SAN JOSE, Calif.
It was not predetermined, and this is unlikely to be a popular pick. Even since the return of senior forward Ryan Kelly from a foot injury, Duke has been far from dominant. So how did it come to this?
The plan is always to be spontaneous when filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket. Take it game by game and round by round until only eight teams remain. My bracket showed Saint Louis, Duke, Gonzaga, Ohio State, Kansas, Florida, Indiana and Miami, and then it was time to determine a Final Four.
“In my brackets, I have Indiana, Kansas, Michigan State and Gonzaga,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said.
Office pools, including online bracket contests, are something to talk about and mostly for entertainment purposes. Wager a little for a shot to win a lot more. Even your girlfriend and grandma can get in on that action.
But let’s get serious for a minute. There are 16 games to bet today and 16 more on the board Friday. Throw in several propositions, and this becomes Mardi Gras week in Las Vegas for college basketball bettors.
The first game tips at 9:15 a.m. today. Lines had formed at the LVH’s betting windows by 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Everyone is searching for a few live underdogs, because this is March, when even the so-called squares look to bet ’dogs. The most popular ones today: Davidson (+3½) against Marquette, Bucknell (+3½) against Butler, South Dakota State (+11) against Michigan, Belmont (+4½) against Arizona, Oregon (+3) against Oklahoma State, and Montana (+12½) against Syracuse.
But Brian Edwards, a handicapper for VegasInsider.com, has his sights set on Missouri, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth as favorites.
The Tigers are laying 3 points to Colorado State, which has the better coach, Larry Eustachy, and five senior starters. The Rams also come from a theoretically stronger conference, the Mountain West.
“My fear is that Eustachy takes Frank Haith behind the woodshed,” Edwards said. “Nevertheless, I’ve got to go with the more athletic Missouri team. Colorado State is mired in a 2-8-1 ATS slump and struggled against athletic teams like UNLV and New Mexico. I like the Tigers to win and cover behind a strong game from Phil Pressey.”
Pressey is the type of point guard Akron could use against VCU, a 7½-point favorite. The Zips’ point guard was arrested, and drawing an opponent that brings relentless full-court defensive pressure is a nightmare matchup, so Edwards said they are headed for a double-digit loss. It’s hard to argue.
Saint Louis is no longer a sleeper to most of us, especially bettors. The Billikens, who have won 15 of their past 16 games straight up and against the spread, are 9-point favorites over New Mexico State.
“I like Saint Louis, which is probably the hottest team in America right now, to win by double digits and continue this monster ATS surge,” said Edwards (BrianEdwardsSports.com).
This is not the Super Bowl, but don’t ignore proposition bets, which are offered on a smaller scale. The Mountain West sent five teams (Boise State, UNLV, Colorado State, New Mexico and San Diego State) to the NCAA Tournament, and the win total for those teams is 4½.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in the Mountain West,” said Kornegay, who debated lining the prop at 5. “Those teams still need to show it and prove it in the tournament. Aside from New Mexico, the other four games are pick’em no matter how you look at it.”
Kornegay called five wins for the Mountain West “a big mountain to climb,” no pun intended.
The LVH and William Hill sports books posted the most props. One features Anthony Bennett, the Rebels’ freshman forward. His total for points and rebounds in today’s game against California is 25½. (Bennett had 25 points and 13 rebounds when the Rebels beat the Golden Bears in December.)
Will a No. 14 or 15 seed win a second-round game? The “Yes” is minus-230, believe it or not, and Davidson appears to be the best bet from that group of long shots.
(Also, remember that the NCAA now refers to actual first-round games as second-round games, because the “First Four” play-in games are considered the first round, and that’s annoying.)
The prop for the largest margin of victory in the second round is 32½ points. Kornegay said bettors are playing it over the total, anticipating at least one matchup to turn into a massacre.
At around 4 a.m. Wednesday, when completing my bracket, the four teams left were Duke, Gonzaga, Florida and Indiana. I was not thrilled with that outcome.
The Blue Devils could not even win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but I kept thinking the combination of Kelly and coach Mike Krzyzewski could pull them through in tight spots in the NCAA Tournament. That’s my pick to win it. Feel free to argue.
My bracket could be headed for spontaneous combustion.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.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.