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October 31, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: How sports books see the South Region

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Georgetown Hoyas forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) in action with the ball during the NCAA Basketball game between the #5 Georgetown Hoyas and the Villanova Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats beat the Georgetown Hoyas, 67-57.

UNLV 2013 NCAA Tournament Practice

The UNLV basketball team has their photo taken by UNLV photographer R. Marsh Starks before practice for their second round NCAA Tournament game against Cal Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. Launch slideshow »

Odds to win the South Region

  • No. 1 Kansas — 5-to-2
  • No. 2 Georgetown — 4-to-1
  • No. 3 Florida — 7-to-5
  • No. 4 Michigan — 5-to-1
  • No. 5 VCU — 12-to-1
  • No. 6 UCLA — 50-to-1
  • No. 7 San Diego State — 30-to-1
  • No. 8 North Carolina — 20-to-1
  • No. 9 Villanova — 75-to-1
  • No. 10 Oklahoma — 75-to-1
  • No. 11 Minnesota — 20-to-1
  • No. 12 Akron — 75-to-1
  • No. 13 South Dakota State — 300-to-1
  • No. 14 Northwestern State — 1000-to-1
  • No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast — 1000-to-1
  • No. 16 Western Kentucky — 1000-to-1
  • Numbers from LVH Superbook

Note: Lasvegassun.com will run betting previews of all four NCAA Tournament regions over the next two days. Scroll to the bottom of this page to find lines on all of the opening games in the South Region.

Since opening Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, four years ago, Jerry Jones has obsessed over getting the best events in his megavenue.

He’s nabbed the biggest concerts and the most significant nonconference college football games available. He’s gone after the Super Bowl. Heck, the billionaire 70-year-old, even tried to take the best fights and rodeos out of Las Vegas to place them in his own wonderland.

How appropriate then that Cowboys Stadium somehow lassoed the premier region of the NCAA Tournament in its first year hosting March Madness. There’s no tougher bracket, according to Las Vegas sports books, than the one that will conclude in Jerry World two weekends from now.

The future odds posted by the LVH Superbook give 11 teams in the NCAA tournament at least a 5 percent chance of winning the crystal basketball. Basic math would indicate, of course, that three regions would get three of those teams with the remaining bracket being home to two.

Well, the South Region wound up with a tournament-high four — No. 1 seed Kansas is 10-to-1 to win it all with No. 2 Georgetown at 18-to-1, No. 3 Florida at 8-to-1 and No. 4 Michigan at 18-to-1.

It’s going to make for quite the spectacle underneath a video board 10 times taller than Kansas center Jeff Withey and 4,800 times heavier than Florida big man Patric Young.

The country’s most luxurious sports complex sounds like a perfect place for fate to come together. The top three teams in the South have seemed destined to meet for a long time.

All year, college basketball diehards have bemoaned the rain-out of a season-opening game between Florida and Georgetown aboard a U.S. naval ship in Jacksonville. The Gators, a 4.5-point favorite, led the Hoyas 27-23 at halftime of a game that took place well before anyone realized it paired two legitimate national championship contenders.

Florida was 25-to-1 to win the title at the Superbook that day. Georgetown opened at 50-to-1.

A collision course between the Hoyas and the Jayhawks goes back further. The last five times Georgetown has made the NCAA Tournament, in every appearance since advancing to the Final Four in 2007, it’s been assigned to a bracket where Kansas was either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

Despite averaging a No. 3 seed, Georgetown has never met Kansas in the span. The Hoyas have gotten upset, as an average favorite of seven points, before the Sweet 16 in every instance.

They’ve never boasted a Big East Player of the Year like sophomore standout Otto Porter during the stretch, but it might not take an upset at all to prevent Kansas vs. Georgetown in 2013.

Once again, oddsmakers would favor Florida over Georgetown if the teams were to meet in the Sweet 16. The Gators, which hasn’t been an underdog in a game all season, could potentially have a spread higher than minus-4.5 next to their name in the kind-of, sort-of rematch.

Florida also would give a point or two to Kansas. Don’t be stunned: In Las Vegas, seeds are meaningless. Posting the right number is sports books' lone concern.

