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December 18, 2014

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

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wichita State’s mascot WuShock fires up the crowd before their first-round game against Texas A&M in the women’s NCAA college basketball tournament in College Station, Texas, Saturday, March 23, 2013.

Updated Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 10:16 a.m.

LVH Superbook odds to win Midwest Region

  • Louisville: 5-to-4
  • Duke: 3-to-1
  • Wichita State: 4-to-1
  • Michigan 4-to-1
  • Kentucky: 10-to-1
  • Tennessee: 30-to-1
  • Iowa: 30-to-1
  • Saint Louis: 35-to-1
  • UMass: 75-to-1
  • Texas: 75-to-1
  • Kansas State: 75-to-1
  • Arizona State: 75-to-1
  • Xavier: 100-to-1
  • NC State: 200-to-1
  • Manhattan: 500-to-1
  • Mercer: 1000-to-1
  • Wofford: 2000-to-1
  • Cal Poly: 5000-to-1
  • Texas Southern: 5000-to-1

2014 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region

Which of these teams would you bet to win the Midwest Region?
Louisville 5-to-4 — 41.9%
Wichita State 4-to-1 — 20.0%
Michigan 4-to-1 — 15.2%
Duke 3-to-1 — 14.4%
Kentucky 10-to-1 — 8.6%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

2014 NCAA Tournament South Region

Which of these teams would you bet to reach the Final Four?
Florida Even money — 49.9%
Kansas 3-to-1 — 18.5%
Syracuse 6-to-1 — 15.2%
UCLA 8-to-1 — 7.5%
Ohio State 8-to-1 — 5.7%
VCU 12-to-1 — 3.2%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Note: This is the second of four NCAA Tournament betting previews from Talking Points. Check out part one, the South Region, here and come back tomorrow for the final two installments.

Lost in the vociferous assault on the toughness of the Midwest bracket that’s spread through different platforms and factions with equal enthusiasm since Selection Sunday is an important fact: The region’s not that great.

OK, let’s backtrack. The Midwest is great in a sense but it’s severely lacking in another.

The top five Midwest teams, according to sports books — No. 1 seed Wichita State, No. 2 seed Michigan, No. 3 seed Duke, No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 8 seed Kentucky — are ludicrously vigorous. Add LeBron James to the reincarnated 1991 Runnin’ Rebels, the last team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated before this year’s Shockers, and they might not make it through that gauntlet.

But the other schools, a majority of the region, are as fragile as the psyche of an unsuspecting child after encountering Wichita State’s terrifying mascot. The odds of a team other than the aforementioned fabulous five advancing to Dallas for the Final Four are about equivalent to proving “WuShock” is the first advanced alien life form to reach Earth.

Extracting the house’s hold and calculating from the LVH Superbook’s future odds to win the region, bookmakers give roughly a 92 percent chance that one of the teams from that group will advance from the Midwest. That’s far higher than any possible assembly of five from any other region.

The LVH only lists 17 teams at 40-to-1 or less to win the NCAA Tournament, and those are five of them. The Midwest is tied with the East Region for the most in that category, nothing short of amazing, considering the shuffling that went on after the infamous draw.

The top 10 seeded teams in the Midwest had their odds to win the tournament downgraded by the Superbook after they wound up in what’s been popularly referred to as the “Region of Death.” For example, Wichita State went from 10- to 15-to-1 and Michigan moved from 20- to 25-to-1.

Two teams, No. 11 seed Tennessee at 100-to-1 and No. 12 seed Xavier at 500-to-1, stayed the same. The rest were listed as a part of the field, meaning oddsmakers thought not a single team’s championship aspirations benefited from getting in the bracket that will play the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in Indianapolis.

Bummer, but at least most of the elite are looking unlikely to go home without a single victory. The average round-of-64 spread in the Midwest is higher than any other region at 10 points.

Granted, that could alternate after two First Four play-in games — Iowa minus-2.5 against Tennessee and Xavier minus-3.5 versus North Carolina State — conclude to create tighter matchups. But the Midwest also gets the winner of a No. 16 First Four game between Cal Poly and Texas Southern, with the former favored by three points.

