The Madness of March is coming to a close, but it’s not over yet.
Big bets are live heading into the Elite Eight, including one of the largest wagers ever placed on the NCAA tournament. On the ice, the Buffalo Sabres are an epic streak of losses, and the NBA landscape has changed dramatically the last few weeks.
ESPN’s David Purdum and Doug Kezirian take a look back at all of it in this odds and ends column of sports betting storylines.
$1 million bet still alive for “Mattress Mack”
Late Friday night, Houston furniture store owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale flew from Texas to Colorado, logged on to his DraftKings sportsbook mobile app and placed a $1 million bet on the Houston Cougars to win the NCAA tournament at 9-1 odds. It’s one of the largest reported bets on the NCAA tournament ever.
McIngvale often places his big bets to help mitigate risk from furniture giveaways at his store, Gallery Furniture. For example, he placed a $3.46 million bet on the underdog Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3.5 in Super Bowl LV, while at the same time offering customers who spent $3,000 or more at his store if the Bucs covered the spread against the Kansas City Chiefs. Tampa Bay won 31-9, and McIngvale won $2.7 million.
Prior to Houston’s win over Syracuse on Saturday, McIngvale had not launched a similar promotion tied to the Cougars, but with a potential $9 million payday on the line, he wasn’t ruling it out.
“I wanted to get ahead of it in case I decided to do a promotion,” McIngvale told ESPN on Saturday morning. “After looking at the bracket, I think U of H has as good [a chance] as anybody to make it through to the Final Four, so it’s an exciting time for all of Houston.”
In 2019, McIngvale had more than $11 million in play on the World Series between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, including a $3.5 million futures bet on the Astros that he placed with DraftKings in Biloxi, Mississippi. The Astros lost to the Nationals in seven games.
“On the soft side, the brand-building it does is extraordinary,” McIngvale said about the publicity he receives from his big bets and promotions. “We were thrilled about the Tampa Bay Super Bowl promotion and the thousands of dollars’ worth of positive PR and comments from the customers and good will.”
McIngvale is a beloved figure in Houston and received an honorary degree from the University of Houston. During the winter storm that ravaged the area in February, he opened up his store to those in need of shelter. “It was body blow, but we’re still going,” McIngvale said.
So is the tireless Mattress Mack, who on Friday left around 9:30 p.m. to fly to Colorado to place his $1 million bet. He returned around 2:30 a.m. and was already back at work Saturday morning. He says he’ll be working until around 10:30 p.m. Saturday and plans to watch the Houston-Syracuse game at his store.
Asked if he was tired, McIngvale joked, “No, I have a good mattress.” — David Purdum
Other notable live futures bet on the NCAA tournament
• On March 19, the first full day of the NCAA tournament, a bettor in Nevada placed a $400 bet on Oregon State to win it all at 750-1 with bookmaker William Hill. The bet would pay a net $300,000. The Beavers advanced to the Elite Eight with a win over Loyola Chicago. They’ll face Houston on Monday.
• On Nov. 24, a bettor with William Hill placed a $15,000 bet on Gonzaga to win the national championship at 8-1. The bet would pay a net $120,000.
• In late February, a bettor in Illinois placed a pair of $30,000 bets on Michigan to win the title at 8-1 and 11-2 odds with William Hill. Combined, the bets would pay a net $465,000.
Record on Ice: The Buffalo Sabres are now one loss away from tying the 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins for the NHL’s longest losing streak at 18 games. Buffalo has not won in more than a month and is a +170 home underdog to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.
As one Twitter handle (@AndyProvin) indicated, a bettor could have turned a $100 wager into just under $75,000 by rolling over the winnings when the streak started on Feb. 25. However, some bettors prefer to avoid laying heavy juice and opt for the puck line (-1.5 goals). During this skid, Buffalo has lost by at least two goals in 12 of the 17 games.
Bookmakers I spoke to all reported only minimal action in Sabres games. Perhaps the NCAA Tournament is occupying the public’s wagering attention. But an awful team can only stay off the parlay bettor’s radar for so long. – Doug Kezirian
Beavers nation: March Madness routinely brings out the underdogs and surprise runs but Oregon State is resetting the bar. The Beavers have now won six straight games – with all coming in the underdog role against NCAA Tournament teams.
Oregon State entered the Pac-12 tournament as a five-seed, promptly defeating UCLA, Oregon and Colorado to capture the tourney title and earn an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. That was their only shot at the big dance. Drawing a 12-seed, the Beavers then knocked off single-digit seeds: Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola-Chicago.
