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Covers Chalk Talk: Final Four Issue
The table is set.
A quartet of the finest college basketball programs in the country will meet this weekend in San Antonio to compete for a national title. It's the pinnacle of the college basketball season, and for the sports bettor, it concludes what has been a hectic few weeks.
We've seen the field of 65 slowly carved to a Sweet Sixteen, then an Elite Eight, and finally, it is now time for the Final Four to hit the floor. Earning tickets to the Big Dance this year will be the likes of longtime flourishing Duke, powerhouse Connecticut, sharp-shooting Oklahoma State, and finally, an overachieving Georgia Tech. team.
In fact, I take that back. Overacheiving may be too harsh of a word to describe the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. You see they make their home in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and we all know what a competitive bunch of basketball schools reside there.
Did you know the ACC has sent at least one representitive to the Final Four in 15 of the past 17 years?
That's quite a stat, but before I go any further let's stop there and take a team by team look into each of the four remaining competitors. Since I started to talk about the Jackets already, let's begin there;
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3)
There's no question that these Yellow Jackets are battle tested. As mentioned above, making a living in the ACC can be nightmarish. In a conference filled with giants, this Tech team has already defeated the likes of Duke, and Wake Forest on the road this season. In the process, they snapped Duke's 41-game home win streak, and Wake's 24-game run of the same variety.
Not bad for a team preseason experts had picked to finish as low as seventh in the conference.
In the tournament thus far, nothing has come easily for these guys. Every game has been a battle through and through. Wins of just five, three, five, and eight points have GT prepared for just about anything that the Cowboys can throw at them in this Final Four contest.
The wounded ankle of the Jacket's high-scoring guard, B.J. Elder, is reportedly improving and should not cause him too much discomfort this week.
Georgia Tech will enter as a five-point pup against the Cowboys, and that number has to raise the eyebrows of 'dog bettors everywhere. Tech was 13-8 ATS on the road this year, 6-3 ATS as an underdog - including five straight covers!
This game will mark the school's first Final Four appearance since 1990, and GT has never won a championship.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (2)
The Cowboys are the top shooting team in the nation (percentage wise) and they will need every last bit of that average to oust a Tech team that just won't quit. Although favored in this contest, the Cowboys are feeling a little disrepected overall. Okie State is carrying the 'we'll make you respect us' attitude into San Antonio after hearing the experts predict that the winner of this game would be nothing more than shark bait for whomever emerges from the Duke / UConn tilt.
Uh oh. Should sleeping dogs not be left alone?
"On TV and in the papers, all the focus seems to be on that game," OSU point guard John Lucas said. "People are saying that the Duke/UConn game is the title game and that us and Georgia Tech don't matter. We don't like that."
I don't blame you Mr. Lucas. Nothing like a motivating newspaper article in the lockerroom to stoke a fire in a teams' gut before a game.
The Cowboys bring a 31-3 SU mark into this game, but are just 13-11 ATS this year when laying points. Of the teams' four tournament wins, they have collected at the pay window in three.
Duke Blue Devils (1)
I don't know about yourself, but I am getting a little sick of seeing Duke year after year, every other time I turn on the tube. Now with that said, I can't rave enough about the history of this program and the continued success it has enjoyed.
For example, coach Mike Krzyzewski is already making his 10th appearance in the Final Four.
The Blue Devils were not unbeatable this season, and in fact have lost a total of five games to date. That number very well could hit six after this Final Four meeting with Connecticut. You see the Huskies have beaten Duke in the only two recent meetings between these ACC and Big East schools.
With that said, you would still be silly to count the Blue Devils out. A sound, disciplined team who shoots an impressive 73-percent from the 'charity stripe' is always a dangerous foe. For the record, that free throw percentage is tops among the remaining four teams.
Do not underestimate these guys!
U of Connecticut Huskies (2)
The Huskies seem to be every television analysts' pick to win it all this year, and the oddsmakers have followed suit. Despite a very respected opponent in Duke, and despite the injuries to big man Emeka Okafur, Connecticut is still pegged as a two-point favorite.
The Huskies entered the year holding the preseason No. 1 ranking, went on to win the Big East title, and now find themselves just two wins away from the ulitimate prize. To date, everything has gone just as planned for this team.
To get to this point in the tournament, the Huskies rolled through their first four opponents, winning by an average of 17 points per game. If I were a UConn fan, I may be concerned that this team has not been challenged and Duke is more than capable of providing a wake-up call.
At risk of sounding like a doubter, I must add that this will be a very hard team to beat - as long as these kids stay focused on the task at hand.
Out on a limb with a whim? Not this year.
For those of you who have been reading Chalk Talk since Day 1, you will probably recall my prediction last year for Syracuse to advance past the Final Four, into the finals, and ultimately be crowned National Champions. If you've forgotten, no worries, I'm here to remind you! (wink, wink)
While I don't have a similiar hunch this time around, I did take UConn and Oklahoma State to meet in this year's championship game, with the Huskies eventually going on to victor. My only trouble is, the more I think about it, the more I think I like Duke and Georgia Tech.
Or at least with the points...
Alright, seeing as I'm not going to get this confusion sorted out anytime soon, I am going to have to pass on making a big prediction this year. Instead, let's move onto something that I feel a little more concrete about. Somebody pass me an NBA rotation schedule!
Torrey's Tip: Now 19-6-1 to date
Last week the Oklahoma State Cowboys hung on to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers, 63-51, in a Sweet Sixteen battle, thus vaulting The Tip to a cool 76-percent winning clip since its inception.
To be honest, I didn't know I had it in me.
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