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As Kentucky powers its way through the NCAA basketball tournament, some bettors are opting to try their luck with the big underdogs—and could make a bundle of money if the front-runner falls.
This type of tournament breaks down into two basic strategies: Put a large sum of money on the team that is expected to win, or spread out that sum on several weaker teams. Some bettors may do both to hedge against a major upset.
Instead of evaluating the Wildcats against other strong teams, many strategists this year are comparing the team against the entire field of possible winners, said Zack Jones, editor-in-chief at SportsbookReview.com.
"People like the concept of a perfect team, and it makes a great story," said Jones. "But the odds change if you look at Kentucky versus the field as opposed to Kentucky versus an individual team." The Sweet 16 round gets underway Thursday night.
Bettors tend to rally around underdog teams like UCLA or NC State when they make it to the Sweet 16. Even strong teams like Kentucky have weaknesses, and if the Wildcats fall, the odds on every other team will skyrocket, said Jones.
"If you can jump on these small teams now, before some of the top teams hit a speed bump, there is value to be found," Jones said.
The biggest payouts could be for bettors who took an early risk on long-shot teams like UCLA. According to Jones' data, the odds of a Bruins victory were 300 to 1 at the beginning of the tournament. After surprising people with two wins, their odds have greatly come down, but to a still-steep 80 to 1.
Early bettors who put down $100 could make $30,000. Pretournament bets on West Virginia, Xavier and NC State would also bring hefty sums if one of those teams wins.
"It's a long shot," said Jones. "But people are hoping they hit the jackpot."
Most of the spreads for the upcoming games have held firm since Sunday. The largest change was in the Wichita State -Notre Dame game, with bettors making the Shockers a 2-point favorite against the higher-seeded Irish.