LAS VEGAS – Where were you when you watched a No. 1 seed finally lost to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament?
If I were a betting man (and I am), I would bet this is going to be the most common sports conversation all of us have for the rest of our lives. It’s the sporting version of JFK, the moon landing or 9/11. And if you’re only hearing about No. 16 Maryland-Baltimore County’s 74-54 win over No. 1 Virginia on Friday night by reading this, you really missed out in watching what is arguably the most shocking upset ever. This was bigger than Mike Tyson losing to Buster Douglas. If anything, it was closer to Joe Namath’s New York Jets beating the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III as it was an upset but it was also a dominating performance by the underdog.
And the best part for me personally as well as the rest of the VSiN staff is that sports betting is intrinsically interwoven into this epic story. Maryland-Baltimore County went off as a 20.5-point here in Vegas and 25-1 (stated as 2500 as a money line) at William Hill and Station Casinos and 20-1 at South Point, Wynn Las Vegas and the CG Technology network of books. The majority of books in Vegas didn’t even offer a money line as a 20-point college basketball losing outright is so unfathomable.
It’s interesting to note that since the NCAA field expanded to include No. 16 seeds, they were 0-135 heading into Friday night, so payoffs of 20-1 or even 25-1 seem to be far from offering true odds on this unlikely event happening.
Regardless, there were some who took March Madness bettors that took a shot and cashed in. Jason Simbal of CG Technology Tweeted out that his book took a $800 bet at 20-1 that paid out $16,800. William Hill reported that it took six $100 bets at 25-1 for payouts of $2,500.
On the downside, William Hill also reported that a bettor risked $1,294 on the Virginia money line at -10000 odds. That would have profited less than $13. I’m wondering what that person needs $1,307 for that he couldn’t buy with $1,294. I’m sure we’re going to hear more stories over the rest of the weekend about bettors who had money-line parlays on a bunch of favorites that hit all the other teams before losing with Virginia.
Now, I have a long-running reputation as an underdog bettor in horse racing and sports. I did have Maryland-Baltimore Country plus 22 points – in this week’s Point Spread Weekly online magazine, I wrote “big points with low total make this a fairly strong lean” – but even I didn’t even consider a money-line wager.
UMBC’s victory claims the top spot as biggest NCAA Tournament upset as the first No. 16 seed to be a No. 1, though points-wise it’s runner-up to No. 15 Norfolk beating No. 2 Missouri six years ago to the day (yes, March 16, 2012).
If you’re like me, you were probably keeping tabs of this game while also following the other three games going on at the same time. I really took note when I saw that the game was tied 21-21 at halftime (as I was tracking first-half betting results in addition to game betting results) and Virginia was a 12-point second-half favorite. That seemed about right as I assume, as I’m sure most people did, that the Cavaliers would take control in the second half and advance to the second round just like the 135 times that a No. 1 seeds had faced a No. 16 seed. However, UMBC went on a 14-3 run to start the second half to go ahead 35-24 and prompt William Hill to make it the favored team for the first time in it’s live in-play betting at -135. Every time that Virginia looked like it was going to make a run of its own, the Retrievers had an answer either on cuts to the basket for easy layups against the Cavaliers’ No. 1 defense or 3-pointers.
It was amazing to watch – and I can’t wait to relive it over and over in sports book and barroom conversations the rest of my days.