It’s not really a stunner, but it’s a great story. Makai Mason, a little sophomore guard, lifted little Yale to its first-ever NCAA Tournament win in its first appearance since 1962.
The 12th-seeded Bulldogs, 5½-point underdogs and plus-210 on the money line, took down Baylor 79-75 behind Mason’s career-high 31 points. The upset shocked TV analyst Charles Barkley but not the oddsmakers, who set a low line for obvious reasons.
Obviously, everyone looks for the 12-5 upsets, and Arkansas-Little Rock pulled off a real stunner. The Trojans, trailing by 14 points with just more than four minutes remaining, rallied to beat No. 5 Purdue 85-83 in double overtime.
Josh Hagins hit a step-back 25-footer to tie the game with four seconds remaining in regulation. Why did the Boilermakers not foul when leading by three and with the clock close to expiring? That’s a huge mistake that coach Matt Painter can spend his summer regretting. Little Rock cashed as an 8-point ‘dog and plus-330 on the money line.
It’s halftime for the day, with eight of 16 games in the books. Favorites are 5-3 against the spread.
Butler, Connecticut, Iowa State and Virginia covered without much drama. Kansas closed as a 25-point favorite in a 105-79 victory over Austin Peay. The line was 26 for most of the week. The Governors missed a close-range shot to beat the spread in the final seconds.
Duke failed to cover as a 9½-point favorite in a 93-85 victory over UNC Wilmington. The Blue Devils did not get all of the calls, but they did get most of them, attempting 43 free throws to 19 for the Seahawks. Grayson Allen went to the line 17 times.
Tipoff: It was 5:24 a.m. when I woke up after two hours of sleep. The first day of the NCAA Tournament — not counting the play-in games Tuesday and Wednesday — is one of the five best days of the year, and it’s obviously better if you win more than 50 percent of your bets.
Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay was up early, too. “We already have about 70 people in line,” he said at 7:30 a.m.
Oscar Goodman, former Mayor of Las Vegas, was scheduled to show up with some showgirls to address the Westgate crowd and tip off the festivities around 8:45.
“There is no better time than the first four days of the tournament,” Kornegay said. “It’s nonstop action.”
Wagering update: There are 16 games today. Duke is a 10-point favorite over UNC Wilmington in the opener at 9:15 a.m.
“The public loves Kentucky,” Kornegay said.
Despite the public’s affection for Kentucky, the line has dropped from 14 to 13½ at the Westgate. Sharp action is on Stony Brook. The sharps also bet Hampton as a 24-point underdog to top-seeded Virginia, dropping the line to 23.
Baylor just moved to a 6-point favorite over Yale, with the line ticking up from 5½. The public likes the Bears.
The most intriguing matchups appear to be the late games. Arizona is a 1½-point favorite over Wichita State at 6:20 p.m., followed by Gonzaga-Seton Hall at 6:55. The Zags are 2-point favorites.
“The Gonzaga game has the biggest handle and the most tickets,” Kornegay said. “There is sharp play on both sides, so there are differing opinions on that game.”
(6-2 last week in conference tournaments)
Providence (-2) over Southern California
The Friars feature two future NBA players. Ben Bentil, 6-foot-9-inch sophomore forward, led the Big East in scoring (21.2 points per game) and averages 7.8 rebounds. He probably will post a double-double against a USC team that’s not as strong in the low post. Providence junior guard Kris Dunn matches up against a talented Trojans backcourt.
Iona (+7½) over Iowa State
There is bound to be at least one significant upset today, and this might be it. A.J. English, a senior point guard, leads the Gaels against the fourth-seeded Cyclones. Good guard play is a must in this tournament, and English scores 22.4 points per game. This is a matchup of running, jump-shooting teams. The total of 167 is the highest on the board today. Will the altitude of Denver tire these teams in the second half?
Other plays today: (7-8-1 last week in conference tournaments) Wichita State (+1½) over Arizona; Florida Gulf Coast (+22) over North Carolina; Hampton (+23½) over Virginia; Chattanooga (+11½) over Indiana; Arkansas-Little Rock (+9) over Purdue.
Props and futures: More than 20 tournament propositions are posted in Las Vegas, but I played only one. I put a small wager, mostly for entertainment purposes, on the total tournament wins by Big 12 Conference teams. My bet is over 12½ at plus-120. On my bracket, Kansas is winning six games, Oklahoma is winning four, West Virginia is winning three, and Baylor and Texas get one win each. That equals 15 wins, but that’s probably a best-case scenario. Still, it looks like Big 12 teams got favorable draws.
In my championship game, Kansas is beating Michigan State. It’s probably not going to happen that way, however, because that’s a popular pick. But I did bet the Jayhawks at 10-1 odds in November.
(This betting blog will be updated throughout the day.)
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247