Not bad for a team picked to finish dead last in the Pac-12 and that suffered a December home loss to Portland, which posted an 0-11 record in West Coast Conference play. KenPom.com ranks the Pilots 320th of 357 teams. – Doug Kezirian
Late-night Drama: The women’s NCAA Tournament has offered its fair share of drama, which included a huge upset on Sunday night. 6-seed Texas defeated 2-seed Maryland as a 13.5-point underdog. The Longhorns expected big things when they hired Vic Schaeffer away from Mississippi State but even this may not have appeared on their radar in his first season.
Texas trailed by seven points at half but rallied late to upset the nation’s highest-scoring team (91.3 PPG), holding the Terps to a season-low 61 points. The Longhorns tied the game on a jumper with one minute remaining and then took the lead after a steal near midcourt.
Perhaps the Austin native is building another contender, after he helped set school records at Mississippi State. Schaeffer led the Bulldogs to two national title game appearances. Along the way, the school also snapped Connecticut’s 111-game win streak. – Doug Kezirian
Marquee Showdown: In a matchup often earmarked for the national title game, Connecticut and Baylor meet on Monday in the Elite 8 of the women’s NCAA Tournament. The Huskies opened as six-point favorites but that point spread has been bet down to 3.5. UConn is led by standout freshman, Paige Bueckers, who is widely considered the nation’s best player. However, the Huskies do not have a single senior on the roster. Meanwhile, the Bears have two players expected to be selected in next month’s WNBA Draft. The hype should deliver at 7pm EST on ESPN. – Doug Kezirian
Dominos Falling: We have yet another betting favorite for the NBA MVP. Denver’s Nikola Jokic is now the odds-on favorite at -110, after LeBron James suffered a high ankle sprain and will be out indefinitely. James only became the favorite after Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid suffered a bone bruise in his left knee on March 12. This is the first time all season that any player has been less than even money.
Discussing the current winner is for talk shows and sports radio. Projecting the eventual winner is for oddsmakers and bettors, and this race offers incredible intrigue. Historically, team success plays a large role and the Nuggets are currently the five-seed in the Western Conference. A true center has not won the award since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000, although Jokic is posting incredible numbers across the entire stat sheet.
James Harden is a polarizing candidate. He is flirting with a triple-double every night for a Brooklyn team that is the consensus betting favorite and glaringly struggles without him. However, he completely sabotaged the start of Houston’s season and that behavior will likely matter, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe has laid out.
Ultimately, this may come down to how much time James and Embiid miss. Another candidate can certainly solidify his campaign or, sadly, we could have another injury disrupt the betting board. – Doug Kezirian
Rocky Bottom: Tennessee sportsbook Action 24/7, which last week had its license suspended after credit card fraud and proxy betting allegedly took place on the platform, was granted an injunction Friday and allowed to resume operations. The investigation into the alleged illegal activity continues. – David Purdum
Cash it: Nevada sportsbooks won a net $31.8 million in February, according to revenue numbers released last week by the state’s gaming control board. Approximately $19.2 of the books’ February wins came from basketball, professional and NCAA combined. For comparison, here is how Nevada casinos did on table games:
Penny slots $221.6 million
Blackjack $68.1 million
Craps $26.8 million
Roulette $18.0 million
Source: Nevada Gaming Control
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Edwin Rios to have season-ending shoulder surgery
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Dodgers backup third baseman Edwin Rios will miss the rest of the season after surgery on his right shoulder.
Right-hander Dustin May also underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, sidelining him until at least the summer of 2022.
The defending World Series champions announced their decision later Wednesday on Rios, who has a partially torn labrum. He will have surgery next week.
The Dodgers also shut down Josiah Gray, their top pitching prospect, due to a right shoulder impingement. Gray, who was scratched from his minor league start at the last minute Tuesday night, will rest for at least a week before re-evaluation.
Rios got off to a rough start this season with the Dodgers, batting .078 with one homer in 25 games while clearly struggling with his swing.
The 27-year-old Puerto Rican prospect made his major league debut in 2019. Rios appeared in seven postseason games last fall, hitting two homers in the NLCS against Atlanta.
He had hoped to land a steady backup role playing third base and first base this year for Los Angeles. Instead, the Dodgers will have to use even more of their depth after the latest setback in their significant early-season injury woes.
Along with losing May from the starting rotation, the Dodgers are still without 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger, who incurred a hairline fracture in his leg in their first series of the season. There is no timetable for his return to action.
