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’Dogs bark again in NCAA Tournament, give sportsbooks another win

Four double-digit seeds are in the Sweet 16 after underdogs went 10-6 ATS with five outright upsets in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“To have a 15, two 11s and a 10 left right now speaks volumes,” Red Rock Resort sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. “That just shows the parity of college basketball. There’s not that big of a gap between schools considered blue bloods and other conference schools that can clearly play with the big boys.”

On Saturday, No. 15 Saint Peter’s followed up its first-round upset of No. 2 Kentucky by knocking off No. 7 Murray State 70-60 as 8-point underdogs. And No. 11 Michigan (+7) eliminated No. 3 Tennessee 76-68.

On Sunday, No. 11 Iowa State (+4½) beat No. 3 Wisconsin 54-49, and No. 10 Miami (+6½) whipped No. 2 Auburn 79-61.

In the final game of the second round, No. 1 Arizona (-9½) escaped with a 85-80 overtime win over No. 9 Texas Christian. But it didn’t cover, and neither did No. 1 seeds Gonzaga, Kansas and Baylor, which lost to No. 8 North Carolina.

Las Vegas sportsbooks rode the underdogs to a solid winning weekend.

“Every single day has been really good for us,” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “Thursday was the best day, and Friday, Saturday and (Sunday) have all been very positive results for us. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Multiple books reported March Madness crowds and wagering handles comparable to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“Definitely,” Boyd Gaming sportsbook vice president Bob Scucci said. “In the first year without any of the restrictions we had, the crowds are back and the energy is there. I would say the handle is on par with 2019.”

Sweet 16 lines

The Hurricanes are -1½ over the Cyclones at Boyd in a slightly sour Sweet 16 showdown. But there is also a matchup of schools with a combined 18 national championships in North Carolina and UCLA (-2½).

The Tar Heels outlasted Baylor 93-86 in overtime Saturday as 5½-point ’dogs after the Bears closed the final 10:08 of the second half on a 38-13 run to erase a 25-point deficit.

“That was one of the games we had the most action on for in-game wagers,” Scucci said. “The fact the favorite was down so many points allowed you to bet Baylor at +18 and +17, and you got some really good lines throughout the game.

“That’s kind of the new thing that was not as prevalent pre-pandemic — all the in-game wagering propositions.”

Duke is a 1-point underdog to Texas Tech in Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final NCAA Tournament.

Blue Devils bettors were burned by a last-second backdoor cover in the first round. But they cashed their tickets Sunday after Duke closed its 85-76 win over Michigan State on a 13-2 run to cover as 6½-point favorites.

“It was a good game for the bettors,” Esposito said. “But having Duke and Coach K in the Sweet 16 is always a good thing.”

Gonzaga is -9 over Arkansas, Kansas is -7½ over Providence and Arizona is -1 over Houston. No. 2 seed Villanova is -5 over Michigan.

Purdue is -12 over Saint Peter’s. A Caesars Sportsbook bettor made a $500 wager Saturday to win $100,000 on Saint Peter’s to win the NCAA title at 200-1 odds.

Back to the futures

“Most brackets have Arizona and Gonzaga in the final,” Kornegay said. “That still might hold true. But we’re kind of hoping for something different.”

The SuperBook would lose on futures if Arizona or Gonzaga wins the title. The Zags are the largest liability at Boyd Gaming, in large part because their fans always load up on them during the West Coast Conference tournament at The Orleans.

“When we host those tournaments, every Gonzaga fan who goes to the games bets on Gonzaga to win the NCAA Tournament,” Scucci said. “There’s such a big Gonzaga fan base here.”

Bettor days

MGM Resorts director of trading Jeff Stoneback said most bettors who visit Las Vegas for the first four days of the tournament have a beer in one hand and a four-team parlay in the other.

While underdogs have killed countless parlays, Stoneback said that might change in the next round:

“The Sweet 16 usually ends the Cinderella runs and plays out more to form.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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