Tourney Action

Mar 23, 2010 7:11 AM

After the first day of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Las Vegas Sports Books were loving each upset as they occurred, when posting the results.

But then on Friday and Saturday, the bettors came back with runs on their favorite teams. Sunday’s games were headed for another winning day for the bettors when Purdue, as a two-point underdog, came to save the day for the bookies.

"Purdue really helped us out with that win," said Lucky’s Sports Book Director Jimmy Vaccaro. "All the parlay bets at the end of the day were tied into Texas A&M."

The exposure from the entire day’s parlays would have been a tough pill to swallow for many books, had Texas A&M won after the second most popular bet of the day by the public, Cornell, came in as well.

Most books reported an overall win for the four day weekend, with the bulk of the winnings coming from the one big Thursday.

Vaccaro estimates that handle was down about 10% from last year, but said it was somewhat expected just because of all the trends they’ve been seeing in today’s economic climate.

"Our ticket counts are relatively the same, which shows us they are still playing, but they’re just playing less."

The action the tournament brings to a casino can’t just be measured by sports book figures. Keeping hundreds of crazed fans cooped up in one building for four straight days is going to have an immense effect all areas of the casino, including some increased play on the Race Book side of operations.

"We saw our biggest increase in race handle for these four days of action than we have ever seen before," said Vaccaro.

The Madness continues this Thursday and Friday, but on a much smaller scale because of fewer games, which can sometimes spell disaster for a sports book if a lot of the favorites cover, which can trigger those parlay payouts that a book can’t make up.

The bettor this week has a lot of additional things to weigh before betting with all the upsets and small schools still alive, but the lean will be with the favorites in almost all eight cases.

Big Ten is alive and well

Coming into the tournament, all the hype surrounded the top teams, with the basis for their hype relying on the brutal schedule they played within their own conference. There’s no denying that the Big East is a tough conference, but the Big Ten slid under everyone’s radar in that respect.

With Purdue’s top player, Robbie Hummel, out for the season many experts thought the team that had been the best in the conference prior to the injury was going to have a short tourney run. But Purdue has led a Big Ten charge to the Sweet Sixteen along with Michigan State and Ohio State, giving the conference more teams at this stage than any other conference.

The Big East, SEC, and Big 12 all have two teams remaining among the 11 conferences still alive. The biggest disappointment has been the ACC and Big East. Duke is the only remaining ACC team while the Big East still has its two best teams alive in Syracuse and West Virginia.

The Pac-10, who only got two invites to the dance, has Washington still alive, giving the conference – thought of very low all season – the same amount of teams alive as the ACC. This is the third time in four seasons that the big bad ACC has sent only one team to the regional rounds. For the last 27 years before this four year stretch, the ACC had sent at least two teams to this stage.

Defense is a major staple of Big Ten basketball. When the jump shots aren’t hitting, the one phase of the game that can always be counted on as a fall back is great defense because of the easy scores it creates.

While some of the major conferences have struggled, others have made the most of the opportunity. For the first time since the NCAA tournament expanded in 1985, three one-bid conferences (the Horizon League, Ivy League and Missouri Valley Conference) had their teams advance to the Sweet 16.

For only the third time since 1985, four teams seeded ninth or worse (No. 9 Northern Iowa, No. 10 Saint Mary’s, No. 11 Washington and No. 12 Cornell) reached the Sweet 16.

Three Years of Being Sweet

No one should be surprised that Tom Izzo’s Spartans are once again in the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. Izzo may be the greatest at getting his team mentally ready for the grueling Final Four chase, but the other team that has done it this year may be hard to think of quickly.

The Xavier Musketeers are going to their third straight Sweet 16 led by Jordan Crawford, the player who got more press from dunking on Lebron James in a pick up game, than Xavier itself ever got from the media just because they are considered a mid-major team.

"I was watching ESPN the other night," guard Terrell Holloway said. "I thought Doug Gottlieb said it best. He said we’re a mid-major program with high-major talent. If you look at the teams we’ve beaten over the last couple of years, you know what kind of team we are."

Big Red Rolling

Cornell becomes the first Ivy League team to reach the regional semifinals since Penn advanced to the 1979 Final Four, where the Quakers lost to Michigan State and Magic Johnson. After going 4-63 all-time against teams ranked in the Top-25, Cornell has now upset No. 12-ranked Temple and No. 16 Wisconsin in their last two games.

One of Toughest
Tournaments Ever to Pick

An example of how tough this tournament has been to pick games, 4.78 million people filled brackets out on ESPN.com and no one had all 16 teams through this stage. Only four had 15 of the 16 teams.

In Station Casinos’ Last Man Standing contest, they had over 2,000 entries, asking contestants to pick one game a day. After the first day, there were only 644 entries remaining. The difficult games whacked out more entries on the first day than ever before. In a normal year, the trend has been anywhere from 40% to 50% eliminated each day as the tournament goes on. Through Sunday, only 136 entries remain standing.

Lucas Doubtful
for Michigan State

Michigan State’s leading scorer, Kalin Lucas, is likely out for Friday’s game against Northern Iowa. Coach Tom Izzo said Monday morning there’s a "90 percent chance" tests later in the day would confirm Lucas has a torn left Achilles tendon that would keep him off the court for about five months.

Lucas was hurt late in the first half Sunday against Maryland and did not return.

His replacement, Korie Lucious, beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer that lifted the fifth-seeded Spartans to an 85-83 win over the fourth-seeded Terrapins.

Lucious now becomes a starter and forward Draymond Green becomes even more valuable.

Sweet 16 Picks

Despite my own personal bracket being chewed up by picking upsets that didn’t happen while the real upsets that were happening weren’t on my list, I feel after a week off from what just happened that the cream will rise to the top in most cases this weekend. I can see two underdogs winning outright with two other underdogs possibly covering.

In these instances after the first wave of the first weekend has settled in and become now part of the past, the better team usually wins. The glory and momentum has been halted after Sunday’s games where these smaller schools will have three days of being the talk of the town with all kinds of ceremonies, while the larger schools and teams experience the same type of hoopla all season. Experience, not in just tournament play, but in big time college basketball is what these games are all about.

Here are a few plays worth pondering.

Kentucky (-9) 77, Cornell 65

West Virginia (-5) 67,

Washington 59

Syracuse (-7) 74, Butler 58

Xavier (+5) 78, Kansas State 76

Michigan State (-5) 66,

Northern Iowa 59

Ohio State (-5) 75, Tennessee 62

Baylor (-3½) 79, St. Mary’s 72