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Vegas View: Kentucky favored by at least 5.5 over any team

LAS VEGAS (AP) — That Kentucky is good — make that very good — isn’t debatable among this city’s bookmakers, who make the Wildcats nearly even money to cap an unbeaten season by winning the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky will be favored by double digits in any matchup heading into the Final Four, beginning with what is expected to be a laugher in Thursday’s opening round against the winner of the Manhattan-Hampton game. Even if the Wildcats end up in a Final Four with three other No. 1 seeds, they would still be favored by at least 5.5 points against any opponent.

Really good, yes. Dominant, too, in a year where the rest of the tournament field is considered to be down, if just a bit.

Still, the people who set the odds on tournament games don’t see the Wildcats as the best ever. Not even if they run the table and finish the season undefeated.

The Anthony Davis-led Kentucky team that lost two games and won the national title in 2012 would be favored by 3.5 points against this year’s team, according to a consensus of Vegas oddsmakers and bettors tabulated by RJ Bell of Pregame.com, a leading betting website. So, too, would the 1991 UNLV team that went unbeaten before losing to Duke in the national semifinal game.

“Kentucky is not a historically great team,” Bell said. “The reason it is such a big favorite this year is the relevant comparison to the competition. The competition is weak this year, none of these other teams are all that good.”

That’s not to say the bookies don’t like Kentucky’s chances to become the first men’s team to go undefeated and win a national title since Indiana turned the trick 39 years ago. They do, mostly because this team isn’t playing the 2012 Kentucky team or the 1991 UNLV team in this tournament.

At the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, Kentucky is an 11-10 favorite to win the national title, or about as close to even money as you can get. Wisconsin and Duke are the second picks, but they are well back at 7-1 odds, followed by Villanova and Arizona at 8-1.

Kentucky’s dominance is further reflected by bettors being able to take every other team in the field against the Wildcats for the national title and only have to put up $130 to win $100.

“We don’t keep historical data too far back, but the only things we can think of at those kind of odds are when the (Chicago) Bulls had (Michael) Jordan and UNLV had its team in the ’90s,” said Westgate oddsmaker Jeff Sherman. “You don’t see it this low very often.”

Even though Kentucky will be favored in every game, the so-called wise guys who make their living betting sports may jump in and bet against the Wildcats as the tournament goes on. That’s because the true point spread will be inflated by the amount of casual bettors who will be putting money on Kentucky simply because the Wildcats are undefeated and viewed as unbeatable.

Bell said oddsmakers and handicappers he speaks to believe that the Kentucky lines will be 3-4 points higher than they actually would be if based strictly on team matchups and not who the public likes to bet. Lines move when more money is put on one side or another as bookmakers look to even out betting on both sides.

“This Kentucky team is as public of a team as I can remember and the public has a bigger say in the NCAA Tournament than they do the regular season,” Bell said. “Which means there could be some real opportunities betting against Kentucky.”

Bell said the Vegas consensus is that the NCAA selection committee got the field right, with few, if any teams that were left out who would be favored over tournament teams. The seedings were mostly in line with how oddsmakers view the games, too, though two double digit seeds (Ohio State minus 2.5 points and Texas minus 1 point) are favored over higher seeds (VCU and Butler) in their opening games.

“What’s fascinating is that you can use Vegas numbers to help pick your brackets,” he said. “You have a big advantage over people in your office pool if they go strictly on the seedings.”

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