Before you bet the March Madness bracket, circle these mid-major Cinderella teams

Leave a comment

Whether you’re betting the odds to win March Madness or building your NCAA tournament bracket, sniffing out potential Cinderella teams is a must. And with so much being made of the parity across college hoops this season, the 2020 Big Dance might be set up for a surprise mid-major program to run to the Final Four – or maybe even win the national title.

We still have a couple weeks before conference tournaments tip off and the first Thursday of the NCAA tournament isn’t until March 19, but you can start trying the glass slipper on these potential mid-major March Madness Cinderella NCAA basketball picks.

BYU COUGARS

CONFERENCE: WEST COAST
RECORD: 23-7 SU, 18-11-0 ATS
NOTABLE OPPONENTS: Gonzaga (L,W), Kansas (L), San Diego State (L), Houston (W)
ODDS TO WIN NCAA TOURNAMENT: +6,000
ODDS TO MAKE FINAL FOUR: +850

A win over the third-ranked team in the country will put you on the radar of anyone betting the NCAA basketball odds, but BYU would still be a Cinderella if it can make waves in the national tournament. The Cougars stunned Gonzaga this past weekend and faced some stiff competition in non-conference play, including a close loss to San Diego State and hanging tough with Kansas for a half.

WHY BYU COULD BE CINDERELLA

Brigham Young can score with any team in the country, averaging almost 81 points per contest, and is lethal from long range – a trademark of past March Madness Cinderella runs. The Cougars top the country in 3-point percentage at 42.2 and knock down an average of 10.6 shots from beyond the arc an outing. Brigham Young is also among the most experienced teams in the country and have a proven superstar in Yoeli Childs, who is starting to heat up after dealing with a suspension and an injury earlier in the season.

NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS

CONFERENCE: MISSOURI VALLEY
RECORD: 23-5 SU, 17-8-1 ATS
NOTABLE OPPONENTS: WEST VIRGINIA (L), SOUTH CAROLINA (W), COLORADO (W)
ODDS TO WIN NCAA TOURNAMENT: +10,000
ODDS TO MAKE FINAL FOUR: N/A

You know the Panthers from the ghosts of March Madness past, most notably Ali Farokhmanesh leading NIU over No. 1 Kansas in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament. Most recently, the Panthers bounced Texas in the Round of 64 and then suffered a historic collapse against Texas A&M in the Round of 32 in 2016. This program, which is once again the class of the MVC, doesn’t fear the big-name teams nor the pressure of the national stage.

WHY NORTHERN IOWA CAN BE CINDERELLA

Beyond the program’s resume as well as the conference’s history of producing Cinderellas (Loyola-Chicago in 2018), this year’s version of the Panthers looks a lot like the 2019 champion Virginia Cavaliers in terms of style and pace. Northern Iowa runs a methodical offense, chewing up the shot clock and firing at an efficient 48 percent from the field – including 39.5 percent from long distance. It also takes care of the little things, like hitting foul shots and keeping opponents off the offensive glass.

STEPHEN F. AUSTIN LUMBERJACKS

CONFERENCE: SOUTHLAND
RECORD: 24-3 SU, 13-10-1 ATS
NOTABLE OPPONENTS: DUKE (W), ALABAMA (L)
ODDS TO WIN NCAA TOURNAMENT: +25,000
ODDS TO MAKE FINAL FOUR: N/A

We’ve got to go back to November to recall the Lumberjacks’ massive upset over Duke as 27.5-point road underdogs at Cameron Indoor. Stephen F. Austin has stepped back into the shadows since that stunner but is quietly going about its business in the Southland, riding an 11-game winning streak into this week and suffering only one loss since December 8.

WHY STEPHEN F. AUSTIN CAN BE CINDERELLA

Take the fact that they beat Duke out of the equation for just a second. The Lumberjacks are a team that thrives on chaos, forcing almost 21 turnovers per game – most in the country. That produces a lot of easy buckets and is why SFA is clicking at an efficient 49 percent from the field and chewing up extra possessions, scoring more than 80 points per night on the year. The Lumberjacks also have plenty of upperclassmen and a strong bench… and they beat Duke in Durham. Dangerous.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE BUCCANEERS 

CONFERENCE: SOUTHERN
RECORD: 25-4 SU, 14-12-0 ATS
NOTABLE OPPONENTS: KANSAS (L), LSU (W)
ODDS TO WIN NCAA TOURNAMENT: +15,000
ODDS TO MAKE FINAL FOUR: N/A

Not only has East Tennessee State battled the likes of Kansas and LSU, but it has its own stellar rivalry brewing at the top of the Southern Conference versus fellow mid-major stud UNC Greensboro, taking both meetings against the Spartans this season. That said, nothing is guaranteed in the conference tournament – even with ETSU suffering only one loss in its last 13 games.

WHY EAST TENNESSEE STATE CAN BE CINDERELLA

The Buccaneers are adaptable and can beat teams in various ways. They rank Top-50 in both points for and against, showcasing an efficient offensive attack that hits at a near 48-percent clip from the field and isn’t shy about throwing it up from deep either. Eastern Tennessee State has four players in double figures and seven players averaging seven or more per contest. That includes standout forward Jeromy Rodriguez, who is expected to return soon from a foot injury. Coach Steve Forbes cut his March Madness teeth with Wichita State earlier in the decade and knows what it takes to bust the bracket.

TOP ODDS TO WIN 2020 MARCH MADNESS

TEAM ODDS TO WIN NCAA TOURNAMENT
Kansas Jayhawks +800
Baylor Bears +1,100
Gonzaga Bulldogs +1,100
Duke Blue Devils +1,200
Louisville Cardinals +1,600
Maryland Terrapins +1,800
Dayton Flyers +1,800
San Diego State Aztecs +2,000
Michigan State Spartans +2,500
Kentucky Wildcats +2,500
Oregon Ducks +2,500
Seton Hall Pirates +2,500
Arizona Wildcats +2,800
Penn State Nittany Lions +3,000
Villanova Wildcats +3,300
Creighton Blue Jays +3,300
Florida State Seminoles +3,300
Auburn Tigers +4,000
Ohio State Buckeyes +4,000
Michigan Wolverines +4,500
Iowa Hawkeyes +5,000
Butler Bulldogs +5,000
West Virginia Mountaineers +5,500
Virginia Cavaliers +5,500
Colorado Buffaloes +6,000
BYU Cougars +6,000
Xavier Muskateers +7,000
Purdue Boilermakers +7,000
Wichita State Shockers +7,000
Memphis Tigers +7,000
Houston Cougars +7,000
St. Marys Gaels +8,000
Indiana Hoosiers +8,000
Texas Tech Red Raiders +8,000
Wisconsin Badgers +9,000
Tennessee Volunteers +9,000
Marquette Golden Eagles +9,000
Rutgers Scarlet Knights +9,000
Florida Gators +9,000
Providence Friars +9,000

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

Leave a comment

Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.