Some of this is pure magic. Some is mere circumstance. Either way, New Jersey online sports bettors follow a one-for-the-ages NCAA college basketball tournament to its Final Four stage this weekend.
The uplifting run of Jersey City-based St. Peter’s and their unprecedented mark of three wins by a No. 15 seed gives way to consistent, practical, Villanova.
The Villanova Wildcats, long popular with New Jersey gamblers, open the national semifinal Saturday against Kansas as a moderate betting underdog.
Their game will be followed by drama from the script-writing Gods, University of North Carolina versus Duke. It’s the first time the Tarheel State features a Final Four matchup with these bitter rivals.
Need anything else?
Both semifinal games entice both sides of the betting line. The odds are perfectly placed to encourage moneyline wagers from dog bettors and a spread line that brings confidence to favorites or underdog players.
The winners meet Monday night for the national championship.
NCAA championship odds at NJ online sportsbooks
Villanova Wildcats fighting uphill battle
The Wildcats have a problem, Moore or less. Actually, Moore.
Justin Moore, who averages 15 points, 4.8 rebounds and 34.4 minutes per game, is out. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the final minute of ‘Nova’s Elite Eight victory over Houston.
He won’t play again this year, and the books reacted.
“That had a definite impact on the betting line,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told PlayNJ. “We were probably going to open that game at a little less than Kansas -3. After the injury, we opened it at 3 and then we had to move it to 4.5.
“The betting has been dominated by Kansas.”
In terms of March Madness odds, midweek figures had Kansas taking 71% of the DraftKings spread line at -4.5.
A full 68% of moneyline handle went on Kansas at -195.
The 32% Villanova backers were getting +165 on the moneyline.
The over-under number was right where the bettors were thinking. At 132.5, it garnered a healthy split with 55% on the under.
Villanova is ‘where we thought it would be’
Villanova has been a consistent, quietly methodical team all season. It won tight battles against weak teams and went back and forth with top competition. The Wildcats were always in the Top 10 vicinity for the AP rankings, but not inside the Top 5.
They were solid and simply didn’t beat themselves.
Villanova jump-started its postseason with a hump-clearing first game comeback at the Big East tournament. Trailing St. John’s by 17 second-half points, the Wildcats stormed back to win by one.
That became a tailwind. Villanova then notched a nail-biting three-point triumph over nationally-ranked UConn and a relative rout, a six-point victory over Creighton. Three Big East wins by 10 total points.
After blowing out Delaware to open the tournament, Villanova got past Ohio State, Michigan and Houston.
If any team could overcome the loss of Moore, it might be a Villanova group with a balanced attack and a defense that prompts low-scoring games.
“I think this team is about where we thought it would be,” Avello said. “It’s not a team of stars. This team is well-coached (by Jay Wright, who has secured two national championships) and that’s really what it is.”
Dee-fense pushing point totals toward the under at NJ sportsbooks
Avello noticed the bevy of unders that have impacted totals. In some cases, games are coming in 20-30 points below the over-under line, unique for this tournament.
There’s an irony to that. The low totals may originate from something that was supposed to elevate them, the 3-point play. More tournament teams are playing tight defense up high, turning three-pointers into lower-than-normal percentage shots.
“These guys are really getting in people’s faces and shutting them down,” Avello said. “I think that’s true of all four teams that are left. They know that if you give the other team a good 3-point look, they are going to bury that shot.
“Because of this tight defense, it’s been a little bit tougher to score for everybody.”
With the “other game” at DraftKings bettors see the over-under of 151 for Duke-North Carolina at 50% apiece.
Duke -4 garnered 55% of the midweek spread money.
Duke -190 has 63% of the moneyline handle, while North Carolina at +160 has 37%.
Either way, 2022 Final Four is Coach K’s farewell tour
This Duke vs. North Carolina Final Four showdown is much bigger than a moneyline or point spread. The campuses are just seven miles apart.
Can you imagine two national powerhouse teams within the distance from Cherry Hill to Camden?
That’s the North Carolina story.
In that space rests one half of the Final Four. And a legend who is bowing out.
It’s the last dance for retiring Duke coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski, who is seeking a sixth national championship.
Juggling compelling storylines and betting lines
At Caesars Sportsbook, Villanova and North Carolina are the only Final Four teams that covered all four March Madness games.
The Moore injury gives Villanova a handicap seeking a fifth.
“Obviously the Moore injury is a big issue for Villanova,” said Adam Pullen, the assistant director of trading for Caesars Sportsbook. “I’d say it’s worth about a point to the line. They don’t play many people as it is, so any time you lose a key cog and one of your starters, it’s a big deal.
“We’ll see how they do, but Jay Wright is a great coach and they’re a solid team. Assuming they don’t get into foul trouble and need to go to the deep regions of the bench, they should be okay. If any team can get around that, it’s Jay Wright’s Villanova.”
The Tarheel connection also has electrified the action at this establishment.
“We’re obviously expecting this to do huge numbers,” Pullen said.
“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.
“It’s the late game too, so that helps build the anticipation”
The Blue Devils opened as 4.5-point favorites, however that line crept down to Duke -4 (-190 on the moneyline against North Carolina (+160).
BetMGM: Maybe it’s not Duke
Here’s another twist to the puzzle.
While its totals on Villanova reflect the other books, BetMGM breaks away and backs UNC in the Saturday nightcap.
The sweet spot for this game may indeed be right in the 4 or 4.5 range.
UNC bettors are flocking to BetMGM. With the line of North Carolina +4.5, 78% of the bettors are taking North Carolina. That’s a stark difference from other books and that half point could be a big reason.
With the moneyline at +165, gamblers also are taking North Carolina at 43%.