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September 2, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the Odds: How sports books see the South Region

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis battles for a rebound in a game against Florida earlier this season. Las Vegas sports books see an easier path for Kentucky through the South Region in the NCAA Tournament than some analysts.

UNLV readies for NCAA Tournament

KSNV coverage of the UNLV Rebels ready for the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, March 12, 2012.

Odds to win the South Region

  • No. 1 Kentucky — 2-to-3
  • No. 2 Duke — 4-to-1
  • No. 3 Baylor — 5-to-1
  • No. 4 Indiana — 13-to-1
  • No. 5 Wichita State — 8-to-1
  • No. 6 UNLV — 20-to-1
  • No. 7 Notre Dame — 40-to-1
  • No. 8 Iowa State — 60-to-1
  • No. 9 Connecticut — 30-to-1
  • No. 10 Xavier — 60-to-1
  • No. 11 Colorado — 100-to-1
  • No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth — 100-to-1
  • No. 13 New Mexico State — 175-to-1
  • No. 14 South Dakota State — 200-to-1
  • No. 15 Lehigh — 200-to-1
  • No. 16 Western Kentucky — 200-to-1
  • No. 16 Mississippi Valley State — 200-to-1
  • Numbers from Cantor Gaming

Note: LasVegasSun.com will run betting previews for all four regions in the NCAA Tournament over the next two days. Scroll to the bottom for odds on every opening game in the South Region.

Pundits had a strange immediate reaction to the reveal of No. 1 overall seed Kentucky’s South Region bracket Sunday night.

They complained about how tough of a road the consensus best team in the nation had to the Final Four in New Orleans.

A possible matchup with defending national champions Connecticut in the round of 32? Perennial power Duke maybe lurking in the Elite 8? That’s unfair, went the refrain.

An uninitiated listener would have thought the likes of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones had a test as daunting as Indiana Jones’ march through the set of challenges that protected the Holy Grail.

For the purpose of this blog, however, the only viewpoint that matters comes from Las Vegas sports books. And oddsmakers thought the Wildcats got exactly what they deserved. Kentucky received a manageable, if not favorable, draw in the NCAA Tournament after a sterling 32-2 regular season.

As pointed out in this previous story, sports books will favor the Wildcats by at least six points against any of the other 15 teams in the South Region. And that could be a generous estimation for the underdogs.

Kentucky is the only team in the tournament not posted at a plus-price to win its region. At Cantor Gaming, Kentucky is a -150 (risking $1.50 to win $1) favorite to win all four of its regional contests.

Duke, 25-to-1 to win the national championship, is the weakest of the four No. 2 seeds in the tournament by Vegas standards. Baylor, 35-to-1 to win the title, is the second-best No. 3 seed. Indiana, 80-to-1, comes in third out of four No. 4 seeds.

Kentucky haters are reaching on teams capable of knocking out coach John Calipari’s bunch, hence the inclusion of No. 9 seed Connecticut on the list.

The Huskies have a trio of players with NBA talent in freshman center Andre Drummond, sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb and sophomore guard Shabazz Napier. That, combined with the pedigree of the program, screams “sleeper” to some fans.

If sleeper translates to “haven’t shown any signs of life since the beginning the year”, then yes, the Huskies fit. Connecticut is 8-12 since the calendar flipped to 2012.

The Huskies' 13-16 record against-the-spread is far from atrocious — unlike Kentucky’s 12-20-1 mark — but bettors haven’t profited off of them much either. UConn’s first round opponent, No. 8 seed Iowa State, is the opposite.

The Cyclones were among the best teams to bet on this season. They went 18-9-1 against-the-spread, which means they’ve been underrated and undervalued by the public all year.

Click to enlarge photo

Connecticut's Ryan Boatright reacts in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Hartford, Conn., Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012.

Judging by the early action in the Connecticut game, the lack of respect has continued. Although UConn opened as a 1-point favorite in most shops, at least one sports book had the number reversed with Iowa State.

Now, UConn is a 2- or 2.5-point favorite in virtually every sports book across the valley.

If someone is going to stun Kentucky, could it be No. 5 seed Wichita State or No. 6 seed UNLV? According to revered college basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy, Wichita State has the second-best chance to reach the Final Four out of the South Region at 12 percent.

The Shockers went 27-5 and won the annually-underrated Missouri Valley Conference this season, with all but one loss — a triple overtime defeat at Drake — coming to an NCAA Tournament team. Their success is no secret to bettors who follow the season closely in Las Vegas.

Several books, notably MGM Resorts, are rooting against the Shockers as they took significant future bets on them to win the NCAA Tournament at as high as 125-to-1. Wichita State’s price to win it all is down to 45-to-1 at Cantor.

The Shockers have no easy task with No. 12 seed Virginia Commonwealth in the opening game. Wichita State is a 6-point favorite. It has gone 8-1 against-the-spread as a favorite of less than 10 points this season.

UNLV, which lost to Wichita State by 19 points, is a tad more far-fetched. Although the Rebels received a gift with a first-round game against Colorado as a 4.5-point favorite, their 5-5 stretch to end the season can’t inspire confidence.

If UNLV gets past Colorado, a game with Baylor looks difficult but winnable. The Bears play the same up-and-down style the Rebels thrive with. Duke, as already established, is vulnerable and questionable to even reach the Sweet 16.

In fact, teamrankings.com’s data-driven analysis christened Duke’s first game against Lehigh as the most likely No. 2 seed vs. No. 15 seed upset in years. The Blue Devils are a 12.5-point favorite, extremely low for a typical 2 vs. 15 matchup.

Pick to win the region: Kentucky at -150 The Wildcats are so much more talented than everyone else that any price less than -200 is acceptable.

South Region Picks Against The Spread (in order of confidence)

No. 8 Iowa State (+2.5) over No. 9 Connecticut

No. 7 Notre Dame (-2.5) over No. 10 Xavier

No. 16 Western Kentucky (-4.5) over No. 16 Mississippi Valley State

No. 6 UNLV (-4) over No. 11 Colorado

No. 13 New Mexico State (+6) over No. 4 Indiana

No. 15 Lehigh (+12.5) over No. 2 Duke

No. 3 Baylor (-7.5) over No. 14 South Dakota State

No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth (+5.5) over No. 5 Wichita State

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

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