#VegasMadness betting blog: Jesperson’s shot makes bettors go berserk

OK, this is why it’s better to be in Las Vegas for the NCAA Tournament. At the instant Paul Jesperson banked in a halfcourt shot at the buzzer, the crowds went berserk in sports books across the city.

I was at the Westgate, and I’m safely assuming the crowd reaction was similar everywhere else. Jesperson’s shot lifted Northern Iowa to a 75-72 victory over Texas in Oklahoma City.

It was probably cool to be in Oklahoma City at the time, but who wants to spend the night there? The night is just beginning in Las Vegas.

The Panthers were probably the most popular underdogs with the betting public and sharps in the first round. In the morning, Northern Iowa was a 4 1/2-point ‘dog and plus-180 on the money line. By tipoff time in the evening, the line closed at 3.

The victories by Notre Dame and St. Joseph’s also went to the wire tonight, closing the book on one of the wildest days in tournament history.

Not to be forgotten, Stephen F. Austin, a 7-point ‘dog, put a 70-56 beating on West Virginia.

“The first two days of the tournament are my favorite days of the sports calendar,” said handicapper Paul Stone, who flew in from Texas to spend the weekend in Vegas.

Blue Raiders stun Izzo, second-seeded Spartans

Forget about Tom Izzo and his seven Final Four appearances.

The new Mr. March — for today, at least — is Kermit Davis, who coached 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State to the biggest upset of this year’s NCAA Tournament and one of the biggest in its history. It was no fluke. The Blue Raiders led wire to wire in a 90-81 victory over Michigan State.

“You could hear a pin drop when Michigan State lost,” Chuck Esposito said from a subdued Sunset Station sports book.

Brackets are busted, and futures tickets on the Spartans can be balled up and shot into a trash can. On Thursday, No. 5 seeds Baylor and Purdue were upset victims. But this one is a monster shocker, mostly because of Izzo’s history of success in March.

“I know we talked about upsets, and we knew some ‘dogs would cover, but what about ‘dogs winning outright? When you talk about the teams that won on the first two days — Arkansas-Little Rock, Yale and Middle Tennessee — it’s Cinderella stories galore,” Esposito said.

Michigan State, the Big Ten tournament champ, was an 18-point favorite and the money line was minus-9,900 at the Westgate this morning. The line closed at 16½.

Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay said his book took a “lunch bag full” of small money-line plays on Middle Tennessee at plus-2,000 (bet $100 to win $2,000.)

The Blue Raiders stole Hawaii’s thunder. In an early game, the Warriors, 5½-point underdogs and plus-200 to win outright, defeated a depleted California team 77-66.

Iowa and Oklahoma dodged upset bids after the Spartans went down.

Tipoff: I will deliver the good news first. There are 16 games today, presenting more entertainment and more opportunities to make money. The bad news is the most recent 16 games put a lot of bettors in a money pit. But bouncing back is part of this exercise.

The opening day of the NCAA Tournament was a big winner for most bookmakers. Results were mixed, with favorites finishing 9-7 against the spread, yet the masses lost a few major decisions.

“The public just got crushed,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “The games kept falling our way, the ‘dogs and favorites were falling our way. We started rolling early and kept going all night.”

Indiana’s blowout of Chattanooga, a popular ‘dog that rolled over and played dead, was “massive” for the books, Miller said. Gonzaga and Wichita State also dealt the betting public bad hands. Providence, laying 2½ points, let down the public in a dramatic 70-69 victory over Southern California.

Maybe you had a bad day. Well, Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead’s night was worse. Whitehead shot 4-for-24 and missed all 10 3-point attempts.

Best Bets

(0-2 Thursday)

* Stephen F. Austin (+7½) over West Virginia

Lumberjacks coach Brad Underwood has lost one Southland Conference game in three years. The Mountaineers are a different animal from another league. Still, past NCAA performances proved Stephen F. Austin’s ability to compete on a higher level. The Lumberjacks will need to rebound and get a great game out of senior leader Thomas Walkup. Most likely, they hang tough and lose a decision that goes to the wire.

* Northern Iowa (+4½) over Texas

This is a trendy upset pick, so that’s a concern, but there are solid reasons behind it. The Panthers, with a well-coached cast of veterans, knocked off Wichita State twice this season. Northern Iowa has a go-to scorer — senior guard Wes Washpun — and defense that allows 62.9 points per game to rank 11th in the nation. The Longhorns expect a boost from the return of senior center Cameron Ridley, but he’s recovering from a broken foot and his minutes will be limited.

Other plays today: (3-2 Thursday) Temple (+7) over Iowa; Oklahoma (-15) over Cal State Bakersfield; Wisconsin (Pick) over Pittsburgh; Hawaii (+5½) over California; St. Joseph’s (+3) over Cincinnati

(This betting blog will be updated throughout the day.)

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247

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