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September 30, 2014

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Assessing Las Vegas sports books’ view of college basketball heading into March

Undefeated Wichita State cashing tickets at a higher rate than any team in the nation

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AP Photo/ Stephen Haas

Wichita State guard Ron Baker (31) pushes down the court past the defense of Bradley guard Ka’Darryl Bell (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Carver Arena, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Peoria, Ill.

Odds to win the NCAA Tournament (top 15)

  • Florida 9-to-2
  • Michigan State 7-to-1
  • Kansas 7-to-1
  • Arizona 10-to-1
  • Louisville 10-to-1
  • Duke 10-to-1
  • Syracuse 12-to-1
  • Kentucky 12-to-1
  • Wichita State 12-to-1
  • Creighton 18-to-1
  • Villanvoa 20-to-1
  • Virginia 20-to-1
  • Wisconsin 25-to-1
  • Michigan 25-to-1
  • Iowa 25-to-1
  • Numbers from LVH Superbook

Declaring the NCAA Tournament “wide open” has joined pining for the start of Spring and preparing for Saint Patrick’s Day as early March traditions.

As the calendar annually flips to the third month, pundits and fans have a tendency to rave about how many different teams could win the title. The story actually checks out this year, according to the Las Vegas odds.

It’s been at least a decade since a team higher than 25-to-1 at the start of the tournament prevailed, so that sounds like a perfect place to start. Fifteen teams are 25-to-1 or lower at the LVH Superbook as college basketball enters its final week of the regular season.

Last year, there were only 12 at this time. Two years ago, the select group included just 10 teams.

It’s enough of a difference to validate claims that, sure, it looks like the NCAA Tournament has more potential victors in 2014 than any time in recent memory.

The top team in the polls, Florida, is the de facto favorite at the moment at 9-to-2. It’s the same position and price as Indiana at this time last year. Behind Indiana in 2013 were Florida, Duke and Louisville at 7-to-1.

The Hoosiers ultimately bowed out in the Sweet 16 with the first two teams listed above at 7-to-1 getting to the Elite Eight and the Cardinals winning the tournament.

Behind Florida at 7-to-1 currently are Michigan State and Kansas. That’s typically shorter-than-expected odds for a pair of teams with six losses apiece, but it speaks to the action sports books have drawn on the Spartans and the Jayhawks.

Over the course of the year, they’ve been two of the most popular teams to bet on at the Superbook. Kansas got its biggest rush of action before the season began when top recruit Andrew Wiggins committed to push their odds down from 25- to 10-to-1.

Michigan State took the mantle at the beginning of the season as a perfect November, which included a victory over then-ballyhooed Kentucky, chopped its future odds in half from 10-to-1 to 5-to-1.

Three teams at 10-to-1 — Arizona, Louisville and Duke — separate the top of the board from the nation’s most polarizing and discussed team.

The debate over whether Wichita State deserves a No. 1 seed in the tournament doesn’t matter. If the Shockers beat Missouri State Saturday and reel off three more wins in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament — rough projected spreads of the toughest possible path still give them better than a 60 percent chance — they’ll be the first team since UNLV 23 years ago to enter the tournament undefeated.

They’ll be a No. 1 seed. Are they one of the four best teams in the country, though? That’s where sports books can weigh in, and the answer is no way.

Wichita State is closer to its RPI placement of No. 9 than its poll position of No. 2 in oddsmakers’ power ratings. It’s conceivable the Shockers could take points as underdogs as soon as the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament depending on the bracketing and which teams advance.

Then again, Wichita State has whipped its wheat over the odds for more than a year now. They went a perfect 5-0 against the spread in last year’s tournament, and carried that profitability into this season.

The Shockers won outright the only time they took points this year — plus-3.5 in a 70-65 victory at Saint Louis — and are 9-1 against the spread when laying single-digits.

They’re 20-6-1 against the spread overall, which is far and away the best record of the group of contenders established earlier and any team that’s had the majority of their games lined.

So, translated differently, Wichita State is truly Las Vegas’ top team and as good of an NCAA Tournament bet as anyone in a year where there's reasonable uncertainty.

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

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