Though Ole Miss and Mississippi State departed the 2019 NCAA college basketball tournament earlier than hoped, the Sweet 16 still has a strong SEC flavor. Four teams will be trying to earn spots in this weekend’s Elite Eight.
Here’s a look at how sharps (professional wagerers) have been betting games involving Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, and Kentucky. Comments are listed in tip-off order.
▪ Tennessee (-1.5) vs. Purdue (Thursday, TBS, 6:29 p.m.): There’s some skepticism about both teams from pro bettors. Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has a poor history against the spread in this event, and saw his Volunteers blow a 25-point lead before surviving Iowa in overtime this past Sunday. Inconsistent Purdue has had an easy draw, after flaming out of the Big 10 tourney in its first game (losing to Minnesota as a 9.5-point favorite).
Sportsbooks have been jockeying between one and 1.5 through the week. Sharps haven’t shown interest … but would fade enthusiastic public moves in either direction. Purdue +2 would garner sharp action, as would Tennessee at pick-em.
▪ LSU (+6) vs. Michigan State (Friday, CBS, 6:09 p.m.): Here we have the opposite situation. Sharps respect both of these teams. LSU’s impressive talent has overcome recent distractions. Michigan State has the stat pedigree of a champion, playing for a head coach who’s cut down nets in the past.
Generally speaking, sharps prefer LSU +6. Stores that test a line of 5.5 do see both public and informed money come in on Sparty. The general public prefers favorites, particularly teams slotted as #1 or #2 seeds laying “affordable” prices. That will likely lead to LSU +6 or better as the sharp approach by tip off.
▪ Auburn (+5) vs. North Carolina (Friday, TBS, 6:29 p.m.): The number five has been a magnet here. Many spots opened at Carolina -5.5. Auburn’s recent tear through the SEC tournament and Kansas inspired immediate dog money. But, any shop that drops down to UNC -4.5 sees support for the favorite come in. This will likely be a very heavily bet game, with sharps fading any move off the five. It’s clear pro bettors really like Auburn at +5.5.
▪ Kentucky (-2.5) vs. Houston (Friday, TBS, 8:57 p.m.): Will P.J. Washington play for Kentucky? Sharps have been waiting for word on that before investing heavily. Those optimistic about a return took some soft early positions, which caused a few stores to test the three. Houston is very well respected in sharp circles. Everyone remembers the near-miss upset of Michigan a season ago. If Washington can play, and the public drives the number up to four or more, sharps would hit Houston pretty hard. If Washington can’t go, or is clearly too hobbled in late-week workouts to be a serious threat, this point spread would likely stick near the opener.
How many SEC teams will reach the Elite Eight? Corresponding win percentages for our listed point spreads are roughly Kentucky 58% (higher if Washington returns), Tennessee 52%, Auburn 32%, and LSU 29%.
Other Sweet 16 Notes
▪ There are three other attractions on the Thursday ticket in addition to Tennessee/Purdue. Sharps bet Virginia up from -6.5 to -8.5 over lone remaining Dance Cinderella Oregon. Those winners meet Saturday in Louisville.
Anaheim’s twin bill in the West Region starts with Gonzaga (-7.5) vs. Florida State (a line nudged up from an opener of Gonzaga -7). That’s followed by Michigan (-2) vs. Texas Tech. The winners meet Saturday. Gonzaga would be a favorite over either the Wolverines or Red Raiders, either of whom would be a favorite over Florida State.
▪ Friday’s only game not featuring an SEC team has current tournament favorite Duke (-7) over Virginia Tech in a clash of ACC entries. That lined opened at Duke -8.5. Sharps respect the Hokies as a dangerous dog that matches up well defensively with Blue Devils talent. Pro-bettors will buy in for more if the public drives this line back up to eight or higher.
▪ You regulars will remember our use of estimated “market” Power Ratings through the football and basketball seasons. These can be used to project point spreads in future neutral site matchups. VSiN’s latest: Duke 91, Gonzaga 91, Virginia 90, Michigan State 89, North Carolina 89, Michigan 87, Kentucky 86 (87 with PJ Washington), Tennessee 86, Texas Tech 85, Purdue 85, Florida State 84, Houston 84, Auburn 84, Virginia Tech 84, LSU 83, Oregon 82.