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What betting markets tell us about the Sweet 16

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Villanova and Duke are virtual co-favorites to win the NCAA Championship. Plus, NIT numbers and notes including “Holy Trinity” previews for Tuesday’s quarterfinals right now in VSiN City.

NCAA Tournament: Composite Futures prices have Villanova and Duke well clear of the field heading to Sweet 16

Heading into the second week of the 2018 NCAA tournament, betting markets have Villanova and Duke clear of the field based on composite Futures prices from across the spectrum. Here are the most common prices we’re seeing offshore.

Villanova 7/2

Duke 7/2

Kansas 6/1

Kentucky 7/1

Gonzaga 8/1

Michigan 10/1

Purdue 11/1

West Virginia 12/1

Texas Tech 20/1

Texas A&M 25/1

Clemson 33/1

Kansas State 60/1

Florida State 80/1

Loyola 100/1

Nevada 100/1

Syracuse 100/1

In the state of Nevada, it’s more common to see Villanova getting the nod at 3/1 rather than 7/2. But both the Wildcats and Blue Devils have a leg up on the next set of contenders. In Nevada, you’re more likely to see Gonzaga above Kansas and Kentucky because of regional betting interest. Gonzaga plays its conference tournament in Las Vegas, and has been the clear betting choice of “the West” since Arizona was eliminated. 

It’s tempting to break those into “tiers.” But our estimate of “market” Power Ratings from recent point spreads already does that. We’ve been running them by region so far through the tournament. Because we’re down to the final 16 teams, let’s blend everyone together. 

NCAA Tournament Estimated “Market” Power Ratings

88: Villanova, Duke

84: Kansas, Gonzaga, Purdue

83: West Virginia, Michigan, Kentucky, Texas Tech

80: Clemson, Texas A&M

78: Florida State, Kansas State, Nevada

77: Syracuse, Loyola-Chicago

If you were with us yesterday, you might have noticed we bumped both Duke and Syracuse up a point. Duke is being priced as virtual co-favorites with Villanova in futures prices, and it didn’t feel wright that Loyola would be a neutral court one-point favorite over the Orange, no matter how dis-respected Syracuse has been with recent lines (plus 10 vs. Michigan State, plus 5 vs. TCU). Maybe “the market” really does think Loyola is better. But Syracuse has a history of playing better than its Power Rating in this tournament. 

Anyway…Villanova and Duke would likely be favored by at least four points over anyone they face besides each other based on recent pricing. The Wildcats are up to -5.5 over a West Virginia team that laid a point to Kansas in the Big 12 finals before losing in Kansas City. 

Which of Villanova and Duke has the tougher path the rest of the way? They’re each other’s biggest hurdle! If both sweep this weekend, Villanova and Duke would play in the national semifinals…with the winner meeting the survivor of a bracket half led by Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Michigan. 

Let’s do a quick “market watch” to see what’s happening with those Sweet 16 point spreads. Kentucky’s half of the bracket plays Thursday. 

Thursday

Kentucky up from -5 to -6 vs. Kansas State

Nevada down from -2.5 to -1.5 vs. Loyola-Chicago

Michigan down from -3.5 to -2.5 vs. Texas A&M

Gonzaga up from -5 to -5.5 vs. Florida State

Kentucky and Gonzaga are both favorites the public loves to bet (which hurt Gonzaga backers last year despite its deep run into the tournament). Not surprising that those early lines nudged higher. Nevada and Michigan are tougher to like as chalk. Nevada’s barely led any of its two wins! Michigan was lucky to beat Houston, and there’s still a perception (possibly well-founded) that the Big 10 was hurt by having a long layoff entering the Dance. (Purdue 1-1 ATS, Michigan 1-1 ATS, Michigan State 0-2 ATS, Ohio State 0-1-1 ATS, for a combined 2-5-1 against market expectations with the best performances coming against Cal-Fullerton and Montana.)

