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Bettors bank on Purdue ‘voodoo’; books on hook for millions on Houston

A year after Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers redeemed themselves by winning the 2019 national title.

Five years later, bettors are banking on Purdue to repeat that feat after becoming the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in last year’s tournament.

The Boilermakers — one of four No. 1 seeds with defending champion Connecticut, Houston and North Carolina — are the money leaders at BetMGM, ticket leaders at Caesars Sportsbook and one of the largest liabilities at Las Vegas sportsbooks to win the title.

“That’s like voodoo handicapping to think they’re going to come back after that loss just because Virginia did it,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said. “But they’re a very good team. They’re going to be very, very hard to beat.”

Purdue is the second largest liability, at a high six figures, at Caesars Sportsbook behind Houston — largely because the book took a $1 million wager to win $7.5 million on the Cougars from Houston furniture store owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale.

Purdue opened at 35-1 at Caesars when it was unclear if 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey would return for his senior year. Houston opened at 28-1.

“Those are the two big losers,” Caesars vice president of trading Craig Mucklow said. “Houston was a loser before Mack bet them anyway. The public was already on Houston.”

Purdue lost by a point in overtime to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. Houston was whipped 69-41 by Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament title game.

The Westgate SuperBook also has liability on Purdue and Houston, though vice president of risk Ed Salmons doesn’t expect the Boilermakers to cut down the nets.

“I’m not feeling that,” he said. “Purdue kind of seems like the bully that’s able to beat the teams they’re better than. But they’ve had just some horrific losses the last couple years.”

Before getting upset last season by Fairleigh Dickinson, Purdue lost to No. 15 Saint Peter’s in the 2022 tournament and to No. 13 North Texas in 2021.

UConn is the clear consensus favorite to repeat as national champion. The SuperBook lowered the Huskies to +350 on Monday from 4-1 on Sunday.

“All we take now is bets on UConn,” Salmons said. “We had UConn at 4-1, and they still bet them. We just cannot stop them from betting on UConn.”

A Caesars bettor wagered $20,000 to win $90,000 on the Huskies (+450), who are second in tickets and money wagered at the book.

Purdue and Houston are tied for the 6-1 second choice, followed by Arizona at 10-1 and North Carolina, Tennessee and Auburn at 16-1. The SuperBook took a $2,500 wager Sunday from a respected bettor to win $50,000 on Auburn at 20-1.

MGM Resorts director of trading Lamarr Mitchell said the book has low six-figure liabilities on Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina and a high five-figure liability on Gonzaga.

Kentucky is 25-1. Kansas, the early-season favorite, is now 40-1 and Gonzaga is 60-1.

“In the past, I’d say roughly five to eight teams could win it. But I think you could double or almost triple that amount this year,” Red Rock Resort sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. “You can go 15 teams deep, maybe more, that can realistically cut down the nets. We already saw that in the conference tournaments with the struggles of the top teams.”

South Point is a small loser on all four No. 1 seeds.

“All the No. 1 seeds got bet on early in the year. We lose a little bit on all those, so we want some sort of upset at some point,” Andrews said. “Somebody bet me pretty good on North Carolina. I think Carolina is playing as good a ball as anybody.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on X.

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