All season long, the consensus among college basketball oddsmakers and pundits has been clear: The Big 12 is the best conference in the land. Deep and physical, with every team boasting at least a puncher’s chance in every game, each Big Monday posed a gauntlet, whether it was Oklahoma and Texas Tech battling to avoid the cellar or the last two national champions, Kansas and Baylor, draining threes in the Phog.
In a mild disappointment, only two Big 12 teams, Kansas State and Texas, have advanced to the Sweet 16, with the Big East and SEC leading the way with three teams apiece. But two is still twice as many regional participants as in the Big Ten, where only Michigan State is still dancing. What’s more, the conference hasn’t produced a national champion since Tom Izzo’s Spartans cut the nets down in 2000.
Michigan State and Kansas State will square off at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. The Spartans are seeded seventh in the East Region and the Wildcats are seeded third, but it’s Michigan State that’s the consensus favorite by anywhere from 1.5 (BetMGM, FanDuel) to 2 points (BetRivers, DraftKings).
Higher seed, better conference … underdog?
If Kansas State is the higher seed from the better conference, why are the Wildcats underdogs? It undoubtedly has a lot to do with who’s patrolling the teams’ respective sidelines. Izzo is a living legend, while Jerome Tang is in his first year as K-State’s head coach.
But Tang is no slouch. The Wildcats were a preseason pick to finish toward the bottom of the Big 12 after Tang’s predecessor, Bruce Weber, led them to three straight losing seasons. Instead, they finished third, putting Tang in the conversation for national Coach of the Year.
Both the Wildcats and Spartans are paced by inside-out senior duos — Keynotae Johnson and Markquis Powell for K-State, and Joey Hauser and Tyson Walker for MSU. The Spartans have had a slightly more impressive tournament run thus far, jumping out to a double-digit first-half lead against Hauser’s former school, second-seeded Marquette, en route to a 69-60 win that punched their ticket to the Garden.
Michigan State may also boast an emotional edge, as the Spartans have shown tremendous resilience since a Feb. 13 shooting that claimed the lives of three students on the East Lansing campus.
“It’s been a long year,” Izzo told the AP after the Marquette win on Sunday. “I’m just happy for our guys.”
Bets and buckets
Out of the aforementioned quartet of mobile sportsbooks, BetMGM and DraftKings are offering the best moneyline value (-130) to Michigan State backers, while bettors expecting a Kansas State upset should grab the +112 price at BetRivers and FanDuel. The over/under is a consensus 137.5, and BetRivers is offering +210 odds on a same-game parlay involving the Michigan State moneyline and the over.
The Spartans are attracting middle-of-the-pack odds of anywhere from 12/1 at BetRivers to 30/1 at DraftKings to win the national championship, while BetMGM is offering the juiciest price (+333) on Michigan State to make the Final Four, with only Tennessee boasting shorter odds of emerging from the East Region.
Should the University of Houston make the Final Four, the Cougars will be vying for a national title in their hometown. FanDuel is offering a “double chance champion” special on either Houston or Michigan State to win the national title at odds of +330.
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