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October 21, 2014

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

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

San Diego State forward DeShawn Stephens sets a screen as guard Xavier Thames drives past New Mexico guard Hugh Greenwood during their Mountain West Conference Tournament game Friday, March 15, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

LVH Superbook odds to win West Region

  • Arizona: Even money
  • Wisconsin: 7-to-2
  • Creighton: 9-to-2
  • San Diego State 10-to-1
  • Oklahoma State: 12-to-1
  • Baylor: 15-to-1
  • Oregon: 15-to-1
  • Oklahoma: 20-to-1
  • Gonzaga: 20-to-1
  • Nebraska: 75-to-1
  • North Dakota State: 75-to-1
  • BYU: 75-to-1
  • New Mexico State: 100-to-1
  • Louisiana-Lafayette: 300-to-1
  • American: 1000-to-1
  • Weber State: 5000-to-1

2014 NCAA Tournament West Region

Which of these bets would you make on who wins the West Region?
Arizona Even money — 32.5%
Wisconsin 7-to-2 — 28.6%
Creighton 9-to-2 — 18.2%
Oklahoma State 12-to-1 — 11.2%
San Diego State 10-to-1 — 7.3%
Oklahoma 20-to-1 — 2.2%

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.

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 third of four NCAA Tournament betting previews from Talking Points. Check out the South Region here, the Midwest Region here and come back later for the East Region.

A short-term time traveler could use a printout of the NCAA Tournament’s West Region as a great weapon.

Showing the 16-team bracket to any villainous college basketball fans in the months before the start of this season would cause their heads to explode.

More teams than any other region have a decent shot at reaching the Final Four from the West, according to the LVH Superbook’s future odds. Nine of the 16 hopefuls are listed at 20-to-1 or less, which translates to a minimum 3.5 percent chance of ushering in April with a national-semifinal date in Dallas.

But this particular assortment of teams wasn’t always so promising. The perception was they were more in Bill & Ted’s realm than Spock’s at the beginning of the season, especially within the sports book cosmos.

The Superbook had only two West Region teams — No. 1 seed Arizona and No. 9 seed Oklahoma State — at less than 50-to-1 to win the national championship on the eve of the college basketball year. All of the top five seeds in the West have improved their chances to win the tournament by at least 50 percent since November, according to Las Vegas, a claim only the East Region could also promote.

Arizona was always seen among the elite, but a preseason 15-to-1 price inferred a No. 2 seed, not the second overall ranking the Wildcats, now 7-to-1, wound up with. November odds would have predicted No. 2 seed Wisconsin, 75-to-1 back then, as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed.

No. 3 seed Creighton, No. 4 seed San Diego State and No. 5 seed Oklahoma were all 100- to 200-to-1 to start, depicting they’d likely be round-of-64 underdogs or bubble teams.

The five teams spent the season like students who inevitably excel regardless of intelligence after arriving prepared for every lecture. As a reward, they get seated together at the front of the physics class.

Sports bettors should already feel intimately familiar with the overachievers, as the five teams all posted a winning record against the spread. They collectively went 91-65 versus the Vegas number to cover 58 percent of the time, an astronomically high figure for a sample size of more than 150 games.

For their diligence, the Wildcats, Badgers and Sooners get the hardest round-of-64 matchups out of their specific seed pairings in the tournament. Oklahoma and its seed neighbor San Diego State, which both play Thursday in Spokane, Wash., are on full-fledged upset alert.

No. 12 seeds are the best bets of any ranking in the first weekend of March Madness over the past five years, and North Dakota State is the 2014 tournament’s toughest one. The average No. 5 vs. No. 12 spread is six points, but oddsmakers favor the Sooners over the Bison by just four points.

No. 13 seeds have also fared respectably in recent years, going 12-12 against the spread in the opening weekend with six outright upsets of No. 4 seeds since 2009. Oddsmakers favor the fourth-seeded team by an average of 11 points over the No. 13, but San Diego State gives New Mexico State just seven in a game that determines which team meets the Oklahoma vs. North Dakota State winner.

The Aztecs and the Sooners would make for a terrific Saturday contest, what with the Steve Fisher vs. Lon Kruger coaching rivalry renewed and the undeniable clashing of styles. The former continued his dominance over the latter in last year’s tournament as San Diego State used its always-icy defense to eliminate Oklahoma’s trademark fiery offense as a 3-point favorite in a 70-55 round-of-64 victory.

The teams carried over the same profiles this season with Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Xavier Thames leading the gritty Aztecs and Buddy Hield directing the flashy Sooners. No one should shoot their sights too high on seeing the rematch, however, because the spreads say it’s more than likely not going to happen.

The tight numbers on each team’s first game make moneyline calculations come out at only 48 percent that both advance.

Those two games stick out as particularly challenging, but it’s not like the other contenders in the West have a free pass. Creighton may lay more points, 14, than any other No. 3 seed in the round of 64, but No. 14 seed Louisiana-Lafayette has won four of its past five games as an underdog outright.

Arizona’s opponent, No. 16 seed Weber State, has played in some form of the postseason for six straight seasons. At minus-19, Arizona shouldn’t have much problem advancing, but threatening loopers lurk in its next showdown.

Oklahoma State and No. 9 seed Gonzaga are the West Region’s version of a couple of troublemakers who goofed off and nearly got expelled from the tournament prematurely. Now that the Cowboys and Bulldogs straightened their act to navigate the March Madness bubble, they could create mischief at the expense of the Wildcats and everyone else in the West.

