Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 12:00 PM
Point spreads went up Sunday night here in Las Vegas for this week’s Sweet 16 action. There’s already been time to deduce sharp intent (strategies from professional wagerers) as well as the most likely bets from squares (the general public). I’ll run through what I’ve learned so far, taking the matchups in the order they’ll be played Thursday and Friday.
Thursday 7:05 p.m. ET: Nevada vs. Loyola-Chicago
Nevada opened as a favorite of -2.5, possibly because oddsmakers expected some interest from “locals” in betting the Wolfpack. But, it’s hard to lay points with a team that had to rally from way behind twice to barely win. Nobody laid the points initially, dog lovers who saw this as a virtual pick-em bet Loyola at +2.5 and +2. Nevada wouldn’t normally be a “public” favorite (like Duke, Villanova, or Kentucky). You can imagine, though that the media is going crazy over this Cinderella story. Just not enough to drive betting interest when the team is priced as a favorite! It might take -1 to bring in chalk investors. Things have settled at 1.5…but with lower than expected interest at the price either way.
Thursday 7:35 p.m. ET: Michigan vs. Texas A&M
The Aggies are another underdog that got bet early. Michigan is another favorite that had to come-from-behind to win, lucky to survive Houston in the second round. Texas A&M impressed in routing North Carolina. Many sharps respected them before the season started…and were looking to bet the Aggies in the SEC tournament. So, a clear constituency for A&M at +3.5 and +3. Many stores have dropped to -2.5…which has brought in Michigan money. There’s a lot of Big 10 interest in general in Las Vegas. That group is finding -2.5 appealing. This probably sets up a tug-of-war we’ll see from now until tip off with the public and Big 10 fans taking Michigan at -2.5, but sharps buying in at three whenever it’s on the board.
Thursday 9:35 p.m. ET: Kansas State vs. Kentucky
An opener of Kentucky -5 has already been bet up to -5.5. Any stores testing six are seeing dog interest at that price. You have to assume tourists who arrive between now and tipoff are going to be betting the big-name program that’s playing its best basketball of the season right now. Kansas State will get “defensive dog” interest from old school sharps, and people who watched that low-scoring defensive struggle with UMBC last weekend. Six is a high line if K-State can slow down proceedings. I’m expecting a tug-of-war between Kentucky -5.5 and Kansas State +6. Though, of the public comes in VERY strong on Kentucky late, we might see 6.5.
Thursday 10:05 p.m. ET: Gonzaga vs. Florida State
Gonzaga is definitely a “public” favorite here in Las Vegas. This line opened at -5 and jumped to a solid -5.5 pretty quickly. Sharps would take Florida State if the full six comes into play. FSU did just beat a #1 seed in Xavier, and has the kind of athletes that can at least compete with Gonzaga. Very similar to Kentucky in that this is a late start (giving squares more time to bet) where the favorite is currently -5.5 but could rise from game-day public interest. Likely another tug-of-war between Gonzaga at -5.5 and FSU at +6. This Thursday slate could have a very high handle even with Loyola/Nevada dragging things down with a price that may not trigger much action.
Friday 7:05 p.m. ET: Kansas vs. Clemson
Kansas is another public team, though an injury to a key contributor has dampened enthusiasm somewhat in this event. An opener of -4 is up to -4.5. I know a few sharps who are really hoping five comes into play because the want to hit Clemson hard at that price. Clemson plays great defense, which you saw vs. Auburn. And, Kansas has a way of underachieving in this event under this head coach. Not sure if it will get that high. Might depend on how Thursdays favorites do. Squares flush with cash will re-invest hard on Friday’s favorites. We may just sit at 4.5. Sportsbooks don’t mind taking a position on this particular dog, which they already have after early betting.
Friday 7:35 p.m. ET: Villanova vs. West Virginia
Some of you may have been surprised that Villanova was such a big favorite over a team as good as West Virginia. An opener of Villanova -5.5 has stood pat. West Virginia was favored in the Big 12 Championship game over Kansas! What’s going on? Sharps have a clear preference for betting West Virginia hard against teams with bad guards, but fading them just as hard against teams with good guards. Villanova has great guards, who are less likely to be badgered by the West Virginia full court press. Oddsmakers knew that the public was likely to bet this favorite anyway (the best seed left in the field), AND that many sharps love Villanova’s guards. They tried to find a price that would prevent a deluge of Villanova money. I’m interested to see if we have any additional line movement here between now and tipoff. That 5.5 might be the number that offers the best risk management for books.
Friday 9:35 p.m. ET: Duke vs. Syracuse
Some stores opened Duke -11, others -11.5. It’s mostly painted 11.5 as I write this. The highest line of the Sweet 16 round by a mile. Syracuse has been priced like an NIT team through the whole Dance even though it keeps winning. Might be tougher here because Duke has seen the Syracuse zone before…and the offense has been practicing against a similar zone ever since Coach K changed his own defensive emphasis. Old school sharps will take any double-digit dog they see on principal in any sport. They’re waiting to see if they can get +12, but would be happy at +11.5. Not sure if the public will aggressively bet a favorite that’s this expensive.
Friday 10:05 p.m. ET: Purdue vs. Texas Tech
The least interesting game to Nevada bettors so far. Big 10 money is hesitant to get involved with Purdue because of a key injury. Plus, Purdue was a bit lucky to get past Butler this past weekend. Texas Tech doesn’t have much of a betting following, and is one of those teams that looks ugly even when they win and cover. The fact that it’s the latest tip-off will create some betting interest by default. Maybe…if Michigan of the Big 10 looks great, and Kansas and West Virginia of the Big 12 struggle, that could inspire bets on the cheap favorite. Not a high interest game. The public will be looking to fade this winner on Sunday if it runs into expected opponent Villanova.
Best of luck to all of you this week. I hope you were with me this past weekend when my Big Dance picks went 6-1 against the spread in the second round. I had outright winners on Loyola over Tennessee, Syracuse over Michigan State, Texas A&M over North Carolina, and Clemson over Auburn.
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I’ll be back again at the end of the week to give you more market perspective from the sports betting capital of the world.