It doesn’t take a mind as bright as the one possessed by the lead architect of Cowboys Stadium to understand the Florida fascination either. The Gators rank first in the country in scoring margin at plus-17.9 points per game.

Their lone issue has been close games, as Florida is 0-6 — that’s all but one of the Gators' losses — in contests decided by single digits. That’s a sign of an “unclutch” team for anyone who prescribes to popular lingo and perception.

To sports books and bettors, it’s a sign of something else: variance. It’s no surprise Florida ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in revered statistician Ken Pomeroy’s metric for luck.

Conversely, Georgetown just misses the top 50 out of 347 teams in luck. The Hoyas are 10-3 in single-digit games with a plus-8.8 average scoring margin.

Michigan’s much-superior scoring margin of plus-11.4 per game partly explains why bookmakers are keener on it than any other No. 4 seed in the tournament.

Don’t forget that, despite a decent nonconference schedule, the Wolverines were the last undefeated team standing this year at 16-0. They were one of many squads to hold Vegas’ top spot in odds to win the NCAA Tournament, getting as low as 9-to-2 in late January.

Michigan doesn’t fit into the destiny narrative of the top three teams in the South, but it’s a real threat to reach the Final Four. And, besides, maybe it’s not destiny at all.

It could just be the selection committee trolling everyone. Look at some of the other early matchups among these 16 teams before discounting the theory.

If No. 8 seed North Carolina gets out of its first game — which is no guarantee as a 4-point favorite against No. 9 Villanova that’s a red-hot 13-7 against the spread since the calendar flipped to 2013 — coach Roy Williams likely will face Kansas 45 minutes away from where he was a 15-year fixture at Allen Fieldhouse.

Williams’ Tarheels already have met the Jayhawks twice in the tournament, losing both games straight-up and against the spread, since he ditched Lawrence, Kan., for Chapel Hill, N.C.

Coach Shaka Smart, meanwhile, brings his No. 5 seed VCU squad into a showdown against a team headed by one of the groomsmen in his wedding. Smart coached alongside, and then under, No. 12 seed Akron boss Keith Dambrot from 2003-2006.

Conventional wisdom is that teams struggle with VCU’s unorthodox style because they don’t know how to prepare. Dambrot, who confers with Smart regularly, won’t have that problem when the Zips get seven points in against the Rams.

To a lesser extent, No. 7 seed San Diego State vs. No. 10 seed Oklahoma is another suspicious pairing of coaches. Sooners coach Lon Kruger has a rough history against San Diego State counterpart Steve Fisher.

As locals remember all too well, Kruger went 5-14 against Fisher in seven years at UNLV.

The matchup makes little sense when consulting sports books. Using future odds as an evaluator, Las Vegas views the Aztecs as the weakest No. 7 seed and the Sooners as the worst No. 10.

But even if the South Region lacks muscle with some of the middle seeds, it’s got plenty of brawn at the top.

Pick to win the region: Florida at plus-140 No reason to overthink this one. The Gators are the best team and have the clearest path to the Elite Eight, which they've made the past two seasons. Kansas and Michigan hold potential value, but their likely clash in the Sweet 16 is too close to call this early.

South Region Picks Against the Spread (in order of confidence)

Note: It's never wise to bet every game, but we'll pick every one throughout the tournament here and keep track of the record for fun. Talking Points finished last year's tournament 32-31 overall and 8-3 on top-confidence plays. The blog also made a killing on the conference tournaments last week, correctly picking three teams at plus-money for a gain of plus-14 units.

No. 12 Akron +7 over No. 5 VCU

No. 4 Michigan -11.5 over No. 13 South Dakota State

No. 9 Villanova +4 over No. 8 North Carolina

No. 10 Oklahoma +2.5 over No. 7 San Diego State

No. 11 Minnesota -3 over No. 6 UCLA

No. 2 Georgetown -13 over No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast

No. 1 Kansas -20 over No. 16 Western Kentucky

No. 14 Northwestern State +20 over No. 3 Florida

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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