A’ja Wilson caps off landmark year with World Cup gold
Wilson earned World Cup MVP honors two weeks after clinching the WNBA title.
The WNBA semifinals are upon us. Each best-of-five series kicks off Tuesday night with an ESPN2 doubleheader of Game 1s.
Even though the same two teams are playing the entire time, betting can look a bit different for each game of a series. Factors such as home court, momentum and injuries can affect the sportsbook’s lines as well as the outcomes.
In that spirit, rather than just taking a look at Tuesday night’s games, let’s break down the broader numbers and trends to keep in mind for each of these four teams as you put your money down throughout the semifinals.
Connecticut has been about as much of a headache for sportsbooks this season as it has been for opponents. Curt Miller has the Sun playing such a deliberate and defensive brand of basketball that they’ve held their opponents to a sub-70 scoring average, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in this league in a decade.
It’s no surprise, then, that Connecticut games have been great for under-bettors. Including the Commissioner’s Cup final, the under has hit in two-thirds of Sun games — 22 of 33 — easily the most of any team in the league.
That’s also the number of games in which Connecticut has covered the betting spread, which leads the WNBA as well. No team has made the sportsbooks look more wrong on the spread or the over/unders than the Sun this year.
Yet, it’s possible that this team might only be getting better. Star forward Alyssa Thomas returned from an Achilles injury near the end of the regular season and got to shake off the rust with some valuable court time after the Sun had wrapped up the No. 1 seed. Adding an All-Star to the best team in the league — that already has the WNBA MVP favorite in Jonquel Jones — doesn’t seem fair.
Then there’s Miller’s playoff track record. Last season, his Sun came within a game of the Finals as the No. 7 seed. The year before that, they were minutes from stealing the championship from the Washington Mystics, one of the best teams ever with arguably the greatest offense of all time.
That track record has shown up in the betting results, too. As strong as Connecticut’s performance against the spread was this year — they outscored it by a league-leading four points per game — that number is over nine in their playoff games over the last two seasons.
If you don’t want to overthink it, there’s an argument to be made for betting on the Sun spread and the under in every Connecticut game. It’s been profitable so far.
So, what can the Sky do to change that?
For starters, they can box out. Chicago came into the playoffs with the worst defensive rebounding rate of any team in the field at 69.0 percent, but through two playoff games, that mark has jumped up to 75.3 percent. That would have been the difference between 10th and third in the regular season.
Keeping that energy on the defensive glass will be critical against a Sun team that led the league in offensive rebounding rate. Chicago will have to speed the game up if it wants to have a chance, and that starts with grabbing the boards and executing outlet passes.
Which leads to the second thing the Sky can do: Push the pace. Connecticut would love nothing more than to slow the game down and keep it in the halfcourt. With transition talent like Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper and Candace Parker on its side, Chicago will have to get out and run to neutralize Connecticut’s staunch halfcourt defense.
Tuesday night’s spread is Connecticut -7 at Caesars Sportsbook, and despite how improved Chicago has looked, I’ll continue to ride with the Sun until they give me a reason not to. Same goes for the totals: I’m going with the under on the line of 152.5 on principle given Connecticut’s record there. It also doesn’t hurt that the Sky and their rejuvenated defense hit the under in both of their playoff matchups.
As a Sky fan, I’d love to be wrong on the series, but I have to go with Connecticut. Chicago has played well enough to steal a game, so I’ll take the Sun in four.
It’s fitting that on the opposite side of the bracket from the best team for unders, we get the best team for overs — the Las Vegas Aces.
The Aces are the only team whose games have averaged more than a full point over the sportsbook totals, and they also sit atop the league in percentage of games hitting the over at 59 percent.
As the WNBA leaders in both offensive rating and pace, the Aces truly are the anti-Sun in many respects.
One commonality, however, is their interior play. A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage form a dominant frontcourt that rivals that of the Sun. It will be entertaining to watch them match up with Brittney Griner and Co.
While all three regular season meetings between these teams were close, including an overtime game and a last-second finish on the final day of the regular season, the Aces are favored Tuesday night and should be in every game. It’s a position they have become accustomed to: They played just one game as an underdog on PointsBet Sportsbook all season. That came when they traveled to Connecticut in August.
When it comes to betting the totals for this series, it’s important to note that Las Vegas has played at a slower pace in the playoffs over the last two years. While the game in general typically slows down in the playoffs, as the tighter rotations and closer games lead to tired legs, the Aces’ drop in pace from regular season to postseason over that time has essentially doubled that of the rest of the league.
Then again, they didn’t have Chelsea Gray during those runs and didn’t have Kelsey Plum last year either.
On the other side, the Mercury have gone over in both of their playoff games so far, but the first one was by half a point and the second was in overtime. With the top two regular season offenses squaring off, the lines should be high in this series. But tread with caution on the totals early on.
If the Mercury want to pull the upset in the series, or even in Tuesday’s game, they’ll need to win the physicality battle. These were the top two teams in free-throw rate during the regular season as well as the top two in opponent free-throw rate. In other words, both were great at getting to the line and preventing the other team from getting there.
With what they give up in talent and backcourt size in this matchup, the Mercury will need to play clean defense and get Las Vegas in foul trouble on the other end.
They’ll also need to force turnovers, an area in which they were last in the league in the regular season. Given that Las Vegas also had the lowest turnover rate on offense despite its up-tempo style of play, if Phoenix’s guards and wings aren’t aggressive enough, the Aces could feast on offense.
The spread for Tuesday night’s game on Caesars Sportsbook sits at Las Vegas -5.5, and I’ll take the Aces to cover based on the volume of shots they should get up. Their frontcourt gets a lot of love, but I’m looking for the backcourt of Gray, Plum and Jackie Young to show up against the Mercury.
I also lean toward the over on the line of 169.5 given how well both offenses have played this year, although I’d hesitate to put money on that in Game 1 before seeing what this series looks like and how healthy Diana Taurasi looks.
In the series, I like the Aces to sweep, but with at least two of the games coming down to the final minutes.
Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats and Bet Her. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.
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