Wednesday, March 24, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Beyond The Sun
NCAA Tournament overall No. 1 seed Kansas' defeat to Northern Iowa in the second round might have wrecked brackets across the nation, but Las Vegas sports books didn't mind.
With strong public betting support on Kansas, Northern Iowa's 69-67 victory was one of sports books' most profitable games of the first weekend of the tournament.
"That particular game was good for us," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook. "But there were 47 other games."
Those other games featured a fair number of upsets, too. The story of the 2010 NCAA Tournament thus far is the handful of long shots that have advanced to the Sweet 16.
Five teams from mid-major conferences won two games each to secure themselves a spot in the tournament's second weekend. Four of the 16 teams remaining have a No. 9 seed or higher.
This weekend traditionally is where those teams start to run into trouble. Only one mid-major, No. 11 seed George Mason in 2006, has advanced to the Final Four in the past 12 years.
"The Sweet 16 is where mid-majors come to die," said Las Vegas professional sports bettor Ted Sevransky. "That's why people still talk about George Mason. The fact we're still talking about them years later shows how hard it is."
But Sevransky, who serves as a Covers.com expert, isn't ready to resign Northern Iowa to that fate. The No. 9 seed Panthers face a potentially favorable matchup against the No. 5 seed Michigan State Spartans in the Sweet 16.
Michigan State will be without Kalin Lucas, its leading scorer and point guard, for the rest of the tournament after he ruptured his Achilles in the second-round win against Maryland.
If Brian Edwards, a professional bettor who works at Vegas Insider, had to pick one mid-major team to keep advancing, it's the Panthers.
"Northern Iowa obviously has the best shot," Edwards said. "I think they're beaming with confidence."
The Hilton lists Northern Iowa as one-point underdog to Michigan State in the Sweet 16. It's a different underdog that Edwards has his eye on, though.
Edwards said he took No. 12 seed Cornell with the points against No. 1 seed Kentucky. Cornell is an 8.5-point underdog at the Hilton, but posted at +9 in other sports books around Las Vegas.
Kentucky blew out East Tennessee State and Wake Forest in its first two tournament matchups, while Cornell upset both Temple and Wisconsin.
"Kentucky looked great, but I just don't think they were playing anybody," Edwards said. "Cornell just dominated two of the best defensive-minded teams. That just doesn't happen. I think you've got to have great guard play in the tournament and Cornell has that in (Louis) Dale and (Ryan) Wittman."
Edwards also advised taking a look at the "over" in the Cornell game, which opened as low as 143 but is up to 147 at the Hilton.
Sevransky wasn't as sold on Cornell and said he would probably sit that game out. His underdog of choice? No. 11 seed Washington getting 5.5 points against No. 2 seed West Virginia.
"They are about the quietest 14-2 (in their last 16 games) I can remember," Sevransky said. "The Mountaineers are good, but I'm not so sure about them anymore."
The other remaining mid-major schools are No. 5 seed Butler, No. 6 seed Xavier and No. 10 seed Saint Mary's. Sevransky referred to Butler and Xavier as mid-major "in name only" as both schools are tournament mainstays and didn't come out of nowhere.
Saint Mary's, however, fits the traditional Cinderella bill. But Sevransky doesn't like the Gaels chances this weekend and leaned toward No. 3 seed Baylor to cover as 4-point favorites against them.
"Omar Samhan might be the single most impressive player in the tournament so far but they are going to need some help from the supporting cast and quite frankly, I don't think they are going to get it," Sevransky said. "And the game is in Houston, which is a huge advantage for Baylor."