Wichita State University’s basketball team is making some Las Vegas sports books nervous as it chases history.
A year after a surprise run to the Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament as a No. 9 regional seed, the Shockers from Wichita, Kansas, are the first team in the history of the sport’s highest level with a 30-0 record during the regular season.
With odds as long as 100-1 to win the national championship entering the season -- the same as Harvard University at the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook -- a title run by Wichita State would be costly for many of Nevada’s 183 sports books. The Shockers finish their regular season schedule tomorrow against Missouri State and then play in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament ahead of the NCAA tournament.
“They are the one team we don’t want to see go very deep in the tournament right now,” Jay Rood, sports book director at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview. “That’s basically our only bomb out there. We probably mispriced them a little bit.”
Rood said the MGM Mirage sports book has “substantial liability” on Wichita State, with only three schools -- Kansas, Syracuse and Florida -- attracting more money from bettors. None of those teams had odds as high as the Shockers, who were listed by the MGM Mirage (MGM:US) at 75-1 early in the season, when there were about 30 bets made at an average of $100, according to Rood. A winning $100 bet on Wichita State to capture the NCAA title would return $7,500 at those odds.
“Most of the wagers we did take were at 50-1,” Rood said. “And then when they really started getting hot, we took a lot of wagering at 10-1. A lot of people took them really early and a lot jumped on them late. If they can get to the cashier window, everyone is going to be happy except for us.”
Top-ranked University of Florida is the favorite at the MGM Mirage sports book, with 9-2 odds to win the NCAA tournament, followed by Kansas and Syracuse at 5-1. Wichita State is now down to 6-1, tied with Arizona and Michigan State.
“They have as great a chance to win it all as anybody,” CBS college basketball analyst Greg Anthony said of Wichita State by telephone. “This team is legit. The fact that they’ve accomplished this with the kind of bullseye they have on their backs speaks to them being an excellent basketball team.”
While the LVH SuperBook opened Wichita State at 100-1 to win the NCAA title before the team’s 43-point season-opening victory against Emporia State on Nov. 9, assistant manager Jeff Sherman said the majority of the larger wagers placed on the Shockers have come in during the past few weeks. Wichita State has 12-1 odds at the LVH SuperBook.
“We do have liability on them, but it’s not significant liability,” Sherman wrote in an e-mail. “They are more popular now than ever though.”
As a ninth seed in the 16-team West Regional at last year’s NCAA tournament, Wichita State had upset wins over Pittsburgh and top-seeded Gonzaga before knocking off La Salle and Ohio State to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1965. Even though they had lost all five starters from the previous year, the Shockers were the first team from the Missouri Valley Conference in the national semifinals since 1979, when Larry Bird led Indiana State to the title game.
Wichita State led Louisville by 12 points during the second half in the semifinals before losing 72-68 to the eventual national champions. The Shockers’ continued success this season hasn’t come as a surprise to Drake University coach Ray Giacoletti, who was an assistant at Gonzaga last year.
“That team can go in any place, anywhere because of the toughness factor,” said Giacoletti, whose team has lost its two meetings with Wichita State this season by a combined 46 points. “They don’t hang their hat on any one thing. They’re going to out-shoot you, out-rebound you, out-tough you.”
Wichita State, led by 6-foot-8 senior forward Cleanthony Early, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, has outscored opponents by an average of 15.2 points this season.
Only one of their 30 wins has come against a team currently in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll, a 70-65 victory at 10th-ranked Saint Louis (25-2) on Dec. 1. Even so, the odds from sports books suggest Wichita State, which is ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, will get one of the four top regional seeds in the NCAA tournament, which starts March 18.
The Shockers are the 11th college basketball team with a 30-0 record, with the other 10 reaching their 30th win during the postseason. The last school to go 30-0 was the University of Nevada, Las Vegas team that was 34-0 before losing in the Final Four of the 1991 NCAA tournament.
UNLV won the championship the previous season and is the last school from outside one of the sport’s major conferences -- Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12 and Pacific-12 -- to win the national title. The last team to win the NCAA tournament as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference was the University of Cincinnati in 1961 and 1962.
Anthony, the point guard for the two UNLV teams that reached the Final Four, said the confidence Wichita State gained from its NCAA tournament experience last season is more significant than the quality of opponents they’ve faced.
“I don’t always have to look at who you play,” said Anthony, who this season will be calling his first Final Four and national championship game. “I look at how you play and they play championship-caliber basketball.”
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