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The smart way to bet on the ’dogs

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You ready to start backing VCU now?
Photo: Tony Gutierrez/AP
Jeff Haney

Just before the start of the NCAA basketball tournament, oddsmakers installed Virginia Commonwealth as a 125-1 shot to make the Final Four. Now that VCU has done just that, it’s clear gamblers who believed in the Rams could have fared much better by betting them on the money line in each of their games, rolling over the profits after each victory.

Let’s say you had the foresight to back VCU all along. (Full disclosure: I certainly did not.) A $10 wager at 125-1 would yield a profit of $1,250. The same $10 investment would have returned much more, however, using a money-line parlay strategy. A bet on the money line is on the outright winner of a game, regardless of the point spread.

VCU won five games en route to the Final Four, upsetting USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. The money line on VCU in those games ranged from plus 160 (bet $1 to net $1.60) to plus 700. Crunch the numbers, and you’ll find a money-line parlay on VCU would have paid 855-1, or $8,550 for our hero’s $10 speculative venture.

The lesson here is not that we should have seen this coming and been all over VCU. It’s that once you have decided to invest a few bucks in a sporting event, there’s frequently a smart way and a dumb way to make essentially the same bet.

Let’s see how a similar strategy would work for the remainder of the tournament. After last weekend’s NCAA action, most sports books had VCU in the range of 9-2 to 7-1 to win the national title, making the Rams the longest shot on the board behind Kentucky, Connecticut and Butler. VCU is a 2.5-point underdog Saturday against Butler, with a money line of plus 125. If the Rams advance, they will meet either Kentucky or UConn in Monday’s championship game. I estimate the money line on VCU would be just north of plus 200 against either team, meaning a two-leg money-line parlay on the Rams would pay about 5.75 to 1—smack in the middle of VCU’s current odds of 9-2 to 7-1.

You could fine-tune your projected payout if you believe the Rams are slightly more likely to face Kentucky, a 2-point favorite Saturday against UConn, if they do advance to the title game. I see the Kentucky-UConn game as a toss-up, though. Yes, that does make me a “buyer” of UConn plus 2 points Saturday.

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