Commentary

DeCock: Wolfpack still a good bet in Vegas

ldecock@newsobserver.comMarch 19, 2013 

Vegas still believes in N.C. State. The Wolfpack was installed as a 60-1 shot to win the NCAA tournament by bookmakers at the LVH, what used to be known as the Las Vegas Hilton.

That puts the Wolfpack ahead of a whole mess of No. 4, 5 and 6 seeds, just behind North Carolina at 50-1, the 20th choice overall.

Clearly, Las Vegas bettors see something in the eighth-seeded Wolfpack that the NCAA tournament committee does not.

“As far as Las Vegas is concerned, we don’t really look at the seeds,” LVH sportsbook director Jay Kornegay said Monday. “We look at the road they would have to travel to get to Final Four. If that’s based on seeding, so be it.”

The legal, moral and ethical debate about gambling on sports aside, what bookmakers and bettors in Nevada – where gambling on college basketball is legal – think about a team always provides an interesting counterpoint to the conventional wisdom, or at the least what the committee thinks.

And since the degree of accuracy with which these lines get set can be frighteningly uncanny at times – the over/under for points scored by Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan on Friday, a day after his 41-point outburst was 14.5 … and he scored 14 – it’s always worth giving some thought to what they might mean.

In this case, it’s an acknowledgement that N.C. State has enough talent to win the NCAA tournament, more talent than many teams with better seeds, and that while it isn’t likely, it’s not something gamblers are prepared to dismiss, either.

The Wolfpack is 20-1 to win the East Regional, making it the de facto fifth seed as far as Vegas is concerned.

“When you start looking at teams in the second tier – Michigan State, Georgetown, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Syracuse, I’d throw New Mexico in there, St. Louis – you can put them all in the same group,” Kornegay said.

“It’s pretty much a grab bag. The third tier is the same way. I would throw the Wolfpack in that third-tier group with Pittsburgh, Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia Commonwealth and Kansas State. Marquette’s probably right there as well.”

“Future odds in the NCAA tournament are about being able to win six games,” said gambling analyst R.J. Bell of pregame.com, “More important than consistency is raw talent and the ability to get hot and beat the best teams in the country.”

It’s a long way from November, when N.C. State opened at 50-1 and went all the way down to 12-1 at the LVH, fourth choice behind Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky.

There are a lot of bettors still holding those tickets on the Wolfpack, which certainly outperformed the Wildcats, but Indiana and Louisville remain the top two choices today.

“They were the 13th choice overall last April and they were really bet down at the beginning of the year when they got off to a pretty good start,” Kornegay said. “They still have had support throughout the entire season. Right now we do have them at 60-1.

“They’ve pretty much made a full circle.”

Even now, that’s a pretty high opinion of the Wolfpack. Fourth-seeded Kansas State is also 60-1. Fifth-seeded Nevada-Las Vegas is 105-1.

Fifth-seeded Oklahoma State, which beat the Wolfpack soundly in Puerto Rico, is also 105-1.

There’s no team with a worse seed than the Wolfpack that has better odds.

Take Temple, N.C. State’s first-round opponent in what is theoretically a coin-flip game between the 8-9 seeds.

The Owls are 500-1 to win the tournament and a 4.5-point underdog to the Wolfpack.

In Vegas’ eyes, the teams are separated by only two possessions Friday, but their title chances are worlds apart.

That seems appropriate: If N.C. State can get rolling, it’s a potential Final Four team. If it doesn’t, all bets are off.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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