What was considered a crapshoot a few weeks ago is now a game in Rick Pitino’s control. He has been rolling such a hot pair of dice, the odds are in his favor.
As it turns out, the NCAA Tournament was not as wide open as we anticipated. There were plenty of upsets, but none involved the team coached by Pitino. Louisville, the top overall seed on Selection Sunday, is a short favorite to win the championship today in Atlanta.
The other three No. 1 seeds never got close to the Final Four. A Cinderella made it and put the Cardinals in a chokehold, but Pitino survived that scare just as he did the Karen Sypher scandal.
On Saturday, before Louisville held off Wichita State, a horse Pitino owns won the Santa Anita Derby and qualified for the Kentucky Derby. He hit the daily double, and today he gets announced as a member of the Hall of Fame before attempting to become the first coach to lead two schools to a national title.
The Cardinals are laying 4 points to Michigan, and it appears a majority of the betting public will go along with Pitino for the ride.
“The money is there on Louisville,” South Point sports book director Bert Osborne said, about 24 hours before post time.
No offense to Cinderella, said Jimmy Vaccaro, but a Big East-Big Ten matchup will drive a bigger handle at the state’s sports books.
“I’m glad it’s Louisville and Michigan as opposed to Wichita State and someone else,” said Vaccaro, director of public relations for William Hill sports books. “The Cinderella stuff works up to a point, but now is when you need that extra push. The tournament is just good for business, and it’s good for sports betting in Nevada.”
The LVH sports book posted 32 proposition bets Sunday night, and high-profile teams increase the popularity of props.
Bettors looking to choose a side might be interested to know this: The favorite won 20 of the past 24 title games and covered 16 of those, according to RJ Bell of Pregame.com. So historical trends and the odds are with Pitino.
If the referees favor him, too, the Cardinals could be untouchable.
Not to slight the Wolverines, because they dominated Syracuse for most of Saturday’s second semifinal, but they also survived a scare with some timely assistance from the officials. Referee errors are too common in college basketball and often suspicious in the NBA.
In the final 1½ minutes of the Michigan-Syracuse game, two critical calls went the Wolverines’ way. First, and most obvious, what should have been an offensive foul on Tim Hardaway Jr. instead went against the Orange.
Despite that officiating blunder, Syracuse trailed by two with a shot to force overtime when Brandon Triche drove to the basket. Michigan big man Jordan Morgan stepped in late and drew a charge call against Triche. The block/charge call is a tough one for refs to determine, and they frequently screw it up.
“The charge was a bad call,” Vaccaro said.
Soon after the Wolverines walked off with a 61-56 victory, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said on Twitter, “Officals have more impact on the outcome of college games than 80 percent of the players.”
Agree or disagree, it’s a point to debate, especially for those who wagered on Syracuse, as I did. But, admittedly, I was on the wrong side and was hoping to steal one.
“The general public was on the favorite, and the smart guys were on the ’dog,” Vaccaro said. “It was an excellent handle for the two games, and we came out a nice winner.”
Incredibly, Michigan, a 2-point favorite, won despite its best player being at his worst. Point guard Trey Burke shot 1-for-8 and scored seven points, leaving freshman forward Mitch McGary to play the pivotal role in dissecting the Orange’s zone defense.
VegasInsider.com handicapper Brian Edwards backed the Wolverines on Saturday and is doing the same in the title game.
“I think Burke, because he was horrible in that game, will play really well,” said Edwards, who is betting the ’dog at plus-160 on the money line and avoiding the total of 138. “I definitely like Michigan to win outright.”
After blowing the Syracuse call, I’m firmly undecided.
The Cardinals were lucky, as well, in their 72-68 comeback victory over the Shockers. In a performance that left Louisville looking vulnerable for the first time, point guard Peyton Siva shot 1-for-9, and guard Russ Smith scored 21 points even after missing seven free throws.
Around 80 percent of the action on the game will show up today, and Vaccaro said, “I think it’s going to come on Louisville.”
With the roll Pitino is on, it’s tough to bet against him.
Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans 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, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.