It’s not a miracle, because anything Tom Izzo does in March is believable. It’s not really an underdog story, either, because Michigan State was the favorite in its past two games.
Still, it’s a surprise anytime a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament wins four games. It’s hard to believe the Spartans who stumbled through November, December, January and February are headed for the Final Four in April. But Izzo has worked this coaching magic so many times, it’s a spring tradition along with allergy season.
“Michigan State being a 7 seed was ridiculous,” Westgate Las Vegas sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “In reality, they should have been a 4 seed.”
Kornegay filled out a bracket that backs up his talk. It has Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and, of course, Michigan State still standing, and that should make him the favorite in the office pool.
Still, when the Westgate posted odds before the tournament, the Spartans were at 75-1 to win the national championship. Not many bettors were biting.
If he went to work on it in March, Izzo might be able to bring peace to the Middle East. OK, that is ridiculous. But just don’t bet against him winning tournament games — and the so-called public squares deserve a pat on the back for learning a lesson the sharps continue to pay for the hard way.
“The public was on the Spartans,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said after Michigan State took down Louisville 76-70 in overtime on Sunday to win the East Region.
It was not routine, because the Cardinals led 40-32 at halftime. Rick Pitino does not lose in that situation. Louisville had won its previous 94 games when leading by six points or more at the half. Only Izzo in March could beat a 94-0 trend.
The Spartans, 2½-point favorites, needed some luck to get the cover. On Friday, when favored by 1½ and trailing by four at halftime, they rallied to beat Oklahoma 62-58. The public backed Izzo in both games and got paid. The sharps bet against Izzo in both games and paid for it.
“Izzo seems to have the horseshoe right now,” Rood said.
The horseshoe will be needed against Duke, another side the public was wise to back Sunday. The Blue Devils closed as 1½-point favorites in a 66-52 victory over Gonzaga that was close until Kyle Wiltjer, a great shooter from any range, shockingly misfired from point-blank range.
The Zags had a shot to tie the score when Wiltjer blew an open layup with 4:50 remaining. Gonzaga scored one point the rest of the way.
It’s not an excuse for Wiltjer, but NRG Stadium in Houston has a horrible shooting background and should not be a site for games of this magnitude. The shooting was so poor that the three games there stayed under the totals by an average of 17 points.
The NCAA blew that call — in the championship game played in the same football stadium four years ago, Butler shot 18.8 percent from the field, Connecticut hit 1 of 11 3-pointers and the teams combined for 94 points.
College basketball is my favorite game, but it has problems. The officiating is consistent only in that it’s usually bad. The coaches get too many timeouts and usually waste a majority of them (see Notre Dame coach Mike Brey in his team’s late meltdown against Kentucky on Saturday). Scoring is down, and there is not enough flow to the play because of constant disruptions by officials and timeouts.
“This is the one sport that officiating just can ruin a game. If you have a bad crew, the whole game can be frustrating,” Rood said. “The games have been great, though.”
And this is a great Final Four, with three No. 1 seeds and Izzo converging on Indianapolis.
The odds to win from the Westgate show Kentucky at 5-6, Duke and Wisconsin each at 7-2, and Michigan State at 8-1.
The Wildcats (38-0) are 5-point favorites over the Badgers in a rematch of last year’s national semifinal that Kentucky won by a point. The Blue Devils are 5-point favorites over the Spartans in a matchup of coaching giants.
“I think Michigan State has got a shot to take this whole thing now,” said Bruce Marshall, a handicapper for The Gold Sheet. “This team is awfully dangerous. I didn’t feel this with this team until a few weeks ago.”
The Spartans lost to Duke by 10 in November, lost to Texas Southern in December, lost to Nebraska in January and lost home games to Illinois and Minnesota in February. And then Izzo’s junkyard dogs upset Virginia.
He’s the first coach to lead a team to the Final Four three times as a No. 5 seed or lower. He has a record 12 NCAA Tournament wins as the lower seed.
Izzo is money in March. But the calendar is turning. Now, can he beat Coach K in April?
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached 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). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.