All Eyes on Duke/UNC, Coach K

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All eyes are on rivals Duke and North Carolina, who will play against each other in the NCAA Tournament for the first time when they meet in the Final Four on Saturday. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Been there, done that

We have reached the end of March Madness, the most fun betting event on the sports calendar. The Final Four begins Saturday with the semifinal games that pit Kansas against Villanova and Duke against North Carolina. The winners of each game will square off for the title on Monday evening. There was a chance that we could have seen an unusual cast of characters, given the Elite Eight matchups, but to the disappointment of many, we ended up with four of the bluest of blue bloods.

first time that all four Final Four teams have multiple championship banners

This is the first time that all four Final Four teams have multiple championship banners hanging in their gyms (UNC – 6, Duke – 5, Kansas and Villanova – 3). And none of them were longshots to win the championship before the season started: Villanova was the favorite of the four at 12-1, while UNC was the longest shot at 30-1.

Those who bet on North Carolina before the tournament started will get paid handsomely if the Tar Heels win, as because of their inconsistent season and #8 seed, BetMGM had them at +12,500 to title. According to SportsOddsHistory.com, no champion has had odds that long pre-tournament in the 46 years for which the site has records. Connecticut, which won it all in 2014, was +9,500 before the tournament started.

As for where they stand now, the VegasInsider.com consensus lines have Duke as the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday at +156, with Kansas not too far behind at +181. Villanova and North Carolina are +481 and +493, respectively. Kansas is a 4-point favorite in the early game Saturday over Villanova, while Duke is also favored by 4 over archrival North Carolina.

Rivalry under the brightest lights

Speaking of Duke and North Carolina, Saturday will be the first time that these long-time, heated rivals with campuses just eight miles apart will face each other in the NCAA Tournament. They play each other two or three times per year and have never met on the biggest stage. On top of that, this will be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final weekend of coaching after 43 years at the school.

Though Duke is a 2-seed and North Carolina is an 8-seed, they are both playing their best basketball right now and both have looked championship-worthy. They split their regular season series; UNC notably ruined Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor Arena by blitzing the Blue Devils 94-81 as a 12-point underdog.

The over/under for the game is 151 and expect most bettors to go with the over. UNC’s tempo – 73.2 possessions per game – is the fastest of the tournament. Duke is shooting 53.8% in the Big Dance, the highest mark of any team and the fifth-highest entering the Final Four since the turn of the century. North Carolina has multiple players who have thrown down 30-point games in the tournament and three-point gunner Brady Manek has hit 44% of his shots from behind the arc.

Because of the popularity of the two teams, their historic rivalry, Coach K’s impending retirement, and the massive stage, this could be on of the most bet-upon games in March Madness history. ESPN.com reported that Caesars Sportsbook took more bets on Duke before the tournament than on any other team, including a $300,000 wager at 17-1.

St. Peter’s wild ride finally ends

North Carolina let down millions of basketball fans by ending the run of upstart St. Peter’s in the Elite Eight. The Peacocks became the darlings of the tournament, becoming just the third 15-seed to make the Sweet Sixteen and the only one in college basketball history to make the Elite Eight after beating Kentucky, Murray State, and Purdue.

would have created the largest futures loss in any sport in the company’s history

The Tar Heels finally made St. Peters look like a 15-seed, easily beating them by 20 last weekend. Before the game, though, ESPN’s David Purdum wrote that a St. Peter’s win could have been disastrous for sportsbooks. According to BetMGM’s Jason Scott, had the Peacocks gone on to win the tournament, it would have created the largest futures loss in any sport in the company’s history.

Some books had St. Peter’s at 10,000-1 before the tournament. The largest bet BetMGM took on St. Peter’s was for $4,000 at 200-1 during the first weekend of play. It took “hundreds of smaller bets” at steep odds, as well.

New Jersey sportsbooks were in an interesting spot last weekend. Because they are not allowed to offer markets on schools located in the state, they couldn’t take bets on St. Peter’s games. But because they offered East Region (the region in the bracket where St. Peter’s was placed) futures, they had to pay out no matter what. As such, if St. Peter’s would have gone to the Final Four, those who bet on North Carolina to win the region would have won their bets, having wagered on the “best finisher.” Basically, North Carolina bets were guaranteed to win once the Elite Eight matchup was UNC/St. Peter’s.