Florida Gulf Coast University already has made history at the men’s national college basketball tournament, and sports bettors in Las Vegas now are counting on the high-flying Eagles to make them some money.
The Fort Myers, Florida-based school, which didn’t begin playing at college basketball’s highest level until 2007, is the first No. 15 regional seed to win two games at a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
Since advancing to the regional semifinals four days ago -- joining schools with multiple national championships such as Indiana, Duke, Kansas and Louisville -- no team has been as heavily bet to win this year’s title as Florida Gulf Coast, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book.
“They’ve been by far the most popular team,” LVH Super Book assistant manager Jeff Sherman said in a telephone interview. “We opened them at 100-1 on Monday and they’re down to 60-1. They have four times as many tickets as the second- closest teams, Oregon and Kansas.”
Louisville remains the favorite to win the championship, with 3-1 odds at the LVH Super Book. Indiana is second at 9-2.
Before this week, Florida Gulf Coast didn’t have individual odds to win the title, lumped in a “field” bet at 150-1 with 17 other schools. That changed this week when the Eagles followed their opening-game upset of Georgetown with a victory against San Diego State.
One LVH bettor wagered $1,000 on FGCU to win the title at 100-1 odds, meaning he or she would get a $100,000 payout if the Eagles’ postseason run ends with them cutting down the nets at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on April 8.
Florida Gulf Coast needs to win four more games, starting with tomorrow night’s South regional semifinal against the University of Florida in Arlington, Texas. The Gators, who won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, are the third seed in the region and 13-point favorites.
“It has the most action of all the Sweet 16 games,” Mark Tutino, the race and sports supervisor at Caesars Palace, said of the all-Florida matchup. “There are probably 5-to-1 more tickets on Florida Gulf Coast than any other team. A lot of small stuff for sure, but there’s quite a few tickets on them.”
The regional semifinals start with four games tonight, when Indiana, the No. 1 seed in the East, plays fourth-seeded Syracuse in Washington following the first game between No. 2 Miami and No. 3 Marquette. The East was the only region to have its top four seeds advance to the round of 16.
Also tonight, No. 2 Ohio State plays No. 6 Arizona in the West regional in Los Angeles, while ninth-seeded Wichita State faces No. 13 LaSalle. Wichita State upset the region’s top seed, Gonzaga, in its previous game and LaSalle is the sixth No. 13 seed to reach the tournament’s final 16 since 1985.
LaSalle actually has won three tournament games so far this year, having also defeated Boise State in the First Four. The high-scoring underdogs from Florida Gulf Coast, though, have grabbed the headlines and the attention of bettors.
“They’re a fun team to watch,” Tutino said of Florida Gulf Coast. “They’re not like your Princetons and your surprise teams of the past. This team has some ballers, plays above the rim, and that adds to the excitement for them.”
While the Eagles have averaged 73.5 points a game this season, Florida has the largest average margin of victory of any team this season at 18.2 points. That’s not dissuading the majority of bettors in Las Vegas.
“We have the line up minus-13 against Florida and they’re getting support at 7-1 odds to win that game outright,” Sherman said. “There’s a lot of people who like what they saw. Florida Gulf Coast is an exciting team to watch. I think that’s what has made people buy into them, too.”
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