St. Peter’s Highlights a Wild Opening Weekend of March Madness

  • As an 18.5-point underdog, St. Peter’s beat Kentucky in the biggest upset of the tournament
  • Sportsbooks did not take many pre-tourney bets on St. Peter’s to win the title
  • New Jersey bettors could not wager on St. Peter’s because it is an in-state school
  • Sportsbooks did well overall, but their worst outcome was North Carolina beating Baylor
  • Gonzaga is still the favorite to win the Big Dance, with consensus odds of +220
Male peacock spreading its feathers
The St. Peter’s Peacocks are the talk of the sports world, upsetting Kentucky and Murray State in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on their way to the Sweet 16. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

One of the biggest shockers in March Madness history

Sports fans just enjoyed arguably the best four days on the calendar, as March Madness kicked off on March 17. The “First Four” games of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Dayton already in the books, Thursday began wall-to-wall action each day through Sunday, with contests from about noon ET until after midnight. And how there are just 16 teams remaining.

The highlight of the first two rounds were the St. Peter’s Peacocks, who became just the third 15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, beating Kentucky and Murray State. Because they were such underdogs to even make it through one round (18.5-point dogs to Kentucky), there was not much money put on the school from Jersey City, New Jersey.

Circa Sports told ESPN that it took just one “very, very small” bet on St. Peter’s at 10,000-1 to win the Big Dance. Superbook took a single $10 bet St. Peter’s on its Colorado sportsbook at 5,000-1 and “a couple more” at 1,000-1 in Nevada. The story from Caesars and FanDuel was similar. Not many bettors bothering to pick the Peacocks to win it all.

One BetMGM customer, however, did put $4,000 on St. Peters on Saturday to win the tournament at 200-1 odds (it is unclear if this was before or after the team’s second-round victory). A couple very unfortunate bettors lost big on Kentucky at BetMGM, as well. One wagered $100,000 on the Wildcats to win the title at 8-1 and another bet $4,500 on Kentucky to beat St. Peter’s, a bet which would have only made them a $90 profit.

Fortunately for New Jersey sportsbooks, the law does not allow them to take bets on schools located in the state, so they did not end up having to pay out what would have likely been tons of homer bets on St. Peter’s.

Sportsbooks had a good weekend

Overall, ESPN reported that the first two rounds went well for the sportsbooks; PointsBet said it won its biggest games on three of the four days. And while New Jersey bettors might have wanted to bet on St. Peter’s, gamblers elsewhere put their money on Kentucky, which was great for the books. Caesars said that game was its biggest win. It also had a healthy win when Creighton covered the spread in a seven-point loss to Kansas in the second round.

North Carolina built up a 25-point second half lead, only to see it waste away

The worst game for Caesars was North Carolina’s upset of defending champ and #1 seed Baylor on Saturday. According to Craig Mucklow, Caesars’ director of trading, 90% of the money was on the Tar Heels. It was a wild game, too, as North Carolina built up a 25-point second half lead, only to see it waste away before they won in overtime.

Baylor’s in-game odds got as high as 60-1 and the crowd at the Las Vegas sportsbooks was quite animated as it looked like Baylor might make the comeback for the ages. “If you were a hotel guest trying to get any sleep during that game, with all the money on UNC, it would have been impossible,” Mucklow told ESPN.

According to PointsBet, the Iowa moneyline was the most popular bet on Thursday to beat 12-seed Richmond. Iowa’s offense had been rolling and they looked extremely impressive in the Big Ten tournament, but Richmond pulled the upset, 67-63.

Gonzaga still the top (bull)dog

Looking ahead to this coming weekend, when the Final Four will be determined, there is the usual mix of low and high seeds remaining. Three #1 seeds remain after North Carolina knocked off Baylor and just two #2 seeds are left, with Auburn and Kentucky both saying their goodbyes. Four double-digit seeds are still alive and two of them – #10 Miami and #11 Iowa State – play each other Friday night.

Only one region, the West, saw all four of its top seeds make it to the Sweet 16. #1 Gonzaga will face #4 Arkansas on Thursday night and #2 Duke will square off against #3 Texas Tech right after.

The Vegas Insider consensus has overall top seed Gonzaga still as the favorite at +220 to cut down the nets in New Orleans. After Gonzaga are Kansas at +456, Arizona at +512, Purdue at +900, and Houston at +975.

Interestingly, St. Peter’s is not on the board, likely because their futures odds are still so long that the sportsbooks don’t want to risk a catastrophic loss. DraftKings does have the Peacocks at +2,200 to make the Final Four. St. Peter’s opened as a 13-point underdog to Purdue in the Sweet 16.