LAS VEGAS — The release of the NCAA Tournament matchups and brackets on Sunday afternoon triggered the real work in the back rooms of Vegas sportsbooks to set each game’s odds and feed them to a thirsty public.
At the South Point, sportsbook director Chris Andrews (pictured below), lieutenant Vinny Magliulo, and Tony Sinisi hustled to compare notes and power ratings, and they might have been the first out of the gate with the figures that mattered.
“That’s something we try to do,” Andrews said, “we try to be first up.”
This triggered the annual theory, which is mine, that Andrews and a few of his director-compatriots could assemble a better tourney than the NCAA’s Selection Committee.
Nobody, for one, knows the true power ratings of each team better than Vegas sportsbook directors. And in that perfect world, two squads from the same conference could meet in the second round.
No seeding rules. Just line up the best teams, post the fair brackets, and get on with a true tournament.
“I think you’re right,” Andrews said as we sat in his book’s comfortable seats an hour after his odds had been posted on the South Point’s big board. “I couldn’t agree with you more. That would be fantastic.”
As an example, at least initially Sunday, there were four games in which a team with a lower seed was favored against a higher-seeded opponent.
“If you’re doing the seeding properly,” Andrews said, “that shouldn’t happen.”
Andrews had to alter his brain trust a tad this year since longtime pal, veteran oddsman, and software ace Richie Baccellieri took a position at Circa Sports.
So Andrews tapped Sinisi, another longtime friend who logged more than 20 years making the numbers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants — first for Michael “Roxy” Roxborough and then Kenny White.
The South Point trio dealt with some usual issues, especially injuries.
No. 1-seeded Houston (31-3) lost Marcus Sasser, a 6-foot-2 senior guard who is the Cougars’ most electric player, to a groin injury in an American Athletic Conference tournament semifinal.
A year ago, the Dallas native missed most of the season after breaking a bone in his left foot. The Cougars also missed swingman Tramon Mark (shoulder), but they won three in the NCAAs before losing to Villanova in the Elite Eight.
Sasser currently averages a team-best 17.1 points along with 2.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists, while Mark produces 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Without Sasser, the Cougars lost the AAC finale to Memphis. Afterward, however, Sasser told FOX 26 in Houston that he expects to play against Northern Kentucky (22-12) in Birmingham.
“I should be 100 percent by Thursday,” Sasser said.
UCLA (29-5) lost 6-5 junior Jaylen Clark (12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds) to an Achilles’ tendon injury at the end of the regular season, and 6-10 freshman power forward Adem Bona (7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds) left a Pac-12 semifinal with a shoulder tweak.
Both were missed in a two-point defeat to Arizona in the finale. Clark is out for the season, but Bruins head coach Mick Cronin told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that he hopes to have Bona on Thursday night against UNC-Asheville.
Alabama (29-5) continues to deal with the public backlash of 6-9 freshman guard Brandon Miller’s off-court incident, although it didn’t slow the Tide down in winning the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Against three foes, Miller tallied 61 points and 33 rebounds. He hasn’t scored fewer than 17 points in his past eight games.
Statistics maven Ken Pomeroy has Miller rated second in his Player of the Year chart, behind Purdue center Zach Edey.
Miller and the Crimson Tide open on Thursday in the friendly confines of Birmingham, but what happens when and if they advance to the Sweet 16 next week?
“We had some key injuries, and that situation with the kid at Alabama and that shooting … we have to be aware of that,” Andrews said. “Obviously, Houston missed Sasser [against Memphis]. You never know.
“UCLA lost Clark, then the big man. I had Houston rated No. 1, UCLA No. 2, and Alabama No. 3! All key things we have to watch, that we discussed. Those are the considerations of my top three teams in the country!”
Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Tennessee Betting Odds: Point Spread, Moneyline, Total
In the first hour of the South Point numbers being unveiled, no game moved more than Tennessee-Louisiana, which opened with the Volunteers as 13-point favorites. Swiftly, that got cut down to 10.
NCAAB · Thu (3/16) @ 9:40pm ET
|LOUL Louisiana-Lafayette||at||TENN Tennessee|
|Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tennessee|
The Vols (23-10) have dropped seven of their past 12 games, while the Ragin’ Cajuns (26-7) are 16-3 over their past 19 games.
“In my power ratings, I had the Vols rated high,” Andrews said. “But in talking to a lot of people I respect, who follow it closer than I do, many thought they’re a phony team. And that got bet down to 10 [by] a lot of money.”
Also read: Current March Madness odds
Florida Atlantic vs. Memphis Betting Odds: Point Spread, Moneyline, Total
Florida Atlantic opened as a pick’em against Memphis (26-8) in the first round on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, and early action moved the Tigers to 2.5-point favorites.
Which half-stunned Andrews.
NCAAB · Fri (3/17) @ 9:42pm ET
|FAU Florida Atlantic||at||MEM Memphis|
|FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee|
In the Conference USA tournament title game on Saturday, money favored Alabama-Birmingham over the Florida Atlantic Owls, who had 30 wins and were one of the nation’s best teams against the spread all season.
