Betting public likes Memphis, but oddsmakers not so sure

With an array of acrobatic moves, freshman point guard Derrick Rose has impressively lifted a talented Memphis team over a series of hurdles and to within one win of college basketball history.

Apparently, the betting public has been blown away. Early wagering has made the Tigers a 2-point favorite over Kansas in today’s national championship game at San Antonio.

The madness of March has spilled into April. After a busy three weeks of wagering, Las Vegas sports books are preparing for the NCAA Tournament’s curtain call.

The first order of business was to post the title game’s opening line, a task complicated by a difference of opinions.

"It was a difficult number to do because you could really make a case for either side," said Tony Sinisi, odds director for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which sends opening numbers to most Nevada sports books. "My thought was Kansas as a small favorite. There were conflicting views in the office."

Sinisi sided with the Jayhawks, but after a meeting of oddsmakers, LVSC settled on ”Pick” as the opening line.

The public took over from there, betting the Tigers into the favorite’s role.

"So far, it’s all Memphis money," Sinisi said. "To me, it illustrates how bettors can be a little shortsighted. It’s just what they saw most recently. I think it’s a reflection of how good Memphis has looked."

The Las Vegas Hilton opened Kansas as a 1-point favorite. By Sunday night, Memphis was a 11/2-point favorite at the Hilton. The number was 2 at several other books.

The Tigers, carried by Rose’s 25 points and nine rebounds, routed UCLA 78-63 in Saturday’s semifinals.

At 38-1, Memphis has the most single-season victories in college basketball history.

In 1987, UNLV took a 37-1 record to the Final Four before losing to Indiana.

"The last three games, Memphis has dominated its opponents and really impressed the betting public," Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said, citing the Tigers’ recent double-digit victories against UCLA, Texas and Michigan State.

Kansas, 36-3, is 4-1 against the spread in the NCAA Tournament and coming off an 84-66 victory over North Carolina on Saturday. The Jayhawks were underdogs in that game for the first time all season.

On the way to the Final Four, Kansas knocked out UNLV 75-56 in the second round on March 22.

The Hilton has posted 32 proposition wagers on today’s game, but this is not a mini-Super Bowl. Kornegay said the betting on Kansas-Memphis might compare with a Monday night NFL game.

"You have standing-room-only crowds in the book watching the game, but that doesn’t always translate into a lot of betting action," Kornegay said. "It’s not an overwhelming event like you would expect. Everybody’s going to watch this game. More people are going to watch it than bet it."

One strong trend favors Memphis. Teams favored by five or fewer points are 10-0 against the spread in the past 10 NCAA championship games.

But Kansas coach Bill Self also has a team loaded with talent. The Jayhawks rank third nationally in field-goal percentage defense, 39.7, and that could help them contain the Tigers’ balanced, up-tempo attack.

Sinisi said most analysts considered Memphis the "most vulnerable" of the four No. 1 seeds before the tournament, and he is sticking with Kansas as his pick.

"It’s hard to imagine either team getting blown out in this scenario," Sinisi said. "It should be a terrific game."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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