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Red-hot handicappers give best bets for NCAA’s Final Four

Updated April 5, 2024 - 9:32 am

North Carolina State lost its final four games of the regular season. Now, incredibly, it’s in the Final Four.

The 11th-seeded Wolfpack have won nine straight elimination games, seven as underdogs. They won five games in five days to earn the Atlantic Coast Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

They escaped with a victory over Virginia in the ACC semifinals — when they were 750-1 long shots at Circa Sports to win the national title — after Michael O’Connell banked in a wild 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.

N.C. State has reeled off four wins in the NCAA Tournament, three as underdogs, to conjure memories of its 1983 national championship team and set up a national semifinal matchup with No. 1 Purdue, a consensus 9-point favorite.

Pro handicappers Bruce Marshall and Paul Stone each went 12-5 against the spread (70.5 percent) and hit both of their best bets to tie for first place in the Review-Journal March Madness Challenge. They both made the Wolfpack their best bet in the Final Four on Saturday in Phoenix.

Stone said he believes that fan favorite DJ Burns Jr. — listed at 6 feet, 9 inches, and 275 pounds — and N.C. State have enough left in the tank to stay within single digits against Zach Edey — listed at 7-4 and 300 pounds — and Purdue.

“This N.C. State team is sort of on a free roll and playing with house money, so to speak,” said Stone (@paulstonesports). “If DJ Burns can impact the game on the offensive end in some fashion — whether through scoring, passing or a combination — I think the Wolfpack have a puncher’s chance.”

Marshall made N.C. State his best bet in the Elite Eight and was rewarded when it knocked off Duke 76-64 as a 7-point underdog behind Burns, who scored 29 points.

“They are whipping these teams, too, not always riding lightning like ’83,” Marshall said. “I’m riding N.C. State. I’ve ridden them the whole way. I think they’ve got a shot to win this game. Certainly, at plus-9, they’re live.

“They’re on this roll right now, and I think it continues. I really do. N.C. State’s playing with a chip on their shoulder. They think they’re going to win.”

Edey had 40 points and 16 rebounds in Purdue’s 72-66 win and cover over Tennessee in the Elite Eight. Marshall expects Burns to do a better job defending the two-time national Player of the Year.

“This will depend on Burns staying on the court and not getting in foul trouble,” he said. “You’re not going to see Edey post up as low on the blocks as he did against Tennessee. Burns will not let him do that. Edey’s not going to move Burns.”

Caesars Sportsbook is on the hook for a seven-figure payout if the Wolfpack win it all. One bettor wagered $14,100 to win $987,000 on N.C. State at 70-1.

The Westgate SuperBook took three bets on the Wolfpack to win it all at 500-1, including a $50 wager to win $25,000. N.C. State is +350 on the money line against Purdue.

“N.C. State is a team the public has gotten behind,” SuperBook vice president of risk Ed Salmons said. “It’s almost hard to imagine how bad they were all year and to have this unbelievable run.”

‘UConn looks unbeatable’

Salmons said the betting public has been blindly betting on Connecticut, a consensus 12-point favorite over Alabama in the other national semifinal.

“And they’ve been rewarded every time they bet them,” Salmons said. “They cover every game, but it’s just so rare when you get to the Final Four and you have a team laying double digits.”

The Huskies have won 10 straight NCAA Tournament games by 13 points or more while going 10-0 ATS.

“I have a slight lean to Alabama right now just because it’s so many points,” Salmons said. “If this game was played probably any time of the year that isn’t right now, the spread would never have been this high. The highest all year it would’ve been is 8½, and now you’re getting 12.

“But UConn looks unbeatable right now. It’s hard to fade them.”

Marshall also leans to the Crimson Tide.

“It seems kind of folly to pick against UConn right now but … Alabama will play them different because they are the creation of modern analytics,” he said. “Their whole offense is predicated on shooting 3s and getting dunks, and that’s it. That can serve to neutralize (7-2 Huskies center Donovan) Clingan. I don’t know if Clingan’s going to have the same impact on this game.

“Alabama’s going to have to hit their 3s. But all year they just shoot holes in perimeter defenses.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on X.

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