Though Gonzaga entered the NCAA Tournament as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, sportsbooks were quietly set to take their biggest hit if Duke won the title.
With the Blue Devils now in the Final Four, it appears the books’ nightmare is close to coming true.
On Monday, BetMGM explicitly stated its position on Duke in advance of the Blue Devils’ first-ever tournament matchup with North Carolina.
Duke and UNC play in the Final Four at the Caesars Superdome at 8:49 p.m. Eastern time Saturday.
"Heading in the Final Four, Duke winning the championship would be the worst result for BetMGM. We expect Duke-North Carolina to be the most bet game of the tournament and for the public to be on the Blue Devils."— John Ewing 🦁 (@johnewing) March 28, 2022
- Jason Scott, VP of Trading, @BetMGM
NCAA Championship Odds
|🏀 North Carolina||+500|
Duke Tops Final Four Field in Futures Betting
BetMGM has taken far more futures wagers and money on the Blue Devils than any of the other three Final Four teams throughout the past few weeks of tournament betting. While Duke is now the championship favorite at +160, they opened behind several other teams at +1400, creating a window where national bettors and North Carolina sports betting customers could find excellent value.
Updated NCAA Tournament betting at @BetMGM— John Ewing 🦁 (@johnewing) March 28, 2022
Line Movement (open, now)
Duke +1400 to +160
Kansas +1600 to +180
Villanova +1200 to +475
UNC +3000 to +500
And BetMGM is not the only sportsbook with this issue. Prior to the first round, FanDuel reportedly had Duke as its biggest liability and even took a bet with a potential $5.4 million payout on the Blue Devils.
While proposals to legalize online sports betting in North Carolina are making their way through the state legislature, there are two retail casinos in the state where you can place bets on the Final Four — Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, an hour west of Asheville, and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy.
Two big national championship futures bets reported by @FDSportsbook:— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) March 16, 2022
• $300,000 on Duke at 17/1
• $200,000 on Kansas 11/1
Blue Devils are FanDuel's largest liability.
Bettors Split on Duke vs. UNC
Interestingly, despite the liability books have on Duke in futures wagering, the publicly available betting statistics indicate gamblers are fairly split on their chances against North Carolina on Saturday in New Orleans.
BetMGM has taken more bets and more money on the Tar Heels against the spread at +4.5. North Carolina also has more moneyline bets on them at BetMGM, though Duke has a higher percentage of the moneyline handle.
BetMGM has the Duke moneyline at -190, while North Carolina is +155. The over/under total points is 151.5.
Duke-North Carolina betting at @BetMGM @DukeMBB opened -4.5, no movement— John Ewing 🦁 (@johnewing) March 28, 2022
▪️ 40% of tickets, 32% of handle on Duke
Total opened 151.5, no movement
▪️ 72% of tickets, 74% of handle on under@UNC_Basketball opened +165, no movement
▪️ 66% of tickets, 46% of handle on UNC
PointsBet’s statistics show a remarkable public split on the game as well. Across all of their available markets, 58% of the bets are on North Carolina, but 58% of the money is on Duke.
Duke, UNC Split Regular Season Meetings
Given the results of Duke and North Carolina’s previous two games this season, the public sentiment for Saturday’s game makes sense. The teams split the season series, with the Blue Devils defeating the Tar Heels 87-67 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 5 and the Tar Heels spoiling Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium with a 94-81 victory exactly one month later.
And despite Duke’s status as the favorite, it is not clear if they are the better team than North Carolina right now. While the Blue Devils’ full season profile is better than the Tar Heels, North Carolina has been playing like the best team in the country since the start of the tournament per college basketball analytics site Barttorvik.com.
Torvik’s numbers actually show Duke is playing like the worst of the Final Four teams in the tournament, though the Blue Devils still rank 10th overall over these past four games. Duke was the only higher seed in the round of 16 to be an underdog, getting a point against Texas Tech (Duke won, 78-73).
Duke’s offense has done its part, recording an adjusted offensive efficiency of 129.9 points per 100 possessions, which is far and away the best number of any team during this year’s tournament. However, Duke’s defense is only ranked 58th since the beginning of the tournament, while every other team in the Final Four has had a top-10 defense over that span.
Defense has not just been a tournament issue for Duke either. The Blue Devils currently rank 45th for the season in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, which is worse than every national champion since 2002, when the site’s data begins.
To send Coach K into retirement with a sixth national championship, Duke likely must clean up its defense or continue to score with ruthless efficiency. Given their personnel though, the Blue Devils certainly have the firepower to buck trends and lift the trophy Monday night like the betting public expects.