Why NCAA tourney bettors should stick with marquee teams

A gambler glances at the betting board in this file photo.

Sorry, college basketball long-shot players. After all the noise subsides about dark horses and Cinderella stories, the NCAA basketball tournament is typically won by a short-priced betting favorite. Look at the half-dozen most recent champions: Duke, Kansas, North Carolina twice and Florida twice. They’re all brand-name basketball factories that rarely offer juicy payouts at the betting windows.

A glance at the nation’s top-ranked teams as this year’s tournament nears does offer some hope for inveterate long-shot zealots, however. Of the current top five, only Duke falls into the category of season-long “chalk,” betting lingo for heavy favorite. Duke opened with odds in the range of 6-1 to 8-1 to win the championship and has dropped to 4-1 or lower.

Top-ranked Ohio State is currently listed at 9-2 or lower, but early-season bettors could have grabbed the Buckeyes at 30-1. No. 2 Kansas, now about 5-1, also opened as high as 30-1 before the season. No. 3 BYU opened at 75-1 and has been bet down to 35-1 with the regular season drawing to a close. Pittsburgh, which rounds out the top five, opened as high as 100-1 and has had its odds drop to 12-1.

This year’s tournament bracket will be announced Sunday, March 13, with play beginning Tuesday, March 15.

In a mid-December radio interview, I was asked about potential tournament sleepers. I mentioned Temple, then about 100-1 to win the title, and Purdue, around 15-1. The odds on both teams remain about the same, although Purdue has advanced in the rankings from No. 19 at the time to No. 6. I’ll stick with Temple, a well-coached team that won seven of its eight games in February, as my top long-shot pick. It could be an ominous sign, however, that the Owls’ lone loss during the streak came to Duke—again, one of those short-priced favorites that usually ends up winning the whole shebang.

Trevor Bayne, whose surprising victory in the Daytona 500 made him the biggest story of the early part of the NASCAR season, faces long odds in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Bayne opened at 100-1 to win the Las Vegas race, according to odds at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book, far behind 9-2 favorite Jimmie Johnson and leading contenders Carl Edwards (5-1) and Kyle Busch (6-1). I’ll be looking to back Busch in head-to-head driver matchups.


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