Friday

Villanova up from -5 to -5.5 vs. West Virginia

Purdue holding at -2.5 vs. Texas Tech

Duke holding at -11.5 vs. Syracuse

Kansas holding at -4 (some -4.5’s out there) vs. Clemson

Villanova, Duke, and Kansas are all favorites the public likes to back. Tougher to do that with Purdue, who lost a key player to injury before needing a big day on three-pointers to sneak past Butler. 

More Dance coverage through the week. Our stat previews will run on game days as we continue with our seven-days-a-week publication schedule through March. 

NIT: Early Monday stats and Tuesday’s “Holy Trinity” previews

We’ll run the key stats from the first two Monday finishers here in this report. Two games started very late on the West Coast. We’ll save those box score summaries for our Wednesday report, including them with our Holy Trinity previews for the last two quarterfinals that will determine who goes to New York. 

Monday's early starts in the order they were played…

Oklahoma State (-8) 71, Stanford 65

Two-point Pct: Stanford 45%, Oklahoma State 33%

Three Pointers: Stanford 3/15, Oklahoma State 9/22

Free Throws: Stanford 14/19, Oklahoma State 12/23

Rebounds: Stanford 55, Oklahoma State 40

Turnovers: Stanford 19, Oklahoma State 6

Estimated Possessions: Stanford 72, Oklahoma State 71

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Stanford 85-79-99, Oklahoma State 55-46-56

Market Watch: An opener of Oklahoma State -7.5 was bet up to -8. Not a lot of betting interest in this one after such a busy weekend. Plus, the favorite was pricey while the dog had a poor computer ranking and came from a lousy conference. Quants pushed the total up from 153 to 154.5

Boy, some extremes in the mix there. Oklahoma was an awful 3 of 15 on treys, while also turning the ball over NINETEEN times. Yet, the Cardinal covered the spread because Oklahoma State shot very poorly inside, and got killed on the boards. Probably a good thing neither made the Dance with exploitable weaknesses like that. Those are consistent with the hints from our Holy Trinity preview. Stanford was the much better rebounding team during the tourney (with a ranking edge of #25 to #86). But the Cardinal were a dismal #296 in turnover avoidance, which killed them in terms of potential for a straight up win here. 

Utah (-5) 95, LSU 71 

Two-point Pct: LSU 62%, Utah 63%

Three Pointers: LSU 8/30, Utah 14/27

Free Throws: LSU 11/16, Utah 15/20

Rebounds: LSU 26, Utah 37

Turnovers: LSU 9, Utah 13

Estimated Possessions: LSU 71, Utah 73

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: LSU 61-58-61, Utah 67-59-80

Market Watch: An opener of Utah -3.5 was bet confidently up to -5. You have to assume bettors were looking at altitude as a big positive for the host. Or, at the very least, that prevented any sort of “check and balance” from normal dog bettors that would stop the line from rising after public betting on the favorite. The earliest opening total of 147.5 was bet up to 148.5. 

Hard to say if altitude was the difference-maker. LSU came out flat-footed and never recovered from a 30-11 loss in the first quarter. We talked about the possibility that they’d be emotionally flat after taking the win over Louisiana-Lafayette so seriously. Utah came out to win and took care of business quickly. Can Utah play sharp when NOT enjoying a home court edge the rest of the way? Looks like a gentleman’s agreement to not guard the rim with the game out of reach so early. 

Tuesday night brings the first two NIT quarterfinals. Tonight’s winners earn a trip to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals. Let’s see how things look from the Holy Trinity perspective.

Penn State (plus 1.5/153) at Marquette (7 p.m. ET on ESPN)

Penn State: #15 defense, #72 rebounding, #112 TO avoidance

Marquette: #170 defense, #237 rebounding, #91 TO avoidance

Marquette has home court, but Penn State sure owns the “defense and rebounding win championships” category. Huge edges there for the short road underdog. Marquette does get a slight nod in turnover avoidance…but nothing remotely like the squash the Nittany Lions enjoy in the other categories. We know Penn State was starting to click down the stretch. It went 3-0 against the spread in the Big 10 tournament, including a third win over Ohio State in a fatigue spot. Then, a road win this past weekend at Notre Dame (who was supposed to be Dance caliber at full strength) was a great compliment. You never now about home cooking in these NIT games. But there’s a lot pointing to Penn State as the team that’s “supposed” to win straight up based on recent form and “playoff style” basketball. 

