All it took was one game to stain millions of brackets. Aaron Craft’s potential winning layup rolled off the rim as the buzzer sounded and Ohio State went down. And that was just the beginning.
It can be a crazy and cruel world, and the NCAA Tournament is a microcosm of the everyday madness.
The opening day of the world’s wildest tournament included this: Four games went into overtime, two No. 12 seeds advanced, and North Carolina State orchestrated one of the worst collapses you will see.
There is the agony of defeat for coaches and players, and for bettors and bookmakers, there is the bitter taste of a bad beat. Of course, the other side to the story is the ecstasy of getting lucky. It was all on display Thursday.
“The crowds are great. The atmosphere is electric,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “It’s always a unique experience being in the sports book or the theater when it’s coming down to the end of the game and it’s right on the spread. The reactions are just priceless.”
It was nearly a very costly day for the bookmakers, but more on that later.
Dayton, a 6½-point underdog, got the basketball rolling by upending Craft and the sixth-seeded Buckeyes in a 60-59 thriller.
Warren Buffett offered $1 billion for a perfect bracket because he knows there is a far better chance of a fat man on roller skates doing a perfect backflip. Of the 11 million brackets entered at ESPN.com, more than 80 percent had Ohio State winning its first game. One and done.
Oklahoma was knocked out early by North Dakota State, and Cincinnati was eliminated by Harvard. Those were the 12-5 upsets, but neither was a stunner. The Sooners suffered a late meltdown and lost in overtime, so Lon Kruger had to be stunned.
Connecticut and Saint Louis were favorites that survived and advanced in overtime, and more on two those games later, too.
Arizona State-Texas went to the wire. The Longhorns, bet from 1½- to 2½-point favorites at most books, won 87-85 on Cameron Ridley’s putback just before the buzzer.
There also were some blowouts, and Oregon’s 87-68 blasting of Brigham Young turned into the most lopsided beating for the books.
“We needed BYU big,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said in disgust. “Every parlay we wrote today had Oregon on it.”
The Ducks, 5-point favorites, were on 87 percent of the tickets written on the game at the LVH. Oregon’s lead was cut to 56-53 on Matt Carlino’s 3-pointer with 12 minutes remaining. Elgin Cook and Joseph Young led a 15-4 run over the next 3½ minutes to bury the Cougars. The small group of bettors on the ’dog defined small bettors.
“The average bet on BYU was about $50,” Kornegay said. “There were probably some anti-public contrarians out there saying, ‘Everybody is on Oregon, so I’m going BYU.’”
More often than not, the popular public sides were the right sides. Pittsburgh, a 6½-point favorite, put a 77-48 whipping on Colorado. Syracuse and Wisconsin covered double-digit lines with no sweat.
Michigan State was a stickier situation. The Spartans opened as 14-point favorites and were laying 15 at closing time. Delaware trailed by 10 with 2:35 to go and by 14 with 26 seconds left, when the Blue Hens were whistled for a questionable foul on a rebound. At that point, why even call a foul?
But after the foul was called for no reason, Michigan State benchwarmer Colby Wollenman stepped to the free-throw line.
Kornegay described his first attempt: “He should have missed the first free throw. It hit the back of the rim, shot up about 5 feet and fell through.”
Wollenman swished the second shot. On the other end, Delaware’s Sean Locke made one of two free throws, and the Spartans won 93-78. We’ll call it a push.
My best bet of the day, North Carolina State plus-3, turned into my worst push of the season. The 12th-seeded Wolfpack led by 14 points with five minutes left and by six with a minute left, but fell apart at the free-throw line and lost to Saint Louis 83-80 in overtime. The line briefly hit 2½ and 3½.
That push followed the day’s worst beat. Saint Joseph’s, a 5-point ’dog, lost control of a big lead and folded in overtime in an 89-81 loss to Connecticut.
The Oklahoma game was another bad beat, for those who bet under the total of 151½. The Sooners collapsed in the final minute of regulation, and 23 points were scored in OT in the Bison’s 80-75 win.
Top-seeded Florida had trouble and failed to cover against Albany. Louisville, another big favorite, narrowly escaped a scare from Manhattan. Villanova rallied in the second half to make favorites 7-5-3 against the spread.
To top it all off, there was high late-night drama. The public pounded San Diego State, which opened minus-7 and closed 8½. Bookmakers needed a miracle from New Mexico State, which trailed by 14 in the second half.
The Aggies’ Kevin Aronis buried a miracle 3 to force overtime, where the Aztecs escaped 73-69 and the score went over the total of 125 for yet another bad beat.
“It’s hilarious. Everybody is rested up and the adrenaline is going and there’s no hangover yet,” Kornegay said of opening day. “It’s a different vibe from day to day. By Sunday, they can’t wait to get out of here and back home to the couch.”
Anyone else emotionally drained after one day?
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.