The 10-point mean won’t shift too out of whack because Wichita State will be a lofty favorite against either of those teams. The odds aren’t too optimistic about the Shockers making their second straight Final Four, though, as the probability equates to just a 16 percent chance.

Those from the south-central part of the Wheat State shouldn’t fret too much, because Las Vegas has consistently underestimated their team all year. The Shockers have more than the nation’s most prolific record: They’ve also been the best team to bet on in 2014.

Wichita State is a phenomenal 24-6-1 against the spread. Just when it looked as if the sports books had caught up as the Shockers went on a 2-3 streak against the Vegas number in early to mid-February, they finished the season on an eight-game tear.

Favored by an average of minus-14 in its last eight games, Wichita State still covered in all of them by an average of 5.5 points. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise as the Shockers hold the nation’s second highest scoring margin at plus-15.5 points.

The bad news is, they could run into the lone team ahead of them in the Sweet 16. Louisville has outscored opponents by an average of 21.1 points. The Cardinals are on their own covering streak to close the year, and it might be the only one in the nation as impressive as the Shockers’.

As an average 12-point favorite in its last five games, Louisville has covered all the spreads by 17.5 points per game. Despite the David versus Goliath perception, the teams are more similar than different.

Wichita State is chided for its strength of schedule — 129th according to the Ken Pomeroy ratings and 108th in RPI — which is the same reason Louisville slipped to the fourth seeding line. The Cardinals’ strength of schedule is No. 108 in Pomeroy’s rankings and No. 96 in the RPI.

Anecdotally and empirically, it’s outrageous two teams this strong could square off so soon. They didn’t play until the national semifinals last season.

Sports books posted Louisville as a 9.5-point favorite — a handful more than it would be this year — before its eventual 72-68 win-but-no-cover against Wichita State. Seventy-six percent of the scoring from that game would return in a hypothetical Sweet 16 rematch.

The four best players in last year’s Cardinals vs. Shockers showdown are all back. Cleanthony Early, who scored a game-high 24 points for Wichita State, is averaging a team-high 16 points per game this season with Ron Baker, who had 11 points and eight rebounds, close behind with an average of 13 points.

Russ Smith, 21 points, and Luke Hancock, 20 points, ultimately saved the Cardinals from the upset. They’re chipping in 18.3 points and 11.7 points, respectively, this year.

Even more stars could have reprised their role if Louisville didn’t dismiss Chane Behanan early in the season. Some oddsmakers would already favor Louisville over any team in the country, so it’s scary to think how much better it could have been with an extra three-year starter.

Rematch speculation might be all for naught if Wichita State gets what some think is coming in the third round. The team that had websites drooling over the greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball and sports books printing proposition wagers on if they’d go undefeated; the team whose coach declared “we are college basketball” a year after a first-round NIT exit and whose fans tattoo themselves with 2014 National Championship logos in the middle of a 10-loss season may await.

Yes, the nauseatingly chronicled Kentucky Wildcats. At 4-to-1, they were the preseason favorite to win the national championship. Now Kentucky’s current price of 10 times higher doesn’t seem like enough after a middling campaign that tempered the betting market’s expectations.

The Wildcats went 15-15-2 against the spread as oddsmakers adjusted quickly to their obvious faults. Kentucky’s young frontcourt turned out as ferocious as advertised, with Julius Randle averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds while Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson each finished in the top 15 in the SEC’s Player Efficiency Rating.

Perimeter play was the problem. Kentucky ranks 225th in the country in assist-to-turnover ration. Imagine a team consisting entirely of players looking for a quick route to the NBA playing selfishly and recklessly. Doesn’t make any sense.

Joking aside, the Wildcats have proven dangerous sporadically. There’s no better representation than their 73-66 victory over a Louisville team that still had Behanan as 1.5-point underdogs earlier this season.

The entire top half of the bracket has rematch potential for the Cardinals. Before beating Wichita State and Michigan in the 2013 Final Four, Louisville had to get past Duke in the Elite Eight.

