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December 21, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Saturday’s games

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Marquette guard Vander Blue (13) celebrates with center Chris Otule (42), Jamil Wilson (0) and guard Trent Lockett (22) after their 71-61 win over Miami in an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Thursday, March 28, 2013, in Washington.

There’s no reason to hang on to those pro-No. 1 seed prop bets anymore.

Go ahead and pitch them in the trash bin. The vast majority are losers now.

Every year when Las Vegas sports books hang their proposition wagering options before the NCAA Tournament, those involving No. 1 seeds are among the most discussed. This year in particular, action came in on the “over” 12 victories for top-seeded teams.

The side went off as a minus-150 favorite at the LVH Superbook, but it’s not even possible anymore. After the Sweet 16 brought the unraveling of two more No. 1 seeds — Indiana in the East Region and Kansas in the South — Louisville is the last one standing.

Even if the Cardinals win out and take the crystal basketball in Atlanta, it would only bring total victories by No. 1 seeds to 11. With Duke and Ohio State both still alive, No. 2 seeds are currently tied with their superiors at eight wins apiece.

Unless someone is absolutely certain Louisville will emerge as champions, it’s probably more valuable to hold a ticket on a No. 2 seed winning the tournament at plus-350 (risking $1 to win $3.50) as it went off at William Hill sports books than a No. 1 at the closing number of plus-110.

Underdogs were the talk of the last two days, as they went 6-2 against the spread in this year’s Sweet 16. The only two favorites to cover were Duke at minus-2 over Michigan State and Wichita State at minus-4 against La Salle.

Will the success of lower seeds and teams taking points continue? Find picks for Saturday’s action below. I'm now 28-31-2 picking every game against the spread, never a wise betting option, and need a strong finish in the final seven games of the tournament.

No. 3 Marquette plus-4 over No. 4 Syracuse The “no one respects us” rant from an athlete is typically worth nothing more than an eye roll and a channel change. But Marquette junior Vander Blue was actually telling the truth when he performed his rendition of the refrain after a 71-61 Sweet 16 victory over Miami. In Las Vegas especially, few believe in the Golden Eagles. Sports books have needed Marquette to come through with covers in each of the last two games after taking lopsided action the other way and its happily obliged behind two, well, golden performances from Blue.

A similar scenario could play out Saturday in Washington, D.C. Blue, averaging nearly 20 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, has been every bit as valuable as Syracuse’s more-publicized guard Michael Carter-Williams. The coaching mismatches Syracuse has used to its advantage throughout the last two years in the tournament won’t play into this regional final. Marquette’s Buzz Williams is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. And he knows how to play against Syracuse. The Golden Eagles have covered the spread the last five times they’ve faced the Orange, and won three of those meetings straight-up.

I’m also hedging a bit in this space after picking Syracuse to win the region at 5-to-1 before the tournament began.

No. 9 Wichita State plus-4.5 over No. 2 Ohio State Anyone looking to sell their ticket on the Shockers at a higher spread for face value? Didn’t think so. At anything over plus-6 — where some offshore books had the number late Thursday night — Wichita State is an easy take. Shaving off a couple points makes it a significantly iffier proposition.

There’s no getting around the fact that Wichita State will be at a distinct disadvantage in terms of athleticism against Ohio State. But there’s also no dodging the truth that the Shockers have played better over the last two weeks. While Ohio State squeaked past the last two rounds with two non-cover wins, Wichita State left no doubt and waltzed into the Elite Eight. The way the Shockers have done it makes them a playable underdog. Aside from the stunner against Gonzaga, Wichita State hasn’t even shot particularly well or run awe-inspiring offense. Its getting by tough-nosed rebounding and rebounding dominance.

Getting physical with Ohio State is the best potential route to victory. That’s an ability Wichita State should possess.

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

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