The Final Four is typically college basketball’s biggest weekend, but when it comes to the games in New Orleans this weekend, one of the games, Duke vs. North Carolina, may wind up as the biggest ever – at least from a sports betting perspective.
Duke and North Carolina will tip off in the second game Saturday night at the Caesars Superdome. The two schools, two of the top college hoops programs, are located just miles apart, and their rivalry ranks among the fiercest in US sports. That alone would likely make it an attractive game for bettors, but the rivalry is just part of the story.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski announced last June he would retire after this season. The 75-year-old has been with the Blue Devils since 1980. Including his time as the coach at Army, Coach K has won more than 1,200 games, and the five NCAA titles won at Duke ranks second among all men’s college coaches ever.
So, take a national stage, add a heated rivalry and a legendary coach whose hall of fame career would end with a loss – oh, and toss in the fact sports betting is legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia – and you have the makings of what will be the most wagered – legally – college basketball game in history.
Duke-UNC Final Four Bigger Than an NFL Game
Oddsmakers set the line for the Duke-UNC game, and the Villanova-Kansas game that precedes it, on Sunday night after the final Elite Eight. After starting off as a 4.5-point favorite, Duke is now a four-point favorite at DraftKings.
In an interview this week with Casino.org, DraftKings Director of Race and Sportsbook Operations Johnny Avello said that he expects the game to be its most wagered college basketball game ever.
I don’t know if it would get as much as an NFL playoff game,” Avello said, when asked for a comparison. “Might be a little short of that. Definitely (more action than a) regular season game, and being in as many states as we’re in now, it could be surprising. Because the action we’ve been seen as of late, it’s just been amazing.”
For perspective, most consider the NFL as the top betting market for US sportsbooks in most states. There’s only 32 teams and a maximum of 16 NFL games each week, compared to the nearly 358 NCAA Division I college basketball teams, and those squads regularly play twice a week during their season.
While there has been some action on both teams, Avello said he expects more than 80 percent of the bets to come in Saturday on the game.
And we’re not just talking about point spreads, either. A look at DraftKings odds page, shows totals on points and rebounds for each team’s expected starters. The sportsbook also set lines for assists and made 3-pointers for select players as well as pre-packaged parlay odds for select players.
“Outstanding” Tournament for Sportsbooks
A Duke-UNC Final Four game may serve as the icing on the cake that’s the biggest handle ever for March Madness. He said it could not have been set up any better.
“The tournament overall, it’s been absolutely outstanding for us,” Avello said. “The handle, I predicted it would be our biggest handle lever, and it would blow away the Super Bowl, and of course, it’s done all of that. As you get less games, you get bigger bets, bigger money. Each game handles more money because there is less content, but I couldn’t envision having a better four teams.”
Because they’re ACC rivals, both Duke and UNC have already played twice. The two teams split in the regular season, winning on each other’s home court. The last time they played was March 5, when the Tar Heels won 94-81 at Duke.
Adam Pullen, the assistant director of trading for Caesars Sportsbook, said the two regular season games attract large handles.
Now add in the fact that this is their first meeting ever in the tournament and the Coach K factor, you’re going to be hearing about it all week,” Pullen told Casino.org. “It’s the late game too, so that helps build the anticipation. Nothing against Villanova-Kansas, but that game could seem like an afterthought compared to this. It’s going to get the bulk of the attention from bettors and sports talk in general.”
At Caesars, the Blue Devils started off as a four-point favorite and after briefly going up a half-point, have resettled back to that original line.
Bettors Can Find Value Opportunities on Both Sides
So, if you’re going to be part of college basketball history, you might as well go in with a little insight to help you make the best wager possible.
Jack Andrews, a renowned sports bettor and a founder of Unabated.com, told Casino.org that there’s value opportunities for bettors on both sides of the game. All it takes is a little bit of line shopping.
For example, earlier this week, PointsBet offered Duke giving 4.5 points at +100, or even money. That represents a better value, Andrews said, than giving four points at standard -110 odds. If you’re looking to bet on the Tar Heels, Andrews recommends a line at 4.5 points that’s at -115 odds, which BetMGM is offering as of Thursday night, over a four-point line at -110 odds.
Unabated.com is a website that strives to help bettors make informed choices when it comes to their wagers. It offers free resources as well as a premium subscription service to help people identify the best values for their betting strategies.
Andrews, like the others, sees Saturday’s nightcap as drawing a huge handle.
“It’s going to be a game that everyone has an opinion on and given the placement of it on Saturday in primetime versus the championship game being Monday night, I expect that this game will have a much higher betting handle than the title game,” he said.
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