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Bettors once again falling in love with favorites in NCAA tournament

North CarolinState forward T.J. Warren dunks against Xavier first half first-round game NCAA college basketball tournament Tuesday March 18 2014

North Carolina State forward T.J. Warren dunks against Xavier in the first half of a first-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Skip Peterson) ORG XMIT: OHAB146

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Updated: March 19, 2014 11:59PM

A guide to NCAA tournament second-round action Thursday:

Chalk talk

Sports suckers — sorry, meant to say sports bettors — are notorious for falling in love with the favorites during the NCAA tournament, and they’re doing it again in a big way. More than half of the opening lines for the 16 games Thursday have since gone up in Las Vegas, while the others have essentially stayed the same.

All four Big Ten teams that play Thursday — Wisconsin (against American), Michigan (Wofford), Michigan State (Delaware) and Ohio State (Dayton) — are in the “suckers” category. The Badgers are favored by 13½, the Wolverines by 16, the Spartans by 14½ and the Buckeyes by 6½. None of those numbers looks very big, wouldn’t you agree? Looks can be deceiving.


Four states — North Carolina, California, Texas and Ohio — put four teams each into the tourney field, which is roughly four more teams than Illinois supplied. (Feel free to check our math on that.) One of them, Ohio, easily could be down to one before you’ve even finished with an amazingly unproductive workday.

Xavier was one of four teams that lost in the Round of 68 in Dayton. The aforementioned Ohio State-Dayton matchup will be the first game that tips off Thursday. And East fifth seed Cincinnati faces 12th seed Harvard, a popular upset pick (and for good reason), in an early-afternoon start.

12 = 5

It’s undoubtedly true that one of the reasons so many people like Harvard in that matchup is because it’s a 12-5 game. As savvy tourney watchers know, there’s a rich history of 12s busting up 5s.

A year ago, three of the four 12-5 games ended in upsets. And this’ll blow your hair back: Over the last six years, 12-5 matchups have been a dead draw — a dozen victories apiece. So if Harvard doesn’t get it done, there’s a strong chance North Carolina State will against Saint Louis in the Midwest.

T.J. Warren

Tuesday night was the first time a lot of college basketball fans around the country got a good look at Warren, N.C. State’s 6-8 sophomore star. Warren shredded Xavier with 16 second-half points, and 25 overall, in a Round of 68 victory that left many believing the Wolfpack might be an instant sleeper.

Warren is, of course, the main reason for that. Overshadowed by the usual Duke and North Carolina story lines — and certainly the emergence of East No. 1 seed Virginia — Warren averaged 24.8 points in Atlantic Coast Conference games and swept the league’s player-of-the-year awards. This could be your last chance to watch him before he’s doing his thing in the NBA.

The Pitino tree

Some of us have predicted that Louisville coach Rick Pitino will meet up with superstar protégé Billy Donovan of Florida in the tournament title game. Right off the bat, though, Pitino will face another one of his guys — Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, who played for Pitino at Kentucky and spent six seasons on the bench with him at Louisville. Wouldn’t it be something if the 13th-seeded Jaspers pulled off the first mega-upset of March?


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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