Memphis catching NCAA Basketball bettors’ eye

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What Penny Hardaway and Mike Miller have concocted, so quickly, in Memphis has reverberated to Las Vegas. 

 At the Westgate SuperBook, the Tigers’ national championship odds have been sliced to 12-1. Elsewhere, Memphis to win it all is in single digits. 

On April 8, the SuperBook unveiled those 80-1 future odds. Within 48 hours, a $400 ticket on the Tigers helped trigger a reduction to 60-1, according to Jay Kornegay, vice president of the property’s race and sports operations. On May 2, two different customers each slapped $200 on them, slicing their odds to 30-1. Eleven days later, a patron slapped a grand on Memphis, paring its odds to 14-1; today, it’s 12-1. 

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Hardaway, in his second season as head coach, and top lieutenant Miller, the former Florida ace, assembled a recruiting class that has been hailed as the best in the country. Both ran top-flight prep club teams in Memphis that gave them instant collegiate cachet. Their big catch was 7-foot-1 James Wiseman, who played on Hardaway’s travel squad. Forwards Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries are key parts of a group of seven newcomers with either four- or five-star résumés. 

No doubt talented, the Tigers are also young, as 12 of the 13-man roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Can Hardaway, Miller, and fellow assistants Tony Madlock and Cody Toppert minimize pretense for the team dynamic, and a long March run? Many at the Westgate, and around town, have bet on it. 

“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about this Memphis team,” Kornegay said. “Do we lose on them? Yup. [But] if the Memphis Tigers win the national championship today, it would be comparable to a bad Saturday [in college football] or Sunday [in the NFL], not a disaster. There’s just so much handle on this stuff.” 

At plus-2400, Circa Sports at the Golden Gate and The D sports the best odds on Memphis. Oddsmaker Matt Lindeman believed interest in the Tigers to be hooey and hype, and he felt some justification when Ken Pomeroy debuted Memphis 50th in his ratings, a benchmark of the game. 

Circa customers can bet on a hoops team not winning the national title; Michigan State (plus-750 to win the crown) is minus-1300 to not win it, Memphis is minus-4600 to remain crownless, Kentucky is -1800 and Duke is -2200. 

At the South Point, book director Chris Andrews and oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo waited — due to immense transfer uncertainty and, at Arizona, Auburn, Kansas and elsewhere, FBI scrutiny — to reveal its first national championship odds. On June 17, Memphis opened as its 6-1 favorite.

  “There are more graduate transfers,” Magliulo said. “It’s very favorable now, and some of them are pretty good … it definitely impacted some of these prices.” 

Kerry Blackshear Jr. is Exhibit A. The 6-10 senior center flourished at Virginia Tech last season. In June, however, the Orlando native chose Florida over Kentucky, among others, to join three returning sophomore starters and a top-10 incoming class in Gainesville. The South Point debuted Florida at 60-1; interest has shaved it to 20-1. The Gators are 25-1 at Circa, 16-1 at the Westgate. 

An odd case has been Mississippi State, which the SuperBook opened at 30-1 odds, as its de facto 13th-best team. KenPom has it No. 53. Nobody has bet the Bulldogs, so the Westgate has boosted them to 100-1. Circa opened them in its 41st slot, where they’re 150-1 to become champion, 1-200 to fail. 

The SuperBook, which also offers Final Four odds, has shifted South Florida from 2000-1 to 500-1, mostly via $50 bets by two different people. Davidson, which opened at 1000-1, has dropped to 300-1, courtesy of three $100 tickets and one for $200. UNLV, the former local powerhouse that sits at No. 164 in the KenPom ratings, has had one buyer, but that fiver didn’t budge its 1000-1 odds. 

Twenty years ago, for CBS SportsLine, I made the futures selection of a lifetime by tapping Michigan State to beat Florida in a column nine months before that transpired in Indianapolis. Mike Miller’s second-round heroics fueled the Gators, who lost to Mateen Cleaves and the rest of the famed Flintstones in the finale. 

Michigan State, again, is loaded, with senior point guard Cassius Winston leading a deep roster, and veteran coach Tom Izzo arranged the usual challenging non-league docket—Kentucky, Seton Hall, Duke, probably Kansas in Maui. Most shops have Sparty, KenPom’s No. 1, as their favorite, at about plus-550. I tap Izzo to reach his ninth Final Four. 

Miller, in a way, does figure into my scheme. However, it’s his alma mater, Florida, that will reach the game’s grand stage in Atlanta, on the first Monday in April, only to lose — again — to the Spartans in a fitting platinum anniversary to a miracle pick. 

Rob Miech will be signing copies of his new book “Sports Betting for Winners” on Saturday, from noon-3 p.m., at the Barnes & Noble branch in Henderson, at Sunset and Stephanie. 

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About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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