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Handicappers like Virginia to redeem itself, win NCAA title

Updated March 7, 2019 - 6:14 pm

In a classic Vegas Madness moment, University of Maryland-Baltimore County alumnus John Doyle — clad in a UMBC shirt and dog mask and carrying an oversized dog bone — was carried out of the Westgate sportsbook by his buddies last year as they chanted “UMBC.”

They were celebrating the Retrievers’ historic upset of Virginia, which suffered the ignominy of becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

As much as Americans love an underdog story, we also love tales of redemption, and several handicappers expect the Cavaliers to redeem themselves by winning the 2019 NCAA basketball title.

“I like the narrative,” VSiN handicapper Wes Reynolds said. “They had to live with that loss the entire offseason. Putting that game aside, this is a veteran team that has played in a lot of big games and a lot of pressure situations.”

Reynolds (@WesReynolds1) played the Cavaliers at 20-1 odds in the preseason and still likes them to win it all at lower odds. Virginia is the 8-1 third choice at Caesars Entertainment sportsbook behind Duke (2-1) and Gonzaga (6-1). Every other team’s odds are in double digits.

“Duke is still the favorite, but I don’t think at this point you can bet that (price),” Reynolds said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen with Zion Williamson, and plus they’re a beatable team. They’re not a great 3-point shooting team. I still like Virginia. They have experienced guards, they take care of the basketball, they play great defense and they’re scoring better this year than they have in years past.”

The Cavaliers are 27-2, with their losses to Duke, and have the nation’s second-best spread record at 22-7. Virginia is ranked second in offensive and defensive efficiency by KenPom.com.

“I like teams that play defense, and Virginia is the best defensive team in the country,” said handicapper Dana Lane (@DanaLaneSports). “Their only two losses are to Duke, and that’s saying something for an ACC team.”

Vegas Insider handicapper Brian Edwards also likes Virginia to win the title, in part because it’s 10-1 straight up and ATS on the road.

“How you fare on the road is a good indicator of how you’ll play in the tournament,” said Edwards (@vegasbedwards).

NCAA sleepers

The best time to find value plays on futures is in the preseason or early in the season, but there are still some long shots on the board that might be worth a wager.

“If I had to pick one surprise out of what’s left out there, it would probably be Houston,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “Nothing would surprise me. I don’t think there’s one really great team. A lot of people think Duke is, but I’m not 100 percent sold on that.”

50-1

Edwards also likes Houston (27-2), which is ranked 13th by KenPom.com and at 50-1 odds at William Hill and the Westgate. The Cougars lost on a buzzer-beater to Michigan in the second round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.

“There’s no telling how far Houston would’ve got last year if Michigan doesn’t get that shot at the buzzer,” Edwards said. “Michigan got to the final.”

Edwards also likes Florida State at 60-1.

“They’ve got as much size as anyone in the country and made a deep run to the Elite Eight last year,” he said.

Reynolds played Marquette at more than 100-1 in the preseason, and it’s down to 40-1 behind Markus Howard, the nation’s fifth-leading scorer (25.5 ppg).

He also likes 2018 Elite Eight teams Texas Tech (22-1 at William Hill) and Kansas State (40-1). The Red Raiders are ranked first in defensive efficiency by KenPom, and the Wildcats are ranked fifth.

200-1

For a triple-digit long shot, Reynolds recommends Maryland, which is 200-1 at the Westgate and ranked in KenPom’s top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency.

“They’re an athletic team nobody’s talking about that can pull off some shockers,” he said.

300-1

Looking even further down the board, Lane suggests taking a shot on Wofford at 300-1.

Ranked 20th by KenPom, the Terriers (26-4) are second in the nation in 3-point shooting (41.8 percent) and fourth in scoring margin (17.5).

“That is a team that is flying way under the radar,” Lane said. “The way they shoot the ball beyond the arc will keep them in most games.”

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

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