LAS VEGAS — North Carolina fans who visited Vegas in the middle of February might have hit the jackpot by nabbing a futures ticket on their hoops team.
The 18-8 Tar Heels had dropped recent home games to Duke and Pittsburgh. At the South Point and Westgate SuperBook, Carolina had 200-1 odds to win the NCAA Tournament.
Its faithful would have secured immense value and exceptional hedging wiggle room, since the Heels won 10 of their next 11 games and now are in the national semifinal against Duke (32-6) on Saturday night in New Orleans.
Says South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews, “They certainly caught me by surprise.”
It’s easy to glance back and ogle such exorbitant odds, says Andrews lieutenant and legendary oddsman Jimmy Vaccaro, even if they’re from just a few weeks ago. Carolina’s status was shaky, on the tournament bubble, he says.
The opener in the Caesars Superdome pits Kansas (32-6) against Villanova (30-7). This all-blueblood Final Four features programs with a combined 61 Final Four appearances and 17 national championships.
“They weren’t playing well,” Andrews says of the Heels. “They got it together late in the season. Credit Hubert Davis for getting his team on track and peaking at the right time.”
Former Carolina guard and longtime Heels assistant coach Hubert Davis took over for Tar Heels boss Roy Williams this season.
William Hill (125-1 on Feb. 20), Station Casinos (150-1 on Feb. 21) and Circa Sports (150-1 on March 2) had also dangled attractive Carolina balloon rates.
At the SuperBook, five patrons nabbed those 200-1 odds. Executive vice president Jay Kornegay reports that his shop’s largest Carolina liability is in New Jersey, Colorado and Arizona.
“It’s weird,” he says. “In Nevada, we would welcome a UNC championship. Kansas or Nova would be the best [overall] result for us.”
A Jayhawks crown would sting BetMGM.
However, the other three national semifinalists didn’t come close to touching triple figures since the end of last season.
Carolina had opened 50-1 at the South Point on April 7, 2021. It was 175-1 on March 1, 150-1 when Carolina won at Duke — in Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game as the Blue Devils’ coach — four days later.
It has been shaved with each Carolina victory. Nothing too major, but Andrews has done the math. “I need to beat North Carolina. That’s the only team I need to beat.”
Eighth-seeded Carolina beat Marquette before nearly blowing a 25-point lead against top-seeded Baylor, needing overtime to defeat the defending national champs.
And now the game’s biggest rivalry, Carolina-Duke, gets the game’s grandest stage for its first NCAA Tournament meeting.
“Coach K gets a shot at revenge against North Carolina,” says senior VSiN writer/broadcaster Matt Youmans, “which crashed his [March 5] goodbye party.”
In early June, when Krzyzewski announced his retirement plans, Youmans delivered a nearly five-minute pointed review of Coach K’s career.
Ten months later, Youmans applauds the emergence of Devils power forward Paolo Banchero and says Duke is “slightly more talented” than Carolina at most positions.
Heels big men Armando Bacot (34 points, 37 rebounds in his last two games) and Brady Manek (averaging 21.5 points, eight boards in NCAAs), though, have been dynamic.
Moreover, the Heels have shot 35.4% from beyond the arc in the NCAAs, a Duke defensive weakness, says Youmans.
The average of their last two meetings was 164.5 points, so Youmans expects Over 151 to be a popular play.
Duke is favored by 4 points at DraftKings. (Odds subject to change.) Youmans took the Blue Devils to win outright on the moneyline, at -200 — risk $200 to win $100.
He also holds juicy Duke futures tickets, at 12-1 and 10-1. He has a bit less invested in Kansas, at 20-1 and 18-1, which compelled him to take Villanova (he found +5) as a minor hedge.
In national semifinal hype, this Duke-Carolina clash, says Youmans, might trump the Duke-UNLV showdown in Indianapolis in 1991.
“When the Rebels rolled in on a 45-game winning streak that included a 30-point pounding of the Blue Devils in the ’90 title game. Of course, Duke won that rematch 79-77. And Coach K will probably win this rematch, too.”
Kansas is -4.5, at DraftKings, and Conner Streeter has taken the points in both Final Four games.
The alias of a savvy offshore professional bettor, Streeter notes the last scene from Duke’s home loss to Carolina.
Devils assistant coaches Chris Carrawell (didn’t shake hands with his Heels counterparts, zipped by Davis) and Nolan Smith (turned his noggin away from Davis as they shook hands) didn’t exactly exhibit class.
“Not a reason to solely bet on someone,” says Streeter, “but I think that disrespect, and typical Duke hypocrisy, should have UNC very focused and giving max effort.”
As for Villanova, losing second-leading scorer Justin Moore to an Achilles injury last time out hurts a squad whose bench was already short. But Streeter gives an edge to Nova coach Jay Wright, who won national titles in 2016 and ’18, and seniors Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels in this underdog role.
“[Wright] can work around it, especially against a Kansas team whose guards aren’t elite. There’s just less margin for error. [Moore’s] loss would be much bigger in a title game, if they win, since UNC and Duke both have very good guards.”