When the opening lines on the NCAA Tournament were posted at Las Vegas sportsbooks late Sunday afternoon, not a single lower seed was favored over a higher seed.
“They did a better job seeding the teams,” Westgate sportsbook manager Ed Salmons said. “Because I’ve seen a 12 favored over a 5.”
No. 12 seeds were swept in last year’s tournament but have historically been the go-to spot for picking an upset on your bracket. Over the past 11 years, No. 12 seeds are 20-24 straight up and 26-17-1 ATS.
It’s a lock that Oregon will be the most popular No. 12 seed upset pick on this year’s bracket. In fact, the Ducks — fresh off their Pac-12 conference tournament title run at T-Mobile Arena — quickly moved to 1-point favorites Sunday night over No. 5 seed Wisconsin after opening as 1½-point underdogs
“If this game was played a month ago, Wisconsin would be a 4-point favorite at a neutral site,” Wynn Las Vegas sportsbook director Doug Castaneda said. “But because of Oregon’s run at T-Mobile Arena, we dropped the number down.”
Salmons agrees with the line move and likes the Ducks to beat the Badgers.
“Dana Altman is one of the best coaches in college basketball and their (South) Region sets up perfectly for them,” he said. “Wisconsin kind of plays the same slow style and the game is in San Jose, which is real easy travel for Oregon.”
Perception doesn’t equal reality
Certain teams are perceived as underdogs by the media and public but are betting favorites.
“When they announced the brackets, all the TV guys said they love Belmont in a big upset (over Temple in the First Four),” Salmons said. “But I was saying, ‘Belmont is going to be favored guys. It’s not an upset.’”
Belmont (26-5), which won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title, is a 3½-point favorite over the Owls in Tuesday’s game.
Clear path for Duke
Duke was awarded the No. 1 overall seed over fellow No. 1 seeds Virginia, North Carolina and Gonzaga. The Blue Devils have the easiest path to the Final Four in the East Region.
“The hardest region, by far, would be the West with Gonzaga, Michigan, Texas Tech and Florida State. That top four is pretty solid,” Salmons said. “As usual, the easiest is Duke’s region. Duke has just a walk to the Elite Eight.”
Given a virtual clear path, Duke’s NCAA title odds improved to 2-1 on Sunday at the Westgate. Gonzaga moved from 4-1 to 5-1. North Carolina has been the hot futures team, moving from 12-1 a week ago to 6-1 on Sunday. Virginia is 8-1 and Salmons’ pick to win it all.
“Looking through their region, Virginia has no excuses not to make the Final Four this year,” he said.
Sharp bettors at Wynn Las Vegas backed Virginia as a 23½-point favorite over Gardner-Webb.
“I’m surprised sharp money laid such a high number,” Castaneda said. “They’re usually taking (points).”
Sharp money also moved Villanova from a 4½- to a 5½-point favorite over St. Mary’s and moved St. John’s from a 2-point to a 1-point underdog to Arizona State in Wednesday’s First Four game.
One of handicapper Paul Stone’s tournament betting strategies is to wager against a public darling if the price is right. Stone (@PaulStoneSports) adhered to that strategy Sunday, when he wagered on Seton Hall as a 3-point underdog over Wofford (29-4), a popular mid-major.
“Wofford plays in the Southern Conference and that’s a different level of play than what Seton Hall faced in the Big East,” Stone said. “Wofford is nationally-ranked and being hyped by media members and handicappers, too. But I think they’re overrated.
“They played four Power Five opponents — North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi State — and lost all four by at least 11 points.”
Stone also played No. 13 seed UC Irvine (30-5) as a 6½-point underdog to No. 4 seed Kansas State. The line has since dipped to 5½.
“Cal Irvine plays great defense, has won 16 games in a row and beat Texas A&M and St. Mary’s on the road,” he said. “Dean Wade is Kansas State’s heart and soul and was still in a foot boot (Sunday). They really are a different team without Wade.”