Everybody with a bracket – which seems like just about everybody this time of year – has teams they not only want to see win, but teams they’d really like to see lose in the NCAA Tournament. Sportsbook operators are certainly no different, and often have a lot more on the line.
Covers checked in with a few folks on that subject: Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US here in Las Vegas; Greg Sindall, senior oddsmaker for online site SportsInteraction; Sean Van Patten, sportsbook supervisor at the Golden Nugget in downtown Vegas; and the lines manager for offshore sportsbook GTBets.eu.
From those conversations, here are five teams sportsbooks don’t want to win the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona, the No. 2 seed in the West Region, is coming off a stout run through the Pac-12 tournament, beating UCLA and Oregon – title contenders both – on successive nights, in the semifinals and finals here at Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. The ‘Cats (30-4 SU, 18-14-2 ATS) have gone 24-2 SU over their last 26 games.
The Golden Nugget opened Sean Miller’s squad at 30/1, and the Wildcats are now at 10/1. Van Patten pointed to logistics as part of the issue.
“We’ve got a property in Laughlin,” he said, noting that shop is right across the Colorado River from Arizona. “We tend to get some decent Arizona bets. Nothing huge, but enough to give us some liability.”
Further on the logistics front, Arizona doesn’t have any heavy travel, with the first two rounds in Salt Lake City, then San Jose for the second weekend, and – should the Wildcats keep rolling – the Final Four in nearby Glendale, Ariz.
“They’re playing out West throughout the tournament,” Van Patten said. “They’re a very good team. I like Arizona to go all the way, so I hope we don’t get beat too bad by them.”
GTBets.eu would also like to see someone put out the ‘Cats.
“We have the most liability on Arizona at 19-1, with them taking both the highest dollar amount in liability and also actual number of bets,” GTBets’ lines manager said.
GTBets opened Arizona at 20/1 and moved the Wildcats to 45/1 in December, but the squad’s long string of success has tightened those odds significantly.
The Mountaineers (26-8 SU, 13-15-1 ATS) are also out West, as the No. 4 seed. They’ve certainly got the look of a dangerous team, nearly notching two wins this season over Kansas, the top seed in the Midwest Region. West Virginia rolled at home, 85-69, then had the Jayhawks on the ropes in Lawrence before allowing a late comeback in an 84-80 overtime loss.
Bob Huggins’ squad reached the Big 12 tournament final, losing to Iowa State 80-74 as a 4-point chalk.
“We’re not really in serious liability to anyone yet,” Bogdanovich said of William Hill’s concerns. “But we’re a small loser to West Virginia. West Virginia and UCLA are two teams we wouldn’t want to win.”
The Mountaineers opened 75/1 at WillHill and are currently 25/1.
The books surely aren’t rooting for injuries, but the loss of forward Chris Boucher (11.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg) to a torn ACL in last week’s Pac-12 tourney surely hinders Oregon’s cause. Still, the Ducks (29-5 SU, 19-14 ATS) are a solid squad, winning the regular-season conference title and, after losing Boucher, pushing Arizona until the end of the conference final before losing 83-80 as a 1.5-point favorite.
“We took a lot of action on Oregon in early December, when the Ducks were paying +2500 (25/1),” Sindall said of the Midwest’s No. 3 seed. “Those odds look great now for the people who bet them, as they are currently listed at +1500 leading into the tournament. Oregon has one of the biggest liabilities on the NCAA Tournament futures market, and the Ducks winning would not be good for the book.”
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Yes, you read that right. Minnesota. The Golden Nugget is a rather unique property when it comes to sports betting, as Van Patten explains.
“It has to do with the Golden Nugget being a big Minnesota/Wisconsin stop for the out-of-towners,” he said. “They like to bet the Twins, the Wild, the Vikings, everything Minnesota here.”
That includes the Gophers, who opened a massive 300/1 shot, dropped to 100/1 at the end of the regular season and are now 60/1 heading into the NCAA Tourney as the South’s No. 5 seed.
“Our biggest loser is Minnesota,” Van Patten said.
The Gophers (24-9 SU, 19-12 ATS) reached the Big Ten tourney final, losing to Michigan 84-77 as a 4-point underdog, and have won nine of their last 11 (8-3 ATS).
Duke Blue Devils
Duke lost a little luster by dropping three of its last four regular-season games, but got it right back by making a four-game run through the ACC tournament to win the conference championship from the No. 5 seed. That included a 93-83 semifinal victory as a 4-point pup against archrival North Carolina – the No. 1 seed in the South Region – and a 75-69 win over Notre Dame laying 4.5 points in the final.
“As one of the biggest public teams in NCAA basketball, there is always a lot of public money on the Blue Devils,” Sindall said of the East’s No. 2 seed. “Entering the tournament with some momentum, Duke has taken more action than any team so far this week. At the start of the week, we had Duke listed at +800 to cut down the nets. But with so much money coming in on the Blue Devils, we’ve had to cut the price down to +650.”
There were a few other teams the bookmakers noted: Bogdanovich’s aforementioned UCLA (“We’ve got the most tickets on UCLA, by one over Kansas.”); defending champion Villanova and fellow No. 1 seed Gonzaga; and even a 13th-seeded dark horse.
“Some players are taking a stab at East Tennessee State, looking for a nice payday on 1500/1 odds,” GTBets’ lines manager said. “The Buccaneers are our second-worst outcome thus far.”
But to be sure, more liability on more teams will come with the flood of bettors heading to Vegas this week.
“There’s gonna be so much money bet the next two or three days, there will be somebody else we have liability with,” Bogdanovich said. “I guarantee it.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.