Villanova is certainly not a favorite to win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament according to a lot of analysts.
But that’s not stopping some bettors in New Jersey from putting a lot of money on them in the lead-up to March Madness in NJ.
DraftKings Sportsbook has reported some unexpected movement on the betting lines as it’s seen a steady dose of bets on Villanova to win the tournament.
Lots of money on Duke? That makes sense. But why is there money pouring in on the Wildcats? Let’s take a closer look.
Surprising money on Villanova
According to DraftKings’ New Jersey sportsbook, the five most bet teams in terms of odds to win the NCAA Tournament in early wagering were:
1. Duke (13 percent of the tickets)
2. North Carolina (12 percent)
3. Michigan State (9 percent)
4. Gonzaga (8 percent)
5. Villanova (6 percent)
The top four teams are in the top five of the latest Associated Press Top 25 and are either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova barely made the top 25 at No. 23 and is a modest No. 6 seed.
The trend hasn’t been replicated at least at one other NJ bookmaker. BetStars NJ reports that less than one percent of all wagers have been on Villanova.
Seeing money on the four other teams makes sense as they’ve dominated this season. Although Villanova is the defending national champs, the team has sputtered this season.
But a few pundits view them as a serious power player this time around.
Villanova has struggled this season
Villanova entered the season as the No. 9 ranked team by the Associated Press, but that didn’t last long. The defending champs lost by 27 at home to Michigan and then embarrassed themselves with a home loss to Furman.
Things would get worse as they lost at Pennsylvania just a few weeks later.
For the most part, the Wildcats righted the ship from there (outside of a stretch where they lost four of five), but the damage is done.
The KenPom ratings suggest this is the 26th best team in the country; however, last season and in 2016, they were No. 1. At least to date, this version of the team has been a big step down from previous units.
Wildcats have an easy path in March Madness
Sharp bettors who are investing in Villanova are probably taking a closer look at their path. The Wildcats have won five of their last six games and look to extend that streak on Thursday versus No. 11 Saint Mary’s.
Beyond that, the south region is full of teams that tend to fall short of expectations come March.
To start, the No. 1 seed is Virginia, who became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 last season. Even if you remove that from the equation, this team has won more than two games in the NCAA Tournament just once in their previous nine dances.
The No. 2 seed in the south is Tennessee, who lost in their second game last season. That was their first appearance since 2014.
Then there’s No. 3 Purdue, who always seems to get stuck around the Sweet 16, No. 4 Kansas State, whose best player isn’t 100 percent, and No. 5 Wisconsin, who looked shaky down the stretch.
Is Villanova good enough? We’ll see. But they have won two NCAA Tournaments in the last three seasons and seem to have the pedigree and experience that so many of their potential opponents lack.
Wildcats offer a big payday
One other reason that makes the Wildcats attractive is the payday.
At 50/1, people may have seen the talent and experience of a team coached by Jay Wright, one of the best in the business. Are they having a down year? Yes, but they could still be worth a flier.
They’re down to +3300 as of Tuesday afternoon.
At 50/1, there might be good hedging opportunities later if they start piecing together a run. At any rate, bettors might see value in a payday here rather than placing a bet on Duke, which barely pays over 2/1.