Plenty of movement in NCAA Tournament opening round odds during first few hours on the board

Bust out your brackets, folks. The NCAA Tournament field of 68 is all set, and now the betting boards throughout Nevada and at offshore sportsbooks are bursting with opening lines. Covers checks the numbers on several intriguing games on the Thursday/Friday docket, with insights from Johnny Avello at Wynn Las Vegas, Ed Salmons at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook and Scott Kaminsky at offshore site TheGreek.com.

No. 12 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders vs. No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers (-2)

Every year, much hay is made about where a 12-5 upset might come from, and this year, many analysts and bettors are on the Middle Tennessee State bandwagon. Winning 10 in a row and 20 of 21 games tends to get people’s attention (15-6 ATS). The Blue Raiders (30-4 SU, 23-10 ATS) rolled through the Conference USA tournament with three victories, all by double digits and all covers, capped by Sunday’s 83-72 title-game win over Marshall as a 10-point favorite.

Minnesota won eight of its last nine regular-season games (7-2 ATS) and reached the Big 10 semifinals. The Gophers (24-9 SU, 19-12 ATS) fell in that tournament’s semifinal, 84-77 catching 4 points against eventual champion Michigan.

The Superbook opened the Gophers at -1, while The Greek posted -1.5 but had to make a move in short order for this 4 p.m. ET Thursday affair in the South Region.
“They took +1.5 on Middle Tennessee State, so I went right to pick,” Kaminsky said. “Middle Tennessee will probably win the game. And that’s not even an upset.”
Added Avello: “I could see the players taking Middle Tennessee.”

Indeed, he opened Minnesota -2 at the Wynn, went to 1.5 very quickly and then to 1.

No. 12 Nevada Wolf Pack vs. No. 5 Iowa State (-7)

Thursday night brings another interesting 12-5 matchup, a 9:57 p.m. ET tipoff in the Midwest Region. Nevada, the Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament champion, has won nine consecutive games SU and is equally hot ATS, cashing in all nine games. The Wolf Pack (28-6 SU, 23-10-1 ATS) won the MWC final Saturday, 79-71 over Colorado State as a 5.5-point favorite.

Iowa State has been nearly as hot, winning nine of its last 10 while going 8-2 ATS, including a 3-0 SU and ATS run through the Big 12 tournament as the No. 4 seed. The Cyclones (23-10 SU, 18-12 ATS) capped that run with an 80-74 victory over West Virginia as a 4-point underdog in Saturday’s final.

“I liked Nevada, until the Wolf Pack grabbed this matchup,” said Avello, who opened Iowa State -7 and actually saw a little Nevada money bring it down to 6.5. “I think Nevada has had a spectacular year, but this is a bad matchup. This Iowa State team is very athletic, so we’ll see if Nevada can hang with them.”

No. 9 Vanderbilt Commodores vs. No. 8 Northwestern Wildcats (+1)

Northwestern is the NCAA Tournament darling, in the field for the first time in school history. The Wildcats (23-11 SU, 19-12 ATS) got through two games in the Big 10 tournament, but got walloped in Saturday’s semifinals 76-48 catching 4.5 points against Wisconsin. Still, Northwestern is in the NCAAs, opening at 4:30 p.m. ET Thursday in the West Region.

Vanderbilt got two big victories over Florida in less than a week’s time, which helped seal its Big Dance berth. The Commodores (19-15 SU, 20-12 ATS) topped the Gators in the regular-season finale 73-71 getting 3.5 points at home, routed Texas A&M 66-41 giving 3 points to open the SEC tourney, then beat Florida again 72-62 in overtime as a 5.5-point pup in the SEC quarterfinals.

Vandy then fell in the semis, 76-62 as a 3.5-point favorite against Arkansas.

“I don’t like the way Northwestern finished the season,” Avello said of the blowout loss to Wisconsin. “A blowout Big 10 tournament loss, and they’re going against a team that finished pretty well.”

No. 9 Virginia Tech Hokies vs. No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (-4.5)

Wisconsin struggled late in the regular season, with a 1-5 SU and ATS skid, but closed out with an easy home win over Minnesota, then made a run in the Big 10 tournament. The Badgers (25-9 SU, 15-16 ATS) dropped Indiana and Northwestern to reach Sunday’s final, where they lost to Michigan 71-56 as a 2-point ‘dog.