UAB closed as a 1- to 2-point favorite around Vegas. The Owls had only lost at Ole Miss, at Middle Tennessee, and at UAB (86-77 on Feb. 2) this season. On Saturday, the Owls belted UAB, 78-56.
FAU head coach Dusty May should be up for Coach of the Year honors for guiding his program to a 31-3 record.
“I know Memphis is pretty good,” Andrews said. “I do think [head coach Penny] Hardaway probably doesn’t get the love he deserves. But, boy, Florida Atlantic … I’ve had my eye on them for a couple of weeks. That’s a good team!”
The Owls are 21-10-1 against the spread (ATS) this season, and only Utah Valley (21-9), Cal State Fullerton (20-9-2), and Pittsburgh (22-10-1) were more efficient at returning dividends to punters.
Atlantic is solid shooting two- and three-pointers, very good at defending beyond the three-point arc, and excellent at defending shots inside the arc; only 10 other teams best FAU’s 44.8-percent two-point shooting defense.
Vladislav Goldin, a 7-1 sophomore from Russia, has a 63.8-percent two-point touch. Sophomore guards Johnell Davis (13.5 points) and Alijah Martin (13.2 points) further fuel the Owls.
Regarding that C-USA finale, Andrews said, “How could UAB be the favorite? But that’s who everybody bet. So we needed Florida Atlantic pretty good in that game. And we’re probably going to need them here, too.”
NCAA Tourney Primers: How to Bet on March Madness | Pursuing the Perfect Bracket
Howard vs. Kansas Betting Odds: Point Spread, Moneyline, Total
Kansas is a 22- to 23-point favorite against Howard early Thursday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa, but the defending champs might want to view video of a certain college football game for a certain type of inspiration.
NCAAB · Thu (3/16) @ 2:01pm ET
|HOWA Howard||at||KANS Kansas|
|Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas|
$1,250 First Bet + 1000 Tier Credits + 1000 Reward Credits® at Caesars
UNLV opened the 2016 football campaign as a 45-point favorite at home against Howard and outright lost, 43-40, to the Bison. It is widely considered to be the biggest upset in college pigskin history.
The hoops Bison of Washington, DC, are coached by Kenny Blakeney, who is the former two-time NCAA champ at Duke.
Howard started the season 8-10 but finished 14-2, defeating Norfolk State, 65-54, in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tourney finale on Saturday. The Bison is 0-2 in the NCAAs; a 33-point loss to Kansas in 1992 and a 35-point defeat to Wyoming in ’81.
KU boss Bill Self might want to show his guys that epically embarrassing football game in Vegas, to ensure they don’t take a Howard team too lightly.
Deep dive: NCAA Tournament odds updated after Selection Sunday
Sharp NCAA Tournament Action Comes Early at South Point
By 5 p.m. PT on Sunday, the South Point’s numbers had been up for about an hour and the action had pleased Andrews.
The limit for the property’s app was $3,000, while anyone could walk up to one of a half-dozen counter slots and risk a maximum of $10,000 per pop.
Between the two options, Andrews noted maybe two dozen max bets.
“We’ve seen a lot of money, had a lot of moves … a lot,” he said. “A lot of business. Makes me so happy.”
I recognized several regulars, who took a few minutes to make all of their wagers and fork over thousands of dollars.
Andrews estimated that within that first hour, there had been maybe four or five $10,000 bets placed at his windows. He also expected about 90 percent of his total first-round business to be conducted Wednesday through Friday.
“We respect the guys who put up their money early, but there are a lot of times that a lot of dogs get bet [by them], and Iona is one of them,” Andrews said. “We might need Iona, come game time, once the public gets to work on the favorites.
“So I highly respect the guys who put up the money early on. They’re sharp guys. But some of them … we’ll wind up rooting for them come game time.”
All the matchups: NCAA Tourney point spreads, moneylines, totals
The Rick Pitino Effect at Iona
Iona (27-7), as Andrews mentioned, opens on Friday against Connecticut (25-8) in Albany, New York. The South Point opened UConn -11 and within an hour, that had been shaved two points to -9 (odds and prices subject to change).
Third-year Iona boss Rick Pitino is 64-21 at Iona, based in New Rochelle, New York, and he is expected to be the next St. John’s head coach. Some have even mentioned Georgetown.
“Well, I thought they’d bet Pitino just because it’s Pitino,” Andrews said. “He’s looking to probably be in the Big East next season, and St. John’s sounds like a perfect fit. But talent-wise, I think UConn is really good.
“I think our opening number was good, but Pitino is a great, great coach. He can probably keep it close. We’ll have to see.”
Three Games That Quickly Budged 2.5 Points at South Point
Within that first hour of the South Point’s odds release, Florida Atlantic-Memphis, Kennesaw State-Xavier, and Grand Canyon-Gonzaga were the three games that had budged 2.5 points.
Xavier (25-9) opened as a 14-point favorite on Friday morning against Kennesaw State (26-8) in Greensboro, North Carolina. In a few heartbeats, that had moved to 13 and then 11.5 points.
