Bob Donnan, USA Today Sports.
- The Sweet 16 features every No. 1, 2 and 3 seed for the first time since 2009.
- With so many favorites still in the tournament, how are bettors approaching the games?
- Adam Staple spoke to some of the biggest bookmakers in Vegas to find out which teams are getting the action so far.
LAS VEGAS — The dust is beginning to settle after a wild-yet-chalky first weekend of March Madness.
“We try to prepare ourselves for how insane everything is going to be,” Kevin Todd, a supervisor at William Hill said. “It’s not like we haven’t been through this before. I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I still can’t believe how exhausted I am when the first weekend is over.”
One person who had never been through the craziness before was Ross O’Boyle, a first-year ticket writer at the Wynn Sportsbook.
“I was warned over and over by the entire staff here at the Wynn. I was cocky and said, ‘How bad can it be?’ It’s not like I hadn’t seen it,” O’Boyle admitted. “I’ve lived in Vegas for seven years, but I’ve never worked March Madness. All I can tell you is I’ll never mock it again. This was absolutely brutal.”
O’Boyle, who is a bit of a basketball novice himself being from Ireland originally, says it’s very simple to understand the wagering process since the computer he writes tickets on walks you pretty much through everything. But there still is some room for human error — mostly coming from the other side of the window.
“When I get a drunk girl wearing a Tennessee sweatshirt and she says, ‘Give me the Volunteers!’ I don’t even know how to respond to that! Who the hell are the Volunteers? I assume it’s Tennessee but it’s only an educated guess,” O’Boyle explained. “Plus it’s Thursday at 9 p.m. and I’ve been working since 8 a.m.. I’m totally fried and there’s 65 people on line waiting to bet the Friday games! So I ended up printing a ticket for her for Tennessee money line $10 to win $1.09. I can’t tell you how many countless others come up to the window and do this.”
When I told Todd about O’Boyle’s story he could only shake his head and laugh.
“That’s March Madness for you on the Strip,” he chortled.
There is , of course, serious money being thrown around all weekend.
One bettor made some headlines with a $500,000 moneyline bet on Michigan (-1800) against Montana that netted him or her $27,777. Amazingly, this deep-pocketed punter then rolled all $527,777 over on Texas Tech (-1400) against Northern Kentucky.
That’s a total of $1.027 million to win just over $65,000.
Looking Ahead to the Sweet 16
This is only the second time (2009) that the No. 1, 2, and 3 seeds in each bracket qualified for the Sweet 16. There were no outright upsets on Saturday and Sunday, though some underdogs did cover.
Of course there hasn’t been much action to report on yet, Cameron Coombs, a supervisor at the Westgate SuperBook, says they already have a good idea of what to expect.
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Michigan (-2)
“This is one of the two games that has moved for us,” Coombs said. “We like Texas Tech against Michigan. Most places opened up -1.5 or -2 Michigan. We opened up -1, took a few bets. Now we are up to -2.”
William Hill is also at Michigan -2 as of Monday morning, but Todd is skeptical it will stay there.
“I’m definitely impressed by Texas Tech. We opened at Michigan -2 and we haven’t seen that much action here so far but I definitely think as people start focusing on the next round, this game could easily go to -1 or a pick ’em. Michigan has been good but I think bettors are looking for that team that is showing a spark and Tech is definitely it,” Todd explained.
No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 1 Virginia (-8.5)
Oregon is the highest seed remaining, but it is a big program so nobody is treating the Ducks like a Cinderella.
“Everything about this games says blowout,” Todd said. “Oregon has to come back to reality eventually. The Ducks are playing way over their heads. But this is the kind of team that starts gathering attention during the week before the game. And maybe all the attention will convince them they’re better than they really are.”
No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 1 North Carolina (-5)
This game is already drawing some interest and, even though it’s not clear which team the sportsbooks will be rooting for, they know which side of the total they will need.
“This is the other game that has moved the most,” Coombs said “We opened North Carolina -5.5 and a guy we respect bet Auburn +5.5. Now we’re at +5. It will be interesting to see what direction this game goes from here. I’m really not sure yet.”
“Auburn-Carolina is the complete opposite of Oregon-Virginia,” John Murray, a supervisor at the Westgate, explained. “It’s all offense here and features two coaches I don’t think much of, to say the least. But that should be fun to watch. We will likely need the under here (161) as we’re getting some over action early on this game.”
“We’re a point higher on the total than the Westgate,” Todd commented. “We’re at 162 and we’re seeing some over plays already as well. I think that will be the area to watch on this game. I don’t see this spread moving much, but this total is another story.”
No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Duke (-7)
“This is the game that interests me the most,” Coombs said. “Duke really should have lost to UCF. Everything went right for the Blue Devils at the end of the game, and they didn’t look great. We actually raised their future odds after that performance from +220 to +240. I still expect them to beat Virginia Tech, since they have time to prepare, but it’s still intriguing.”
Even with Duke’s struggles through the first two rounds, Murray thinks they will be a popular bet, which explains the high line.
“This will be a heavily bet game for sure,” Murray noted. I expect Duke to be included in a lot of moneyline parlays. We opened it a little high in my opinion at -8 because we know Duke money will come.”
Early Virginia Tech money also showed up at William Hill.
“We opened this game at -8 and took a few significant bets already and knocked the line down to -7.5,” Todd said. “I think with the buzz surrounding this game this line will close under -7. Va Tech has looked excellent with Robinson back and Duke was iffy at best. The game has the makings for a classic.”