The University of Louisville and Michigan State got more respect from oddsmakers than from the committee that seeds teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament.
The defending national champions and Big Ten Conference tournament winners were each slotted as No. 4 seeds in their 16-team regionals, meaning they were considered no better than the 13th or 14th best schools in the 68-team field.
Since 1979, the only team to win the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 regional seed was the University of Arizona in 1997. Yet at Las Vegas sports books, the Cardinals (29-5) and Spartans (26-8) are among the favorites to win the championship, with only the top-ranked University of Florida boasting better odds.
“They’re really not oddsmakers, so they make mistakes,” Johnny Avello, the executive director of the Wynn Las Vegas Race and Sports Book, said in a telephone interview. “If the committee was smart, they’d put a couple Vegas guys on there. That would help a lot to show who’s a higher-rated team and who’s playing better than some of the formulas they use.”
Florida, the tournament’s top overall seed, has 9-2 odds of winning its third title since 2006, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook. Michigan State is the second choice at 5-1, followed at 7-1 by both Louisville, which is seeking to be the first repeat champion since Florida in 2006-07, and Arizona, the top seed in the West Regional. Wichita State, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, is listed at 15-1, with East Region top seed Virginia at 18-1, the ninth-best odds overall.
The tournament starts today in Dayton, Ohio, where the University at Albany meets Mount St. Mary’s for a seeded spot in the bracket and a chance to face top-ranked Florida.
Also today, North Carolina State meets Xavier, with the winner advancing as a No. 12 seed to play fifth-seeded Saint Louis in the Midwest Region. Two more games are scheduled tomorrow in Dayton before full tournament play tips off on March 20 at eight cities around the U.S.
Oddsmakers put more stock in recent performance in setting betting lines than the NCAA Division I basketball committee, which said it considered a team’s body of work for the entire season in establishing tournament seeds.
“They have a very difficult job to compile the bracket and try to make it as fair as they can for everyone,” said Jay Kornegay, the SuperBook’s vice president of race and sports operations. “They certainly have a lot more factors in it than we do. We’re just looking at odds to win it all. I give them a break, but it’s certainly easy to point out flaws.”
Louisville has won 12 of its last 13 games, including three straight victories in the American Athletic Conference tournament by an average of 33.3 points. Michigan State rebounded from a late-season swoon by winning the Big Ten title with wins over Wisconsin and Michigan -- both of whom received No. 2 regional seeds -- on consecutive days.
“Before the brackets were released, we were thinking that Michigan State was going to be the second choice behind Florida,” Kornegay said by telephone. “When we saw they were the fourth seed, it was surprising to us. We had conversations thinking these teams could be No. 1 seeds.”
Louisville is seeded behind Wichita State, Michigan and Duke in the Midwest Region. Michigan State is slotted behind Virginia, Villanova and Iowa State in the East.
Statistician Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com website gave Louisville a 15 percent chance of defending its title, the best of any team in the tournament. Florida is second at 14 percent, followed at 13 percent by Arizona.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who led the Spartans to a national championship in 2000, said he doesn’t put as much importance on his team’s NCAA tournament seed as he once did. Michigan State faces Delaware in its opening game on March 20 in Spokane, Washington.
“I got a lot of questions about, ‘Did you think you’d be a three seed? Did you think you’d be this?” said Izzo, who’s reached the Final Four six times in his 18 previous seasons at the school. “I joked with them that my athletic director was on the committee, he must be mad at me. We got probably where we should be. Could have moved up a little bit.”
Michigan State has 8-5 odds to win the East, according to the SuperBook, meaning a winning $100 bet would return $160. Virginia and Villanova have 3-1 odds.
Louisville is at 5-4 to win the Midwest, followed by Duke at 3-1 and Wichita State and Michigan at 4-1.
Arizona is the biggest favorite to win its region, with 10-11 odds to reach the Final Four out of the West Regional. Florida is at even-money in the South.
“The number one seed is great. That’s probably a reflection of what’s happened from November all the way here in March,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Once the brackets are out and you’re playing, the players aren’t thinking about that. The only thing that matters is playing well and putting yourself in a position to win and advance.”