Las Vegas casinos have tabbed Kentucky the latest favorite in an NCAA tournament full of upsets, and are hoping that Virginia Commonwealth ends its improbable run without a title.
The Glantz-Culver line made Kentucky a 2-point favorite to win its semifinal game against Connecticut on Saturday night, and Butler a 2½-point favorite over Virginia Commonwealth.
“Kentucky probably has a better (starting) five than UConn has,” said Mike Colbert, race and sports director for Cantor Gaming, which runs four sports books in Sin City.
“It’s not a big number, but I do think Kentucky is slightly better — and they did beat Ohio State, who was the No. 1 seed in the entire tournament,” he said. “I think they’ve had a harder road to get where they are.”
Colbert said his books made Kentucky an 8-5 favorite to win the title, best among the Final Four teams. Connecticut is the next favorite at 11-5, while Cantor is giving Butler 4-1 odds and VCU 7-1 odds to win it all.
A title for the 11th-seeded Rams of VCU would be troubling for several casinos given some big bets on the long shots, said Colbert and Jay Kornegay, executive director of the race and sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton.
“There’s a bomb waiting for us, believe me, at the end of this story,” Kornegay said.
VCU was one of four teams that won a play-in game to get a seed in the tournament with the bulk of the 68 teams. It beat USC to become an 11 seed, then beat Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas en route to the Final Four. It was an underdog in each game.
Given the lines set in each game, the odds were 1,371-1 against VCU reaching the Final Four, said gambling expert RJ Bell of Pregame.com.
Kornegay said VCU was included in a list of 19 teams given as a field bet before the tournament started — with 200-1 odds if any of them won the title.
“Once they beat Georgetown pretty handily, then they started getting some interest,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years, I can’t remember a field team making it to the Final Four.”
Colbert said his books made the Rams an 80-1 longshot when the final 16 teams were set — the most improbable team to win a title — and took some big-money bets at that price.
“VCU is the one team that we don’t want to win,” he said. “Every other team is good for the house.”
Either Kentucky or Connecticut would be favored over the Butler-VCU winner in the April 4 final, with opening spreads ranging from 3½ to 6½ points depending on the matchup and how the teams play on Saturday, Kornegay and Colbert said.