Best bet: Duke is favored to win NCAA Tournament

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Zion Williamson ACC title

(AP) — Betting on March Madness is starting with many gamblers throwing their weight behind Duke and freshman phenom Zion Williamson.

William Hill US says nearly 20 percent of the money bet on the NCAA Tournament winner over the past year has backed the Blue Devils, who were listed as a 2-1 favorite in odds adjusted following the release of the bracket.

The sportsbook operator says 9 percent of the actual wagers have come in on Gonzaga or Duke, meaning the Bulldogs are popular but gamblers placing more expensive bets are backing the Blue Devils, top seed in the East.

Virginia and Gonzaga are each listed at 6-1 odds to win the title, while North Carolina is 8-1.

Betting on March Madness is shifting this year with the expansion of legalized sports gambling beyond Nevada. New Jersey, Rhode Island and several other states have legalized sports betting since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year

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9:32 p.m.

It turns out the Southern Conference nearly got its first at-large bid to the tournament.

UNC Greensboro was the first team listed of the first four that missed the field on the CBS selection show. And David Worlock, the NCAA director media coordination and statistics, tweeted Sunday evening that the Spartans were “in the field until late last night.”

So what happened? Worlock tweeted that Oregon’s win against Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game ultimately knocked the Spartans out of the field.

UNC Greensboro (28-6) reached the Southern Conference Tournament title game before falling to Wofford, which ended up as a 7-seed. The Spartans, coached by former UNC player Wes Miller, had reached the NCAA Tournament last season.

Alabama, TCU and Indiana were the next teams that missed the cut.

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9:25 p.m.

The best days of the NCAA Tournament for most fans are the first two. With 16 games on each day, it’s wall-to-wall ball.

Thursday tips off in Des Moines, Iowa, at 12:15 p.m. with an East Region game between No. 7 seed Louisville and No. 10 Minnesota. That’s coach Rick Pitino’s former Cardinals against a Golden Gophers team coached by his son, Richard Pitino.

The early session ends with one of the best individual players in the tournament. Ja Morant of Murray State faces fifth-seeded Marquette and Big East player of the Markus Howard in West Region game played in Hartford, Connecticut.

The defending national champion Villanova, a sixth-seed in the South, highlights the Thursday night games. The Wildcats tip at 7:20 p.m. against 11th-seeded St. Mary’s.

Friday’s games start with seventh-seeded Cincinnati against 10th-seeded Iowa in a South Region matchup. The game in Columbus, Ohio, starts at 12:15 p.m. Top-seeded Duke and Zion Williamson start their tournament at 7:10 p.m. Friday in Columbia, South Carolina, against the winner of the First Four game against North Carolina Central or North Dakota State. The Blue Devils are the top seed in the East.

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8:05 p.m.

North Carolina State’s omission from the NCAA Tournament field doesn’t sit well with athletics director Debbie Yow.

The Wolfpack (22-11) was 33rd in the new NET rankings, a more analytical system that incorporated factors such as game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin and net efficiency at both ends of the court.

In a statement, Yow pointed out that the Wolfpack beat eventual Southeastern Conference Tournament champion Auburn while playing five games against Atlantic Coast Conference peers Duke, North Carolina and Virginia — which all ended up with NCAA 1-seeds.

But N.C. State went just 3-9 in Quadrant 1 games and had the nation’s worst nonconference strength of schedule.

Yow said she was “disappointed” that “our total body of work was not rewarded” with an NCAA invitation.

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7:21 p.m.

The show to unveil the NCAA Tournament field of 68 teams returned to a familiar —and more straightforward— format.

Last year’s show aired on TBS for the first time and unveiled teams in an alphabetical format, then later revealed matchups by region – which drew plenty of criticism on social media from frustrated viewers.

This time, the show was back on its traditional CBS home and dove right into the East Region bracket with Duke as the No. 1 overall seed and skipped the alphabetical format. It was also back to a one-hour format after being expanded to two hours in some years recently.

As CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus put it earlier this week: “We’re going back to basics.”

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Louisville is back in the NCAA Tournament after missing out last spring following its acknowledged involvement in a federal investigation of corruption in college basketball.

Its first-round opponent features someone very familiar with ties to the Cardinals’ recent past.

Louisville (20-13) is seeded No. 7 in the

East Region and will face No. 10 seed Minnesota in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday. The Golden Gophers are coached by Richard Pitino, the son of former Cardinals coach Rick Pitino who was let go before last season in the midst of the scandal.

Louisville finished 22-14 and reached the NIT quarterfinals in a tumultuous year that included the vacation of its 2013 NCAA title as punishment for a stripper scandal. Interim coach David Padgett was replaced by former Xavier coach Chris Mack and this season was expected to be transitional, but the Cardinals instead earned a postseason berth thanks to a resume that included upsets of Michigan State and North Carolina.

Mack returns to the tournament a year after guiding Xavier to its first-ever No. 1 seeding.

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Gonzaga is headed back to Salt Lake City as a No. 1 seed looking for a better result than the last time the Bulldogs were in the same scenario.

Gonzaga will face either Fairleigh Dickinson or Prairie View A&M in the first round of the tournament on Thursday. But it’s the history of the second round in Salt Lake City the Bulldogs would like to change.

Six years ago, Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed and sent to Salt Lake City, the first time the Zags earned a No. 1 seed. And the Bulldogs were sent packing in the second round after losing to No. 8 seed Wichita State. The Shockers went on to reach the Final Four.

This time around, the Bulldogs are looking to regroup after a stunning loss to Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference title game. After steamrolling through the conference during the regular season, the Bulldogs were held to a season-low 47 points in the 60-47 loss to the Gaels.

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