Final Four history and trends: Can bettors rely on elite defenses?
Final Four history and trends: Can bettors rely on elite defenses?
The identities of Virginia and Texas Tech are clear: defense, defense, defense. Some bettors race to back those types of teams, but is the theory a reliable one?
On Saturday, two of the nation's top-five defenses enter the Final Four with high expectations after smothering opponents in their first four wins. No. 1 seed Virginia, the lone top seed remaining in the NCAA Tournament, has boasted a top-five defensive efficiency in [KenPom](https://kenpom.com/) in six of the past eight years. This year, the Cavaliers rank fifth ahead of their matchup with No. 5 seed Auburn (+6). And then there's No. 3 Texas Tech, owner of one of the fiercest defenses in recent memory. The Red Raiders' adjusted defensive efficiency (84 points per 100 possessions) is the best since KenPom started tracking data in 2002. Still, Texas Tech (+2.5) is a short underdog to No. 2 Michigan State. __Final Four previews:__ [Virginia vs. Auburn](https://www.betchicago.com/final-four-betting-lines-odds-predictions-auburn-virginia) | [Michigan State vs. Texas Tech](https://www.betchicago.com/final-four-betting-lines-odds-predictions-texas-tech-michigan-state) The identities of Virginia and Texas Tech are clear: defense, defense, defense. Some bettors race to back those types of teams, but is the theory that defense leads to winning bets a reliable one? ## What is the ATS, O/U betting record of Virginia, Texas Tech? Virginia (33-3 straight up, 25-11 against the spread) is one of the nation's best teams against the number. In terms of totals, bookmakers have adusted to UVA's suffocating defense and deliberate offense, as the Cavaliers are a middling 17-19 O/U. Texas Tech (30-6 SU, 19-16-1 ATS) doesn't carry the same yearlong success but is 12-3 ATS since Feb. 4. Similar to Virginia, the Red Raiders are 16-19 O/U, even with an otherworldly defense. __Final four betting__: [Prop bets](https://www.betchicago.com/final-four-prop-bets-cassius-winston-jarrett-culver-ty-jerome) | [Historical trends](https://www.betchicago.com/final-four-betting-trends-auburn) UNDER has been a profitable play for both teams' games during this tournament, though. Virginia went OVER on Saturday thanks to Carsen Edward's fireworks display, but that came after three prior UNDERs. Texas Tech went OVER vs. Gonzaga after hitting UNDER in three straight games. ## How have top-5 defenses performed ATS, total in the Final Four? We analyzed the numbers from every Final Four since 2002 (the first year of available KenPom data) to see how top-five defenses fared in the semifinal and championship rounds. Advanced numbers suggest [title teams](https://www.betchicago.com/ncaa-tournament-2019-betting-kenpom-national-champion) need at least a passable defense. But there's nothing statistically significant to suggest elite defenses cover spreads at a profitable rate. Of the 85 teams with a top-five defense that played in the tournament from 2002-18, 26 lost in one of the first two rounds and 25 made the Final Four. The semifinal and final results of those 25 contenders were almost perfectly split. In 39 games played, teams with a top-five defense went 19-20 SU / 18-20-1 ATS. The UNDER, meanwhile, is a profitable 20-17-2. __Final Four point spreads:__ [Virginia favored in any matchup](https://www.betchicago.com/national-championship-game-point-spreads-auburn-underdog) How about favorites? If a team is rated higher by the betting market AND has a better defense, that sounds like a championship recipe, right? Well, not exactly. Since 2002, top-five defenses giving points in the final two rounds are 13-8 SU and 10-11 ATS. The total in those games is 10-10-1 O/U. But what about the best of the best, you ask? Here's how the nation's top-ranked defense fared in Final Four or title games: 5-3 SU, 3-4-1 ATS, 4-4 O/U. In other words, bettors should find further justification for backing Texas Tech against Michigan State on Saturday. ## Mixed historical results After Texas Tech, the second-most efficient defense to make the Final Four was Kentucky in 2015, when the Wildcats lost 71-64 to 5-point underdog Wisconsin in a contest that went OVER 131. The next-best defensive team to make the Final Four was Louisville in 2013, when the Cardinals went 2-0 SU to win the title (1-1 ATS, two OVERs). Fourth-best? The 2012 Louisville team, which was bounced in the semfinal by Kentucky, 69-61, but cashed as an 8.5-point underdog, while UNDER 131 paid, too. __Final Four futures:__ [Texas Tech futures ticket could crush PropSwap records](https://www.betchicago.com/texas-tech-futures-bet-odds-propswap-sale-price-record) Two top-five defenses have faced off six times in the semifinal or final rounds. A Texas Tech-Virginia final would be the seventh. UNDER is 4-2 in those games. Take those out of the equation and you get: 13-14 SU for the highly-rated defense, 12-14-1 ATS, 13-12-2 O/U. Nothing to see here. But in the championship game, top-five defenses are 5-8 SU / 4-9 ATS, with UNDER going 9-4. In the semifinal round, those top-five defenses are 14-11 SU / 14-10-1 ATS with 12-11-2 O/U. It's all a lot of numbers to say one simple thing: the numbers don't pick a side. On the lone basis of defense, neither should you. ## So who should you bet this weekend? Overall, the numbers don't strongly suggest backing (or fading) either top defense. However, they do hint at two betting trends that may be worth keeping your eye on this Saturday. __PLAY:__ Enter our free [Final 4 Tourney Challenge](https://betchicago.chalkline.com/games/betchicago-bracket-challenge) for a chance to win a BetChicago Prize Pack When facing teams with non-elite Ds, teams with top-five defenses are 10-7 SU / 10-6-1 ATS in the Final Four round. Texas Tech fits the trend as an underdog against Michigan State. Here's a trend Virginia futures holders will like: Of the eight teams from 2002-18 that ended the year with with top-five offensive and defensive efficiency marks in KenPom, six reached the Final Four. Those six teams combined for a 9-2 SU/ATS record and four titles. UNDER is 7-4 those games. In general, though, it's not advisable to bet top-ranked defenses blindly. Some bettors have a tendency to trust defense when we get this late in the tournament. Others dismiss defense-first teams as too vulnerable in late March and early April. History takes neither side. The real answer lies almost exactly in the middle. __MORE:__ [March Madness 2019 coverage](https://www.betchicago.com/ncaa-basketball-betting)2019-04-05T19:58:06.717Z2019-04-05T15:57-04:00