The Pac-12 sees a familiar face atop the men’s basketball standings as the Arizona Wildcats lead the charge for the conference title. The Wildcats began Pac-12 play with their claws out and are 6-0 so far against conference foes.
After missing the NCAA tournament in 2019 and 2021 (no tournament held in 2020), Arizona appears a shoo-in for the Big Dance in 2022. That news could put sportsbooks in a bind.
With this being the first college basketball season in with legal sports betting in Arizona, it appears that people in the Grand Canyon State have been backing the Wildcats.
Arizona Wildcats one of biggest liabilities for BetMGM
The Arizona Wildcats are currently the No. 3 team in the latest Associated Press poll, boasting a 16-1 overall record that includes a spotless 6-0 mark in Pac-12 play.
And as BetMGM Arizona tells PlayAZ, the Wildcats are tied with Auburn as the sportsbook’s biggest liability. Arizona opened at +5000 odds to win the championship. They are now at +1200 at BetMGM. Preseason favorites like Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas still have better odds to win it all.
Before the season, Arizona did not appear in the Top 25. However, most online sportsbooks in Arizona had the Wildcats among the top five favorites to win the Pac-12 title. So far, so good for Arizona. The team has each of its last five games by at least 16 points, but there are questions regarding the Wildcats’ ability to handle some stiffer competition.
Arizona’s best win was against Michigan, a team ranked No. 4 at the time. However, Michigan is now 8-7 and is no longer in the rankings. The only loss the Wildcats have suffered came at the hands of a ranked Tennessee team.
Arizona will still have to play UCLA twice and take on a tough USC team in Tucson. The Wildcats will likely need to win two out of those three games if they have any hopes of securing the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
Arizona sportsbooks low expectations could come back to bite ‘Cats
Sportsbooks did not think very highly of this year’s Arizona team heading into this season. Stands to reason: Head coach Tommy Lloyd is in the middle of his first year coaching the Wildcats. After spending over 20 years as an assistant at Gonzaga, Lloyd replaced Sean Miller, who got fired after being named in the FBI’s college basketball probe. (Miller’s longtime assistant Emanuel Richardson was charged and pled guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit bribery.)
A brand new coach combined with a disappointing 2020-2021 season made it easy for oddsmakers to overlook this team. But sports fans in Arizona have faith in their Wildcats. That was clear at the SolSports Sportsbook in Tucson.
Kimberly Van Amburg, chief executive officer for Casino Del Sol, told KOLD News 13 that the most popular teams bet on in 2021 included the Arizona Wildcats men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Bennedict Mathurin in running for player of the year?
Another bet you may have a shot with is Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin winning the John R. Wooden Award. The honor goes to the best college basketball player, similar to the Heisman Trophy in college football.
Mathurin has been having a great season in his sophomore campaign, averaging 17.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Many sportsbooks are giving him top-10 to win the award. BetMGM has him tied for the ninth-best odds at +1600.
There is still a lot of basketball to be played before we find out if the sportsbooks will have to pay up on the Wildcats. However, it looks safe to say that Arizona will be dancing once March Madness rolls around.
Meanwhile, sports betting operators will likely be rooting against the Wildcats the rest of the way.