Sharp action impacting Tuesday’s First Four tournament games

The NCAA Tournament gets underway tonight with two of the “First Four” games, and betting on the entire field is already in full swing. Covers checks in on where the action is with Scott Cooley, odds consultant for offshore sportsbook Bookmaker.eu, and Sean Van Patten, supervisor at the Golden Nugget sportsbook in downtown Las Vegas.

No. 11 Kansas State Wildcats vs. No. 11 Wake Forest Demon Deacons – Open: Pick; Move: +1.5; Move: +2

This play-in game tonight in Dayton, Ohio, is definitely generating some interest. Wake Forest put together a four-game win streak before falling in the second round of the ACC tournament, 99-90 as a 3-point favorite over Virginia Tech last Wednesday. The Demon Deacons (19-13 SU, 16-14 ATS) did just enough to sneak into this 9:10 p.m. ET matchup, hoping to advance to the South Regional for a Friday date with No. 6 seed Cincinnati.

Kansas State (20-13 SU, 15-12-2 ATS) helped punch its ticket with a three-game SU and ATS uptick that included a 70-64 win over Baylor as a 4.5-point underdog in the Big 12 quarterfinals last week. The Wildcats then nearly knocked off West Virginia in the semis, falling 51-50 as a 6-point ‘dog.

Bettors apparently like what they see in K-State.

“We had big movement on K-State and the under this morning,” Cooley said this afternoon. “We took a number of smart plays on that side and the total, which forced a 2-point move on the spread. Right now, we’re looking at 65 percent of the money on the Wildcats, but the ticket count favors Wake 60-40.”

Later, the line dipped down a tick to K-State -1.5. Bookmaker.eu opened the total at 152, and it’s now down to 148.

No. 12 North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks vs. No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers – Open: -8.5; Move: -8

UNC-Wilmington is on a seven-game winning streak (3-4 ATS) entering this 12:40 p.m. ET Thursday contest in the East Region. The Seahawks (29-5 SU, 14-5-1 ATS) won the regular-season and tournament titles in the Colonial Athletic Association, topping Charleston in the March 6 conference title game 78-69 laying 2.5 points.

Virginia (22-10 SU, 18-12 ATS) won four of its last five SU and ATS, including a home victory over No. 1 seed North Carolina 53-43 getting 3.5 points on Feb. 27. In their last outing, the Cavaliers lost to Notre Dame in the ACC quarterfinals, 71-58 as a 3.5-point fave.

“We got a little money on North Carolina-Wilmington,” Van Patten said, noting the Golden Nugget opened Virginia -8.5 on Sunday night and went to 8 late Monday night.

No. 11 Southern California Trojans vs. No. 11 Providence Friars – Open: Pick; Move: +1; Move: +1.5; Move: +3; Move: +2.5

This First Four matchup continues to draw action in Vegas and at the offshore books. Providence (20-12 SU and ATS) ended its regular season with six consecutive wins (5-1 ATS), including a stretch of four straight over fellow NCAA Tournament invitees Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette. The Friars then lost to Creighton in the Big East semis, 70-58 getting 2 points, a rare ATS setback of late, as Providence had covered eight of nine and 11 of 13 prior to that setback.

Southern Cal (24-9 SU, 16-16 ATS) was on the verge of missing the Big Dance after a late-season four-game purge, but got its act together late and in the Pac-12 tournament. The Trojans rolled Washington State, beat Washington in back-to-back games – to end the regular season and to open the conference tourney – then gave UCLA all it could handle in the Pac-12 quarterfinals before bowing out 76-74 as a hefty 10-point pup.

“Early sharp money moved this pretty quickly after posting, and the public has followed the steam,” Cooley said of a line that went from pick all the way to USC -3 before stepping back a tick. “Currently, we have almost 80 percent of the wagers on USC and around 75 percent of the money there, too. There’s a little sharp action on the total, but the public is hammering the over to the tune of nearly 90 percent.”

Bookmaker.eu opened the total at 140 and adjusted to 140.5 for this 9:10 ET Wednesday game.

No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels – Open: -24.5; Move: -25.5; Move: -26.5; Move: -27

Texas Southern is the pride of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but faces a monumental task to keep its season going in the South Region. The Tigers (23-11 SU, 2-6 ATS) won the regular-season and conference tournament titles, besting Alcorn State in both cases. In the conference final, Texas Southern topped Alcorn 53-50 as a 6-point chalk.

North Carolina (27-7 SU, 17-14-2 ATS) lost to Duke in the ACC semifinals, 93-83 as a 4-point favorite. But the Tar Heels were solid all season in arguably the country’s best conference, with the ACC landing nine teams in the NCAA Tournament field. Bettors are clearly impressed with Roy Williams’ squad for this 4 p.m. ET Friday affair.

“This is our biggest move outside of that USC game, and it has been influenced by both sharps and squares alike,” Cooley said. “The public is always going to lay the points with UNC, but the wiseguys must think Texas Southern is a grossly outmatched team here. This line could come back down as we get closer to tipoff, but right now, we have around 70 percent of the action on the chalk.”

No. 9 Seton Hall Pirates vs. No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks – Open: -2; Move: -1.5

Arkansas (25-9 SU, 17-15 ATS) made a strong late-season run all the way to the SEC tournament final. The Razorbacks were 6-1 SU and ATS in their last six regular-season tilts, then bested Mississippi and Vanderbilt in the SEC tourney before losing to Kentucky 82-65 as a 7.5-point pup.

Seton Hall won four straight to cap the regular season, including a 70-64 road upset of Butler catching 8 points in the finale. The Pirates (21-11 SU, 14-16-1 ATS) stretched the streak to five with an 82-76 win over Marquette getting 2.5 points in the Big East quarterfinals, then nearly knocked off Villanova – the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed – falling just short in a 55-53 loss as a 10.5-point ‘dog.

“The money came in on Seton Hall at +2, and we are now down to 1.5,” Van Patten said of action at the Golden Nugget for this South Region game, which tips at 1:30 p.m. ET Friday.

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


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