Books, bettors ask same question: Who can beat Louisville?


Sometime during the second half, Mike Krzyzewski looked for help and found none. He might have reminisced that it was a lot easier coaching a crew of NBA All-Stars in the Olympics.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant were not in uniform for Duke, which might have been the second-best team in this NCAA Tournament field but had no shot against the No. 1 overall seed.

At this point, does any team have a realistic shot to take down Louisville? The Final Four appears to be Rick Pitino and three props.

Public opinion predicted the outcome Sunday. As the Blue Devils and Cardinals got set for tipoff, MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said, “Everybody was cashing out and pounding Louisville.”

The Cardinals, who moved from 3½-point favorites to 4, pounded Duke, 85-63. Rarely do we see Coach K get KO’d so convincingly.

Michigan, Syracuse and Wichita State will join the party in Atlanta, but barring some sort of miracle, it will be Pitino and the Cardinals cutting down the nets a week from today.

At the LVH sports book, Louisville is a minus-130 favorite (10-13 odds) to win the title. The Cardinals opened as 10½-point favorites over the Shockers in Saturday’s first national semifinal.

“I can’t see anybody beating them,” said Ken Thomson, a handicapper for SportsXRadio.com and Pregame.com. “The Louisville defense is so tenacious, and if you don’t have several guys with good handles, you’re in trouble.”

The Blue Devils had too few guys who could handle the defensive pressure and too many guys who were too tired to make a jumper. Seth Curry hit two 3-pointers, Mason Plumlee dunked, and Duke was looking good enough with the game tied at 42 early in the second half.

That’s when Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, two of the fastest guards in college basketball, started driving to the rim for a layup drill, leading the Cardinals on a 20-4 run. The Blue Devils were done, a step too slow and not sure what hit them.

Louisville made just 2 of 13 3-pointers, lost reserve guard Kevin Ware to a gruesome broken leg in the first half, and still won in a runaway. I thought the Cardinals’ weak perimeter shooting would lead to their demise in the NCAA Tournament, but that theory was as wrong as my Duke pick to win the bracket pools.

The Cardinals have won 14 consecutive games since a 104-101, five-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 9. Twelve of the wins were by double-digit margins, including Pitino’s impressive beatdown of Coach K.

Michigan is a 2-point favorite over Syracuse in the other semifinal. The Wolverines needed a near-miracle shot by Trey Burke to knock out Kansas on Friday before crushing Florida, a 3½-point favorite, 79-59 on Sunday. The Orange used a stifling zone defense to hold Indiana to 50 points and Marquette to 39.

“That zone is why Syracuse is probably the only team that can beat Louisville,” said Thomson, who is aware the Cardinals beat the Orange twice in the past month, the most recent meeting a 78-61 blowout in the Big East tournament championship.

Florida Gulf Coast, the best March underdog story in years, was sent home from the Sweet 16. But at least the Eagles covered, when all of the sharp money was bet against them, in a 62-50 loss to Florida.

Wichita State, a No. 9 seed from the Missouri Valley Conference, picked up the Cinderella banner and will carry it to Atlanta. A month ago, MGM books offered the Shockers at 200-1 odds to win the NCAA championship.

Pitino’s tale is much different. Four years ago this month, his career appeared to be in jeopardy after he admitted to an affair and paid for an abortion. He survived the scandal, and his comeback is almost complete.

Comebacks happen. Popular broadcaster Marv Albert, once accused of wearing panties and biting women, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery charges but has revived his career and is calling college games.

Upsets happen. Lyle Lovett, who beat the odds by marrying Julia Roberts, sang the national anthem Sunday before the Houston Astros, considered the worst team in baseball, won their season opener. The Miami Heat, playing without James and Dwyane Wade, won as 9-point underdogs at San Antonio.

A year ago, Louisville went to the Final Four and lost to Kentucky.

Pitino and the Cardinals are making a comeback as the favorites to win it all. It’s difficult to envision an upset happening.

Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.