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July 29, 2014

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Top-seeded NCAA Tournament teams can help Las Vegas sports books in long run

Several popular long shots to win NCAA Tournament fall during first weekend

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock (35) Kendall Marshall (5) and Harrison Barnes (40) are seen during the second half of a Midwest Regional NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game against Vermont in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2012.

Updated Odds to win NCAA Tournament Regions

  • East Syracuse +150; Ohio State +110; Ohio State +450; Cincinnati +900
  • SouthKentucky -300; Baylor +300; Indiana +800; Xavier +1800
  • MidwestNorth Carolina -110; Kansas +100; North Carolina State +800; Ohio +2500
  • WestMichigan State +120; Marquette +200; Louisville +400; Florida +400
  • Source: Lucky's sports books

Local sports book directors, generally speaking, would have no issues if No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament won every game before reaching the Final Four.

While sports books are often rooting against the top teams in the tournament to cover the spread on a game-by-game basis, they can benefit in several ways if the favorites march in unison to the national semifinals.

“You can’t get too ambushed in the future books that way,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of Lucky’s sports books. “We opened those teams way down, so it doesn’t hurt when they make a run. Having four No. 1 seeds alive doesn’t bother you.”

All four of the NCAA Tournament’s top seeds — Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State — advanced to the Sweet 16 by winning their first two games last weekend.

The squads went a combined 5-3 against-the-spread, which is a figure bookmakers can live with. Las Vegas can cope with the small losses created by the public’s tendency to bet more on the country’s best teams, because it can entice more money to be wagered in the next rounds.

The marquee college basketball programs have a way of boosting betting interest, which remains sports books’ top concern for the last major event before football season kicks off.

“You really want to do a lot of business in March because there are some idle months coming up,” Cantor Gaming Sports Book Director Mike Colbert said last week. “You certainly don’t want to lose, and you certainly want to maximize your handle as much as you can.”

Only once in the modern era of the NCAA Tournament have all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four. It happened in 2008 when Kansas ultimately topped Memphis in the national championship.

Lucky’s — which runs books at the Riviera, The D Las Vegas, the Plaza and Terrible’s — favors three of the four remaining No. 1 seeds to win their regions this year. Syracuse remains the only top-seeded underdog, as No. 2 seed Ohio State is offered at shorter odds in the East Region.

Ohio State is +110 (risking $1 to win $1.10), while Syracuse is posted at +150. Kentucky and North Carolina are still the favorites to win the national championship at +160 and +500, respectively.

Lucky’s lists Michigan State at +700. Syracuse rounds off the No. 1-seeded teams at +1100.

“If any No. 1 seed wins the national championship, we’ll do well on the tournament,” Vaccaro said. “That’s usually how it works out.”

Sports books had a fortunate opening weekend when it came to the elimination of teams who were popular long shot picks in odds to win the title throughout the season.

MGM Resorts had exposure on Michigan. The LVH was rooting against Colorado State. Lucky’s was against Virginia Commonwealth. Wichita State and Vanderbilt could have put books all around the valley in danger with a deep tournament run.

All five of those teams met their demise before the Sweet 16.

“We only have one small loser left in the future book — Marquette,” Vaccaro said. “They took Marquette way back in January when they were 75-to-1. We readjusted it then, so it’s not substantial. But it would be a loser.”

No. 3 seed Marquette is now down to 9-to-1 to win the championship at Lucky’s. The Golden Eagles are 1.5-point favorites over the No. 7 seed Florida Gators in Thursday’s West regional semifinals.

Even if Marquette prevails, it could potentially have to knock off three No. 1 seeds in a row to win the title. This might be the year the top-seeded teams in the tournament perform well for Las Vegas.

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

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