It’s bright and early here in Las Vegas, on a beautiful Thursday morning. Gonna be 87 degrees today! But it will be far hotter indoors, with all the betting action on one of the most wonderful wagering days of the year, the first full day of the NCAA Tournament. It’s wall-to-wall basketball, with 16 games unfolding over 12-plus hours.
Covers gets you up to date on which games are drawing the most interest and line moves, with insights from Scott Cooley, odds consultant for offshore sportsbook Bookmaker.eu, and Jeff Stoneback, sportsbook manager at The Mirage right here on the Las Vegas Strip.
No. 12 North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks vs. No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers – Open: -9; Move: -8.5; Move: -8; Move: -7.5; Move: -7; Move: -7.5
In an early 12-5 matchup, tipping off at 12:40 p.m. ET, bettors certainly seem enamored with North Carolina-Wilmington (85.2 ppg, 10th nationally), though this squad is facing a team that yields a nation-best 55.6 ppg. The Seahawks (29-5 SU, 14-15-1 ATS) have won eight in a row and nine of 10, coasting through the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to nab their NCAA bid.
Virginia is definitely more battle-tested coming out of the ACC and looked the part of a top-10 team before a 2-6 SU slide over three weeks starting in late January. But the Cavaliers (22-10 SU, 18-12 ATS) won their last three regular-season games – including a 53-43 home stifling of North Carolina getting 3.5 points – and topped Pittsburgh in their Big East tourney opener before falling in the quarterfinals to Notre Dame, 71-58 as a 3.5-point favorite.
“Wilmington has seen some solid sharp action since we opened numbers last Sunday,” Cooley said. “We certainly have some sophisticated money on the Cavaliers’ side, but the majority of it has been on the underdog, and the public likes the points too. Currently, we have 65 percent of the tickets and money on Wilmington.”
No. 13 Vermont Catamounts vs. No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers – Open: -9; Move: -8; Move: -9; Move: -9.5; Move: -9; Move: -10; Move: -10.5; Move: -10
Purdue is the highest-seeded team out of the Big Ten, after winning the regular-season title but making no hay in the conference tournament. The Boilermakers (25-7 SU, 17-10-2 ATS) went 8-1 SU in their last nine in the regular season, getting a bye to the conference quarterfinals. But they were immediately dealt a 74-70 overtime loss by eventual champ Michigan as a 2.5-point chalk.
Vermont (29-5 SU, 4-4 ATS), the America East champ, is on a 21-game winning streak and is one of the nation’s best shooting teams, at 49.6 percent (ninth), while also rating 11th defensively (61.6 ppg). The Catamounts edged Albany 56-53 in the conference final, falling well short as a 10.5-point fave, but still punching their ticket to the Big Dance.
Purdue, led by double-double machine Caleb Swanigan, got a ton of betting love on Thursday, a bit of a surprise to Cooley.
“Purdue was a team we thought the number could fall with, and it did early, but that might have been more of a position play,” he said. “Throughout Thursday, we saw a good amount of smart money on the Boilermakers, which drove the spread up to -10.5. We’re trying to entice money back on that early Vermont action.”
Bookmaker.eu did just that late Thursday night, as the number dipped back to 10 for this 7:27 ET tip.
No. 12 Midd Tennessee State Blue Raiders vs. No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers – Open: -1; Move: Pick; Move: -1; Move: Pick; Move: +1.5
Oddsmakers, bettors and analysts have been talking up Middle Tennessee State all week, and the line finally jumped the fence on Wednesday morning. The Blue Raiders (30-4 SU, 23-10 ATS) have been solid for bettors all year, with the third-best spread-covering mark in the nation. They rolled to the Conference USA tourney title with three double-digit wins, cashing in all three, including an 83-72 victory over Marshall laying 10 points in the final.
Minnesota (24-9 SU, 19-12 ATS) overcame a five-game January purge with an unbeaten February, part of an 8-1 SU run (9-2 ATS) to cap the regular season. The Gophers then beat Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney quarters before losing to Michigan 84-77 catching 4 points in the semis.
“This is the swing in the line we were expecting early, but it didn’t come until the last 24 hours,” Cooley said of MTSU moving to -1. “Middle Tennessee has been a smart play most of the year, and bettors were biding their time with this one, since the number was small. Nearly 75 percent of the money is on the Blue Raiders, despite the ticket count favoring the Gophers by a 70-30 clip.”
MTSU moved to -1.5 this morning for this 4 p.m. ET contest.
No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. No. 3 Florida State Seminoles – Open: -11; Move: -11.5; Move: -12
Florida Gulf Coast caught everybody’s attention as a 15 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, reaching the Sweet 16. The Eagles returned to the dance last year seeded 16th, losing right away to No. 1 North Carolina 83-67 as a hefty 22.5-point ‘dog.
Now, FGCU (26-7 SU, 4-0 ATS) is back as the Atlantic Sun champ, winners of seven straight and 12 of 13, including a three-game SU and ATS sweep of the conference tourney. The Eagles capped their current run with a 77-61 win over North Florida as an 11-point chalk in the A-Sun final.
Florida State (25-8 SU, 17-12-2 ATS) somewhat quietly finished the regular season at second place in the ultra-competitive ACC. The Seminoles rank 18th nationally in both scoring (82.5 ppg) and field-goal percentage (48.3). The ‘Noles edged Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals 74-68 as an 8-point fave, then lost to Notre Dame in the semis 77-73 giving 1.5 points.
“Sharp money on Florida State moved this to 12, but for the public, Florida Gulf Coast is one ‘dog they like,” Stoneback said of this 9:20 p.m. ET tilt. “We’ve got lots of tickets written on Gulf Coast.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.