2008: 1 North Carolina, Memphis, 1 KANSAS, 1 UCLA This is the year picking all chalk would have made you a wealthy man (or woman). Memphis was probably the best team of the four, and if they could make foul shots, and if Mario Chalmers doesn't hit a buzzer-beater, and if and if and if....

2007: 1 FLORIDA, 2 UCLA, 2 Georgetown, 1 Ohio State Another good "chalk" year, this was the sequel to Florida's 2006 title where their entire team returned for the sole purpose of winning the tournament, and they did.

2006: 4 LSU, 2 UCLA, 3 FLORIDA, 11 George Mason Hard to remember or decipher who the favorite was in this group, but the most talented team (Florida) probably won. Considering they only had to pass one real test (sorry, GMU), Florida was probably the pick.

2005: 1 Illinois, 1 NORTH CAROLINA, 4 Louisville, 5 Michigan State Roy Williams rehabilitation of Matt Doherty's five-star head-case recruits (Sean May, Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton, etc) was complete with this title.

2004: 2 Oklahoma State, 3 Georgia Tech, 1 Duke, 2 CONNECTICUT Duke was the only one seed, but the Okafor/Gordon Huskies were the favorite to win it that season and at the Final Four, favored over Duke by 2 points in the semifinal. (I remember this because Chris Duhon's "meaningless" half court shot to cut the final deficit to one point destroyed thousands of Husky bettors.)

So that brings us to tonight. Michigan might be the hottest team in the tournament right now, and catching four points, I really want to take them. I could even (if I wanted to sound smart) point to their 78-53 thrashing of VCU, and their "havoc" full court pressure, in the round of 32 as the blueprint for "why Michigan can win this thing." I could point to Wichita State handling Louisville's press with aplomb for about 32 minutes of the game on Saturday as a reason.

 

Hell, if I want to simplify it, Michigan actually has more ( a lot more ) NBA talent on its roster than Louisville. They are the more talented team.

And then I look at that list above. The best team at each of those Final Fours won the whole thing in all but maybe one of them. The best team heading into the tournament won the whole thing in about half of them.

I could try to sound smart here and give you a bunch of reasons to take Michigan, match-ups, trends, blah blah blah.

Louisville is the better team. Hell, they are the best team. And history rays that's the safe play.

PREDICTION: Louisville 74, Michigan 66

Four Prop Bets I Might Dabble In Tonight

Largest Lead in the Game: OVER 13 1/2 (-110) Of the last nine title games, eight of them have seen one of the teams take an in-game lead of 14 points or more. The exception? The 2008 Kansas-Memphis game, which is appropriate considering it went to overtime.

Total 3-Point FG's Made by Both Teams: OVER 12 1/2 (-120) Considering they made a combined 17 in the semifinals, and considering they both love to shoot threes, I really like this one. I think the tempo will be fast in this game leading to more field goal attempts, and logically, more three-point field goal attempts, than normal.

Luke Hancock Total 3-Point FG's Made: OVER 1 1/2 (-130) Why not, he was the guy knocking them down on Saturday.

Russ Smith Total FT's Made: OVER 6 1/2 (-150) Smith has been compared to Allen Iverson for his somewhat reckless style, but that also means he's not afraid to take it to the hoop. Between drives to the basket, the possibility of getting fouled on a three-pointer, and the likelihood that Louisville is up late in the game (and getting fouled), I love this one. Plus, the number is probably dulled a little bit from Smith's uncharacteristic 5-12 performance from the line on Saturday against Wichita State.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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