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Duke favored to win NCAA title in Mike Krzyzewski’s swan song

Updated March 28, 2022 - 7:08 am

On Hollywood’s biggest night Sunday, the NCAA Tournament wrote an Oscar-worthy script.

In an all-blue-blood Final Four, Duke will face archrival North Carolina in their first meeting ever in the tournament, as the Blue Devils try to keep alive their quest to send coach Mike Krzyzewski out on top.

Duke is a 4½-point favorite over the Tar Heels in Saturday’s national semifinal, and the total is 151. The Blue Devils are now the +160 favorites to win the national title in the final game of Krzyzewski’s storied career.

“What more could you ask for in Coach K’s last year than him hooking up against North Carolina in the Final Four,” MGM Resorts director of trading Jeff Stoneback said. “The only thing better would be meeting up in the championship. It’s a Hollywood movie storyline.”

In the other semifinal, Kansas is a 4-point favorite over Villanova, and the total is 133.

“It’s gonna be a fantastic Final Four,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said. “The handle should be off the charts.”

Duke defeated the Tar Heels by 20 on Feb. 5. But the Blue Devils were whipped 94-81 by North Carolina on March 5 in Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“A couple guys were joking that if he loses again to North Carolina, he’s gonna pull a Tom Brady and take back his retirement,” Andrews said.

No match for Tar Heels

Saint Peter’s had some amazing days in March. As double-digit underdogs, the Peacocks shocked Kentucky on Saint Patrick’s Day and strutted past Purdue on National Peacock Day to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight.

But there would be no Hollywood ending. The Tar Heels made sure of that, racing to a 38-19 halftime lead Sunday and cruising to a 69-49 win and cover as 8½-point favorites.

Most books were small winners overall on the four-day weekend that comprised the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. But books got crushed Friday, when bettors loaded up on the Peacocks in their 67-64 upset of the Boilermakers as 13-point underdogs and +650 on the money line.

BetMGM in Nevada alone lost multiple six figures.

“Saint Peter’s was a huge loss for us,” Stoneback said. “They were the darlings of the tournament. Everybody backed them.”

Rock chalk

The Jayhawks (-6) trailed by six to Miami at halftime Sunday before crushing the Hurricanes 47-15 in the second half en route to a 76-50 win and cover. Books won on the game, as most bettors backed Miami.

Kansas is the only No. 1 seed left after top seeds Gonzaga and Arizona lost Thursday in a good night for the books. Arkansas (+10, +400) eliminated the Zags 74-68. Houston (+1½) ousted the Wildcats 72-60.

Along with winning big on Saint Peter’s, bettors cashed in Friday on Miami (-4) in its 70-56 victory over Iowa State. Many bettors parlayed the Peacocks and Canes.

“That one day was real bad. We got trounced pretty good,” said Andrews, who reported a losing weekend. “We couldn’t overcome Friday.”

Dogging it

Books prevailed on the other three days, with Villanova delivering a big win in Saturday’s 50-44 victory over Houston as a 3-point underdog. BetMGM won multiple six figures on the game.

Underdogs are 33-27 ATS with 20 outright wins in the tournament. They went 28-20 ATS in the first two rounds before dipping to 5-7 ATS in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Unders and first-half unders each went 11-1 over the four-day weekend.

Down on Duke

Saint Peter’s, as high as 10,000-1 to win the national title, was the largest futures liability in any sport in BetMGM history.

North Carolina is the largest liability left at the books. Despite Krzyzewski’s retirement tour, Duke didn’t get many backers.

“About a month ago, we were in pretty bad shape with Duke. But we kind of maneuvered to get ourselves in a pretty good position,” Andrews said. “There are a lot of Duke haters out there. I’m definitely not one of them.

“We’ve probably needed them as often as we’ve needed to beat them. So Duke’s fine with me.”

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

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