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April 23, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: How sports books see the Midwest Region

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Duke’s Ryan Kelly (34), Mason Plumlee (5), and Rasheed Sulaimon (14) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Maryland at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 15, 2013.

UNLV 2013 NCAA Tournament Practice

The UNLV basketball team has their photo taken by UNLV photographer R. Marsh Starks before practice for their second round NCAA Tournament game against Cal Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. Launch slideshow »

Odds to win the Midwest Region

  • No. 1 Louisville — 10-to-11
  • No. 2 Duke — 3-to-1
  • No. 3 Michigan State — 5-to-1
  • No. 4 Saint Louis — 8-to-1
  • No. 5 Oklahoma State — 20-to-1
  • No. 6 Memphis — 30-to-1
  • No. 7 Creighton — 15-to-1
  • No. 8 Colorado State — 50-to-1
  • No. 9 Missouri — 20-to-1
  • No. 10 Cincinnati — 50-to-1
  • No. 11 Saint Mary's — 50-to-1
  • No. 11 Middle Tennessee State — 75-to-1
  • No. 12 Oregon — 60-to-1
  • No. 13 New Mexico State — 300-to-1
  • No. 14 Valparaiso — 100-to-1
  • No. 15 Albany — 2000-to-1
  • No. 16 North Carolina A&T — 5000-to-1
  • No. 16 Liberty — 5000-to-1
  • Numbers from LVH Superbook

Note: This is the second of Lasvegassun.com's betting previews of all four NCAA Tournament regions. Find part one here. Scroll to the bottom of this page to find lines on all of the opening games in the South Region.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Tommy Lee Jones zapped every college basketball fan in the world with one of those memory erasers from “Men In Black.”

Jones was polite enough, maybe at the behest of Will Smith, to only set all the minds back eight days. Everyone is then offered an assignment that makes about as much sense as the galaxy resting on a cat’s necklace — sorry, the spoiler statue of limitations are long gone for that one.

They’re told Louisville and Duke will share the same region next week during the NCAA Tournament and that odds need to be set on each team reaching the Final Four.

Almost for sure, the group would conclude that posting Duke as a slight favorite is the right move. The Blue Devils and the Cardinals, at the very least, would be co-favorites at the same price.

Duke, after all, was ahead of every Louisville in every meaningful poll on March 11. The Blue Devils were 5-to-1 at the LVH Superbook to win the national championship back then, edging the Cardinals at 6-to-1.

What a difference a week can make. Some members of the imaginary crowd might have expected to see an alien ahead of what the actual prices at sports books are to win the 2013 Midwest region — No. 1 seed Louisville is minus-110 with No. 2 Duke trailing at plus-300.

Did Duke’s shot at the Final Four really plummet that much with one loss to Maryland as a 10-point favorite in the ACC Tournament? Did Louisville’s chances increase that drastically after running through the Big East Tournament to the tune of three wins and three covers?

The answer on both accounts is “no”. But Louisville turned into what Superbook director Jay Kornegay called the flavor of the week. The perception became that Louisville was the team to beat, which is something Vegas must factor into every line.

Meanwhile, the rising anti-Duke sentiment spread. None of the analysts filling out their brackets on ESPN’s Selection Sunday special selected the Blue Devils to make it to Atlanta.

Not even infamous Dukie Dickie V, can you believe that baby?

Poke around the Internet and it’s just as difficult to find experts getting behind Duke. It must be forgotten that Duke, as a 1-point underdog, defeated Louisville 76-71 in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament championship game last November.

Sports books remember. To get a true sense for how oddsmakers feel about Duke, consider it’s still 8-to-1 to win the title. Louisville, 9-to-2, and Indiana, 7-to-1, are the only teams with lower prices.

Future odds may paint the South Region as the toughest in the NCAA Tournament, but the Midwest is a photo finish for second. Going back a week again, Duke and Louisville were second and third, respectively, in odds to win the title.

The Midwest ended up with three of the top nine from back then, as No. 3 seed Michigan State was posted at 12-to-1. With the Spartans unfortunate draw in the tournament, they’re now 18-to-1.

But Michigan State is capable of reeling off the four necessary wins over the next two weeks to get into the national semifinals. Coach Tom Izzo has done it with less including as recently as two years ago when he overachieved with a No. 5 seed.

That was Izzo’s sixth Final Four team, making him one of only eight coaches in college basketball history to hit that plateau.

Two of the others? Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski with 11 and Louisville’s Rick Pitino with six.

With a 12-16-2 record against the spread this season, however, Michigan State has under-performed the expectations of oddsmakers. The defensive-minded bunch struggled most when favored by a lot as they went 3-8 against the spread when laying double digits.

