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August 27, 2014

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NCAA TOURNAMENT:

Kentucky remains major favorite to win NCAA Tournament at local sports books

Kentucky has struggled against the spread this season, going 12-20-1

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference tournament at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Friday, March 9, 2012.

Odds to win NCAA Tournament on notable teams

  • Kentucky — 9-to-5
  • Syracuse — 5-to-1
  • North Carolina — 6-to-1
  • Ohio State — 7-to-1
  • Michigan State — 8-to-1
  • Missouri — 8-to-1
  • Kansas — 12-to-1
  • Duke — 12-to-1
  • Vanderbilt — 20-to-1
  • Marquette — 25-to-1
  • Louisville — 30-to-1
  • Memphis — 35-to-1
  • Baylor — 35-to-1
  • Florida State — 40-to-1
  • Georgetown — 40-to-1
  • Cincinnati — 50-to-1
  • New Mexico — 75-to-1
  • UNLV — 125-to-1
  • San Diego State — 125-to-1
  • Colorado State — 250-to-1
  • Numbers from Wynn Las Vegas

Consider the opinions of Las Vegas oddsmakers unchanged after Selection Sunday when it comes to which team has the best chance to win the national championship.

As far as Las Vegas is concerned, No. 1 overall seed Kentucky is the clear favorite to win its first title since 1998. Kentucky’s odds to win the championship, which have hovered around 2-to-1 at every book in town for more than a month, didn’t change with the reveal of the 68-team bracket.

On Sunday evening, Wynn Las Vegas kept Kentucky posted as a 9-to-5 favorite to win the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s an awful price,” said Johnny Avello, director of Wynn’s race and sports book. “I want to raise it, but we’ve taken money on this team the entire year. They bet them at the beginning, they bet them in the middle and they bet them at the end.”

It’s not that Avello has anything against the Wildcats. He even referred to them as “the most talented team in the country.” But for a pre-tournament favorite, 9-to-5 is a short number.

By comparison, sports books favored Ohio State at 4-to-1 to win last year’s title. Kansas was a 7-to-2 favorite in 2010.

The Las Vegas favorite hasn’t gone on to win the tournament since 2007, when Florida prevailed by beating Ohio State and repeating as national champions. At 32-2 and stocked with a collection of future NBA stars, some think the Wildcats look poised to break the trend.

“They are definitely deserving as the top team,” said Jay Rood, sports book director for MGM Resorts. “(Kentucky coach) Calipari has mastered the system of getting top young talent and getting them to buy in by playing impactful and meaningful games right off of the bat. This is one of his best teams yet.”

Oddsmakers were indifferent about the way eight-point underdog Vanderbilt defeated Kentucky 71-64 in the SEC Tournament Championship Game on Sunday afternoon. It was a meaningless contest for the Wildcats, who already had the overall No. 1 seed locked up.

Results of other conference tournaments affected teams' odds to win the national championship. Avello raised the price on Syracuse and North Carolina, two of the No. 1 seeds, after the teams failed to win the Big East and ACC tournaments, respectively.

Wynn has Syracuse right behind Kentucky at 5-to-1 to become champions, while North Carolina has the third lowest odds at 6-to-1.

“Those two teams are very close,” Avello said. “With Syracuse, I like the way they battle back from being down. They scrap hard to stay in every game. I also like their coach a little better. I’d take (Jim) Boeheim over most.”

Wynn dropped the numbers on Big 10 tournament champion Michigan State and Big 12 tournament champion Missouri on Sunday. Both are listed at 8-to-1.

As the top two seeds in West region, Michigan State and Missouri could potentially meet in Phoenix’s regional final. It would be close to a pick’em game.

“I thought Missouri deserved more,” Rood said. “That’s a tough bracket there. Realistically, I think Missouri deserved to be where Kansas ended up. I thought Kansas got a very favorable draw.”

Wynn had Kansas, the No. 2 seed in North Carolina’s Midwest bracket, at 12-to-1 to win the title. Those were the same odds attached to No. 2 seed Duke, a team UNLV could face if it advanced to the Sweet 16.

No. 6-seeded UNLV, which is 125-to-1 to win the title, opened as six-point favorites over Colorado in its first game, which will come Thursday in Albuquerque, N.M.

“That game doesn’t look as easy for UNLV as people are making it out to be,” Rood said. “Colorado is a hot team. People say the location is beneficial, but I think it helps both teams.”

If the Rebels could piece together a miraculous run, they might encounter Kentucky in the Elite 8. The Rebels are in the same South bracket as the Wildcats, which will be favored by at least six points against anyone in the region.

Not that the Wildcats' status as heavy favorites means anything. Kentucky is among the worst teams in the country against the spread this season, going 12-20-1 versus the Vegas number.

The Wildcats have lost bettors plenty of money this year. That’s worth keeping in mind before firing on Kentucky at a chalky price to win the national championship.

“The numbers when they play are inflated,” Avello said. “That’s the problem. The numbers are too high, which shows how much they are being bet.”

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

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