Elite 8 2019: Latest Odds, Picks for Final Four Matchups

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 31, 2019

Duke forward Zion Williamson (1) dribbles the ball against Central Florida during the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Sean Rayford/Associated Press

The Final Four of the 2019 men's NCAA basketball tournament is half-filled.

By day's end, all the national semifinal participants shall be known.

Top-seeded Virginia and third-seeded Texas Tech punched their tickets Saturday. The former awaits the winner of second-seeded Kentucky and fifth-seeded Auburn, while the latter gets the victor from the top-seeded Duke and second-seeded Michigan State matchup.

After laying out the latest bracket, we'll look at the odds (via OddsShark), analysis and predictions for Sunday's two tilts that will solidify the Final Four.




Kentucky (-4.5) Over Auburn

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The injury bug looms large over this matchup, for different reasons on either side.

The Wildcats, who throttled these same Tigers by 27 points in their last meeting, got leading scorer PJ Washington back from a sprained left foot for Friday's Sweet 16 victory over third-seeded Houston. The sophomore forward scored 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and had a critical rejection in the final minute.

"We don't win the game today without him," Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters.

While Washington might not be full strength, he's healthy enough to compete at a high level in limited spurts—or longer stretches if Kentucky needs the extra lift. He can dismantle opposing defenses from inside and out, and this team hit its stride once he established himself as the top offensive option.

Auburn's situation is much more somber on the injury front. Sophomore forward Chuma Okeke, the team's top rebounder and third-leading scorer, suffered a torn ACL in Friday's Sweet 16 win over top-seeded North Carolina.

"We're going to miss him tomorrow," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said Saturday. "We're going to have tough matchups. We lost every single matchup we had against Kentucky in Lexington, every one of them. ... But Chuma always gave us a chance to win [his] matchup."

Prior to the injury, Okeke had been playing some of his best basketball of the season. Friday was his fourth consecutive double-digit outburst, and he had erupted for 20 points (on 8-of-11 shooting) and 11 rebounds in only 25 minutes.

Considering Auburn would've been fighting an uphill battle with him in this contest, his absence makes it hard to see how the Tigers could avoid a third loss to the Wildcats.


Duke (-2) Over Michigan State

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

After seeming like hoops superheroes for most of this season, the Blue Devils have felt uncharacteristically vulnerable in this tournament.

None of their first three wins have been especially impressive.

In the first round, they let No. 16-seeded North Dakota State carry just a four-point deficit into halftime. They only survived the second when ninth-seeded UCF failed to convert two close-range shots in the final seconds. The Sweet 16 was another nail-biter, with fourth-seeded Virginia Tech failing to finish an inbounds lob play as time expired.

Oh, and they played this past round without likely NBA lottery pick Cam Reddish, who's a game-time decision for Sunday with the same knee injury.

And yet, Duke still feels it has to be the pick here, for a couple of different reasons.

For starters, the Spartans—like everyone else in college basketball—don't have Zion Williamson. The freshman phenom's hype train motored through the regular season and somehow has still found a way to pick up speed since. His first three tournament efforts have featured 80 points on 64.8 percent shooting, 20 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals.

"Khalil Mack is a guy I look at and say, 'Geez, if I could borrow somebody from the Bears, maybe we could cover him,'" Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told reporters. "He's an incredible athlete. ... He's not Superman, but he's damn close."

And remember, Williamson has superfriends, too. Even without Reddish, there's another likely lottery lock in RJ Barrett and a later potential first-rounder in Tre Jones. That duo just provided a combined 40 points, 19 assists and eight rebounds in the Sweet 16.

Finally, history says that when Izzo faces off with Mike Krzyzewski, you take the latter nine times out of 10—or 11 times out of 12, to be exact. Even if there's some static in that statistic, do you want to be the one losing by betting on someone who's 1-11 against their opponent?

There are just too many arrows pointing to Duke's side for us to put our faith anywhere else.