When the 2019-20 NCAA basketball season started, there was little certain about Pennsylvania’s college basketball teams other than Villanova would be good once again.
It turns out that while the latter was true, Penn State exceeded expectations, and now those two are reliably part of March Madness no matter what happens in conference tournaments this week.
Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks give odds as optimistic as 17/1 for Villanova to win the NCAA title, with the Nittany Lions as short as 33/1.
As for the rest of the state’s Division 1 programs, Pitt, Duquesne, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, and Temple all need some kind of miracle in winning their conference tourneys in order to make the NCAA tournament.
But there’s also that big Northeast Conference championship tilt Tuesday night, an ESPN2-televised game between Robert Morris and St. Francis (Pa.). Whoever wins that game also wins the right to be one of the biggest underdogs involved in March Madness, presumably served up on a platter for the likes of a Kansas or Baylor.
Here’s a rundown on all of this week’s action involving Pennsylvania teams for basketball fans and bettors:
‘Nova prepped for another postseason run
Villanova’s over/under on regular season wins was set back in November at 23.5 by both FanDuel and DraftKings, and the Wildcats fell right in line — while profiting their backers — by finishing 24-7.
Their 13-5 record in Big East play gave them a share of the Big East regular season title with Seton Hall and Creighton. Such success is par for the course for Jay Wright’s teams, which have finished atop the conference in six of the past seven years.
Led by unanimous conference first-team selection Saddiq Bey, the Wildcats were one of three schools to beat No. 1 Kansas. Their first game in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden will be Thursday night vs. the winner of the DePaul-Xavier matchup the day before.
Though Villanova is seeded second behind Creighton in the tournament, the sportsbooks deem the Wildcats the favorite. FanDuel is the best place to bet them at +280, as others make them +270 or +275.
FanDuel, FOX Bet, and BetAmerica all list ‘Nova at 25/1 to win the NCAA tournament, while DraftKings and the four other Kambi-backed sites in the state favor the Wildcats more at 17/1.
Those Kambi sites (which also include Unibet, BetRivers, Play SugarHouse, and Parx) make Villanova +325 to reach the Final Four, while FanDuel has it 5/1.
Penn State hopes to revive after late slump
Penn State’s preseason over/under was set at 17.5, and the Nittany Lions used an eight-game winning streak to blow past that and finish 21-10 (11-9 in the Big Ten).
But they also lost five of their last six games, which makes one wonder which Penn State team will show up Thursday evening as the Big Ten’s No. 6 seed facing the Indiana-Nebraska winner.
The sportsbooks are a little bit uncertain about that themselves, with unusually wide-ranging odds on Penn State’s chances of winning the conference tournament. They are supported to the level of 8/1 by the Kambi sites, but FanDuel and BetAmerica have them down at 14/1. FOX Bet is in between at 10/1.
There’s also some variation on the Lions’ NCAA title hopes, with FOX Bet making them a 40/1 long shot, but BetAmerica placing them 33/1. FanDuel and the Kambi sites make them 35/1.
Kambi makes Penn State +775 to reach the Final Four, while FanDuel has it +650.
Robert Morris-St. Francis to get unusual attention
Robert Morris and St. Francis split their two head-to-head contests during the regular season, and Robert Morris is the host in the Pittsburgh suburb of Moon at 7 p.m. Tuesday for their Northeast Conference title showdown.
As late as Monday night, Robert Morris (19-14) was a slight favorite, but something changed overnight so that all of the sites favored St. Francis (22-9) by 1.5 points Tuesday morning.
Most sites have the o/u at 143, with FanDuel placing it a little lower at 142.
If St. Francis wins, the school in Loretto, Cambria County, will make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991.
ACC still a struggle for Pitt
Pitt has yet to make the right adjustment to factor into ACC basketball play since leaving the Big East in 2013, and this year was no exception.
After starting the year with some optimism, the Panthers lost their last seven games and finished 6-14 in the ACC, 15-16 overall.
Their status as a 13 seed earned them a matchup against Wake Forest (also 6-14 in the conference, 13-17 overall) at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Pitt led Wake Forest by as much as 16 points in a game in January before blowing that lead, as one of just many disappointments during ACC play.
As with the Robert Morris-St. Francis contest, the sportsbooks reversed course overnight. Pitt went from being a 1-point underdog to a 1-point favorite, even though it would be the Panthers’ first win in more than a month.
The over/under also dropped several points overnight, ending up at 136 (most sites) or 136.5 (FanDuel).
The Panthers’ odds of winning the ACC tournament are listed at 100/1.
Duquesne made a move in A-10
The Atlantic 10 tournament features three Pennsylvania teams: Duquesne (21-9, 11-7), La Salle (15-15, 6-12), and Saint Joseph’s (6-25, 2-16).
Duquesne exceeded expectations, earning a 6 seed and facing a Thursday night game against the George Washington-Fordham winner. The Dukes are listed 22/1 by FanDuel and 33/1 by the Kambi sites to win the A-10 tournament.
La Salle is a 10 seed, with a contest Thursday evening vs. Davidson. The Explorers have 100/1 odds to win the tournament.
Saint Joseph’s was not expected to have a good year (their o/u on wins was set at 12) but the Hawks were not supposed to be quite this bad. They ended up the 13 seed in the A-10, with a Wednesday afternoon matchup against George Mason and 200/1 odds to win the tourney.
Temple has unusual struggles
Temple has had some great basketball seasons in its history, but this was not one of them.
The Owls finished 14-17 overall, 6-12 in the American Athletic Conference. They are the AAC’s 10 seed and play SMU Thursday night.
Temple has odds of between 50/1 (Kambi sites) and 80/1 (FanDuel, FOX Bet) to win its tournament.
Photo by Eric Hartline / USA Today Sports