Las Vegas lists Kentucky a five point choice over Arkansas and Notre Dame by three over Duke. Should the Wildcats and the Irish meet for the NCAA basketball championship, Kentucky would be favored by four.
Bookmakers throughout the country tell their Vegas contacts that 1977-78 has been the greatest season in the history of gambling on college contests. The reason is television. NBC has done an excellent job of covering the country, and being able to see a top team perform several times is what gives a better confidence in his selection.
All four regional title games were televised last weekend. Notre Dame was the most impressive, in dismantling DePaul.
Digger Phelps' squad appears to be peaking at the perfect time. I thought the Irish were the best team in the nation in December, but they tailed off badly by early February, in part because Phelps couldn't settle on a starting five. Duck Williams has been as inconsistent as Rich Branning has been steady in the Notre Dame backcourt.
The Irish will get to Monday's final. Of that I am confident. Duke qualified for St. Louis because the Eastern regional lacked quality. The Blue Devils offer three fine talents in Spanarkel, Gminski and Banks, but they have little else. This ACC representative is a year away from having a good chance for the NCAA title.
Duke's zone lacks aggressiveness, partly by design. Phil Foster knows he can not have his three key players in foul trouble early. They play passively on defense. Any team physical enough to take the game to Duke early will beat them. Notre Dame is such a team. The spread is low. Give the three points.
The five-point spead makes Kentucky-Arkansas much tougher to tout. Kentucky is deep. Joe Hall keeps inserting players into his lineup until he finds the right chemistry against an opponent. That is a luxury few coaches enjoy. Of the four teams in the finals, only Notre Dame comes close to matching the Wildcats' bench, and much of Notre Dame's reserve strength is in the freshman class and may be too young to cope with this kind of pressure.
Arkansas' tall back court is at once the team's strength and its weakness. Monerief gets the publicity but Brewer was the take-charge guy when the going got rough against Fullerton State.
This is a team particularly vulnerable to a full-court press. Kentucky will not press. It can't. The Wildcats' baby hippos waddle up and down the floor. Their game is brute strength under the boards, not quickness or agility.
Arkansas has a solid chance against Kentucky if it can come close to holding its own on the inside, and if its starters can stay free from foul trouble. I'll take the five points, lightly, and hope Kentucky wins by one, two, three or four. That would provide an opportunity to come back with Notre Dame again on Monday, getting four points.
Anyone who saw Notre Dame play Kentucky in Louisville on TV this season should accept that games as a fairly true bill. Kentucky led most of the way then Notre Dame rallied and gained control, only to make a series of mistakes that cost it the victory.
The Irish have the bulk and the bench needed to match up favorably with the SEC champions. If Williams has one of his good shooting performances, Notre Dame will win. The danger to that thinking is Givens. He was in foul difficulty early in that first game, and he is kentucky's most dangerous shooter. Still, getting four, the pick would be Notre Dame.
I was three for four again last week, making it six for eight in the NCAS tournament after shooting up with Duke in the ACC tourney. It has been another profitable experience, despite Weber State.
Just remember, picking against the spread is a tough way to play the game. Last year, in the NCA semifinals, I picked North Carolina and Marquette. Carolina was favored by 2 over Nevada-Las Vegas. Marquette by 2 1/2 over N.C.-Charlotte. Both won. But neither beat the spread.