2024 March Madness betting report: ‘We want Houston out of there’

Sweet 16 odds have taken over the March Madness betting market. And with so many of the higher-seeded teams still in the bracket, there’s no shortage of intriguing games.

“These matchups are really solid, as good as I’ve seen in years prior,” Caesars Sports lead college basketball trader Rich Zanco said. “The matchups are gonna garner a lot of viewership, and that’s gonna translate into betting from the public.”

Zanco zeroes in on the most notable Thursday-Friday games and where things stand in championship wagering on the March Madness odds board.

Is Carolina Finer?

East No. 1 seed UConn is the defending national champion and the favorite to make it two titles in a row. And the Huskies looked great in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

But so too did West No. 1 seed North Carolina. It was no surprise to see the Tar Heels drill No. 16 seed Wagner 90-62, with UNC covering as a hefty 25.5-point favorite.

Round 2 presented a more serious challenge. UNC faced No. 8 seed Michigan State and its tournament-tested coach Tom Izzo. The Tar Heels were relatively modest 4-point favorites and rolled to an 85-69 victory.

In the Sweet 16, Carolina takes another step up, against No. 4 seed Alabama in a 9:39 p.m. ET Thursday tipoff. It’s a very popular game on the March Madness betting board. Caesars opened North Carolina -3, which was plenty attractive to bettors of all stripes. The Tar Heels are now up to -4.5.

“We actually opened a little lower than the market,” Zanco said Wednesday afternoon. “A couple respected bettors chimed in and laid the 3. But you know the betting public is gonna come in on North Carolina — a brand they know, a brand they can trust.

“How good are the Tar Heels? We’ll find out in this game.”

Pros vs. Joes

While Bama-Carolina is the most attractive game so far for bettors, Zanco is more interested in a Midwest Region Sweet 16 matchup.

“The game that stands out for me is Tennessee vs. Creighton,” he said of a No. 2 vs. No. 3 clash. “Rick Barnes and his Tennessee team are known for their year-after-year disappointments in March. But the public is taking the points with Tennessee.”

Caesars Sports opened Tennessee -2 on Saturday night and got bet to -2.5 Sunday and -3 Monday. Tuesday brought a nudge back to Vols -2.5, in part due to sharper underdog action.

“The wiseguys and sharper crowd gravitated to the Big East school that’s not UConn,” Zanco said. “The sharper crowd is playing Creighton moneyline.”

Which means that crowd is looking for a Bluejays outright win in the final Sweet 16 game, at 10:09 p.m. ET Friday night. Creighton is +118 on the moneyline, meaning a $100 bet would profit $118 — for a total payout of $218 — if the Bluejays advance to the Elite Eight.

“It’ll be interesting to see what we need,” Zanco said, noting he continues to expect good two-way action in a Pros vs. Joes game, with the pros on short underdog Creighton and the public on Tennessee.

No. 5 Gonzaga’s keys to slowing down Purdue, Zach Edey

No. 5 Gonzaga's keys to slowing down Purdue, Zach Edey

Championship Rematch

The Sweet 16 oddsboard includes a rematch of the 2023 National Championship Game, when East No. 1 seed UConn meets No. 5 seed San Diego State. Last year, the Huskies notched a 76-59 victory as 6.5-point favorites in the title game.

This time around, Connecticut is a significantly larger favorite at Caesars.

“We opened the game UConn -10, and we’re up to -11. We’ve actually taken a few bets on UConn moneyline. They’re willing to lay -650 on that. The betting public joined them in laying 10 and 10.5 points,” Zanco said. “Dan Hurley and Co. are a determined team.”

That was apparent in the first two rounds. UConn led No. 16 seed Stetson 52-19 at halftime, en route to a 91-52 rout as a 27.5-point favorite. In Round 2 vs. Northwestern, the Huskies built a 40-18 halftime margin and breezed to a 75-58 victory, covering the 13-point spread.

“It’s hard to write a ticket on San Diego State. But that team knows UConn from last year,” Zanco said. “The Aztecs are getting double digits. They’re certainly not the worst team going for us.”

Built for the Futures

In the March Madness championship odds market, Caesars Sports still has the elephant in the room looming: A $1 million bet on Houston +750, from furniture store magnate Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale.

If the Cougars go all the way, Mattress Mack would scoop up a huge profit of $7.5 million, for an $8.5 million total payout. Obviously, that would put a huge dent in Caesars’ bottom line.

“We want Houston out of there. Texas A&M had Houston on the ropes. The sharps and betting public were all over A&M,” Zanco said, alluding to Houston’s 100-95 second-round overtime victory vs. A&M.

Zanco and the Caesars risk room wouldn’t mind if No. 4 seed Duke could halt Houston’s run, in a 9:39 p.m. ET Thursday tipoff in the South Region.

And there’s now another team that could create a near-seven-figure loss for Caesars.

“We don’t do well to North Carolina State now. We took a sizable wager at 70/1 during the Oakland game, to win [almost] seven figures,” Zanco said.

No. 11 seed NC State fended off No. 14 seed Oakland 79-73 in overtime in the second round. Next up for the Wolfpack is a 7:09 p.m. ET Friday meeting with No. 2 seed Marquette.

Caesars Sports vice president of trading Craig Mucklow confirmed the N.C. State bet was for $14,100 at that +7000 price. As the odds indicate, it’s unlikely that the Wolfpack’s Cinderella run continues through the title game. But if NC State pulls it off, the bettor would profit $987,000, for a total payout of $1,001,100.

Caesars has a few teams on the plus side of their NCAA Tournament title odds ledger.

“We do extremely well to San Diego State. Gonzaga is a big winner, too,” Zanco said, while adding the book would also be fine with Alabama, Marquette, Creighton and Tennessee.

Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and senior reporter for VegasInsider.com. He is a distinguished journalist in the national sports betting space. He’s based in Las Vegas, where he enjoys golfing in 110-degree heat. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickE_Vegas.



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