What separates the Midwest Region more than anything, though, is the presence of a handful of teams that could wreak more havoc on brackets than a demolition crew.

As a No. 4 seed, Saint Louis isn’t eligible for the traditional Cinderella tag. But the Atlantic 10 champion Billikens can beat any team. They’re tied for the best against the spread team in the nation with a record of 21-10-1.

If Saint Louis encountered Louisville in the Sweet 16, it would arguably be a matchup between the two best defensive teams in the country.

The winner of the “First Four” game tonight between Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee State, where the Gaels are favored by 2.5 points, could reach the Sweet 16 without Vegas veterans batting an eye. At least one respected oddsmaker in town considered both teams among the top 25 in the nation less than a month ago.

Gamblers love to back experienced teams to pull off upsets. Well, No. 14 seed Valparaiso is the most experienced one in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy.

Second in experience, Middle Tennessee State, and third, No. 8 seed Colorado State, also call the Midwest bracket home in this year’s tournament.

As the top team in the nation in rebounding margin behind senior Colton Iverson, Colorado State looked like a great pick to break out of a 24-year NCAA Tournament winless rut for most of the season. But the tournament selection committee may have given the Rams a matchup that negates their biggest advantage.

Colorado State takes on No. 9 seed Missouri, which finished as the nation’s third best team in rebounding margin. The Tigers give the Rams three points in one of only two games in the whole tournament where the higher-seeded team comes in as the favorite.

There’s no way to describe Oregon getting stuck with a No. 12 seed a day after winning the Pac-12 Tournament title other than “ridiculous mistake”. Sure, the Ducks burned bettors all year with a 13-18-1 against the spread record.

But they’re a different team with now-healthy point guard Dominic Artis, a Findlay Prep graduate, in the lineup. Oregon’s swoon, where it went 6-4 straight-up and 2-8 against the spread, coincided with an Artis foot injury.

Oregon’s matchup with No. 5 seed Oklahoma State, where the Ducks are plus-3.5, is one of the can’t-miss showdowns of the first weekend. With two first-round NBA Draft picks in freshman Marcus Smart and junior Markel Brown, the Cowboys are among the most explosive teams vying for the national championship.

But they’re also among the flakiest. That’s the best way to explain how, over the course of four days, Oklahoma State went from being only the second team in the last 104 games in Allen Fieldhouse to beat Kansas to losing to NIT-bound Baylor at home.

Speaking of dangerous, sports books rank Creighton as one of the best No. 7 seeds in the past several years worth of tournaments. The Bluejays boast the leading scorer to make the tournament and National Player of the Year candidate in Doug McDermott.

There’s a pattern here: The Midwest is full of stars. No matter who survives the region, sports books won’t have problems posting individual player props that can drive interest for these teams in the Final Four.

Michigan State possesses two guards as competent as those manning the door at the White House in junior Keith Appling and freshman Gary Harris.

Duke and Louisville each have a coveted “Big Three”. Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly all average more than 14 points per game for the Blue Devils.

The Cardinals pair backcourt mates Russ Smith and Peyton Siva with big-man extraordinaire Gorgui Dieng, whom some fan is undoubtedly yelling at the screen about after an earlier paragraph failed to mention he missed the Duke loss.

Both are tremendous nucleuses on exceptional teams that, despite recent chatter, are close to equally as likely to reach the Final Four.

Pick: Duke at +300 There’s no way I can escape here after spending 500 words expounding on why the Blue Devils are under-valued.

Midwest Region Picks Against the Spread (in order of confidence)

Note: It's never wise to bet every game, but we'll pick every one throughout the tournament here and keep track of the record for fun. Talking Points finished last year's tournament 32-31 overall and 8-3 on top-confidence plays. The blog also made a killing on the conference tournaments last week, correctly picking three teams at plus-money for a gain of plus-14 units. Come back after the "First Four" games for picks on the official second-round matchups.

No. 11 Middle Tennessee State +3 over No. 11 Saint Mary's

No. 2 Duke -18 over No. 15 Albany

No. 9 Missouri -3 over No. 8 Colorado State

No. 7 Creighton -3 over No. 10 Cincinnati

No. 16 Liberty +2.5 over No. 16 North Carolina A&T

No. 14 Valparaiso +10 over No. 3 Michigan State

No. 6 Memphis -1 over No. 11 Saint Mary's

No. 1 Louisville -26 over No. 16 North Carolina A&T

No. 4 Saint Louis -9 over No. 13 New Mexico State

No. 5 Oklahoma State -3.5 over No. 12 Oregon

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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