After a one-year hiatus, one of the best stretches on the sports calendar is back.
In a span of 11 days that began with Thursday’s opening day, sports fans and bettors can feast their eyes on a smorgasbord of baseball season openers, the Final Four and NCAA championship and the Masters.
“This is my favorite time of the year,” Westgate sportsbook director John Murray said. “I love college basketball, I love baseball, and we’ve got the Masters next week.
“Is there a better day to be a sports fan to sit on the couch and watch TV than Sunday at the Masters? It’s probably my favorite day to watch sports.”
Murray also is a big fan of Champions League soccer, which starts Tuesday, and also on the board are the NHL and NBA, and women’s Final Four and NCAA title game, with the NFL draft to follow April 29.
“I love when there’s a multitude of different sports going on at the same time. It adds so much to the daily menu,” Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. “I always look at the NFL draft as the start of football season, so April is kind of a springboard to the whole year.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers are the 2-1 favorites at the Westgate to repeat as World Series champions, and Dustin Johnson is the 9-1 favorite to win his second green jacket in five months after the Masters was moved to November last year.
Gaga for Gonzaga
Gonzaga (30-0) is two wins from becoming the first undefeated NCAA champion since Indiana in 1976 and is heavily favored to do so.
After rolling to an 85-66 win over Southern California as an 8½-point favorite, the Bulldogs are -200 favorites to win their first national title.
Bettors keep pounding Gonzaga, the No. 1 overall seed, which opened at 10-1 at the Westgate last year.
“They just keep betting them, at +125 and +120, and we had a guy (Wednesday) lay -190 on Gonzaga,” Murray said. “There doesn’t seem to be any way to slow down this avalanche of Gonzaga money.”
The Bulldogs are 14-point favorites over UCLA, an 11-seed that eliminated No. 1 seed Michigan to complete its run from the First Four to the Final Four.
“You just don’t see 14 in the semis; it’s a monster number,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said.
Gonzaga is -1,200 on the money line over the Bruins, and a Westgate bettor placed a $72,000 wager to win $6,000 on the Zags.
The Westgate and South Point are offering reduced juice of -105 on straight bets on the Final Four and NCAA championship.
Baylor-Gonzaga vs. field
In the other semifinal, No. 1-seeded Baylor is a 5-point favorite over No. 2 Houston. If both favorites prevail, many bettors at William Hill will clinch a win in a popular prop bet that pitted them against the field.
Will Baylor or Gonzaga win the national title? “No” opened as a -125 favorite, but “yes” closed at -170.
“We had incredible action on it,” Bogdanovich said. “We’re going to lose to it if Baylor or Gonzaga wins. But you’ve got to root for a Baylor-Gonzaga final.
“They’re been the best two teams all year long. That’s the game everyone wants to see.”
In possible NCAA title game lines at Circa, Gonzaga is -6 over Baylor.
Sharps haven’t taken a side in the Final Four, but they’ve backed the Baylor-Houston game to go under the total, which is at 134½ after opening at 136½.
Fox Sports Radio host Bernie Fratto likes the under.
“Houston has the best defense and is the best rebounding team in the country,” said Fratto (@BernieFratto).
Fratto also likes Gonzaga -14, noting that the previous five double-digit seeds to reach the Final Four went 0-5 ATS.
Handicapper Kelly Stewart went 12-5 ATS (70.6 percent) to win the Review-Journal Madness Challenge over handicapper Doug Fitz, who went 10-6-1 ATS (62.5).
Stewart and Fitz like Houston (+5) over Baylor and also recommend a small play on the money line (+175).
“They have a top 10 offense and top 10 defense,” said Stewart (@KellyInVegas). “If you forget the team names and strip down these two teams, this is just too many points.”
Fitz (Systemplays.com) has the Cougars rated higher than the Bears.
“My numbers show Houston is two points better, so taking the points is a huge bonus,” he said.
Possible NCAA title lines
At Circa Sports
Gonzaga; 6; 160½; Baylor
Gonzaga; 9; 143½; Houston
Baylor; 7; 138½; UCLA
Houston; 3½; 127½; UCLA
NCAA championship exacta
Gonzaga beats Baylor; +125
Gonzaga beats Houston; +265
Baylor beats Gonzaga; +385
Houston beats Gonzaga; 11-1
Baylor beats UCLA; 16-1
Houston beats UCLA; 32-1
UCLA beats Baylor; 47-1
UCLA beats Houston; 53-1