The loss of center Fab Melo has diminished Syracuse University’s chances of winning the men’s college basketball championship, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. It also may shake up office pools around the nation.
Syracuse’s odds of winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament moved to 20-1 from 12-1 at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino’s sports book after Melo was ruled out yesterday because of eligibility issues.
The 7-foot Melo was averaging 7.8 points and a team-leading 5.8 rebounds for the Orange, which has a 31-2 record and is one of the four No. 1 regional seeds in the 68-team tournament. Word of his ineligibility came as Syracuse prepared to face the University of North Carolina-Asheville in its opening game tomorrow in Pittsburgh.
“They probably have enough to get through that first game, it’s going forward that the next tests are going to be tougher,” Jay Rood, the sports book director at the MGM Mirage (MGM), said in a telephone interview. “This makes it exceedingly more difficult to get to the Final Four.”
Rood said the MGM Mirage adjusted Syracuse’s odds of winning the title to 6-1 from 9-2. The only school with more tickets written to win the championship at the Mirage’s future book is the University of Kentucky, Rood said.
At the LVH sportsbook, six schools now have better odds of winning the championship than Syracuse: Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio State, Michigan State, Kansas and Missouri.
Melo’s ineligibility may also impact those filling out tournament brackets in office pools and online contests.
RJ Bell, the founder of Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com, estimates that $3 billion will be wagered this year on bracket-style NCAA pools. The pools are popular at workplaces throughout the U.S., with participants getting points for picking winning teams through the April 2 championship in New Orleans.
“It will have an impact, though a majority of people fill them out in the last day or so,” Bell said by telephone. “But a significant chunk of those filling out the brackets are going to be unaware of this. They’re the casual fan who quite frankly doesn’t follow player by player.”
Syracuse could have a second-round matchup against Kansas State or Southern Mississippi, while second-seeded Ohio State, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Wisconsin are the other top teams in the East Regional. NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh said there’s no chance the teams would be re-seeded.
Bell said fans who follow a sport closely tend to overreact to the loss of a player such as Melo, a sophomore from Brazil who had 88 blocked shots this season and was chosen the Big East conference’s defensive player of the year.
“Everyone always thinks a single player is worth more than Vegas actually thinks he’s worth,” Bell said. “I talked to a number of bookmakers and they think in these early games his absence is going to be worth a half-point, and then when it comes to potentially final eight or Final Four games he might be worth up to two points.”
At the MGM Mirage, the point spread for Syracuse’s opener against UNC-Asheville (24-9) has been lowered to 16 1/2 points from 17. Since 1985, No. 1-seeded teams have a 104-0 record in the NCAA men’s tournament against 16th-seeded teams.
“We’ll see what happens in the first game, though that might not be the acid test,” said Rood, who added that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has the experience to deal with the loss of a player such as Melo.
Boeheim ranks third in men’s Division I college basketball history in wins and is making his 29th NCAA tournament appearance at Syracuse, which won a national title in 2003.
“If there’s a coach who can deal with it and rally the troops, Boeheim has seen it all,” Rood said.
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