Providence Faces Long Odds To Get Out Of Buffalo Without A Loss

Four games in Buffalo open March Madness Thursday, and we analyze the best bets

The sportsbooks continue to show Providence no respect.

Consider, for example, that no team playing in Buffalo in the four games at KeyBank Center Thursday has a higher seed than the No. 4 Friars, yet their odds of advancing into games next week are far worse than those of three other teams. Providence’s odds of reaching the Sweet 16 are as high as +425 (DraftKings) while the best price on Iowa, a No. 5 seed playing in Buffalo later that day, is -178 (FanDuel).

The other two single-digit seeds playing in Buffalo also have far shorter odds to get to the Sweet 16: No. 4 seed Arkansas is +144 at FanDuel and No. 5 seed UConn is +138.

The beauty of the games (and yes, you can bet on these games inside New York) is the probability of upsets. The four games feature either 4-13 or 5-12 matchups, and both categories have had their share of surprises over the years. No. 12 seeds beat 5 seeds 35.4% of the time, while No. 13 seeds beat 4 seeds 21.5% of the time.

Let’s delve into each of Thursday’s games in greater detail:

No. 4 Providence vs. No. 13 South Dakota State

Why so little regard for 11th-ranked Providence coming off its first Big East regular-season title in school history? Well, start with an 85-58 loss to Creighton in the Friars’ only Big East Tournament game, and combine that with a general lack of regard for their season based on an assortment of close wins (11-2 in games decided by five points or fewer). KenPom ranks them 49th in the country.

The Friars’ first-round game against South Dakota State is going to show up on a lot of peoples’ “upset special” lists, but it would barely qualify as an upset. Providence is a 2-point favorite (at Caesars) and a 2.5-point favorite (at BetMGM). The best moneyline price on South Dakota State is just +120 (at BetMGM).

South Dakota State likes to push the tempo. It was second in the nation with a scoring average of 86.7 points per game. It dominated the Summit League, becoming the first team to go undefeated in league play. The aptly named Jackrabbits haven’t lost since Dec. 15.

All of which adds up to … a Providence cover? The Friars may be a good play here given their big-conference resumé, the Big East Coach of the Year in Ed Cooley, a strong defense, and surprisingly favorable odds. In fact, it’s not so crazy to imagine them winning two games before running, potentially, into the Kansas buzz saw in the Sweet 16. The +425 price to get that far seems tantalizing.

No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 Richmond

The Hawkeyes just defeated Purdue, a team many people consider a NCAA title contender, in the Big Ten tournament, and they bring one of the most prolific scoring offenses (83.8 PPG) in college basketball to Buffalo.

They also come from arguably the best conference in the country. The Big Ten got nine teams into the NCAA Tournament, most in the nation.

Meanwhile, Richmond had to pull off a shocker in the Atlantic 10 tournament, beating Davidson by a bucket, to make it here. The Spiders went into their conference tournament as the No. 6 seed. It seems likely their brief run ends in Buffalo.

If you’re feeling an upset despite all that, you can get moneyline odds as good as +450 (at Caesars). If you want the points, you’ll get 10.5 at all of the New York online books.

No. 5 UConn vs. No. 12 New Mexico State

The Huskies got a bad draw in the Big East tournament and lost to eventual champion Villanova, 63-60, in the semifinals. They still got their best NCAA seed since 2011.

There’s also this fun little nugget: UConn has played twice in Buffalo in March Madness, in 2004 and 2014, and went on to win the national championship both times. The Huskies are 4-0 at KeyBank Center.

New Mexico State shared the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title and beat Abilene Christian by 15 in the conference tournament.

The line is UConn -6.5 across the board. The best moneyline price on New Mexico State is +240 (at BetMGM), while the Huskies are -300 (at PointsBet) if you don’t feel like laying the points.

No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Vermont

The Razorbacks got knocked off by a hot Texas A&M team in the SEC conference semifinals. But that can be somewhat excused by the fact the Aggies also beat top-rated Auburn and gave Tennessee all it could handle in the final. Before that game, Arkansas had won 14 of its previous 16 contests.

Vermont, with a 28-5 record, is getting some love among people searching for live longshots after it won both the American East Conference regular season and tournament. The Catamounts are +1200 to reach the Sweet 16, which would require beating Arkansas and probably UConn — no small task.

Vermont’s popularity has led to a relatively small spread for a 4-13 matchup, with Arkansas favored by 5 some places (like Caesars) and 5.5 at others (like BetMGM). You can get Vermont without the points at +190 at PointsBet, while -220 is the best price on the Arkansas moneyline (at DraftKings).

Photo: Justin Minaya/USA TODAY


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