Mississippi State (plus 5/143.5) at Louisville (9 p.m. ET on ESPN)

Mississippi State: #44 defense, #85 rebounding, #240 TO avoidance

Louisville # 28 defense, #177 rebounding, #60 TO avoidance

Mississippi State had to shoot 13 of 22 on treys while also shooting 50% on two-point shots just to eke past Baylor in the prior round. That despite blowing a huge lead in the second half. If you assume they WON’T shoot something like 13 of 22 from long range again, then the outlook is pretty bleak here. Louisville’s stellar defense is very likely to exploit Mississippi State’s horrible turnover avoidance ranking. The Cards have looked sharp since the ugly first half vs. Northern Kentucky. They won the second half 43-28, then dominated Middle Tennessee 84-68. Looks like the players have decided they’d like to spend a few days in New York. Fresh and rested host vs. a visitor that had to get from Waco to Louisville. The preponderance of evidence would seem to point to Louisville as a value side. Mississippi State lost the second half to Baylor 44-31 with less jet lag. 

NBA: Kevin Love was there, Tyronn Lue WASN’T as Cleveland beat Milwaukee

Kevin Love returned from a six-week absence, just as head coach Tyronn Lue began a health-related leave of absence amid rumors about his future with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Steadying force LeBron James scored 40 points as part of a triple double as Cleveland beat Milwaukee in a comfortable point spread cover. 

Cleveland (-3) 124, Milwaukee 117 

Two-point Pct: Milwaukee 65%, Cleveland 57%

Three Pointers: Milwaukee 8/31, Cleveland 15/38

Free Throws: Milwaukee 19/20, Cleveland 23/27

Rebounds: Milwaukee 32, Cleveland 42

Turnovers: Milwaukee 15, Cleveland 13

Estimated Possessions: Milwaukee 105, Cleveland 102

It may not look like a comfortable cover in those numbers. But Cleveland led by double digits most of the fourth quarter and was still up by 10 with just over a minute to go. You can see that the Cavs did a much better job of draining three-pointers. You’re just not going to beat a LeBron James team that makes that many treys! Meaningful rebounding edge. Love scored 18 points and added seven rebounds in just 25 minutes of action. 

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a chance to check in on the NBA. And, it’s going to get busy in the Dance in a few days again. You’ll recall from last year that we’ll cover the NBA Playoffs very intently once they begin. Let’s check in on the postseason outlook while we have a chance.

Eastern Conference

1…Toronto is a virtual lock for the #1 seed

2…Boston is a virtual lock for the #2 seed

3…Cleveland

4…Indiana (a half-game behind Cleveland)

5…Washington (a half-game behind Indiana)

6…Philadelphia (a half-game behind Washington)

7…Miami is safely in the playoffs

8…Milwaukee is safely in the playoffs

Detroit and Charlotte aren’t yet mathematically eliminated. But neither is playing like they’re dying to get to the playoffs and get crushed by Toronto. We know who the eight teams are going to be. We can tell there’s potential for a lot of fun in the Eastern brackets even if everyone is still assuming the eventual champion will come from the West. Not much of an exaggeration to say that the “future” of the NBA could be greatly shaped by the young stars you’ll be watching in this year’s Eastern playoffs. 

Western Conference

1…Houston has a bit of a cushion now to lock in this seed

2…Golden State will be #2 at worst

3…Portland, now with a cushion after a long win streak

4…Oklahoma City getting its act together

5-6-7…Utah, New Orleans, and San Antonio were all 40-30 after the weekend

8…Minnesota

The LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets have fallen off the pace. Perhaps the eight teams in the West are locked in already and we just don’t know it. Who plays who in the first round could come down to the final weekend. The big story looming over the whole bracket is whether or not Houston really has been “built to beat Golden State” in a way that could matter as soon as this spring. 

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See you Wednesday!

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