Upsets yet again lead Vegas books to March Madness moolah
March 20, 2018 3:11 AM
by Micah Roberts
It was a weekend of absolute madness for Nevada sportsbooks where the NCAA Tournament took its excitement level up a notch. Who thought this annual party could get any better?
“It was so electric the first two days,” said Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook VP Jay Kornegay. “It was awesome to have buzzer-beaters, outright upsets, meaningless 3’s –outside of the betting world. And then finally we get a 16 seed to win. The last four days had it all.”
The end result for the books worked out to be another winner. No surprise. March has been the most consistent winning month on the calendar for books over time just because of all the upsets. Bettors’ greed and booze also play a part. If bettors would play only straight bets or max out their parlay plays to just two games tied together, the books would be looking at a much different story each year.
But the bettors can’t help themselves. This is what they like to do when they come to Las Vegas. Most like to drink a bit, put a bunch of parlays in and try to hit the lottery with an eight-teamer. And the more we drink, the more willing we are to depart with our cash. Our senses get dulled. But man, it sure is fun.
“Overall, it was pretty good for us,” said Kornegay. “Friday was the big day as we got a few outright upsets. Our worst was Marshall beating Wichita State (-12). We took a lot of moneyline bets with them. Loyola-Chicago over Tennessee (-4.5) was huge for us Saturday. But our biggest winner was Buffalo beating Arizona (-9).”
No. 13 seed Buffalo didn’t just upset No. 4 seeded Arizona, they absolutely crushed them, 89-68, in a spot where behind the scene stuff happening with Arizona coach Sean Miller and his two stars had a far greater affect than anticipated. And also, to give all the credit, Buffalo is a pretty darn good team that has been mopping up the MAC with blowouts all season.
The thing I came away shocked the most with over the weekend was how the top three defenses in the nation got their own game working against them in losses. Defense wins Super Bowls in the NFL, but the blueprint for schools like Virginia, Michigan State and Cincinnati might be a little outdated. Slow the game down, frustrate the opponent when they get the ball, take smart shots when we get the ball. Rinse and repeat.
No. 1 seeded Virginia lost, 74-54, Friday as 22-point favorites to No. 16 seed UMBC. It was the first time in tournament history a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1. Virginia was third in the nation allowing opponents to shoot only 38 percent from the field and first allowing the least amount of points at 54 ppg. The Cavaliers blew through the treacherous ACC schedule with a 17-1 record. They were not just a No. 1 seed, but the overall No. 1, which means they were beaten by not just a No. 16, but in reality the worst team, or No. 64, in the tournament. They were also the Westgate’s second choice to win it all at 5-to-1 odds.
On Sunday, two other great defenses got rocked. No. 3 Michigan State (-10) got upset by No. 11 seed Syracuse, 55-53, and it happened in the Spartans backyard of Detroit. Michigan State was ranked first in the nation allowing opponents to shoot 36.7 percent. They held the Orange to only 35.7 and out-rebounded them 51-30, including an incredible 29 offensive boards. But Sparty shot only 25.8 percent from the field and ended their season of high hopes at 30-5. They were 7-to-1 to win the tournament before it started.
No. 2 seed Cincinnati (-9) had built a 22-point lead over Nevada in a Sunday afternoon clash between the slow down Bearcats and fast paced Wolf Pack, and it appeared the old adage of great defenses always beating great offenses was on display. Cincinnati allowed only 57 ppg this season and allowed opponents to shoot 37.4 percent. Both were second in the nation. But with less than 12 minutes to go, Nevada closed out on an amazing 32-8 run to win 75-73. It was the second largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history.
The irony with the Spartans loss is Syracuse is a team that prides itself with good defensive play allowing only 63.9 ppg and 39.4 percent shooting from the field. They muddy games up by slowing the games down, which worked to perfection in tourney wins against Arizona State and TCU who both averaged 83 ppg, and then they simply got in a brawl against a 10-point favorite in a defensive battle. Keep it close, keep the favored team mentally unbalanced and then steal a win.
But the slow down game with elites like Virginia and Michigan State, who have way more talent, allows lesser teams to occasionally hang around. I know Billy Tubbs didn’t win a championship, but I sure liked his approach back in the day when he would bury teams as quick as possible and pour it on some more just to be sure they were done. The kids sure liked that style too.
This weekend’s games won’t have the same fanatical feel as last week. It’s not a week circled on the calendar to come meet all your friends from across the country like last week was. The games start later, so instead of 13 hours of intense drinking and betting on Thursday, it’s more like five hours with only four games. No need to skip work like last week. With less games, the bettors have a better chance for success.
Making a Case
Broncos VP John Elway said his first choice to fill the void at quarterback was Case Keenum all along, after Kirk Cousins signed with Minnesota. It sounds good, but the odds to win the Super Bowl at the Westgate certainly didn’t reflect Elway’s thought. Superbook assistant manager Jeff Sherman said they dropped the Broncos from 50-to-1 down to 30-1 in anticipation of the Broncos signing Cousins.
That’s an awful lot of respect showing Cousins was expected to make a huge difference in Denver. But as soon as Keenum was signed, the Westgate moved the Broncos odds back to 50-1. We’ll see how it all unfolds.