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July 30, 2014

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Sports books peg UNLV as tournament favorite, brace for ‘start of the madness’

Final conference tournaments tip off today to spell action for local sports books

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John Katsilometes

Bettors take in basketball games at the LVH Superbook.

Odds to win Mountain West Conference tournament

  • UNLV — +140
  • New Mexico — +180
  • San Diego State — +300
  • Colorado State — +1000
  • Wyoming — +2000
  • TCU — +2000
  • Boise State — +4000
  • Air Force — +10000
  • Numbers from LVH Superbook

It wouldn’t feel like time for the Mountain West Conference tournament to get started without coaches grumbling about the prospects of playing UNLV on its home floor.

Although the Rebels are only 3-3 in the MWC Tournament over the past three years, the league’s coaches can’t get over having to start their postseason at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“It’s absolutely unfair,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said on a teleconference this week. “Nobody wants to play Vegas on their home floor. Last time I looked, no one has beaten them there this year.”

The odds posted at local sports books indicate that coaches like Fisher and New Mexico’s Steve Alford are justified in their complaints. Although UNLV is seeded third behind San Diego State and New Mexico, the Rebels are favored to win the tournament.

The LVH Superbook currently lists UNLV at +140 (risking $1 to win $1.40) to prevail this weekend. That’s slightly better than the Lobos at +180 and the Aztecs at +300.

The odds are swayed in the Rebels' direction because they're playing in Las Vegas.

“They definitely have an advantage there,” said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Superbook. “There’s no doubt about it, but I don’t think they’ve done a good job utilizing it in this tournament.”

UNLV opens its quest for its first conference tournament title since 2008 as 9.5-point favorites over Wyoming in today’s semifinals. With New Mexico favored by 14.5 points over Air Force in the game before, it’s likely the Rebels and Lobos will meet for the third time this season in Friday’s semifinals.

If the game took place on a true neutral court, sports books would post UNLV as no more than a 1-point favorite against New Mexico. At the Thomas & Mack Center, Kornegay expects to open the Rebels as 4- or 5-point favorites over the Lobos.

“But it depends how both teams look in the first round,” Kornegay said. “It makes a big difference when you get to this point in the season. Things can change easier in a conference tournament game than in a regular season game.”

Kornegay elaborated by saying teams respond differently to the pressure of a one-and-done tournament. Oddsmakers are careful not to under-value teams that have, for instance, performed below their skill level but made adjustments and developed a nothing-to-lose attitude for the conference tournament.

“I might ignore that in the regular season,” Kornegay said. “But when you get down to the end of the season, where these games could be their last, teams can take on a different personality.”

On the other side, a team that knows it’s in the NCAA Tournament can look lethargic in a conference tournament that doesn’t mean much to them.

Those are the variables books must consider when putting up numbers for conference tournaments. The Superbook offers future odds on every conference tournament running this week, including the six major ones that either start or resume after a play-in round today.

According to the numbers, the Mountain West is one of the more wide-open brackets on the board. The ACC, SEC, Big 10 and Big 12 tournaments all feature chalkier favorites than UNLV.

No. 1 Kentucky is at a resounding -500 (risking $5 to win $1) clip to win the SEC crown in New Orleans, while No. 4 North Carolina is listed at -200 in the ACC’s Atlanta-based tournament. No. 3 Kansas and No. 7 Ohio State are more moderately priced at -150 and -125 in the Big 12 and Big 10, respectively.

Prime season for sports books doesn’t start with next week’s NCAA Tournament. It begins to get under way today.

“The games themselves get more popular every year during conference championship weekend,” Kornegay said. “We always see an increase in handle. It’s the start of the madness.”

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

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