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September 2, 2014

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

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Sam Morris

University of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams throws up his hands during their Las Vegas Invitational championship game against UNLV Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011 at the Orleans Arena. The Rebels upset the number one ranked Tar Heels 90-80.

Odds to win the Midwest Region

  • No. 1 North Carolina — 3-to-2
  • No. 2 Kansas — 2-to-1
  • No. 3 Georgetown — 9-to-1
  • No. 4 Michigan — 16-to-1
  • No. 5 Temple — 20-to-1
  • No. 6 San Diego State — 30-to-1
  • No. 7 Saint Mary's — 30-to-1
  • No. 8 Creighton — 45-to-1
  • No. 9 Alabama — 35-to-1
  • No. 10 Purdue — 20-to-1
  • No. 11 North Carolina State — 15-to-1
  • No. 12 California — 50-to-1
  • No. 12 South Florida — 100-to-1
  • No. 13 Ohio — 100-to-1
  • No. 14. Belmont — 20-to-1
  • No. 15 Detroit — 150-to-1
  • No. 16 Lamar — 200-to-1
  • No. 16 Vermont — 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 Midwest Region.

If the NCAA Tournament’s West Region is akin to the golden child who went on to become a lawyer, the Midwest bracket is the rebellious sibling who dropped out of high school to pursue a life of crime.

That’s how Las Vegas sports books would see it anyway. Oddsmakers paint the Midwest as the weakest region of the tournament, mostly because of a lack of teams seen as legitimate threats in the middle.

Every other region has at least five teams who are posted at a price of less than 15-to-1 to make the Final Four. In the Midwest, only the top three seeds — North Carolina, Kansas and Georgetown — are granted that distinction.

Throw out the Hoyas when it comes to talk of teams that have a good shot at the national championship. At 55-to-1, sports books give Georgetown around a 1 percent chance to hoist the trophy in New Orleans 3 1/2 weeks from now.

North Carolina and Kansas, however, are surefire contenders. Cantor Gaming considers the Tarheels the third-most likely team to emerge as national champions at 13-to-2 odds. Kansas ranks fifth at 11-to-1.

To win the Midwest, the margin between the two squads shrinks. North Carolina is +150 (risking $1.50 to win $1), with Kansas at +200.

When scouting potential Elite Eight matchups, none are more intriguing than North Carolina vs. Kansas. The Tarheels would open as a slight favorite, no more than three points, over the Jayhawks.

Depending on how impressive North Carolina looked in its first three games of the tournament, the public might load up on the Tarheels. This is just an educated guess, of course, but the Tarheels' high-scoring, fast-flying offense is usually something that would mesmerize the casual masses who gamble on the NCAA Tournament.

Sharps would possibly line up on the opposite side and take as many points as they could get with the Jayhawks. Statistically, a showdown between the two schools Roy Williams has coached is a toss-up.

Ken Pomeroy actually ranks the Jayhawks a spot ahead of the Tarheels in his respected set of rankings. They are at four and five, respectively.

Click to enlarge photo

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson scores a bucket during the first half of the Las Vegas Invitational NCAA college basketball game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010, in Las Vegas.

Kansas plays better defense and would have the most dominant player on the floor, junior forward Thomas Robinson, but North Carolina is far more explosive with a lot more capable bodies.

Kansas is forced to use a seven-man rotation and insert former walk-on Conner Teahan and freshman recruiting afterthought Kevin Young at times. North Carolina is forced to use a seven-man rotation to get minutes for 2011 McDonald’s All Americans P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo.

Don’t forget what happened the last time these two teams met. As 2.5-point underdogs in the 2008 Elite Eight, Kansas routed North Carolina 84-66 and led by as many as 28. This year’s game would take place at the Edward Jones Dome in Saint Louis, with a pro-Kansas crowd in the stands because of the proximity.

So much for not looking too far ahead. North Carolina vs. Kansas may never happen, but several close Midwest matchups will Friday.

No. 4 seed Michigan, No. 6 seed San Diego State, No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s and No. 8 seed Creighton have tougher matchups than their counterparts in other brackets, according to sports books.

The Wolverines are only 6-point favorites over Ohio, a team that somehow won the MAC Tournament Championship without covering in a single game.

San Diego State’s showdown with North Carolina State opened as a pick’em. That didn’t last long. The Wolf Pack, a No. 11 seed, is now favored by 2 points everywhere.

Saint Mary’s is an underdog to over machine No. 10 seed Purdue. Sixteen of the Boilermakers last 20 games have gone over the total posted in Las Vegas sports books.

Creighton, for some inexplicable reason, is getting two points against Alabama. The Blue Jays opened as 1.5-point favorites. Some Alabama graduate living in Southern Highlands must have way too much money for his own good.

But Georgetown has the most difficult first-round task of all, as the selection committee decided to serve it the 14-seed from hell. Belmont, led by a veteran set of guards, nearly knocked off Duke and Memphis to open the season.

Belmont has settled as a 3.5-point underdog against Georgetown, which is eight points lower than the average 3 vs. 14 point spread over the last five years according to Beyond The Bets.

Pomeroy ranks Belmont as the 23rd best team in the nation. The Bruins are the biggest reason why the LVH Superbook posted a chalky price on a prop asking bettors if a 14-, 15- or 16-seed would win a first round game. The ‘yes’ opened at -360 (risking $3.60 to win $3) with the ‘no’ coming back at +300.

Pick to win the region: North Carolina at +150 The Tarheels should coast to the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks would have a great chance to upset them if they made it that far. But Kansas — as usual — looks too prone to slip up somewhere along the way.

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

No. 8 Creighton +2 over No. 9 Alabama

No. 7 St. Mary’s +1.5 over No. 10 Purdue

No. 2 Kansas -14 over No. 15 Detroit

No. 14 Belmont +3.5 over No. 3 Georgetown

No. 6 North Carolina State -2 over No. 11 San Diego State

No. 16 Vermont +3 over No. 16 Lamar

No. 12 South Florida +2.5 over No. 12 California

No. 4 Michigan -6 over No. 13 Ohio

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

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