Tuesday March 25
LAS VEGAS – When it comes to all-day excitement in the sports books here, March Madness is second to none.
Well, let me qualify that a little bit. After all, the Super Bowl is still a pretty big deal and even though the Seahawks routed the Broncos, the sports books and private parties here were rocking all game long with all the popular prop bets and Nevada handled a record $119.4 million. That’s an official figure that the state’s Gaming Control Board compiles and announces in a press release.
Now, we won’t get an official figure on March Madness handle because the GCB only does that for the Super Bowl due to the demand for that info. In fact, the state’s monthly figures only list “basketball” so the NCAA is grouped in with the NBA. However, sports books directors are saying that they outhandled the Super Bowl on this weekend alone. For years, they’ve said that the handle for the full NCAA tournament was pretty much equivalent to the Super Bowl, but now the opening weekend stands on its own. Maybe we can get the GCB to give it the Super Bowl treatment.
In the meantime, the opening weekend showed why it’s become so popular with standing-room only crowds in the sports books and parties held in ballrooms and theaters all over town to accommodate the overflow (though I spent the most time at the Encore Theater at the Wynn, which was the superior viewing experience to the sportsbook itself).
Thursday has been called the most exciting day of March Madness ever. If there’s a challenger, I’d watch it to compare. The day started with Dayton upsetting in-state Ohio St. 60-59 as Vee Sanford banked in a running one-hander with 3.8 seconds to play and the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft missed at the buzzer and the Flyers won as a 6-point underdog and +260 on the money line.
And that was only the beginning.
Actually, the rest of the morning and early afternoon lacked drama as Harvard’s 61-57 upset of Cincinnati as a 3-point dog was the only game with any real suspense as Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Oregon, and Florida cruised to easy victories with the No. 1 seeded Gators being the only fave that didn’t cover, but then the last game in that second block didn’t come down to the wire for non-bettors as Michigan St. beat Delaware. But for those with action on the game, the ending was as tense as any other game on the weekend as Michigan St. opened as a 14-point favorite and closed as a ViewFromVegas Consensus 15-point chalk and the game hovered right around the spread in the closing minute. The Spartans won 93-78 to bring boisterous cheers from those at the Wynn that got the early number and groans from those who settled for a push (or maybe those were groans from those that grabbed Delaware +14.5).
But the action really picked up in the first night session as we saw our share of buzzer-beaters , or more appropriately buzzer-missers, but regardless they were games that came down to the wire. Three of the four games went to overtime. Bettors who took St. Joe’s against UConn were dealt a bad beat as they were getting 5 points but UConn ended up covering in overtime with the final score of 89-81. North Carolina St. backers felt similarly cheated by their team’s collapse as they ended up losing 83-80 in overtime for a push on the 3-point spread. North Dakota St. was the only one of the trio that completed its upset bid with an 80-75 win over Oklahoma as a 3.5-point dog and +145 on the money line.
The late session was nearly as thrilling. Villanova beat Milwaukee 73-53 to cover the 16.5-point spread, but it was only a four-point game at the half and Villanova didn’t pull away until late to award its backers. The dogs did cover the last three games of the day as Manhattan gave Louisville a scare before losing but covering 71-64 as a 16.5-point dog; New Mexico forced overtime before losing 73-69 to San Diego St. as an 8.5-point dog; and Arizona St. lost 87-85 to Texas but covered as a 2.5-point dog (though this was another case where shopping for the best number paid off as some Texas bettors also cashed at -1.5).
When Thursday had ended, favorites had won 13 of the 16 games but showing that the point spread is the great equalizer, they were only 7-7-2 ATS (note: all betting results are graded against the ViewFromVegas Consensus Closing Lines that I post at my site and on my Twitter feed @ViewFromVegas). Over/unders split 8-8.
Friday didn’t quite live up to Thursday’s performance, but it was still a solid 12 hours of entertainment. Underdogs went 9-7 ATS with four outright upsets. Again, the day started with a big dog barking as No. 14 seed Mercer knocked off No. 3 seed Duke 78-71 as a 13-point dog and +800 on the moneyline. Stanford (+190) beat New Mexico 58-53, Gonzaga (+170) beat Oklahoma St. 85-77, and Stephen F. Austin (+220) knocked off VCU 77-75 in overtime, but there were several other underdogs that put up a good fight before losing (though Weber St. covered +20 vs. Arizona, UL-Lafayette covered +13.5 vs. Creighton, Eastern Kentucky covered +13 vs. Kansas and Coastal Carolina led No. 1 seed Virginia by five points at halftime before losing but covering 70-59 as a 20-point dog). The Weber St.-Arizona game pushed on the VFV Consensus Closing Total of 127 though some cashed on the over if they got 126.5 or lower.
Through the round of 32 (since we refuse to call it “second round”), dogs led 16-14-2 and overs were ahead 16-15-1.
