Gators, Spartans are favored
LAS VEGAS -- There will be 1,000 people lined up early Thursday morning to get a seat at the LVH sports book for the start of the NCAA tournament, and most of them don’t care that Michigan State was somehow relegated to a No. 4 seed.
Oddsmakers in this gambling city are treating the Spartans like a No. 1 seed anyway. Their numbers show a team that will likely be favored against everyone except Florida, no matter what the NCAA selection committee thinks.
"We certainly can point out the committee flaws like no one else can," said Jay Kornegay, who runs the popular LVH sports book. "Michigan State is a 4 seed yet we have them as the second favorite to win it all. That doesn’t make much sense to us."
Michigan State got more respect at the LVH than it did in the NCAA selection room, with oddsmakers making the Spartans a 9-2 pick to win it all, second only to Florida at 4-1. The odds might have even been better, but bookies figure the Spartans will have to work a little harder to make the Final Four from a No. 4 seeding than if they were seeded No. 1 or No. 2.
The same type of reasoning bumped the odds up slightly on Louisville (15-1) and Michigan (25-1) because they must come out of a brutal Midwest region loaded with contenders.
"The Midwest region is one of the toughest regions we’ve ever seen," Kornegay said. "In my opinion it might be the toughest region of all time."
The seedings don’t necessarily match their power ratings, but there’s plenty for the bookies to like about this year’s tournament. Thousands of people will jam sports books the first four days of play in a betting frenzy unmatched by anything other than the Super Bowl, and they will bring fistfuls of cash.
And without a dominant favorite, the sports books figure to do well.
"People every year talk about a tournament that is wide open, which to me is one where eight to 10 teams have a chance," said Johnny Avello, the book director at the Wynn resort. "Unpredictability is the stuff that the books love and this is one year we don’t have one team anyone can say will win it hands down."
Among relative equals at the top, though, one team is more equal than the rest. Florida is not only the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll, but the odds-on pick at books up and down the Las Vegas Strip.
Avello said he lowered Florida to 3-1 because he has taken a lot of money on the Gators since first posting odds on them last April. Helping, he said, was a favorable bracket in the South that gives Florida a clear path to the Final Four.
"The favorite should be a team capable of winning that has the easiest route," Avello said. "And Florida has the easiest route, no question about it."
Florida is a 5-1 favorite in consensus odds compiled by RJ Bell, who does handicapping for Pregame.com. Bell lists Michigan State second at 6-1 among the 21 teams with odds of better than 100-1.
Louisville is another favorite of the oddsmakers that didn’t get the seed they might have expected. The Cardinals must come out of the Midwest region as a No. 4 seed to make the Final Four, but there’s a good chance they will be favored in every game they play in their region.
That’s because the Vegas bookies, unlike the NCAA, put emphasis on recent play as more of a predictor of success than an entire season. Like Michigan State, Louisville finished strong in winning its conference tournament and looks ready to make a run.
"I was looking at a possible No. 1 for them," Avello said. "When I saw No. 4 I thought it was low for a team playing so well that is the defending champion. But that’s what the committee does, I can’t get involved with that."
Not much of a chance of that, though the pairings would be different if the bookies had their way.
"The committee guys ought to get some book guys involved," Avello said. "We’d get the brackets together."
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