Final Four Odds: How the Betting Public is Wagering
by Trevor Whenham - 4/4/2013
As a fan I couldn’t be happier with this Final Four. As a bettor, though, it’s also a very interesting couple of puzzles. On one hand, you have a game that is essentially a coin flip — either team could easily win depending upon whether they can exert their advantages. The other game isn’t quite as close, but it’s just as much of a coin flip because of the significant spread. You don’t have to work very hard to make a case for all four teams to cover the spread on Saturday. That’s what makes things interesting when it comes to handicapping.
The betting public often has a very clear view of how they expect a game to turn out. Interestingly, that’s just not the case here. They have a preference in both cases, but it’s not to a dramatic extent, and their opinion isn’t having a significant impact on the movement of either line. In fact, almost all of the line movement that has happened so far was as a result of the sharp action soon after the Final Four odds were set. Here’s a look at the public action on both games and what it means:
Louisville (-10.5) vs. Wichita State (Saturday, April 6, 6:09 p.m. ET)
It’s no surprise that the public likes the Cardinals in this one. It would be absolutely shocking if they didn’t significantly favor the top overall seed over an upstart No. 9 seed. What is interesting, though, is that the Shockers are getting more support than you might initially expect. Louisville has pulled in less than 60 percent of the bets up to this point. That is far from a lopsided betting distribution — we can see far more dramatic, and have many times in this tournament. The relative balance in betting has led to stability in the line. It opened at 10 points, quickly moved up half a tick, and has stayed at 10.5 since. Given how the bets are coming in, it seems unlikely that it will move significantly from there.
When you really look at this game, the bet distribution and the lack of line movement isn’t much of a surprise. The Cardinals are a public team, but not a massive one — if a program like Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina were in the identical situation they would be drawing more support just on name value alone.
Wichita State, meanwhile, is a challenge for public bettors. They know little about them and are tempted to dismiss them because of their seeding, conference, and lack of major star power. They aren’t comfortable overlooking them entirely, though, because they have already knocked off a No. 1 and No. 2 seed. More significantly, both of those wins were dominating and a long way from a fluke. While initial reactions are that Louisville is clearly the best team in the tournament and doesn’t seem likely to trip up, it is easy to convince yourself that this Wichita State team is dangerous enough to at least keep it within single digits in the end. That makes this both a stable line and a tough one to handicap.
Michigan (-2) vs. Syracuse (Saturday, April 6, 8:49 p.m. ET)
This is a rare case where the public likes the underdog. About 55 percent of action has been on the Orange in this one. The line was initially set at “pick’em” but moved almost instantly to 2 or 2.5. It settled in at this level once it became widely-available and hasn’t really moved since. You can most commonly find it at 2, though 2.5 is available as well. Depending upon which side you are on, then, shopping around can get you on the right side of what could be a valuable half point.
It’s hard to read too much into where the public is on this one. Both programs are very public. The support for Syracuse is likely slightly more than Michigan in basketball for a number of reasons, though — the program has a much stronger recent tournament history, they did better in the Big East Tournament than Michigan did in the Big Ten, their coach is a more widely-recognized figure with much more overall success, the Big Ten has been a mild tournament disappointment while two Big East teams are still alive, Boeheim’s career dominance of Beilein, and so on. That all accounts for much of the level of public support.
What’s most interesting here is that the public is on the side of the defense. Normally they like the offense, and there isn’t one better than Michigan’s right now. The 2-3 zone is being talked about in hushed, almost mythical tones by the media right now, though, and the public is clearly buying in. The clash of styles between the teams is what makes this game so interesting. Though the spread is close, there is a good chance that the game itself won’t be. If Michigan can break the zone they will run away with it like they did against potent defenses from VCU and Florida. If Syracuse can frustrate the Wolverines like they did Indiana or Marquette, they will have a clear edge.
If you ask people about this game chances are they have a clear answer one way or the other, and they aren’t likely to waver from that. That makes me believe that the line is reasonably stable at this level because people aren’t likely to change their mind on a whim.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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