Unlike the Wichita State possibility, a 2014 Louisville vs. Duke grudge match wouldn’t look the same. And not just because Kevin Ware’s leg would be intact.

The entire identity of this year’s Blue Devils revolves around freshman superstar Jabari Parker, as it should. Parker is a rare talent, recording 19 points and nine rebounds per game while ranking fifth in Player Efficiency Rating out of everyone in the tournament.

But like its leader, Duke tends to slack off defensively at times. The combination of extraordinary offense and suspect defense is why stratospheric over/under point totals have followed the Blue Devils all season.

The latter has bitten them embarrassingly at times. In losses to Wake Forest and Clemson, Duke gave up 72 and 82 points, respectively.

Those two offenses are mediocre at best, and at a high-school level compared with what Duke will find in the Midwest. Wichita State, Louisville and Kentucky are all in Pomeroy’s top 20 for offensive efficiency.

They all trail Michigan, however, as Duke’s Sweet 16 opponent, if seeds play to form has the country’s second-best offense. The Blue Devils covered a spread of minus-7.5 against the Wolverines earlier this season in a 79-69 showdown that went under the 150.5 point total, but one off shooting night could flip that result with the way they play defense.

Duke vs. Michigan is a matchup likely to come to fruition with the brittleness surrounding the second and third seeds.

The winner of the Tennessee vs. Iowa First Four game will ensure the fourth straight year that a No. 11 seed is favored in the round of 64. Oddsmakers rate No. 6 seed Massachusetts lower than both teams.

The Minutemen are Las Vegas’ worst No. 6 seed in the field, meaning they share a characteristic with many of their Midwest brethren. No. 7 seed Texas, No. 9 seed Kansas State and No. 10 seed Arizona State are all the lowest rated of their respective positions in the tournament, according to the odds.

Saint Louis looked like a brawny No. 5 seed a few weeks ago at 50-to-1 to win the national championship, but the Billikens have stumbled like an inebriated patron leaving the bar after last call in recent weeks. They’ve lost four of five games, failing to cover in seven of eight to spike up to 100-to-1.

No. 12 seeds have won half of their games against fifth-seeded opponents in the last five years. This might be a spot to look for the usual upset regardless of which team wins the First Four contest.

North Carolina State boasts the only guy in the region who’s had a better year than Parker in ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. Meanwhile, Xavier has advanced to the Sweet 16 in four of the last six years with a 11-2-1 NCAA Tournament against the spread record.

CBS Sports crunched Pomeroy’s numbers and came out with the Midwest as the weakest region when taking into account every single team. From that vantage point, the odds won’t dispute it.

Underneath the screaming of the top five teams’ fan bases, there’s barely-audible crying from the feeble and congested bottom.

Pick: Louisville at plus-120 This is the lesser of five evils. Wichita State at 4-to-1 is awfully tempting, but with the way Louisville is playing, I think they win the Midwest close enough to 50 percent of the time to make this profitable.

South Region Picks Against The Spread (in order of confidence)

Note: It’s unprofitable to bet every game, but I’ll pick all of them throughout the tournament here and track the record. Can’t do much worse than last year’s 32-34-1 record. I did wind up 4.5 units ahead on last week’s conference tournament preview. Check back after the First Four game for updated picks.

No. 14 seed Mercer plus-13.5 over No. 3 seed Duke

No. 11 seed Tennessee minus-4 over No. 6 seed UMass

No. 11 seed Tennessee plus-2.5 over No. 11 seed Iowa

No. 2 seed Michigan minus-16 over No. 15 seed Wofford

No. 12 seed North Carolina State plus-3.5 over No. 12 seed Xavier

No. 8 seed Kentucky minus-5 over No. 9 seed Kansas State

No. 12 seed North Carolina State plus-3 over No. 5 seed Saint Louis

No. 13 seed Manhattan plus-16 over No. 4 seed Louisville

No. 7 seed Texas minus-1.5 over No. 10 seed Arizona State

No. 1 seed Wichita State minus-16 over No. 16 seed Cal Poly

No. 16 seed Texas Southern plus-3 over No. 16 seed Cal Poly

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

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