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Midwest Region: NCAA Tournament Odds and Preview

Duke Blue Devils(26-7) @ Kansas Jayhawks(27-7)

  • Where: CenturyLink Center. Omaha, NE
  • When: March 15, 2018 12:15 pm EST
  • Moneyline: Duke (+180), Michigan State (+230), Kansas (+250), Auburn (+800), TCU (+1400), Clemson (+1500), Rhode Island (+2800), Seton Hall (+3000), Oklahoma (+6000)

The powers-that-be in the sports media thought they had an ideal, Talking Heads-esque situation when Kansas and Duke were announced as front-runners in the Midwest bracket of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Same as it ever was!

Only one problem – Michigan State isn’t letting the days go by. Not without a fight, anyway.

Who are these interlopers? It’s not as if MSU hasn’t had supreme success in college basketball. The Spartans are proud to have reached the NCAA Tournament for 2 full decades straight under Tom Izzo, and have earned a national championship and several Final Four appearances with their efforts. Michigan State was a woebegone program in ages past, but they’re the epitome of legitimacy now. There’s just been a couple of slip-ups lately.

Izzo’s team was upset by Middle Tennessee early in 2016, and blown out of the tournament by Kansas last year. But the 2017-18 squad has roared through a tough conference schedule, earning a #4 AP rank if only a #3 seed in March Madness. Power forward Jalen Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward lead a ferocious rebounding unit rich in NBA talent and 10-deep. They might not have the brand-name of centennial powerhouses like Duke or Kansas, but that fits the Spartan culture of chip-on-the-shoulder work ethic and blue-collar fan support.

That doesn’t mean the Big 12 champion Kansas Jayhawks should be counted out. Nor, for that matter, should Coach K and the Duke Blue & White be erased from consideration.

And at the same time, the best bet might be somewhere else on the futures board entirely.

March Madness Betting: Playing with house chips

Die-hard readers of MSB know that we are firm believers in macro-analysis when the time is right. Most of our previews focus on coaches, statistics and talent. But odds-makers have left themselves wide open to a systems-bet on the lower-right of the 2018 March Madness bracket.

How so? Casinos play with chips too. Gamblers think of chips as something that represents their risked cash, something for the player to play with. But odds-makers have to deal with their own units as well. There’s only so many fractions to go around. As the triumvirate of big shots in the Midwest are hyped more and more, the value on underdogs increases.

Look carefully at the odds and bracket in the Midwest Regional. Look at it again. Now look at the other brackets. You will see that an NCAA Tournament region typically involves 2 schools seemingly destined to do battle in the Elite Eight, or bunches of 4 or more tightly-packed teams, each jockeying for an advantage. Rarely are there 3 titans with short odds, and a group of total long-shots alongside them.

But in the Midwest Region, there are Kansas, Duke and Michigan State as the top 3 seeds, each favored by Vegas with a betting line of somewhere around 2-to-1. The 4th seed is defensively-challenged Auburn at 8/1, and everyone else is in the +1000’s.

What a tremendous opening. A deep-sleeper pick in the Midwest is looking like it carries the best betting value of the Big Dance. Unlike scenarios where 2 teams are dominant, there is no way at least 2 of the favorites can avoid playing each other early-on.

When good basketball teams are bad bets

For sure, each of the trio deserves to be highly-touted. Kansas won the Big 12 tourney like the Golden State Warriors coasting-by a 1st-round playoff opponent. Michigan State is carving a brand new forever-reputation into the bedrock of hoops history. Duke is heavily hyped as an invincible team thanks to Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III.

Yes, the pair are undeniably great. But the Blue Devils of the past 5-10 years have fallen victim to the occasional shock-loss to an underdog, and have been prone to sudden mini-slumps. Coach K is not a panacea for all problems. In fact, Allen took serious heat for underachieving and hogging shots during the regular season. They’re not unbeatable by any stretch.

Michigan State and Duke University must play each other in the Sweet Sixteen, should the pair get that far. Kansas is free of such an obligation, but the Jayhawks could be missing Udoka Azubuike while facing Pennsylvania, then either Seton Hall or war-weathered ACC representative North Carolina State.

Meanwhile, Duke’s Round-of-32 opponent could be a nightmare.

NCAA Midwest Regional: 2 strong sleepers

Bet on sleeper-pick URI (+2800) to win the Midwest Regional at Bovada Sportsbook and get a sign-up bonus to add to your stake. 

It’s almost incredible that online bookies would put (+2800) odds on Rhode Island, but maybe they’ve got better things to do than look at the bracket.

The Rams are not only a superb basketball team, but they may only have to beat Duke and some relative long-shots to get to San Antonio. There is no guarantee Kansas will coast through the gauntlet that awaits them.

If you want to argue that Duke is just a superior team to URI in any circumstance, that’s fine. If the AP-ranked Rams, who came within a whisker of beating Davidson in an Atlantic 10 rubber-match just a few days ago, take the court and play their game, and Duke plays its game? Allen and Bagley Jr. playing their best against relative ham-and-eggers like Jared Terrell and Jeff Dowtin? Sure, the Blue Devils win 9 times out of 10.

Guess what? 1 chance in 10 isn’t a bad bet at (+2800). Bet $100 a dozen times at those odds on a 10-sided die rolling a 5, and on-average you’ll end up with at least $1600 more than you started with.

That analysis doesn’t even take into consideration the chance that Allen will panic and revert to old habits if a Round of 32 game becomes tense in the closing moments. Duke and Kansas must play to avoid ignominy with an early-round loss. Rhode Island just has to play.

Finally, if you’re a March Madness gambler who swears by more-athletic teams, consider the Clemson Tigers at 15/1.

The Tigers are not saddled with the discipline issues at Auburn or the lack of depth at TCU, and pundits who are making a big deal of Donte Grantham being out are forgetting Marcquise Reed, who led Grantham in ppg average through much of winter. Reed is a tenacious play-maker and rebounder who could potentially heat up and pilot his squad to a surprise appearance in Texas.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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