Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 11:00 AM
After four days off the schedule, the 2015 NCAA Tournament returns Thursday with four Sweet 16 matchups…two in Cleveland and two in Los Angeles. There will be four more “Round of 16” encounters Friday…which I’ll discuss in a separate report tomorrow at this time.
Las Vegas is much calmer for Week Two of the Big Dance than for Week One. That’s because there aren’t day games Thursday and Friday. Fewer tourists schedule weekend trips because there isn’t round-the-clock basketball. But, this particular Sweet 16 is still going to be a very good draw. Arizona and UCLA from the Pac 12 have good betting followings in town, particularly for “important” basketball games. Notre Dame has a high public profile, though that’s a bigger deal in football. Wisconsin money has a way of finding its way here. I haven’t even talked about Kentucky, Duke, or North Carolina yet!
The networks couldn’t have scripted it any better. Sportsbooks will be crowded both evenings, even though the early action starts before dinner local time.
Here’s a look at how professional wagerers (sharps) have been betting Thursday’s games so far this week. I’ll go in Nevada rotation order of the locations, but tip-off order at each site.
GAMES IN CLEVELAND
Wichita State vs. Notre Dame (7:15 p.m. ET, 4:15 p.m. in Las Vegas)
Wichita State was hit very hard by sharps last weekend in its game with Kansas. That one closed pick-em even though it was a #7 seed drawing support against a #2 seed. That money looks like it was re-invested on the Shockers here. An opener of pick-em has been bet up to Wichita State -2 even though Notre Dame is a public team. I expect square action to hit the board Thursday as tourists and locals arrive to bet. We could see a tug-of-war developing between the public on Notre Dame +2, and sharps on Wichita State at -1.5 or -1.
The total has been bet up from 136 to 137.5. Squares are more likely to bet Over/Unders in the Sweet 16 and beyond because there are so few games left to bet. And, that’s particularly true when public teams are involved in a matchup. Sharps liking the Over bet early in advance of public betting. Those preferring the Under are waiting to see if they can get 138 or better.
Kentucky vs. West Virginia (9:45 p.m. ET, 6:45 p.m. in Las Vegas)
The high opener of Kentucky -13 was bet up to -13.5. That’s not much of a move considering that a juggernaut that the public loves to bet is involved. Generally speaking, sharps don’t lay this many points in a big game. There was some early position-taking in advance of the public. I’m confident that most sharps are looking to bet the dog, and are hoping to get at least +14 before tipoff.
This total was also bet up, with an opener of 135 going up to 136.5. Same principals in play here. Note that the later tips are more likely to see square action in the hours just before the start. Sharps preferring the dog and Under will wait as long as possible to get the best value.
GAMES IN LOS ANGELES
Wisconsin vs. North Carolina: (7:45 p.m. ET, 4:45 p.m. in Las Vegas)
Big move here on Wisconsin from an opener of -5 up to -6. I say big because it was a full point even though Carolina is a public team…and even though Wisconsin is 0-2 against the spread so far in this tournament. Definitely some sharps who think Wisconsin finally puts together a strong outing, just as Carolina hits a wall. It will be interesting to see how the public bets this one. As I said earlier, Wisconsin money finds its way to Vegas for big events. Obviously Carolina is a popular betting team for squares. This would have had a really big handle if it were the later tip.
The opening total of 142 flew up to 145. Quants made it much higher than the opener, and were very happy to bet 142 and 143 hard. Neither defense rates very well in terms of tournament play once you adjust for Wisconsin’s slow pace. Both offenses can fill it up. Could be a very entertaining game. Note that sharps are less wary of laying this kind of team side spread in higher scoring games because points are relatively cheaper in the big picture.
Arizona vs. Xavier: (10:15 p.m. ET, 7:15 in Las Vegas)
Only a half-point move on Arizona, which seems small to market followers because Arizona has been a market darling during the latter stages of the season…and Xavier isn’t a particularly scary opponent in terms of marquee value. Arizona just won by more than this over Ohio State. The opener of -10 was bet up to -10.5. You can expect squares to bet the favorite…particularly those who watched Arizona crush Oregon at the MGM Grand two Saturdays ago, or those who won with the Wildcats over the Buckeyes. The fact that we don't have more early position-takers may be suggesting strong sharp support for Xavier late in the process. I’d expect a tug-of-war if +11.5 is broached, and possibly at the eleven.
Not much happening yet on the total. We didn’t see this one go up off the opener of 136, which is probably telling. Some stores are testing 135.5 to see if that gets the public to nibble. This would suggest a pass or Under for sharps on the total…with Under money possibly coming in late if 135.5 or 136 is the best they’re going to see. The fact that Arizona wasn’t driven more than a half point higher on the team side is also a hint that sharps expect a close-to-the-vest game. As I discussed during football…sometimes what ISN’T happening early is alerting you to a strong sharp opinion that’s going to be expressed much later. Might be true on both the side and the total here.
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Back again with you Friday at this time to look at the Sweet 16 games in Syracuse (NC State/Louisville and Michigan State/Oklahoma), and Houston (UCLA/Gonzaga and Duke/Utah). Then we’ll have reports over the weekend for the Elite 8 matchups. Thanks for reading last week, and for coming back this week!
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