Before the year, sports books pegged Oklahoma State and Gonzaga as the second- and third-best teams in the region. The Cowboys were 40-to-1 to win the national championship, slightly ahead of the Bulldogs at 60-to-1.

Casinos could never call off their interstellar love affair with the Cowboys, as they got as low as 5-to-1 and trailed just one team to win the title in late December. Even when Oklahoma State dropped seven in a row and lost All-American point guard Marcus Smart to a suspension, it was never above 50-to-1 to win the title at the Superbook.

Since Smart returned, the Cowboys have gone 5-2 straight up and against the spread.

Gonzaga is on a five-game win streak leading into the tournament, which includes a 4-1 against-the-spread record. The one noncover stands out, though, as David Stockton — yes, John’s son — had to hit a near buzzer-beater for Gonzaga to survive Santa Clara as 12.5-point favorites in its first West Coast Conference tournament game.

The vanishing routine wasn’t an abnormal occurrence for Gonzaga this season. Four of the Bulldogs’ six losses came in games in which they were favored by seven points or more.

They unsurprisingly play with the most variance, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, out of the nine contending teams in the West Region.

Arizona rates second-to-last nationally in variance, behind South Region No. 1 seed Florida, which makes sense considering it possesses the land’s most efficient defense according to the Pomeroy ratings.

The knock on Arizona, which hasn’t attracted much attention in bets to win the title despite ranking No. 1 for a long stretch of the year, is its depth. But the Wildcats’ roster has six stars, including an inside-out combination of junior Nick Johnson and freshman Aaron Gordon that Pomeroy computes as the Pac-12 Conference’s two best players.

All four of their losses have come since sophomore Brandon Ashley suffered a season-ending foot injury, leading some to question whether the Wildcats are capable of reeling off six straight victories without him. Those setbacks came by a forgivable 16 points combined, though, as Arizona is still 7-6 against the spread without Ashley in the lineup.

Here’s to thinking the Wildcats will find a way to cope behind Johnson’s and Gordon’s combined average of 28 points per game.

Johnson is arguably the second-best player in the nation behind Creighton senior Doug McDermott. The Sports Illustrated cover boy arrives in the tournament as college basketball’s fifth all-time leading scorer, chipping in 27 points per game this season.

Sports bettors should know all about the Blue Jays’ soaring tendencies. They finished with a profitable against-the-spread record for the third straight year this season and went on a run of eight straight covers in late December to mid January.

Included in the tear was an 82-67 trouncing of in-state rival Nebraska as a 12.5-point favorite. The West Region will stage another meeting between the Blue Jays and Cornhuskers if both get out of their first game.

Despite sneaking into the tournament as a No. 11 seed, Nebraska takes just 3.5 points from No. 6 seed Baylor. The relatively low spread demonstrates sports books’ position on the Big Ten vs. Big 12 debate.

Although metrics such as the RPI labeled the Big 12 as the season’s pre-eminent conference, Vegas power ratings put the Big Ten a rung above all.

The LVH Superbook listed proposition wagers on over/under win totals for all the major conferences, with the Big Ten meriting the largest line at 10.5 wins. The Big 12 was second, all the way back at eight.

Conference stature served as one reason why no bettors thought twice about Wisconsin garnering a No. 2 seed. Oddsmakers were bullish on the Badgers most of the season, as they got as low as 12-to-1 to win the tournament in January at the Superbook. They’re currently 25-to-1.

This year’s Badgers are different from any in recent memory in that they’re better on offense than defense. Frank Kaminsky, Ben Brust and Sam Dekker highlight a roster that shoots well and commits the fewest turnovers of any team in the tournament.

Wisconsin fans must hope the new approach yields new results in the NCAA Tournament, as their team has gotten bounced out in a game in which they were favored in five of the past seven years. Although coach Bo Ryan has made March Madness in all 12 years in control of the Badgers, he’s reached the Elite Eight only once.

No. 7 seed Oregon fits the profile of the type of squad Wisconsin succumbs to. The Ducks, who are favored by more points than any other No. 7 seed at minus-5.5 against No. 10 BYU, can score in bunches and have played their best down the stretch.

Once trending outside of the 68-team field, Oregon finished its last 10 games with an 8-2 straight-up and 7-2-1 against-the-spread record. A trio of senior transfers — Mike Moser from UNLV, Joseph Young from Houston and Jason Calliste from Detroit — each toss in more than 12 points per game.

The final three rounds of West Region action will feature some of the tournament’s closest point spreads as teams that rose on a comparable path will collide to strike each other down.

Most of them defied gravity long enough to thrive in a universe where few thought they could survive. And now they’re a couple of wins away from a whole new dimension.

Pick: Creighton at 9-to-2 Someday, everyone will accept that offense — even more than defense — wins championships. Maybe that day will come when the nation's best offensive team advances to the Final Four in a couple of weeks. I actually think Arizona comes out of the West, and possibly wins the tournament, but Even money is not enough and plus-450 on Creighton is too much.

West 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.

No. 13 seed New Mexico State plus-7 over No. 4 seed San Diego State

No. 10 seed BYU plus-5.5 over No. 7 seed Oregon

No. 1 seed Arizona minus-19 over No. 16 seed Weber State

No. 2 seed Wisconsin minus-13 over No. 15 seed American

No. 14 seed Louisiana-Lafayette plus-14 over No. 3 seed Creighton

No. 5 seed Oklahoma minus-4 over No. 12 seed North Dakota State

No. 6 seed Baylor minus-3 over No. 11 seed Nebraska

No. 9 seed Oklahoma State minus-2 over No. 8 seed Gonzaga

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

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