Alabama reached the Final Four on Saturday night for the first time in program history, but to go any further would require a historic upset.

The Crimson Tide are matched up with UConn in their national semifinal, which will be played next Saturday. Alabama has opened as an 11.5-point underdog to the Huskies, according to most sportsbooks. UConn is in the midst of arguably the most dominant multi-year NCAA Tournament run since Florida went back-to-back in 2006-07.

Dating back to last season, Dan Hurley’s team has won 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament games by 13+ points. The Huskies have held a 30+ point lead in all 4 of their Tournament games so far this March.

Here’s a look at the (recent) history of double-digit underdogs in the Final Four — and whether or not a 10+ point spread is warranted in this matchup:

History of double-digit point spreads in the Final Four

It’s not completely unheard of for a team to be favored by double-digits in a national semifinal, but it is rare. It’s even more rare when it occurs without a true Cinderella being involved.

Here are all the instances in the last 20 years where a team was favored by 10+ points in a Final Four semifinal game:

Year Favorite Underdog Spread Who covered?
2024 No. 1 UConn No. 4 Alabama -11.5 ???
2021 No. 1 Gonzaga No. 11 UCLA -14.5 UCLA
2016 No. 1 North Carolina No. 10 Syracuse -10 North Carolina

As you can see, it doesn’t happen very often. Gonzaga in 2021 and North Carolina in 2016 are the only other double-digit favorites in a semifinal game over the past 20 years (Louisville in 2013 just missed the cut as a 9.5-point favorite over Wichita State). In both previous cases, the favorite won the game outright. However, UCLA covered the spread as a 14-point dog in 2021 (the Bruins lost 93-90).

Given that Alabama is a top-4 seed, it’s exceptionally unusual to see a team like the Tide facing such long odds at this point in the tournament. The closest comparison  is probably the 2012 Final Four, when No. 1-seeded Kentucky was an 8.5-point favorite against No. 4-seeded Louisville. UK won that game by 8 points, giving the cover the Cardinals.

Like Alabama, that Louisville team had a significant weakness. While the Tide’s struggles have been on the defensive end of the floor, that Louisville team had the No. 112-ranked offense in the country per KenPom’s efficiency ratings. Like this year’s UConn team, Kentucky in 2012 was top-10 in KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency metrics (and ultimately won the national title).

Is the high spread warranted in UConn vs. Alabama?

UConn’s dominance is hard to overstate. The Huskies have won their 4 NCAA Tournament games so far this year by an average of 27.8 points. They went on a 30-0 run at one point against Illinois, who entered the game with one of the best 5 offenses in the history of KenPom’s database (which goes back to 1999).

BartTorvik has a tool that allows us to compare a team’s efficiency and tempo to other similar profiles throughout history. Of the 10 most-similar profiles to 2024 UConn since 2008, 4 of them made the Final Four and 3 of them went on to win the national championship.

UConn has also consistently beaten market expectations this season. The Huskies have covered the spread in 13 of their last 15 games. UConn beat the number by more than 10 points in 8 of those 13 against-the-spread victories.

The double-digit spread is also due to Alabama’s shortcomings. The Tide have done well to make the Final Four for the first time in program history, but this team isn’t without flaws. The Tide’s defense ranks 104th nationally in opponent-adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.

Even during the NCAA Tournament, Alabama has struggled on the defensive end of the floor. The Tide have given up more than 1.15 points per possession in 3 of their 4 NCAA Tournament wins but have survived based on the strength of their 3-point shooting and overall offensive prowess.

Illinois’ Elite Eight performance against UConn should serve as a cautionary tale for that approach. The Fighting Illini also had a high-level offense with a questionable defense going into Saturday’s game against the Huskies, but they had no answers for Donovan Clingan in the middle of the paint. The Tide famously take the vast majority of their shots from 3-point range or at the rim. So if driving the ball to the basket is not a viable option for Alabama’s offense (like it wasn’t for Illinois), the Tide could become overly-reliant on the 3-point shot. That’s something Alabama will spend the next week trying to sort out.

Various computer models disagree on what the spread for this game should be. KenPom is projecting an 8-point margin in UConn’s favor while BartTorvik’s model is predicting a 10-point difference. However, EvanMiya’s model suggests the betting markets are still being too conservative in valuing UConn, as it makes the Huskies nearly a 13-point favorite in this contest.

Most sports betting apps currently have UConn as an 11.5-point favorite. However, if you want to bet on the Huskies, Bet365 has the line at UConn -10.5 (-110) as of publication. If you want to back the Crimson Tide, FanDuel is offering Alabama +11.5 at -110 odds.

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