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July 30, 2014

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Las Vegas may need to dodge Florida Gulf Coast to continue NCAA Tournament tear

First No. 15 seed to ever reach Sweet 16 turning into a popular choice at sports books

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Stephen Sylvanie / Special to the Sun

Seventeen state of the art monitors illuminate one wall of the new William Hill Race & Sports Book inside the Plaza Hotel, with dozens more mounted in seated stations that include individual reading lights as well, Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013.

Updated odds to win the NCAA Championship

  • Louisville — 3-to-1
  • Indiana — 9-to-2
  • Florida — 5-to-1
  • Miami — 7-to-1
  • Duke — 8-to-1
  • Ohio State — 8-to-1
  • Kansas — 12-to-1
  • Michigan State — 12-to-1
  • Michigan — 12-to-1
  • Syracuse — 12-to-1
  • Arizona — 25-to-1
  • Wichita State — 30-to-1
  • Marquette — 50-to-1
  • Oregon — 60-to-1
  • La Salle — 75-to-1
  • Florida Gulf Coast — 100-to-1
  • Source: LVH Superbook

Sports book directors around town must have chuckled when first glancing at the NCAA Tournament schedule for Thursday and Friday.

The Sweet 16’s most significant game, at least as far as Las Vegas is concerned, ironically landed as the final one to tip off. No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast will look to continue its historic run as a 13-point underdog against No. 3 Florida at 7 p.m. Friday in Dallas.

The Eagles are plus-700 (risking $1 to win $7) to win straight up on the moneyline against the Gators.

“It’s very apparent we’re going to need Florida to win this one,” William Hill sports books spokesman Jimmy Vaccaro said. “It’s been moneyline heaven so far on Gulf Coast, and I can’t blame them. You can almost sense, even though there’s two days left, it’s only going to get bigger. The regular people love this team.”

Florida Gulf Coast is drawing enough betting action to validate its status as the talk of the tournament so far.

The LVH Superbook opened the Eagles as 1,000-to-1 to win the South Region, reportedly taking one $10 bet on the virtually anonymous team from Fort Myers, Fla. They’re now down to 100-to-1.

Combining Florida Gulf Coast’s two moneylines so far in the tournament — around plus-800 for the opening game against Georgetown and approximately plus-300 for Sunday’s round of 32 triumph over San Diego State — reveals Vegas had the odds at 35-to-1 against the Eagles making it out of the first weekend.

Bettors largely ignored the team, led by coach Andy Enfield and Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Sherwood Brown, as 13-point underdogs the Hoyas. But gamblers jumped on board before the San Diego State game, driving the spread down to plus-7 and loading up on the moneyline.

“We weren’t in the same boat as a lot of books in getting hurt by them,” Cantor spokesman Ken Miller said. “We took a slight loss, but we think it’s created a lot of interest. We think it’s great for us and great for college basketball.”

Florida Gulf Coast’s 81-71 victory over San Diego State was one of the rare games sports books took a hit on last week. Overall, both Vaccaro and Miller agreed, the first 52 games of the tournament have registered as a rousing success for sports books.

William Hill profited on all four days. Vaccaro said the volume was the best he had seen in years.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” he said. “The handle equaled what we did on the Super Bowl, so you’ve got to be happy with that over just four days. The city and state couldn’t have wished for anything better.”

Public bettors notoriously back large favorites in the majority of marquee sporting events. Later rounds of the NCAA Tournament have proven an exception to the rule.

Gamblers, more and more every year, throw money on the long shots if they can make it out of the first round.

“No one minds seeing the bullies on the block get one across their knees every once in a while,” Vaccaro said. “And it makes it easier when there’s a big payout on the other side. If you’re a $20 bettor, it’s easier to take Florida Gulf Coast at 7-to-1, sit back with two Coronas and be into a game the whole time.”

George Mason’s run to the Final Four seven years ago got bettors more comfortable backing mid-major teams in the tournament, according to Vaccaro. Butler’s back-to-back finishes as the national runner-up and Virginia Commonwealth’s Final Four appearance two years ago further strengthened the sports book popularity of long shots in the tournament.

Miller wouldn’t be surprised to see another team from a nonpower conference get to Atlanta this year. He just thinks the attention is getting paid to the wrong one.

Miller suggests No. 9 seed Wichita State, currently at 30-to-1 to win the title and 13-to-4 to advance to the Final Four, could pull it off.

“I think Wichita State is that team because they should beat La Salle,” Miller said. “Ohio State looks like the best team left in that region, but they’ve got some warts. We’ll have a 9 or a 12 seed make it to the Elite Eight and then all bets are off.”

The Shockers are 4-point favorites against the Explorers in Thursday’s final game. It’s the first time this tournament Wichita State has posted as a favorite.

It’s done awfully well as an underdog, knocking off No. 8 Pittsburgh as a 4.5-point underdog and then No. 1 Gonzaga at plus-6.5. Several sports books, including both Cantor and William Hill, celebrated the Shockers' 76-70 victory over the Bulldogs.

They had significant liability on Gonzaga winning the national championship from taking bets on the Bulldogs when they were as high as 60-to-1 earlier in the year.

“That was the one we were rooting against in the future book,” Miller said. “We weren’t shedding any tears over the Zags' loss.”

No one imagined sports books would trade worries about Gonzaga for concerns over Florida Gulf Coast, but that’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament.

On Friday, oddsmakers will be thinking, “Go Gators.”

“That’s going to be a fairly big decision for us,” Vaccaro said. “It’s intriguing, especially being the last game of the day.”

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

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