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November 29, 2022

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Las Vegas sports books thrilled with this year’s Final Four

Jared Sullinger

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger celebrates his team’s 77-70 victory over Syracuse in the East Regional final game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 24, 2012, in Boston.

2012 NCAA Tournament

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Kansas +2.5 — 30.5%
Ohio State -2.5 — 25.1%
Kentucky -9 — 23.2%
Louisville +9 — 21.2%

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Imagine a vacationer swinging on a hammock a few yards away from the ocean on a deserted island.

That’s approximately how relaxed Las Vegas sports book directors will feel when watching the two Final Four games scheduled for Saturday in New Orleans.

“These are all great teams for us,” said Red Rock Race and Sports Book Director Jason McCormick. “We’re going to be able to kick back and enjoy the games.”

Bookmakers have two reasons for their overwhelming acceptance of the remaining field: None of these teams were overly popular bets in the future book to win a title and bettors are split so far on the two semifinal games.

Kentucky, Kansas and Ohio State were among teams with the shortest odds to win the championship all season, meaning there’s no significant liability for sports books issuing large payouts if any of them win. Louisville got as high as 40-to-1 to win the tournament at the LVH SuperBook, but bettors never got behind the Cardinals to become champions.

“They’re a team that’s been on the second-tier for most of the season,” SuperBook Director Jay Kornegay said. “Louisville wasn’t on top of the Big East until they ran through the tournament. For a big program, they’ve kind of run under the radar, and we’ve kept respecting them. Books kept them at 40-to-1 despite where they were ranked.”

Louisville is posted as an 8.5-point underdog against Kentucky in the game scheduled to tip off at 3:09 from the Superdome. Kansas gets 2.5 points as an underdog against Ohio State in the nightcap, slated to begin 30 minutes after the end of the first game.

The betting line for both games has stayed steady for five days, indicating that sports books are taking an equal amount of action on both sides.

“The first game has been incredibly balanced,” McCormick said. “We’re seeing a flow of money on Ohio State, but not enough to move the number. Both of these games are getting pretty good two-way action.”

Both semifinal showdowns are rematches from December. Gamblers are interpreting the first meetings differently, which is contributing to the way the public is torn on who to bet.

Louisville fell to Kentucky 69-62 at Rupp Arena on New Year’s Eve but covered the 10-point spread. The Wildcats shot a horrendous 29 percent from the field, though, and blew a 13-point lead with 10 seconds to go.

Kansas defeated Ohio State as a 1.5-point home favorite on Dec. 11, but the Buckeyes were playing without star sophomore Jared Sullinger. The power forward could only watch from the bench with back spasms as the Jayhawks shot a lights-out 58 percent compared to the Buckeyes' 39 percent mark.

“People are looking more at the revenge factor for Ohio State than they are for Louisville,” Kornegay said. “I think it’s because Kentucky and Ohio State have looked so good. People are looking for angles to bet them.”

Although Kornegay reported even action so far at LVH, he expected Kentucky and Ohio State to print more tickets in the hours right before tipoff.

The 8.5-point line in the Kentucky vs. Louisville game is the largest Final Four spread in the last 13 years, according to R.J. Bell of Pregame.com.

“That’s a daunting number for a national semifinal,” McCormick said. “Kentucky is going to have some backers, but no one is eager to play against Louisville with the way they’re playing.”

McCormick compared Louisville guard Peyton Siva to Kemba Walker, who led Connecticut to the national championship last year. Both Siva and Walker willed their teams to Big East conference tournament championships and the Final Four.

But there’s one major difference when it comes to Las Vegas. Gamblers loaded up on Connecticut to win the title in the middle of the season, meaning oddsmakers were rooting against the Huskies in the tournament.

Sports book patrons extended no such love in Louisville’s direction.

“In the futures, I think every book in town is in pretty good shape,” Kornegay said. “These teams were in the top 10 with the lowest odds all season for a reason.”

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

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