I love New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas and the NFR in December brings its own vibe, but this second weekend of March is without a doubt my favorite of the year. It’s the pageantry of three college basketball conference championships playing in town while at the same time NASCAR is making a pit stop on its schedule.
And yes, of course there’s betting on all the events.
What impresses me most of all, besides all the smiling guests, is how seamless the operation is for the hotels and casinos. Despite all the activity going on, rooms sold out and casinos jam packed, the employees don’t even flinch under pressure. They operate like it’s just another day, almost machine-like.
It’s easy to understand why four conferences (WCC played last week) chose to come to Vegas because the city can easily handle it, and of course it’s an easy draw for alumni, students and their families.
“It’s definitely the best week to be in Las Vegas for a sports fan,” said MGM Resorts sportsbook hub manager Jeff Stoneback. “Just being able to wager on all the games and then go see them live is a unique amenity in itself, more so I think than the first round of the NCAA Tournament.”
Stoneback said they’ll be doing in-progress wagering on select games so you can be in your seat at the game and bet adjusted spreads from your phone as the game is happening. You don’t even have to be a Vegas resident to get an account, just within state lines and use cash.
The sportsbook staff will be extra busy this week setting up all the college basketball odds daily during the tournaments across the country and they’ll also be organizing dozens of props for the NASCAR race.
With such a unique mix of people in town this week, the books are prepared for a large quantity of novice bettors. The big sportsbooks can be intimidating for someone having never wagered before, but that’s okay. The books are expecting you and ready to give a quick lesson. So for the first timer, my suggestion is to simply go up to the window, tell the friendly ticket writer what you’d like to do and they’ll get it done. No need to be embarrassed or intimidated.
What seeds will win
The Golden Nugget sportsbook is offering a fun prop asking which seed will win the NCAA Tournament and they’re giving EVEN money if the No. 1 seed hoists the trophy on the first Monday of April.
In 32 tournaments since 1985, the No. 1 seed has won 19 times while the No. 2 seed has won five, including Villanova’s win over No. 1 seed North Carolina last season. Picking a 2 to win will pay 3-to-1. The 3 seed pays 7-2 and it’s happened four times. The 4 seed (7-1 odds), 6 (20-1), 7 (30-1) and 8 (40-1) all have one win each. Connecticut won as a No. 7 seed in 2014.
We’re likely to see Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga and North Carolina all be No. 1 seeds when the brackets are announced Sunday night. No. 2 seeds look to be Louisville, Baylor, Oregon and Kentucky. The eventual winner is likely to come out of those groups, but the real value in this prop is taking EVEN money with the No. 1 seeds.
We’re likely to see four make the NCAA’s with Arizona (27-4), Oregon (27-4) and UCLA (28-3) locks while USC (23-8), Utah (20-10) and Cal (19-11) will need a good showing this week to make it. Utah has a bye as the Pac-12’s No. 4 seed, but the quarterfinal match – likely against Cal – will be pivotal to who plays in the NCAA’s and NIT.
Cal would probably have to beat Oregon in the semifinals to get the NCAA invite. USC will get past Washington in Wednesday’s first round match, but getting past UCLA in the quarterfinals will be tough even though they did beat the Bruins, 84-76 at home Jan. 25. With the quality level of competition in the league, I think USC and Cal both deserve to play in the NCAA’s.
Pac-12 Championship game: While I’d love to see UCLA get past Arizona in the semifinals , I don’t see it happening. Oregon and Arizona should hook up in Saturday’s final. They played just once, with Oregon crushing the Cats 85-58 as 4-point home favorites. I’ll take Oregon to win the rematch.
Mountain West: My loyalty rests with UNLV, but after a miserable 11-20 last place season I’ll be rooting for our brothers up north, Nevada-Reno, to make the NCAA’s. Winning this conference tournament is the only way to advance to the Big Dance because the league likely gets just one team in. If Nevada (25-6) gets ousted as the 1 seed, I can’t see them getting invited. However, they have won and covered the spread in their last six. Fresno State (16-8-1 ATS), Wyoming (19-10 ATS) and Colorado State (16-8-1 ATS) have been three of the best cover teams in the nation. One of them will give Nevada a serious run. I’ll take Nevada to beat Colorado State in Saturday’s final.
WAC: It’s disappointing that Grand Canyon won’t be playing, but they will be eligible for an NCAA invite next season. Coach Dan Majerle has done an amazing job in a short time span with the Lopes, closing the regular season by beating No. 1 WAC seed Cal-Bakersfield (21-8). It was Bakersfield’s second league loss. The other came at New Mexico State (25-5). Expect those two to meet in Saturday’s final. I’ll go with Bakersfield to win and receive the automatic NCAA berth.