April 2 (Bloomberg) -- The University of Louisville is the second-biggest Final Four favorite of oddsmakers since the national men’s college basketball tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Louisville, the lone No. 1 regional seed to reach the national semifinals in Atlanta, is favored by 10 1/2 points in its April 6 game against Wichita State, according to Las Vegas sports books. The Cardinals are riding a 14-game winning streak, while the Shockers, out of the Missouri Valley Conference, are the first No. 9 regional seed to make the Final Four since the University of Pennsylvania in 1979.
The only team in the past 28 years that’s been a bigger Final Four favorite was the 1999 Duke Blue Devils, who were picked to beat Michigan State by 11 points and won 68-62, according to Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com.
“We’re excited to be there and we know there are four teams in that Final Four all capable of winning a national championship,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said on a media conference call. “They’re all playing great.”
The University of Michigan is a 2 1/2-point favorite over Syracuse University in the other national semifinal on April 6, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. The championship game of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament will be played two days later at the Georgia Dome.
A year ago, Louisville was a 9 1/2-point underdog at the Final Four against Kentucky and lost 69-61 to its instate rival, which went on to win the championship.
This season, Louisville is a 10-13 favorite to win its third NCAA title, meaning a bettor would have to wager $130 to win $100. Wichita State (30-8), which had upset wins over Gonzaga, Pittsburgh and Ohio State in its run to the Final Four, is a 12-1 longshot to win the championship. Michigan is listed at 3-1 and Syracuse has 4-1 championship odds.
Of the 116 Final Four teams since 1985, Wichita State is the fourth to be seeded worse than eighth in its region. The Shockers join Virginia Commonwealth (2011), George Mason (2006) and Louisiana State (1986), all of which were No. 11 seeds.
“This team has done better when nothing has been expected, when they’re the underdogs, which we’ll clearly be on Saturday,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said on a conference call. “I just think that’s when we’re at our best.”
Louisville has gone almost two months since its last loss, a 104-101, five-overtime defeat at Notre Dame on Feb. 9. The Cardinals (33-5) recovered to win the Big East tournament title after dropping three games in a row in late January.
“We knew all along that we were good,” Louisville junior guard Russ Smith said. “Once we put it together, everybody got their confidence back and locked in to say, ‘Hey, let’s set our goals, let’s win seven straight, let’s win the Big East tournament. Let’s get the No. 1 of the No. 1 seeds.’ And now we’re here. We’ve had confidence in ourselves all along.”
Louisville has won its four NCAA tournament games by an average of 21.8 points, including 85-63 over Duke in the Midwest region final. That win sent Pitino to the Final Four for the seventh time, tied with Roy Williams for the fourth-most in NCAA tournament history behind John Wooden (12), Mike Krzyzewski (11) and Dean Smith (11).
“We know we’re playing a great basketball team in Wichita State, so we’ll just have to see how deep they are in the back-court,” Pitino said. “We have a lot of front-court depth, but we don’t have a lot of back-court depth. If they’re deep, we’ll have to make some adjustments.”
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