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CINCINNATI BEARCATS (14-4, 4-1 Big East) at CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (14-3, 4-2 Big East)
Tip-Off: Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. EDT
Line: Connecticut -7, Total: 129.5
No. 13 UConn looks to extend its winning streak to three and remain unbeaten at home when they host Cincinnati on Wednesday night in Storrs.
The Bearcats have bounced back nicely since the well-documented brawl with Xavier on December 10, and are 4-1 ATS on the road this year, including a 68-64 win at Georgetown last Monday. Cincinnati is comfortable playing in close games, with four of its five Big East games decided by four points or less. The Huskies have covered their past two games and look to build off an impressive 67-53 road win over Notre Dame on Saturday. Connecticut’s backcourt will be very thin though, as freshman guard Ryan Boatright sits out for the second game in a row due to an ongoing NCAA investigation regarding potential rules violations. Both teams rely heavily on guard play, but UConn holds a significant advantage in the frontcourt with a +6 rebound margin compared to Cincy’s minus-0.1 RPG. The Bearcats will hit shots and keep this game close early on, but look for the Huskies to limit second-chance opportunities on the glass and pull away late. CONNECTICUT is the pick to win and cover.
The Bearcats are a veteran team with their top four leading scorers from last season all back in the lineup this year. Physical sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick (16.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG) leads the way for Cincinnati, along with senior guard Dion Dixon (14.1 PPG). Cincy ranks fifth in the Big East from behind the arc, shooting 36.8% from three-point range. The Bearcats will need to hit these jumpers against UConn’s poor perimeter defense that’s allowing opponents to convert at a 41.1 percent clip. The Bearcats must get a big game from embattled forward Yancy Gates (12.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG), who will have the unenviable task of guarding UConn’s dangerous inside tandem of Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond.
UConn looks to be gaining some steam coming off its most impressive win of the season at Notre Dame. The loss of Boatright definitely hurts the Huskies’ backcourt depth, leaving Jeremy Lamb (17.9 PPG) and Shabazz Napier (13.9 PPG, 6.2 APG) as the only formidable guards in the rotation. Napier must stay out of foul trouble, otherwise the Huskies will be without any true point guard. Now more than ever, Jim Calhoun will need his big men to play up to their potential. Freshman phenom Andre Drummond (10.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG) looks more and more comfortable every game and has posted double-doubles in back-to-back games. The enigma that is junior forward Alex Oriakhi (7.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG) continues to be a mystery, but he had a strong performance against Notre Dame with 12 points and seven boards. The sooner Oriakhi and Drummond learn to co-exist down low, the more likely it becomes for the Huskies to make their third Final Four trip in four years.
NIT Semi-Finals Wagering Preview
College basketball’s craziness continues in New York in the National Invitational Tournament on Tuesday night. While the NCAA tourney only saw one of its top seeds advance to its inal Four, none of the four teams that were seeded at the top of the NIT bracket moved on to Madison Square Garden, the last three all losing at home in the prior round. This sets up a wide open finish for the "other tournament". Read on for a quick look at both of tonight's semifinal contests, then head over to the LIVE ODDS page on Sportsbook.com for the latest prices.
(2) Mississippi vs (3) Dayton 7:00E ESPN2
The Dayton Flyers (23-12, 16-15 ATS) came stumbling down the stretch with a 3-6 SU record (1-7-1 ATS), being eliminated in A-10 Tournament by eventual champion Xavier. The Flyers were picked to be conference champions, but limped to an 8-8 record in a league that was much tougher than expected. For whatever reason, Dayton took flight and has won and covered three games in a row by a margin of 14 points per game.
The Flyers are still playing great defense (holding three teams to 37.3 percent or less shooting), but it has been the offense that has brightened up, shooting over 48 percent in this tournament compared to 44.6 percent on the season. Dayton is 8-1 ATS after playing consecutive road games over the last three seasons.
Mississippi (24-10, 18-11 ATS) saw Arizona State fall in their very first contest in the NIT, which opened the door to three encounters at home for the Rebels. They took advantage of the situation and are running away from the competition. Ole Miss has averaged 88 points per game, forcing opponents to keep pace , which they have not been able to do. Terrico White and Chris Warren are living up to their reputation as a guard tandem. With defense not the primary concern, the Rebels are 12-3 ATS after allowing 75 points or more in back to back contests.
Sportsbook.com had opened with Ole Miss as a favorite, but the line has fallen to a Pick and the total of 142 seems about right if these teams were playing 35 minutes instead of 40. This should be a true up and down affair, with plenty of dunks and speed from both clubs and Dayton is 19-10 ATS versus good shooting teams making 45 percent or more of their shots. Mississippi is 11-3 ATS away from Oxford off a home win scoring 85 or more points.
(4) North Carolina vs. (2) Rhode Island 9:20E ESPN2
Both North Carolina and Rhode Island come in the second semi-final really feeling good about their prospects after winning on enemy floors in really challenging environments, where not many opposing teams escape victorious. The Tar Heels (19-16, 12-20 ATS) went into a real hornets’ nest at Alabama-Birmingham and made enough offense plays while playing great defense (UAB shot 28.8 percent) to come away with the win , 60-55 as 4.5-point underdogs. Much maligned point guard Larry Drew provided steady ball-handling and leadership. While coach Roy Williams would like to believe his guard is finally figuring out what he has been preaching all year, Drew offers this reason for improved judgment and play.
I just don't want to lose," he told the Raleigh New & Observer. "I just don't want to go home. I just don't want to stop playing. I've done my share of my things wrong this season, and I've made my share of mistakes. And I just want to turn things around for myself, and the team." North Carolina is sensational 7-0 AT in road post-season tournament games the last two seasons.
Rhode Island (26-9, 12-17 ATS) is at its best when it's three-pronged scoring attack of Delroy James, Lamonte Ulmer and Keith Cothran are making outside shots, which has been the case in the NIT. The Rams overcame a big deficit at Virginia Tech and won going away 79-72. Rhode Island is 26-15 ATS in road games after one or more Over’s.
Similar to North Carolina, this tournament has been therapeutic for Rhode Island, who started 19-3 and looked like a sure-fire NCAA team in early February. The Rams are a one-point favorite with total of 149, but are 2-9 ATS after a game where they covered the spread this year. The Tar Heels are in the same boat against the spread with crummy 4-13 ATS record after one or more Under’s this season.
Common opponents might be a telling factor in the nightcap with UNC 2-2 & 1-3 ATS (+3.5 point margin) and URI 3-0 & 2-1 ATS, winning by 6.6 PPG.
The StatFox Power Lines for these games show Dayton by 5, North Carolina by 1