Virginia Tech won three of its last four regular-season games, then bested Wake Forest 99-90 as a 3-point underdog to open ACC tourney play. The Hokies (22-10 SU, 16-11-1 ATS) then gave Florida State a fair run in the ACC quarterfinals, losing 74-68 as an 8-point pup.

Salmons said the Superbook opened the Badgers at -4.5, and they were bet up to 5 for this 9:40 ET Thursday contest in the East Region.

No. 12 North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks vs. No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers (-9)

Virginia won four of its last five SU and ATS, including a regular-season victory over North Carolina, one of the NCAA Tournament’s four No. 1 seeds. The Cavaliers (22-10 SU, 18-10 ATS) got a win over Pittsburgh to open the ACC tournament, then lost in the quarterfinals to Notre Dame, 71-58 as a 3.5-point favorite.

UNC-Wilmington, the Colonial Athletic Association champion, has won seven straight and nine of 11. The Seahawks (29-5 SU, 14-15-1 ATS) bested Charleston 78-69 as a 2.5-point chalk in the CAA final on March 6.

“Wilmington is an offensive team, and you’ve got a defensive team in Virginia. Those are the kinds of matchups that are a little bit trickier,” Kaminsky said, noting the Seahawks average 85.2 ppg, while Virginia allows just 55.6 ppg, No. 1 in the country. “In most sports, defense controls the game, so expect Virginia to control the game. It’ll be interesting to see Wilmington try to play a game they’re not used to. It’s gonna be very difficult. Virginia is the better team and will try to dictate the tempo.”

It will be an early start for both teams in this Midwest Region tilt, set for 12:40 p.m. ET on Thursday.

No. 10 Wichita State Shockers vs. No. 7 Dayton Flyers (+7)

Wichita State is arguably the hottest team in the field, as the winner of 15 consecutive games (11-4 ATS) heading into this 7:10 p.m. ET Friday night clash in the South Region. The Shockers won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, drubbing Illinois State 71-51 in the March 5 final as a 7-point chalk.

Dayton (24-7 SU, 19-10 ATS) made a nine-game late-season surge, which helped offset the fact that it lost its last two games: the regular-season finale at George Washington and, as the Atlantic 10’s No. 1 seed, its tournament opener to No. 9 seed Davidson, 73-67 laying 4 points.

“I just took a good play on Dayton,” Avello said shortly after posting his numbers Sunday night, noting he adjusted the opener from Shockers -7 to -6.5, and later the line went to 6. “The Flyers had a great season, but lost in their tournament. The question was, would they get in? Wichita State has been there many times, they have good tournament experience. I look for that game to stay close.”

Kaminsky is keen on the team with the lesser seed.

“Wichita is a very, very good team,” Kaminsky said, adding The Greek opened the Shockers -6.5, then adjusted down to 6. “Dayton is gonna have to play an exceptional game to win, because Wichita is a solid team.”

No. 10 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. No. 7 Michigan Wolverines (-1)

Michigan had its team plane slide off the runway in an aborted takeoff en route to the Big Ten tournament, but John Beilein’s troops were flying high by Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines (24-11 SU, 16-16 ATS) entered the conference tourney seeded eighth, then won and cashed four games in four days, capped by a 71-56 victory over Wisconsin getting 2 points.

Oklahoma State (20-12 SU, 16-10-1 ATS) went on a late-season 10-1 SU spree (9-2 ATS), but lost its last three games. That included opening the Big 12 tourney with a 92-83 setback to eventual champ Iowa State, with the Cowboys a 1.5-point favorite.

Salmons said the Superbook opened Michigan -1 for one of the first games on deck Friday, at 12:15 p.m. ET in the Midwest Region. The number remained at -1 late Sunday evening.

No. 9 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 8 Miami Hurricanes (-2)

Tom Izzo salvaged a subpar Michigan State season by getting his team back into the NCAA Tournament, but will it be a long stay? The Spartans (19-14 SU, 17-15 ATS) lost three of their last four, including a quarterfinal Big 10 setback to Minnesota, 63-58 as a 1.5-point pup.

Miami (21-11 SU, 11-19 ATS) also dropped three of its last four, with the last a bashing at the hands of North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals, 78-53 getting 8.5 points. Prior to that was when the Hurricanes likely locked in their NCAA bid, with an 8-2 SU run that included home victories over North Carolina and Duke.

“I don’t think Michigan State has a lot of talent, even though the pointspread is very close,” Kaminsky said of this 9:20 p.m. ET Friday start in the Midwest Region. “I think Miami will beat the Spartans.”

Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.


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