In Michigan, the unique scheduling challenges of this COVID-19-impacted men’s college basketball season — and the arrival of state-sanctioned sports betting — have created a perfect storm of an end to the regular season this week.
Not only does the University of Michigan meet bitter rival Michigan State in the final two games of each’s team’s Big Ten schedule, each school has a chance to plunge a dagger into the other.
The Wolverines and their fans will be looking for a sweep of Michigan State that prognosticators believe could ensure that the Spartans — residing in 9th place at 8-10 (14-10 overall) out of 14 Big 10 teams — miss the drama that is March Madness for the first time since 1997.
But Michigan State not only would give its chances a huge boost by knocking off the second-ranked Wolverines (13-2, 18-2) even once, it could jeopardize Michigan’s chances for a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And an improbable sweep by the Spartans might cost Michigan the Big Ten regular-season title as well.
As it happens, this year also marks the first time that Michigan residents and visitors can legally wager on the 68-team tournament as well.
That all creates an atmosphere that almost assuredly will lead to high volumes of wagers on the contests on Thursday at Michigan (7:30 pm ET) and on Sunday at Michigan State (4:30 pm ET).
The big favorite – or the hot hand?
The 2020-21 season has been a near-perfect one for Michigan, which won 18 of its first 19 games (stumbling only in an 18-point loss on Jan. 16 to an also-ran Minnesota team that was facing its seventh consecutive ranked team in the loaded Big Ten).
But on Tuesday, Michigan was no match for 4th-ranked Illinois by a 76-53 margin in a Wolverines home game.
Michigan State, meanwhile, was left for dead after a 4-9 start in the conference. But in the past two weeks, the Spartans have knocked off Illinois and 7th-ranked Ohio State while sweeping fellow “bubble boy” Indiana.
That’s the backdrop for the back-to-back games.
So what sort of wagers are available for Michiganders?
First, many of them have to figure out where they can legally wager online.
Many mobile betting options
A recent study showed that shortly after sports betting was legalized in the state in January, 55% of residents were unable to name a single site where they could place wagers.
Daily fantasy sports giants FanDuel and DraftKings — launching in the sports betting arena with massive brand recognition — were named by 22% and 16%, respectively.
BetRivers (4%), FOX Bet (3%), and Barstool Sports (1%) were far behind the market leaders. Other options such as William Hill, TwinSpires, BetMGM, PointsBet, WynnBET, and Golden Nugget didn’t even register in the poll.
On DraftKings as of Wednesday, Michigan was the third choice on odds to win the NCAA Championship at +450 (or 9/2 in horse racing parlance). Michigan State, meanwhile, is a 100/1 shot even with a fortnight of impressive results, due to a dreadful start to the season.
Michigan is a +185 favorite to win the Big Ten conference tournament and an automatic bid (although the majority of Big Ten squads will be chosen for the field anyway). The Spartans are +5000, which will seem pretty tempting if they can pull off a win and a competitive loss against mighty Michigan in the next few days.
As for Thursday’s game, Michigan is an 11.5-point favorite at -110 odds on DraftKings. For those who expect a high-scoring — or low-scoring — contest but aren’t as confident on which team covers the spread, the over/under line is 139.5 points.
What about other Michigan schools?
There are five other Division I men’s basketball programs in the state, including Mid-American Conference “directional” schools Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan.
But all three are near the bottom among the MAC’s 12 schools and have been eliminated from the league’s eight-team conference tournament bracket.
Detroit Mercy went 10-6 in the Horizon League, but it suffered a 70-69 loss on Tuesday to Northern Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
The only other Michigan school alive is Oakland, also of the Horizon League.
The third-seeded Golden Grizzlies needed overtime to defeat No. 6 Youngstown State, 87-83. Oakland will meet No. 4 Northern Kentucky in a semifinal matchup on Monday night (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2), with Cleveland State a heavy favorite to reach the conference title game scheduled for the following night.