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April 23, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of championship game

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Associated Press

Syracuse’s Nolan Hart (4) shoots against Michigan’s Mitch McGary (4) during the first half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 6, 2013, in Atlanta.

2013 NCAA Tournament championship game

Which side would you take in Monday's national championship game?
Michigan +4 — 64.2%
Louisville -4 — 35.8%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Players from Louisville and Michigan arrived to the Georgia Dome for Saturday night’s semifinal games sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the same saying in all caps: Rise to the occasion.

Only one of the teams will have proved worthy of wearing the Adidas-printed apparel by the end of Monday night when they play for the national championship. The edge must go to Louisville, a 4-point favorite in Las Vegas, if based upon recent national championship history.

The favorites have more than risen to the occasion for college basketball’s ultimate prize. The team laying points in the final game has won eight of the past nine NCAA Tournaments straight-up and gone 7-2 against the spread.

The 2008 Kansas Jayhawks, a 2-point underdog against Memphis, were the only exception.

April finals tend to wash away March Madness.

Will the trend continue in Atlanta? Are the Wolverines live underdogs?

After a 2-0 record on Saturday’s Final Four games, the blog’s overall mark in the tournament against the spread is 31-34-2 — a disappointing tally but also a reminder of why it’s unwise to pick every game.

Find the final pick of the tournament below.

No. 1 Louisville minus-4 over No. 4 Michigan There’s one major reason to avoid picking the underdog — defense. The team that wins the national championship is traditionally more astute at keeping its opponents from scoring than the Wolverines are. None of the past 10 national champions, according to Ken Pomeroy, has a defensive efficiency rating higher than Michigan’s this season. The Wolverines rank 32nd in Pomeroy’s defensive metric but were much worse at the start of the tournament.

That’s not to say the Wolverines can’t possibly win. There’s no magic number for these things. It’s just that teams that fit a similar defensive profile usually struggle when they encounter an opponent with a dynamic offense. You know, like the Cardinals. This reasoning, admittedly, failed against Florida in the Elite Eight. The Gators were a highly-rated offensive juggernaut, but Michigan stifled them en route to a 20-point victory.

Look at the best offensive teams Michigan played during the regular season, though: Indiana and Ohio State. The Wolverines went 0-4 against the spread, 1-3 straight-up, against those rivals. It’s the reason they fell to a No. 4 seed. Louisville grabbed the top overall seed and were coined the favorite in Las Vegas because of its versatility. The Cardinals are the best team in the nation and can win in a number of ways, which makes them the pick to hoist the 2013 national championship trophy.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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