Tony Gutierrez / AP
Saturday, March 24, 2018 | 2 a.m.
One or two of the teams that have led the underdog charge in this year’s NCAA Tournament will advance to the Final Four today.
Pre-tournament future odds implied a 2 percent chance that either Kansas State or Loyola-Chicago would reach San Antonio next weekend, but that’s what’s at stake in the first-ever matchup between a No. 9 seed and a No. 11 seed. The other No. 9 seed vying for a national semifinal slot, Florida State, was only a little less improbable.
The Seminoles were 40-to-1 to come out of the West Region as compared to 60-to-1 for the Wildcats and Ramblers in the South. Still, the lines in their first three games calculated out to only a 5 percent chance the Seminoles would advance to the Elite Eight.
They’ll have to defy the odds again tonight versus No. 3 seed Michigan, which looks like the interloper of Saturday’s games as the lone team expected to have a good tournament run.
The Wolverines were a 3-to-1 third choice to survive the West.
Read below to find out which sides Talking Points likes in today’s game. The blog sits at 28-29-3 against the spread picking every game of the tournament. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago plus-1 vs. No. 9 seed Kansas State Maybe Ramblers’ team chaplain Sister Jean really is the reason for their continued success. It’s as rational of a way to explain Loyola-Chicago’s season as any other at this point. The Ramblers rated as one of the most fortunate teams coming into the tournament, having gone 6-3 in games decided by six points or less to sit in the top 30 of kenpom.com's luck metric. That’s the type of close-game performance that usually tends to regress, but not always in the short term. And not always in the Ramblers’ case. Loyola-Chicago has taken it to the extreme, winning its three tournament games by a total of four points. Kansas State has reached the Elite 8 more decisively — its 61-58 Sweet 16 win over Kentucky as 5.5-point underdogs was its first close tournament win — but has been even more lucky on the year as a whole. Kansas State’s win on Friday improved its record to 8-2 in games decided by six points or less. The most impressive part was that the Wildcats did it for the most part without leading-scorer Dean Wade, who was expected back but logged only eight minutes.
Kansas State has gotten this far without Wade, but that doesn’t mean his absence isn’t significant. In fact, it feels like it’s underrated at this point. Loyola-Chicago is dealing with no major injuries, and these two teams performances in close games aren’t the only way they look similar. This might be one of the most evenly matched Elite 8 games in the last several years. It opened pick’em before action shifted Kansas State to a slight favorite. The game is so tight that it’s worth taking point(s) on whichever side they fall, and it’s a bonus that they’ve so far fallen on the healthier side.
No. 9 seed Florida State plus-5 vs. No. 3 seed Michigan These are both teams that looked capable of making it this deep in the tournament at certain parts of the season, and destined to fall short at others. The Seminoles had positioned themselves for a lower seed before losing six of their final 10 pre-tournament games. The Wolverines were the opposite, winning nine in a row after the first half of the Big Ten season was littered with struggles against the conference’s dregs. The erraticism isn’t a surprise with a closer look at Michigan and Florida State. They both have clear weaknesses gnawing at undeniable strengths. Remember how no one liked Virginia in the tournament because of their style of suffocating defense to go with methodical offense? Michigan does the same thing. That might be hard to comprehend coming off of the Wolverines’ 99-72 victory over Texas A&M as 2-point favorites in the Sweet 16, but they shot 62 percent from the field including hitting 14 of 24 threes.
That’s an outlier; not even the best offensive teams can come close to shooting that well consistently. Florida State is better at getting opponents off of the three-point line — at least most of the time. The Seminoles’ strength is in their uptempo approach on offense that can disorient opponents. The problem is, defense sometimes falls by the wayside as the Seminoles have the worst defensive efficiency numbers left in the field. Five points is big spread, though. The Seminoles are bound to go on some runs. The Wolverines should win, but they’re built to endure battles much more than initiate blowouts. Underdogs might reign again this evening.