“Kennesaw, that’s another one,” Andrews said. “How good is Kennesaw State? I don’t know. Guess we’ll find out.”
The best aspect of these Owls is their 37.1-percent three-point shooting, which is a top-10 national rate.
The Zags (28-5) opened as 17-point favorites late Friday afternoon against Grand Canyon (24-11) in Denver, and that got cut to 15.5 before settling at 14.5 points.
The Antelopes, coached by third-year boss Bryce Drew, won four games in the Western Athletic Conference tourney in Vegas, securing the automatic NCAA bid by defeating Southern Utah, 84-66, on Saturday.
“Some of these teams, you don’t know how good they are,” Andrews said. “You don’t know. How good is Grand Canyon? (Expletive), I don’t know! We’ll find out, I guess. But that conference did play some pretty good basketball all season.”
A Mere 1.5-Point Shift for Colgate vs. Texas at South Point
It might be easy to overlook, but bettors also moved on Colgate-Texas on Thursday night in Des Moines. The Longhorns opened as 15-point favorites, but by the time I chatted with Andrews, it had dropped to 13.5 points.
Raiders 12th-year head coach Matt Langel has participated in the past three NCAAs, losing to Tennessee by seven points, Arkansas by 17, and Wisconsin by seven. Colgate has won 131 games over the past six seasons.
NCAA Tournament First-Round Best Plays
Assorted experts and professionals were contacted for their single best play of the first round, and the generous Matt Youmans of the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN) checked in with three positions.
For Sunday night, he nabbed Arkansas -2 against Illinois in Iowa. That was part of a wave that has pushed the Razorbacks’ edge to 3.
His faith in Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman and the return of guard Nick Smith Jr. compelled Youmans to take the Hogs. Plus, he said, “the Illini are fading more than fighting,” having dropped three of its previous four games.
His similar belief in Rick Pitino enticed Youmans to take Iona and 9.5 points against UConn. “I’ll count on the coaching genius of Pitino and take the points.”
As a throw-in, he bet Northwestern plus a point against Boise State on Thursday in Sacramento.
Tim Murray, Youmans’s VSiN colleague who played Division III hoops at Muhlenberg in Pennsylvania, got Drake +3 against Miami on Friday night in Albany.
He’s a fan of Bulldogs leader and 6-7 sophomore swingman Tucker DeVries, who is the son of Drake boss Darian DeVries. DeVries has led the squad in scoring in his two seasons and was named Missouri Valley Player of the Year.
“Drake surrounds him with four seniors,” Murray said. “A bit of a trendy pick, but the Bulldogs will be live against the Hurricanes, who are dreadful defensively.”
At the New England Sports Network, Sam Panayatovich grabbed Gonzaga -15.5 against Grand Canyon.
“This favorite should roll,” said Sammy P., who tends to lean toward first-round underdogs. “Everything Grand Canyon does, Gonzaga does better.” He predicted the Antelopes’ defense would resemble “a turnstile” against the Zags’ offensive weapons.
In Vegas, professional handicappers Bill “Krack Man” Krackomberger, Steve Fezzik, and Chuck Edel weighed in with their top first-round picks, too.
Krack Man bet Over 154 in Utah State-Missouri, one of the few plays that I had circled late Sunday after sifting through each teams’ templates.
Each side’s offensive angles are better, sometimes far better than the defense it will be facing.
“I think these two,” Krackomberger said, “can and will just score at will.”
Fezzik moved early to nab Under 138 in the USC-Michigan State total on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
Edel favored Baylor -10.5 against UC Santa Barbara in Denver on Friday due to the Bears’ long-range marksmanship and the Gauchos’ lax perimeter defense. Baylor is 22nd in the nation in three-point shooting, and UCSB is 217th in defending those shots.
“Baylor should be able to take advantage of Santa Barbara’s poor three-point defense,” Edel said.
Also in Vegas, former oddsman Todd Fuhrman, co-founder of the Bet the Board podcast and a CBS Sports betting analyst, went with Houston and head coach Kelvin Sampson giving 19.5 points against Northern Kentucky.
And Fuhrman likes the pick regardless of Sasser’s availability.
“NKU uses a zone defense and struggles to control the defensive glass,” he said. “Houston’s physicality and ability to dominate the rebounding department will wear down the Norse, who will struggle to score 45 in this game.”
In New York, by Tuesday morning, the Houston-Northern Kentucky total had dipped to 121 in one of his shops. So capper Tom Barton, who had already wagered on Over, went back to bet more on that play.
Finally, in Florida, professional bettor John Murges grabbed Auburn -1 against Iowa on Thursday. He likes the Tigers’ suffocating three-point defense and doesn’t like a Hawkeyes squad that averaged 88 at home in the Big Ten but only 68 on the road.
“Let’s also take into consideration that the Tigers will be playing in Birmingham,” Murges said. “The pro-Auburn crowd will definitely be a disadvantage to the Hawkeyes, considering they are 0-4 ATS on neutral courts. Everything points to Auburn.”
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