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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 2:06 PM

This final Saturday of the regular season is a vital time to check in on sharp action because you get a sense of what the best brains behind the scenes in the industry are thinking about the teams you’ll be watching all through March in the tournaments.

Let’s quickly run through what the sharps were thinking in Saturday’s biggest games:

LOUISVILLE AT SYRACUSE: The Orangemen opened up as home favorites of -9.5. Sharps came in immediately on the underdog, even though Louisville hasn’t been playing that great of late. Syracuse has been a shaky favorite in recent games…and is not as respected as you might think given their high national ranking. Sharps know this is a good team…but they don’t see them as head and shoulders above the field. We were seeing Louisville +8.5 and even Louisville +8 in the minutes leading up to tip-off. We expect this to foreshadow market expectations in the Big East tournament and the Big Dance. The public will probably be on Syracuse because of the high poll ranking and the #1 seed position. Sharps will be looking for value against the public.

NORTH CAROLINA AT DUKE: Big support for the road team when the game first went up, though Duke money did come in at a certain point. Oddsmakers opened this game at pick-em even though it’s at Duke. So, that means they see North Carolina as three or four points better on a neutral court. The media keeps talking about how these two teams are neck and neck for a #1 seed in the Dance. And, the ESPN poll has Duke at #3, North Carolina at #6 entering the day. Oddsmakers had Carolina clearly better, and sharps bet the Heels! North Carolina was bet all the way up to -2 before some Duke money brought the line in places down to +1.5 as we were going to press. Sharps like NC at pick-em, -1, or -1.5. Once the line reached -2 interested started drifting back to the home dog. So, we now have both Syracuse and Duke as teams that sharps have shown skepticism about.

TEXAS AT KANSAS: It’s interesting to note that a big name program like Texas DIDN’T inspire any sharp interest at a high line of Kansas -12. There are some sharps who will take tournament caliber teams (or bubble teams) on principal at double digit spreads. We didn’t see that happen here, which is a clear sign of skepticism about Texas. Sharps tend to shy away from big favorites. We weren’t likely to see Kansas money at an opener as high as -12. No sharp money on the dog is telling.

BUTLER AT VALPARAISO: We’re including this evening tournament game from the Horizon League because a visiting #4 seed was bet to a favorite against a #1 seeded host! Valparaiso won the right to host the final rounds of this event by winning the regular season crowd. Oddsmakers opened the game at pick-em because Butler has earned postseason respect under this head coach. Sharps bet Butler up to -1 where it’s held solid since. If Butler loses tonight, they’ll go to the NIT where sharps may back them again. If Butler wins tonight, they’re likely to get respect in the line in Tuesday night’s Finals.

TENNESSEE STATE AT MURRAY STATE: This is the championship game in the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State opened at -7, and was bet up to -7.5 by sharps. They liked Murray in the Bracket Buster game against St. Mary’s…and have backed them here at a reasonably high price for a conference championship game. Win or lose, we expect this support to continue in the Big Dance. Sharps like Murray State as a potential darkhorse based on what we’ve seen with betting action and also based on discussions we’ve had off the record with big bettors. Don’t lose sight of Murray State next week when their idly waiting for the Big Dance to get started. Sharps have them on the darkhorse list now.

There was a big move in the NBA Saturday Night that we have time to mention. Oklahoma City opened at -4 in Atlanta, but was bet up to -5.5 or even -6 as we went to press. Atlanta has shown very poorly versus good teams in recent weeks (which is something that happened to them in the middle of last season as well). Plus, the Hawks are on night two of a back-to-back. Sharps saw OKC as underpriced here, and we’re hearing that many are looking for ways to exploit the clear edge the West has shown against the East this season.

Here at VSM, we’ll continue presenting market reports every few days through the month of March (probably about three times a week on average) to help provide additional perspective in the most important legal betting month of the calendar year. If you’d like some help picking winners from some of the sharpest minds in Las Vegas, make a few clicks here at the website for the best plays of the day! The VegasSportsMasters know how to hit vulnerable lines, and how to play back when a line has moved too far. Check out today’s ads for details on the hottest handicappers and the biggest features. See you next time!

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