One team from the Southeastern Conference survived all the way to college basketball’s Final Four. But, it wasn’t either of the No. 2 seeds Tennessee or Kentucky, nor No. 3 seed LSU. SEC tournament champion Auburn will carry the league’s banner to Minneapolis in game one of Saturday’s much-anticipated TV doubleheader.
Professional wagerers are skeptical that the Tigers can get past Virginia, the only remaining No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. Let’s see how sharps have been betting Saturday’s showcases through the week.
▪ Auburn vs. Virginia (CBS, 5:09 p.m.)
First numbers up offshore were either Virginia -5 or -5.5. Sharps nudged any fives up higher in short order. This despite the fact that underdogs had dominated against the spread in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 with an 8-4 records against the spread (that was 9-3 ATS at the end of regulation)…and in full awareness that Auburn had been on fire as an underdog in recent weeks.
Auburn (+4.5) beat Tennessee 84-64
Auburn (+5.5) beat North Carolina 97-80
Auburn (+4.5) beat Kentucky 77-71 (in OT)
The 24.5-point cover against the Vols occurred in the SEC tournament finals. The next two beat market expectations by 22.5 and 10.5 last Friday and Sunday.
Wait, there’s more! Virginia didn’t play to expectations in regulation last week, squeaking by Oregon 53-49 laying 8.5 points, and needing overtime to beat Purdue 80-75 as a 4.5-point favorite (70-all in regulation). Don’t forget that Virginia could only make it to the semifinals of the ACC tournament, losing to Florida State 69-59 as a 9-point favorite.
Why is “shaky” Virginia laying so many points to red-hot Auburn? Sharps believe the style match-up favors the Cavaliers. Virginia has a good chance to slow Auburn way down, forcing the Tigers to compete with three-pointers in a high-pressure environment inside an NFL dome with an odd shooting backdrop.
If you believe the traditional theory that “defense and rebounding wins championships,” Virginia brings the superior defense to the floor (ranked #5 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency, compared to No. 29 for Auburn) and out-rebounded Oregon and Purdue last week 73-62, while Auburn lost the battle of the boards to North Carolina and Kentucky 81-73.
Sharps will take Auburn at +6 if they see it, but haven’t shown interest on the underdog at +5.5.
▪ Texas Tech vs. Michigan State (CBS, 7:49 p.m.)
This one has been see-sawing between Michigan State -2.5 and -3 all week. A preponderance of sharps have made it clear that they like Pomeroy’s #1 defense Texas Tech when getting the full three. This should be a hard-fought slugfest, and every half-point matters in potential nail biters.
Though, there are some math-minded pro bettors that believe Sparty’s No. 9 ranked defense can come close to canceling out Tech. Michigan State has the more dangerous offense (#5 compared to #28 with Pomeroy), and the superior rebound rate (Michigan State #6, Tech #118 according to teamrankings.com), which helps bring in some informed money on the favorite at -2.5.
We’ll have to see if public money on game day puts extra weight on either side of that see-saw. Recreational bettors generally prefer betting favorites that seem affordable, which suggests there’s a good chance the market will settle closer to three than 2.5.
▪ On the college basketball futures board, Virginia is the favorite to cut down the nets Monday night (CBS, 8 p.m.). The Westgate in Las Vegas is showing Virginia 3/2, Michigan State 7/4, Texas Tech 4/1, and Auburn 7/1. Most stores will be within arm’s reach of those returns.
The Westgate also posted “projected” lines for all four possible championship matchups. Virginia would likely be about a 1-point favorite over Michigan State, and a 3-point favorite over Texas Tech. Auburn would be about a 4.5-point underdog to Michigan State, and a 2-point underdog to Tech.
▪ Early-season baseball has already been jam-packed with surprises. A ripe environment for underdog bettors with so many big money franchises struggling with injuries or slumps. This weekend’s national TV options for wagerers: Texas at the Los Angeles Angels (Saturday, FS1, 3 p.m.), the Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee (Saturday, FS1, 6 p.m.), and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Colorado (Sunday, ESPN, 6 p.m.)
▪ VSiN enjoyed bringing you market coverage of the Alliance of American Football in recent weeks. Unfortunately, the league stopped operations a few days ago. Hopefully you made some smart bets when vulnerable lines were available.