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April 5, 2013

Ask Sports Are the Wichita State Shockers the biggest underdogs in Final Four history?

Are the Shockers the biggest underdogs in Final Four history?

Are the Shockers the biggest underdogs in Final Four history?

Not quite, but they are close.

Wichita State enters Saturday’s game with Louisville as a 10 1/2-point underdog to the Cardinals. That means point-spread bettors who take Louisville would need the Cardinals to beat WSU by at least 11 points in order to collect on their winnings.

If one were betting on the Shockers to win the game outright and without a point spread, oddsmakers have made WSU a 5-1 proposition to win. That roughly equates to a 16.7-percent chance for WSU to win.

That’s in line with what other statistical models have, including one by Nate Silver of the New York Times.

Silver has the Shockers with a 15.4-percent chance to win Saturday and a 4.7-percent chance to win the entire tournament based on statistical analysis and simulations.

As for that 10 1/2-point spread? That’s a doozy as far as Final Fours are concerned.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, WSU is the second-largest underdog ever in a Final Four game.

The 1999 Duke squad entered the tournament as the odds-on favorite with four players who would be selected in the first round of that year’s NBA Draft — Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Corey Maggette and William Avery. And Shane Battier would be the No. 6 pick overall two years later.

At 32-1, Duke looked unstoppable — its only loss coming to Cincinnati in the Great Alaska Shootout in November.

After rolling through their first four games of the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils took on a Michigan State team making its first Final Four appearance since Magic Johnson cut down the nets 20 years earlier.

Las Vegas posted Duke as an 11-point favorite over the Spartans in Tom Izzo’s first Final Four.

Duke won 68-62, but didn’t cover the spread.

Two nights later, Duke was favored by 9 1/2 points over Connecticut, a team making its Final Four debut. Led by Richard Hamilton, UConn won its first title, beating Duke 77-74.

Here were the point spreads in other famous Final Four upsets:

•  Duke beat previously undefeated UNLV 79-77 in the 1991 semifinal when the Blue Devils were a nine-point underdog. Duke won its first championship by beating Kansas 72-65 in the title game.
•  Villanova, the lowest-seeded team to win the title (8), defeated Georgetown 66-64 as a nine-point dog in the 1985 final.
•  KU was an eight-point underdog to Oklahoma in the 1988 title game, winning 83-79.
•  North Carolina State was a 7 1/2-point underdog to Houston in the 1983 championship game. Lorenzo Charles’ dunk gave the Wolfpack a 54-52 win.

Notable in all of those upsets was that every team had at least one player who made the NBA. The Shockers don’t have any player who currently projects to be drafted.

The 2010 championship game seems to be more comparable to this matchup.

In that game, Butler took on Duke as a seven-point underdog, surprising many by even making the championship. Butler lost by two points, but the Bulldogs did have two future NBA players — Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack.

— Joshua Wood

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