Updated on 09/17/2011 10:01PM

Three regional semis close to pick-em


After four days of madness, as sports books all over town were packed Thursday through Sunday during the first two rounds of the , the books were relatively quiet Sunday night.

At least that's as far as the masses were concerned. There was still activity, as professional bettors snapped up the best opening numbers for this Thursday's and Friday's Sweet 16 matchups.

* Of Thursday's four regional semifinals, three are competitively priced at right around pick-em. The most interesting of the point spreads is the first game to tip off, at 7:10 p.m. Eastern. Louisville, despite being a No. 4 seed and facing No. 1 Washington in Albuquerque, opened as a 1 1/2-point favorite at the Stardust, while the Caesars Entertainment properties and Station Casinos opted for pick-em. By Monday morning, all books had Louisville favored.

* The other early game, at 7:25 p.m., opened with No. 1 seed Illinois favored by 10 1/ 2 over upstart No. 12 seed Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Chicago. The early money came in on the underdog, and the line was adjusted to 9 1/2 at most books by Monday morning.

* The second game in Albuquerque, about 30 minutes after Louisville-Washington, pits No. 6 seed Texas Tech as a 1 1/2-point favorite over No. 7 seed West Virginia. This line opened as Texas Tech -3 at Caesars but was bet to conform with other books.

* The Thursday nightcap in Chicago has No. 2 Oklahoma State vs. No. 3 Arizona. MGM Mirage and Caesars both opened Arizona as a 1-point favorite, then moved it to Oklahoma State -1 and finally to pick-em. The Palms opened Oklahoma State as a 1-point choice on Sunday night before moving to pick-em on Monday morning. Most other books (Stardust, Stations, Leroy's, Imperial Palace, Harrah's) opened at pick-em and have held the line.

* Friday's lines saw less early movement, which is typical as bettors tend to focus on the earlier games first. No. 1 Duke appears to be a short price vs. No. 5 Michigan State in Austin, Texas, as the Blue Devils are between -4 1/2 and -5 at all sports books.

* In the other early game, from Syracuse, N.Y., No. 10 North Carolina State has been wavering between a -2 and -3 favorite over No. 6 Wisconsin.

* In the second game from Austin, No. 2 seed Kentucky opened as high as -5 1/2 vs. No. 6 Utah at MGM Mirage, but by Monday morning was at 4 1/2, in line with the rest of Vegas.

* The biggest spread on Friday is No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Villanova. The line opened with the Tar Heels -10 at most books, but as was the case in many of these matchups, the early money came in on the underdog. The spread was wavering between -9 and 9 1/ 2 at most books by noon Monday.

Betting trends through two rounds

The biggest headlines are made from upsets - and those are the games that stick in the mind. UW-Milwaukee over Alabama and Boston College. Bucknell over Kansas. Vermont over Syracuse. Texas Tech over Gonzaga. Utah over Oklahoma. West Virginia over Wake Forest. North Carolina State over UConn.

So, it's understandable that you often hear a lot of talk about "all the upsets in the NCAA tournament," but it could come as a surprise to most people that favorites and underdogs were exactly split through the first two rounds at 24-24-1, using the closing numbers at the Stardust. Of course, where the underdog players really made their money was with the money line, as 12 of those 24 dogs actually won outright.

The bigger sports betting news, especially during the first round, was how prevalent the under was in totals wagering. Through Friday's games, including the play-in game (which was an over), the under was 20-13 (61 percent). Totals were split 8-8 on Saturday and Sunday to stand at 28-21 (57 percent) through the first two rounds.

Sports bettors, especially the type of recreational bettors who flock here for March Madness, tend to back the favorites and also prefer to bet the over and cheer for exciting, high-scoring games. Those factors - along with the fact that the popular favorite/over parlay came through on a mere 9 of the 48 games (19 percent, when the true odds should be 25 percent) played on Thursday through Sunday - led the sports books to fare well over the weekend.

Bankroll plays exceed 60 percent

My bankroll plays in the print editions of Daily Racing Form went 4-2 last Thursday and 3-2-1 on Friday for a combined record of 7-4-1 (64 percent) and a net profit of 2.6 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

My second-round selections were available for Saturday's and Sunday's games at www.drf.com. My plays went 3-1 on Saturday before suffering a 1-2 day on Sunday to stand at 11-7-1 (61 percent) overall for a net profit of 3.6 units.

In addition to the bankroll plays, I'm also picking all tournament games against the spread. That record stands at 26-21-2 (55 percent), which is a good sign as it shows I'm passing on the right games.

The same filing/posting schedules for selections will also be in effect this weekend.

Morales-Pacquaio an instant classic

Last year, it took until Nov. 27 to find the "fight of the year" when Marco Antonio Barrera outslugged Erik Morales at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the third match of their trilogy.

This year, we have an early leader with nine months to go. And this time Morales, of Tijuana, Mexico, was on the winning end as he won 115-113 on all three judges' scorecards Saturday night in defeating Manny Pacquaio of the Phillipines.

The line on this fight opened at pick-em at many sports books, with some having Pacquaio as a slight -120 favorite. During the week, the price rose as high as -180, as everyone seemed to be siding with the popular fighter known as Pac-Man.

The crowd in the arena also seemed in his favor as, even during the undercard, the place erupted every time he was shown on the in-house TV screens. But Morales fans were also in abundance and just as vocal.

The first half of the first round was uneventful as both fighters seemed to be feeling the other out, but from that point on, the action was continuous. There were numerous exchanges where the two stood toe to toe like rock-em, sock-em robots, and Morales did a lot of damage when getting Pacquaio up against the ropes. Morales landed the bigger single punches, while Pacquaio scored his points with combinations, using his lightning-fast gloves.

On several occasions, after being pummeled, each fighter raised his arms as if to say "bring it on" to show he was unharmed.

In the fifth round, Pacquaio started bleeding from around his right eye. It was ruled to be caused by a punch, though his corner said it was from a head-butt. Regardless, it didn't slow down Pacquaio and, in fact, seemed to make him more focused.

In the end, Morales landed 96 of 303 jabs (32 percent, compared to 10 percent for Pacquaio) and 265 of 714 punches (37 percent, compared to 24 percent for Pacquaio).

Morales is now left with the option of giving a rematch to Pacquaio or arranging a fourth bout with Barrera.

Fight fans, and the sport of boxing, will win in either case.