Vegas Bookmaker NCAA Tournament Roundup: Bettors Piling On a Few Trendy Underdogs
Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA Today Sports. Pictured: The Liberty Flames
It’s like clockwork.
Every year, people from all over the betting-universe make their way to Las Vegas for the first weekend of March Madness.
The sportsbook managers know it is coming — and they will tell you they’re prepared — but, due to changes in gambling laws around the country, this year’s rendition is expected to be the biggest yet.
“It’s gonna be insane,” Nick Bogdanovich, the director of trading at William Hill, said. “Because we’re in seven other states around the country it’s going to be absolutely wild with regional preferences and such. Trends and patterns we’re used to seeing here in Vegas like bandwagon effects on those hot mid-major schools will go right out the window in places like Mississippi with both Mississippi and and Mississippi State along with LSU in the tournament. The same can be said for Villanova in Pennsylvania and Seton Hall in New Jersey.”
The first week of March Madness has grown into the second biggest sporting event — as far as room rates, occupancy and betting handle — of the year. It is still second to the Super Bowl, but some guys behind the counter think this is the year that the Madness overtakes the Big Game.
“It could happen this year given how much interest we’re already getting,” Bogdanovich explained, “Obviously we regressed a little in the Super Bowl numbers so the door is open for us to get there. It’s gonna be close given how much action we’re expecting this week.”
That’s enough about the business-side of things, though, let’s get to some games.
No. 11 Belmont vs. No. 6 Maryland (-3)
As usual, there are some trendy mid-major teams drawing some serious betting support. For example, as soon as Belmont was announced as an at-large team, the pundits on the selection show started to hype up the Bruins’ chances to pull off an “upset” against Temple in the play-in game.
Of course the Bruins were a 3.5-point favorite and won in impressive fashion.
“When they announced the brackets, all the TV guys said they loved Belmont in a big upset over Temple.” Ed Salmons, a manager at the Westgate SuperBook, said. “But we were all saying here at the Westgate, ‘Belmont is going to be favored here. It won’t be an upset.’. I don’t think anyone will be surprised if they make it to the Sweet 16.”
The Bruins are one of a few dark horses that could be backed by both sharp and public bettors in Round 1.
No. 12 Liberty vs. No. 5 Mississippi State (-6.5)
Liberty, a 12-seed playing Mississippi State in the first round, is also quite popular among punters. The Flames opened as a 7.5-point underdog and have been bet down to 6.5 or 7 depending where you look around town.
“Liberty has maintained a good amount of buzz even before its conference tournament started,” Tim Fitzgerald, supervisor at the South Point Sportsbook, commented. “The Flames are taking heavy action here and I expect it to continue. It helps that no one has a lot of confidence in Mississippi State. Sure, they won most of the games they were supposed to this season but they rarely dominated an opponent. They do seem like the kind of candidate that’s ripe for an 5-12 upset”
No. 13 Northeastern vs. No. 4 Kansas (-6.5)
Another game taking a heap of action all over town is Kansas against Northeastern, as bettors are both high on the Huskies and low on the Jayhawks heading into the dance.
“It’s nearly 10-to-1 on bets for Northeastern against Kansas,” Fitzgerald explained. “Northeastern can really shoot and if they get on a roll they can go toe to toe with anyone But I think a lot of this money is anti-Kansas as well. The Jayhawks have been such a huge disappointment this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have the least support in the brackets they’ve had in years. This game opened here right out of the gate at Kansas -10 and immediately got bet down to -8 by Monday morning. Now we have it at -6.5 and likely still dropping.”
“We’ve taken a few big bets on Northeastern already and I expect this number to continue to drop,” Salmons said. “There doesn’t seem to be much support out there for Kansas right now but I don’t think it should be overlooked. The Jayhawks are still a capable team.”
At William Hill, a whopping 92% of the money bet on this game was on Northeastern at the time of writing.
No. 14 Yale vs. No. 3 LSU (-7.5)
One of the most peculiar games on the slate features LSU as a 7.5-point favorite over the Ivy League champion Yale Bulldogs.
The Tigers are dealing with the suspension of their head coach, Will Wade, and lost early in the SEC Tournament (without Wade) so there’s some interesting factors at play here.
“This game is really polarizing,” Matt Lindeman, senior oddsmaker at Caesars, said. “The game opened here at LSU -8.5 and got bet pretty heavy down to -7.5 where it is now. But I still have this number closer to LSU -9.5. There is so much controversy around their coach and clearly we saw that mattered in the SEC Tournament with them losing early on. He’s such an important key to their success so with him not being there, that’s going to hurt.
“This certainly is a dangerous spot for them and it seems the public is looking for a #3 seed to get upset,” Lindeman added. “This spot seems like it could be ripe for an upset even though LSU should win this one comfortably on paper, there are a lot of factors working against them.”