At this time of year, it’s important to have a strong defense. I’m still working on mine.

UConn (-8.5) over Illinois

The point spread is the only potential source of suspense.

I suppose UConn could lose. It did happen three times this season, including once in the past 25 games.

Teams that inspired greater aura and intimidation (1974 UCLA, 1985 Georgetown, 1991 UNLV) have fallen short.

But there is no evidence that hints at the Huskies hitting a speed bump.

And there is no reason to believe Illinois is built to shred millions of brackets.

In a battle of the top-two offenses in the nation, defense will decide the day. While UConn — which suffered its three losses in true road games against top-50 defenses — boasts a top-10 defense that hasn’t allowed a team to shoot better than 40 percent from the field in the past two tournaments, the Illini rank 200th in points allowed, 229th in opponents’ 3-point percentage and 84th in defensive efficiency.

Dan Hurley is unbeaten against the spread in nine tournament games at UConn, with the Huskies winning by an average of nearly 23 points per game. Ride until it dies.

Clemson (+2.5) over Alabama

Since at least 2002, no title game participant has ranked lower than 46th in the nation in defensive efficiency.

At some point, Alabama’s 104th-ranked unit will cut its season short.

Betting on College Basketball?

Even the most explosive offense in the country can’t be counted on to run sprints against the Tigers, who have won their past two NCAA Tournament games against top-10 offenses and previously beat the Tide in November in Tuscaloosa, 85-77, while holding Alabama to its fourth-lowest output of the season.

By leaning on PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin — who combined for 30 points and 22 rebounds in the previous meeting — Clemson should control the inside and slow the pace, giving the Tigers another opportunity for an outright upset.

If not, Clemson is 9-1 against the spread as an underdog this season.

This season: 26-28
2011-23 record: 349-308-12

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