College basketball analysts believe this year could be the year when a mid-major program breaks out and wins the NCAA tournament. And, according to the early line moves for the Round of 64 matchups, bettors also have strong feelings for the little guys.
Of the 16 games kicking off the second round the NCAA tournament Thursday, seven have seen significant adjustments to their spreads. And of those seven lines moves, most have gone in favor of the mid-major programs.
“I think people are much more aware of the mid-majors and the talent that’s on those teams,” Jay Rood, sportsbook director at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, told Covers. “Teams like Butler, and VCU, and Belmont have brought mid-majors to the forefront. People understand how good they are and they’re no longer overlooked.”
Rood says a lot of the tournament action – single game and futures – is spread around. This college basketball season saw a revolving-door No. 1 and daily upsets among the Top 25 teams. And that has bettors looking beyond the favorites this March.
Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Wichita State Shockers – Open: +5, Move: +4
The Shockers scored an at-large bid to the NCAA and took a lot of action from the public when lines went up Sunday night. However, sharp money is buying back Pitt – a funny change in the market compared to previous tournaments. The sharp money used to live with the mid-major teams but now more and more is searching for value with the big-name programs.
“The numbers aren’t shaded like they used to be, when you had some 41-point favorites out there,” says Rood. “Ten years ago, every book on the Strip would need the underdog and the 41 points. The betting public just won’t blindly jump on the favorites now.”
Davidson Wildcats vs. Marquette Golden Eagles – Open: -4, Move: -3
Davidson comes out of the Southern as a No. 14 seed, facing No. 3 Marquette. This line was one of the earliest adjustments when NCAA odds went live Sunday.
“You have a Big East representative taking on a small-conference school, the general public is going to be on Marquette,” says Rood. “But there is this cinnamon out there among the basketball gurus that Davidson has something in its holster."
Rood says he doesn’t want to move the line around too much, even with more money expected to come in on the favorite Thursday. A move to -4.5 would draw the sharps on the Wildcats and leave books exposed to a middle.
Southern Jaguars vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs - Open: -23, Move: -21.5
MGM opened Gonzaga at -22 while other books had the Bulldogs set as high as 23-point favorites as the No. 1 seed in the West.
While the public tends to side with the top seed versus the No. 16 seeds in the Round of 64, bettors haven’t held back their opinion of Gonzaga, which has been bet down to -21.5.
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Oregon Ducks – Open: +2.5, Move: +4, Move: +3
Many thought the Ducks got screwed over by the selection committee when dealt a No. 12 seed, despite winning the Pac-12 tournament title. Others believed Oregon was in over its head versus a very good OSU squad in the opening game. Those two factions have moved this line up and down since Sunday.
“We are drawing more money on the dog in that game. About 3-to-2 in terms of action on Oregon,” says Rood. “A lot of people think they were seeded incorrectly.”
Belmont Bruins vs. Arizona Wildcats – Open: -3.5, Move: -4.5
Arizona is on upset watch in its tournament opener, going up against a dangerous Belmont squad out of the Ohio Valley Conference. While spread bettors have pushed the Wildcats to -4.5 there is a lot of action coming in on the Bruins’ moneyline odds of +175.
VCU Rams vs. Akron Zips – Open: +7, Move: +8
VCU has built quite a following since its magical Final Four run two years ago. The Rams have been one of the most popular bets of the Round of 64, matching up against No. 12 Akron as a No. 5 seed.
“It’s been all straight bets and parlays – all Shaka,” laughs Rood, referring to VCU head coach Shaka Smart. “Name recognition is out there and they know that VCU can rise to the occasion.”
Montana Grizzlies vs. Syracuse Orange – Open: -12, Move: -14, Move: -12
This spread jumped down two points with sharp money coming in on Montana. However, Syracuse looked good at the end of the year – save for a second-half collapse in the Big East title game – and is garnering not only attention versus the Grizzlies but also in the NCAA futures market.
“They were playing very well in the tournament, up until that point (Big East Championship) and they could be a very tough opponent throughout the tournament,” Rood says of the Orange.