Oregon, South Carolina live underdogs in Final Four

Updated March 27, 2017 - 12:23 am

The Final Four shapes up as a clash of the West Coast and the Carolinas.

Odds are the NCAA championship game will be as well after No. 1 seed Gonzaga opened as a 6½-point favorite over seventh-seeded South Carolina (total 139) and top seed North Carolina opened as a 5-point favorite over No. 3 seed Oregon (total 150½) in Saturday’s national semifinals.

“They talk every year about how it’s wide open, but there’s two 1s in there and there’s two 1s in there all the time. It’s not that wide open, is it?” Wynn sports book director Johnny Avello said. “South Carolina is unexpected and I guess you could say Oregon. We didn’t know how far they’d go missing one of their top players (Chris Boucher), but they’ve dug in and made it.”

The Ducks stunned Kansas 74-60 in Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup as 6½-point underdogs and plus-300 on the money line. The Gamecocks beat Florida 77-70 on Sunday as 3-point ’dogs.

The Tar Heels pushed as 2-point favorites in Sunday’s thrilling 75-73 win over Kentucky and Gonzaga whipped Xavier 83-59 on Saturday, easily covering the 8½-point spread.

“There’s definitely more pressure on both Gonzaga and North Carolina as the two No. 1 seeds left playing,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “Gonzaga’s had a little easier road, but they’re playing a highly motivated South Carolina team that was able to beat Duke and play well in that game. On the other side, Oregon just looked so good against Kansas.

“It just depends on North Carolina. If they’re shooting lights out, you have to like Carolina but the way Oregon shut down Kansas in the second half of that game, you have to think they’re in the game. Holding Kansas to 60 after they were averaging 96, I was just really impressed with how athletic and physical they were. They were flying all over the court and just looked like they were on a mission.”

The Ducks’ upset of the Jayhawks, who had won their previous three games by an average of 30 points, was the biggest decision of the weekend for Las Vegas sports books.

“The Kansas game was really good for us,” Avello said. “The game fell on the number in the North Carolina game and that’s never good. There was nothing special (Sunday). The action really cooled off.”

Malik Monk hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 73-all for Kentucky with 10 seconds left, but Luke Maye answered with a long 2-pointer with 0.3 seconds left to lift the Tar Heels to the victory and point-spread push. Bettors lost on the total, which was 161.

“There was a lot of over action on that game,” Esposito said.

Bettors continued to pound the over after it cashed in 34 of the tourney’s first 52 games. But the over hit in only four of 12 games in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

While two teams from the Pacific time zone are headed to the Final Four for the first time in NCAA Tournament history, the Gamecocks are wearing the glass slipper.

South Carolina rode Sindarius Thornwell — averaging 25.8 points per game in the tourney — to convincing wins over No. 3 Baylor and No. 2 Duke. But it gets its hard-nosed, defensive mindset from fiery coach Frank Martin.

“You can tell the players really like playing for him,” Esposito said. “He wears his emotions on his sleeve and so do they. It’s fun watching a team like that in the Final Four that nobody expected to be there at the end.”

Not many people expected Oregon to make it this far without its shot-blocking big man, but the Ducks are guided by one of the country’s top coaches in Dana Altman.

“You take Roy Williams and these guys who have always got great athletes and a great team. They’re expected to get there,” Avello said. “These other coaches have got to scratch and claw to get there. They don’t get many opportunities so when they do get there they’ve got to take full advantage of it.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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