After all that, Saturday and Sunday’s action was a little anti-climactic (it didn’t help that we were forced to watch just one game at a time for the first 5 hours) by comparison. Saturday started with the first four favorites (Florida, Louisville, Michigan and San Diego St.) all covering with relative ease, and then Dayton came along to again liven things up with a 55-53 upset of Syracuse as an 8.5-point dog and +300 on the moneyline. Oregon looked like the right side against Wisconsin but bettors were dealt a bad beat when the Badgers covered in the closing second to win 85-77 as a 6-point fave. UConn closed the night with a 77-65 upset of Villanova as a 4.5-point dog and +165 on the money line.
On Sunday, Stanford started getaway day (when a lot of tourists weren’t able to stick around for all the action as they had to get home and get to work on Monday) with a 60-57 upset of Kansas as a 7-point dog and +290 on the money line and was followed by Kentucky knocking off previously undefeated Wichita St. 78-76 as a 4.5-point dog and +185 on the ML. That thriller would have been worthy of a regional final. The rest of the day wasn’t as thrilling as Baylor pulled the only other upset – and it wasn’t close – as they beat Creighton 85-55 as a 3.5-point dog and +155 on the moneyline. Favorites won and covered the remaining five games with Iowa St.’s 85-83 win over North Carolina to also cover the 1.5-point spread, the only endgame with point-spread implications.
Favorites went 10-6 ATS in the round of 32 to take a 24-22-2 ATS lead overall while overs went 9-7 and are 25-22-1 heading into the Sweet 16.
And that’s we’re all focusing on now. Here’s a look at the lines for Thursday and Friday’s Sweet 16 games and how they got bet into shape:
Stanford -3 vs. Dayton:
This opened as low as Stanford -1.5 at the LVH and Wynn, but most books went with 2.5. The South Point (note: they’ve gone to -105 on all sides for the rest of the tournament) went with 3 and it looks like that’s the way it’s headed. Personally, I’m waiting to see how high it goes as I think Dayton can again be a live dog.
Wisconsin -3 vs. Baylor:
Most books opened at Wisconsin -3 with the South Point again shading higher at 3.5. And again it looks like it’s more likely to rise than to fall as several more books have gone to 3.5 as of this writing on Tuesday morning even though the consensus is still at 3.
Florida -4.5 vs. UCLA:
This opened Florida -5 at the majority of Vegas books and as high as 5.5 at the Wynn. Treasure Island (another great venue as they used the same ballroom where they held horse racing’s Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship the last two years and will host it again this next January) opened Florida -4 and the extremes got snapped up, but now we’ve seen most of the 5s turn to 4.5s. I would say this might be due to our proximity to L.A., but the offshore books have moved in the same direction.
Arizona -7 vs. San Diego St
.: This opened Arizona -6 on the Don Best screen almost across the board here in Vegas except for the Wynn and South Point going with 6.5. But after getting bet up to 6.5 after the early betting, it’s now hitting 7 at a bunch of books as I write this Tuesday morning. If this was football, I’d suspect that this would stop at the key number of 7, but being basketball there won’t be as much resistance.
Michigan -2 vs. Tennessee:
There’s been a lot of talk about how No. 11 seed Tennessee was underseeded, and while a lot of people will say the proof was in them beating Iowa (though barely in the “First Four”) and Mercer, I think the proof was in No. 2 seed Michigan opening as only a 1.5-point favorite over the Vols at a lot of books. That makes them look more like a No. 3 seed, which is in line with a lot of people saying they’re a top 10 team. The line has since been bet up to a consensus 2.
Iowa St. -1 vs. UConn:
Most Vegas books opened Iowa St. -1 but the South Point opted for pick’em. Several books have been bet to -1.5, but it’s clear that there’s some resistance from UConn backers.
Louisville -5 vs. Kentucky:
Most books opened Louisville -5 though the Wynn and Treasure Island went with 5.5 while the South Point opted for 4.5. I was calling 5 the consensus on Monday and it’s still there, but several books (LVH, South Point, Coast Casinos, Stratosphere) have gone to 5.5.
Michigan St. -2 vs. Virginia:
This was the only game that opened with the higher-numbered seed as the favorite. The Spartans opened at most books as a 1-point chalk and by Monday afternoon the consensus had gone to 1.5. Now, sitting here Tuesday morning, the majority of books have moved to 2 with no slowdown in sight. We’ll see how high it can go, especially considering Virginia is the No. 1 seed in the East (though most books made Michigan St. the favorite to win the region).
As for the future-book odds, after Sunday’s games were complete, the LVH updated its odds to win the tournament and made Florida, Michigan St., and Louisville the tri-favorites at 7-2. Arizona is right behind them at 4-1 with a big gap to Virginia at 10-1 and then Wisconsin, Michigan and Kentucky all at 18-1. The rest of the list has UCLA, Baylor, Tennessee all at 25-1, Iowa St. and UConn at 30-1, San Diego St. and Stanford at 50-1, and Dayton at 75-1.
Enjoy the madness. We sure are here in Vegas.
Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper in Vegas and has written for Daily Racing Form since 2000. Tuley started his own website, ViewFromVegas.com, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including ESPN.com. In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 47, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas.