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August 1, 2014

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Once 300-to-1 to win NCAA Tournament, Wichita State shaking up sports books

Oddsmakers reveled in Shockers’ string of upsets to make Final Four

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wichita State players celebrate their 70-66 win over Ohio State in the West Regional final in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Los Angeles.

As Ed Malinowski reviewed the Stratosphere’s future odds to win the NCAA Tournament two weeks ago, one number stood out in the way a 6-foot-10 high school sophomore with a jump shot does to a basketball coach.

Malinowski, sports book director at the Stratosphere, knew 300-to-1 on Wichita State was a price too good to be true for bettors.

“When I saw it, I pulled it down right away,” Malinowski said. “But we’ve still got a few tickets out there.”

No. 9 seed Wichita State vies to become the longest shot to win college basketball’s national championship in history this weekend in Atlanta.

Behind unheralded players such as seniors Malcolm Armstead and Carl Hall, Wichita State overcame 50-to-1 odds to win the West Region. That 300-to-1 payout to win the title is now down to 12-to-1 at the LVH Superbook.

And there’s no question which of the national semifinalists is the most compelling, especially in Las Vegas.

“All I can say is: Shockers,” Sunset Station Sports Book Director Chuck Esposito said Wednesday afternoon when asked about this year’s Final Four. “I think this tournament as a whole has had its fair share of upsets and great storylines, but (Red Rock sports book director) Jason (McCormick) and I said early on the theme of the tournament would be shockers for Wichita State’s mascot. Little did we know they’d be in the Final Four.”

Esposito might be peppier than Malinowski when it comes to Wichita State advancing to the Final Four, where it challenges top overall seed Louisville as a 10.5-point underdog in Saturday’s first game. That’s because Station Casinos has far less at risk if the Shockers win the title.

Esposito said his sports book never offered Wichita State at higher than 100-to-1.

“There will definitely be some people with a smile on their face if they’re playing on Monday night in the championship, but it’s nothing too bad,” Esposito said.

Oddsmakers have found it easy to celebrate the Shockers as they’ve profited on the Missouri Valley Conference runner-ups, in all likelihood, more than any other team in the tournament. The majority of bettors sided against Wichita State all three times it took points — plus-4.5 against Pittsburgh in the round of 64, plus-6.5 versus No. 1 Gonzaga in the round of 32 and plus-4.5 against Ohio State in the Elite Eight.

“The liability we have on Wichita State in the futures, we’ve already covered that with what we’ve made on them in their other games,” Malinowski said. “If I had to paint the picture overall of what Wichita did for us in the tournament, it would be positive.”

Every time a long shot like Wichita State makes the Final Four, it strikes fear in a sports book or two who printed bets on the team to win it all. Two years ago, most memorably, one bettor owned a $10 ticket on Final Four-bound Virginia Commonwealth at 5,000-to-1 from the Superbook.

There’s nothing close to that potential loss, before Butler downed VCU in the semifinals, floating around at Stratosphere this year.

“You have a handful of people who will throw $5 or $10 here and there on teams like Wichita State,” Malinowski said. “A few of those add up real quickly.”

It’s too early to tell whether sports books will root for the Shockers to beat the Cardinals. While both Malinowski and Esposito predicted more Louisville support on the spread, several gamblers may fire on Wichita State to win straight-up at plus-500 (risking $1 to win $5).

Malinowski reported that, indeed, the early action has come on Wichita State’s moneyline.

A few bettors have taken the same approach with Syracuse at plus-125 against Michigan in the second Final Four game. Syracuse is a 2-point underdog in the first game between No. 4 seeds in NCAA Tournament history.

“Syracuse seems to be the sentimental choice. They’re popular and people love to bet them,” Esposito said. “But with Michigan playing the way they’ve played, it’s going to be interesting.”

Michigan, which opened at 18-to-1 at the start of the tournament, is down to 3-to-1 to win the title at the Superbook. Syracuse’s odds have trimmed from 30-to-1 to 4-to-1.

Combine those with Louisville’s minus-130 (risking $1.30 to win $1) and oddsmakers think there’s nearly a 95 percent chance a team other than Wichita State earns the championship.

But odds haven’t stopped the Shockers to this point.

“It’s too early to crown anyone in this thing,” Malinowski said. “Nothing would shock me.”

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

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