Starting pitchers Tony Gonsolin and David Price are still returning deliberately from injuries to bolster what was probably the deepest rotation in baseball before the season. The staff is already short-handed now, with a bullpen game or a spot start likely necessary Monday against Arizona.
Promising rookie utilityman Zach McKinstry is also still out with strained right oblique, while key right-handed reliever Corey Knebel likely is out for months with a strained back muscle. The bullpen also is missing Brusdar Graterol (forearm) and Scott Alexander (shoulder) with shorter-term injuries.
Arizona Diamondbacks add Zac Gallen, Christian Walker to a crowded injured list
PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks continued to deal with a surge of early-season injuries, putting starting pitcher Zac Gallen and first baseman Christian Walker on the 10-day injured list Wednesday.
Gallen has a sprained right ulnar collateral ligament, which is the ligament replaced in Tommy John surgery. Walker has a sore right oblique; a similar injury put him on the IL earlier this season.
Gallen has emerged as one of baseball’s top young pitchers. He finished ninth in the NL Cy Young Award voting last season and had a 3.04 ERA through five starts this year.
Manager Torey Lovullo was confident the D-backs’ medical team caught Gallen’s injury early, saying the elbow sprain was “minor” and that he was hopeful the 25-year-old would be able to avoid having the Tommy John procedure.
“We have multiple opinions that are coming in and as of right now, it looks like we’re going to reassess in a couple weeks,” Lovullo said.
Gallen missed his first start of the season with a hairline fracture in his right forearm that happened when he was taking batting practice during spring training. Lovullo said the two injuries aren’t related.
Walker has already missed three weeks this season because of oblique soreness. The 30-year-old returned on May 4 and played in seven games before getting hurt again on Monday. Lovullo said Walker’s injury is in the same general area.
“These are challenging times,” Lovullo said. “It’s stuff we talk about, stuff we budget for and what I’ll say is every team walks through very challenging situations. It’s how we respond to those situations that’s going to separate us.”
Gallen and Walker join a host of other D-backs who have made trips to the injured list this season. Outfielders Ketel Marte, Kole Calhoun and Tim Locastro, shortstop Nick Ahmed and pitchers Joakim Soria, Tyler Clippard and Taylor Widener have all missed time with injuries.
The Diamondbacks called up pitcher Seth Frankoff and utility player Andy Young to take the place of Gallen and Walker on the active roster.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes says he had COVID-19, but was asymptomatic
Burnes is expected to start Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals in his first appearance since April 26. He is 2-2 with a 1.53 ERA, 49 strikeouts and no walks in 29 1/3 innings.
Although the Brewers are among the major league teams that had some protocols relaxed after reaching an 85% vaccination rate, Burnes said Wednesday he opted against getting vaccinated for personal reasons.
Burnes said he had “no clue” how he might have gotten the virus and initially believed it was a false positive.
“So we did all the subsequent testing after, and it came back that it was an actual positive,” Burnes said. “We were fortunate enough that throughout the contact tracing and everything else that no one else was forced to miss time and no one else tested positive. So as far as that front goes, it was successful.”
The Brewers hadn’t specified the reason they placed Burnes on the injured list. Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns simply said at the time that “we’re following Major League Baseball health and safety protocols.”
Burnes said he has no concern about whether he could pick up where he left off after missing a couple of starts.
He has an opportunity on Thursday to break the Major League Baseball record for most strikeouts to start a season without allowing a walk. Los Angeles Dodgers reliver Kenley Jansen punched out 51 batters in 2017 before issuing his first free pass.
“My goal always as a pitcher is to go out there and to minimize how many guys you put on base,” Burnes said. “For me this year, I’ve done a really good job of making guys earn it, to try to hit good pitches to get on base and earn their way on, and obviously I’m not going to be able to not walk anybody all year.
“At some point, it’s going to happen. But for me, it’s just going out there and trying to minimize the number of unexecuted pitches and make guys earn it to get on base.”
Burnes allowed just one run in his first four appearances before giving up five runs – four earned – over five innings in an 8-0 loss to Miami on April 26. Opponents are batting .152 against him.
Although he had to be away from the team for 10 days due to his positive test, Burnes said he was able to continue his own workouts since he was asymptomatic.
“I had some weights at the apartment, so I was able to do some workouts on the floor of the apartment,” Burnes said. “And I had my wife’s Peloton here, so I was able to do some big conditioning workouts and keep the cardio in shape.
“There’s a little grass field right outside our apartment complex and I had a net. I was fortunate to have some balls and stuff with me from the offseason, so I was able to throw into a net every day and do everything in my power to keep the arm, to keep the body ready.”
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