March Madness Has Xavier, Kent State, And A Bunch Of Ohio Visitors

Legal betting makes this NCAA Tournament like none before it in the state
xavier basketball

Among Ohio’s Division I men’s basketball programs, only Xavier and Kent State are in the NCAA Tournament, but plenty of other March Madness activity is taking place in the state for basketball fans and bettors.

Dayton Arena serves as a rite of passage into the Field of 64, as it has for many years by hosting the First Four. Eight teams will be competing Tuesday and Wednesday in games where the winners advance as two of the No. 11 seeds and two of the No. 16 seeds.

And Nationwide Arena in Columbus is one of the eight tournament sites for first-round and second-round games. Four games will be played there Friday — one involving Purdue as the East Region’s top seed — with the winners advancing to a pair of games Sunday.

The flurry of local action on top of all of the other games taking place nationally this week will bring crowds into the state’s new retail sportsbooks to watch and bet multiple games simultaneously. Many thousands more, meanwhile, will be sitting in front of their own televisions and using any of the 17 legal mobile sportsbooks, while still others will be in one of hundreds of bars where they can watch and bet using a kiosk.

Oddsmakers put up lines immediately after the tournament selection committee released the bracket pairings Sunday evening. While point spreads could change during the week, odds breakdowns from Monday are provided below on the games likely to interest Ohioans most.

In addition, bettors would be wise to check multiple online sportsbooks for special offers connected to the tournament as they compete to attract customers. (FanDuel, for starters, has already posted an offer encouraging customers to wager on a game and receive a $5 bet credit for future use if the wager loses.)

Xavier vs. Kennesaw State

In his return to coaching the Musketeers, Sean Miller has his 25-9 team in the tourney as a No. 3 seed, just as it was when he coached Xavier to the Elite Eight in 2008. The Big East runner-up is a heavy first-round favorite over the Kennesaw State Owls (26-8), who just won their first ASUN Conference title and are making their initial March Madness appearance.

The teams play at 12:40 p.m. Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina, with most sportsbooks listing Xavier Monday as an 11.5-point favorite. Sites such as Barstool Sportsbook and BetRivers that use odds from European supplier Kambi, however, favored the Musketeers by just 11, making those books worth a look for Xavier backers.

The double-digit point spread means a hefty investment is required for any moneyline bet on Xavier. BetMGM and bet365 were offering the best return, at -650, for a Xavier victory.

Those wanting to bet the points total could go to the Kambi sites to bet over 150.5 or, alternatively, use Caesars Sportsbook to bet under 152.

Xavier, led by Souley Boum and Jack Nunge combining for more than 30 points a game, has managed to continue playing well since late January despite the loss of star forward Zach Freemantle due to injury. They will try to counter an Owls team that is led by do-it-all guard Chris Youngblood and hoping to be the 23rd No. 14 seed to upset a 3 seed in the tourney.

Kent State vs. Indiana

Kent State’s reward for pasting Toledo 93-78 in the MAC tourney championship game is a first-round matchup as a 13 seed against 4th-seeded Indiana. They are to meet at 9:55 p.m. Friday in Albany, New York, in the last tournament game scheduled in the first round.

The Golden Flashes finished the season strong, winning 10 of their last 11 to stand at 28-6. Coach Rob Senderoff is a former assistant coach at Indiana, which finished 22-11 overall and 12-8 in Big Ten play, losing to Penn State in the conference tournament semifinals.

A lot of the sportsbooks have Kent State as a 4-point underdog, but the school’s backers could get 4.5 points instead Monday from FanDuel, BetMGM, and PointsBet.

BetMGM and bet365 were offering the best moneyline return for an upset at +165. The over/under was generally 140.5, but an over bettor could use 140 from Barstool and BetRivers, and an under bettor could use 141 from PointsBet.

Kent State will be depending on its talented backcourt of first-team All-MAC selection Sincere Carry and second-team selection Malique Jacobs, who was the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year.

The First Four

The four games played in Dayton Tuesday and Wednesday all have point spreads between 2 and 4 points in competitive battles involving four teams considered the weakest of those to receive at-large invitations Sunday and the four worst of those that qualified automatically while winning conference tourneys.

In order, the games feature:

Southeast Missouri State vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday: Southland Conference winner Texas A&M-CC (23-10) returns as mostly a 4-point favorite after losing in last year’s First Four. SEMO (19-16), as it’s known, won an overtime thriller in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game to make its first March Madness trip in 23 years.

Pitt vs. Mississippi State, 9 p.m. Tuesday: Mississippi State (20-11) is generally favored by 1.5 points over Pitt (22-11) in a game featuring two teams that stumbled down the stretch in their big conferences. The Bulldogs had an 8-10 record in the SEC, while the Panthers were blown out by Duke in the ACC quarterfinals.

Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Texas Southern, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday: Texas Southern was just 14-20 overall, 7-11 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but it got hot to win the conference tourney and emerge now as mostly a 2-point favorite over Fairleigh Dickinson. The latter (19-15) is representing the Northeast Conference even though it lost the championship game to Merrimack, which is barred from the NCAA Tournament this year because it is too new to Division I.

Nevada vs. Arizona State, 9 p.m. Wednesday: The schools each won 22 games and had winning records in their respective conferences (Mountain West and Pac-12). Arizona State is listed widely as a 2-point favorite, with a couple of sites (FanDuel, BetMGM) pushing it to 2.5.

Nationwide Arena

No odds are yet set for East Region top seed Purdue’s first game at 6:50 p.m. Friday, as it is awaiting determination of its opponent — the winner of the Fairleigh Dickinson-Texas Southern game. Odds have been posted for the three other first-round games Friday in Columbus.

No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 USC, 12:15 p.m.: MSU (19-12) has started the week as mostly a 2-point favorite against the Trojans (22-10), though BetMGM listed the spread as 1.5 Monday and FanDuel made it 2.5.

No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 15 Vermont, 2:45 p.m.: Big East champion Marquette (28-6) is mostly favored by 11 points over America East winner Vermont (23-10). A Marquette bettor only had to give 10.5, however, using DraftKings or BetMGM on Monday, and a Vermont backer could get 11.5 from FanDuel.

No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic, 9:20 p.m.: Memphis (26-8) pulled off a big upset over Houston to win the American Athletic Conference tournament. That set it up as a slight favorite — mostly by 2 points — over Florida Atlantic (31-3), which won both the Conference USA regular season and tournament. DraftKings and BetMGM had the spread wider at 2.5 points, and FanDuel had it closer at 1.5.

Photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images


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