Home Sweet 16 Home: DraftKings’ Avello Says Orphan Iowa Bettors Still Have Options

Written By Russ Mitchell on March 25, 2021

Now what?

Iowa and Drake both went “one, two, and no third game; let’s barbecue” in March Madness this year.

Johnny Avello, DraftKings’ director of race and sports operations, knows the flurry of NCAA Tournament upsets that drove fans across the country to put their brackets in a shredder.

That’s especially true in Iowa, where many fans may have bet with their hearts.

His advice to those bettors is don’t close the (sports)book on the basketball season just yet.

“I’m kind of sorry for the teams bailing out early, but that’s one tournament, and we have plenty options moving forward. … Baseball’s on horizon, which is always fun to bet — there’s a lot of different options in the baseball. NBA playoffs is right around the corner along with NHL. Actually, this summer there’s some good stuff, too — Olympics and other things. So, be happy to have the app and be able to wager. Sometimes it doesn’t pan out for your teams, but there’s still a lot out there to be hopeful for and to have action on.”

Let’s gather to remember Drake in this time of loss

No, no, not the Canadian rap star; he is fine. However, Drake University’s season came to an end last Saturday. Sixth-seeded USC knocked out 11th-seed Drake 72-56.

Bulldogs coach Darian DeVries said:

“Obviously, we’re disappointed that we have to go home, but I’m certainly proud of our guys’ effort, not only (Saturday), but this entire season. You hate to see it end, but I felt like we fought to the bitter end (Saturday) and came up a little short.”

Avello enjoyed the twist and turns of Drake’s point spread leading up to its March 18 First Four game against fellow 11-seed Wichita State. The Bulldogs won 53-52 to advance to the first round.

It was the first NCAA Tournament win for Drake in 50 years, so let’s remember that happier time.

Avello offered condolences from a call set up in the Pacific time zone, where Madness still flows through the Pac-12.

“It’s funny how that game went; they were actually a two-point underdog. They did go up two points (on the) spread, and they end up winning the game by one. Then they go into the next round against USC. …USC not only beats them, but then goes on and beats Kansas handily (Monday) so and that’ll get to two Pac-12 teams matching off against each other. One of those teams is going to the Elite Eight for sure.”

Oh. Ummm. Yeah. Our Pacific time zone friend is talking about the USC-Oregon game. DraftKings has the USC line at -2.5, at the moment.

That game starts at 8:45 p.m. Sunday on TBS; however, we had some other team in mind for that time slot.

Remembering Iowa, a season well-lived

There were good times: Second-seeded Iowa drew No. 15 seed Grand Canyon and took care of business 86-74 (happier time, Part 2) Saturday.

The Hawkeyes were favored by 14.5, so the margin allowed the Antelopes to swing their hooves at Iowa-backers. Remember, the phrase is “survive and advance,” not “survive, cover and advance.”

Now, to the bad times: Let’s hope you bet the over on the 95-80 Oregon win. We’re not going to link that. It’s just too painful, right, Mr. Avello?

“Unfortunately, for the whole Big Ten, things didn’t go well. I’m sure lot of us were thinking that since they were closer in proximity to Indianapolis that they had — maybe not at home-court … but … some sort of advantage. It didn’t work out that way. Now, for Iowa, they beat Grand Canyon, and then go against an Oregon team and lose. I think most people thought they would win that game also. As bad as the Big Ten has been doing, the Pac-12 has been doing equally as well. So, they’re on the opposite side of the of the spectrum there.”

Back to the original question: Now what?

Avello didn’t seem to anticipate any migration patterns for Iowa sports bettors who want to stay connected to the Sweet 16 action:

“You’ll be like everybody else: You put that aside: Your team lost. There’s not a lot of Big Ten teams left. Michigan’s still in there. They’re going against Florida State in a really great matchup. My suggestion is, these games (that) we’re going to see on Saturday and Sunday are really good matchups. So, the money will pick up.

“Individuals in these games will write bigger bets and they’re going to be heavily bet — more so than some of those other games were — so just pick your spots here, maybe. I don’t know where Iowa guys go. Is it Loyola-Chicago? Is it Michigan? I do not know. Is it Creighton maybe? Creighton against Gonzaga? I don’t know where they go.”

Drake would have been an ideal Cinderella, but the DraftKings expert has another team in mind.

“There’s gonna be a lot of people behind Oral Roberts. For some reason, I think they’re the real Cinderella this year as a higher seed to make it this far. So, I think a lot of people will be rallying around them. They are the biggest underdog coming up this week. They’re an 11-point underdog against against Arkansas. So, there’s certainly something to be said for getting 11 points in a game like this.”

Gonzaga’s national profile still makes them the tournament favorite, according to Avello.

“They’ve been your favorite all year long. They’re a significant favorite, followed by Baylor, followed by Michigan, followed by Houston.”

The teams that Avello sees with the least chance of winning it based on their odds are Oral Roberts, Syracuse, Oregon State, UCLA and Creighton.

If it helps, sportsbooks ask, ‘Now what?’ too

Saturday was a day of ups and downs for fans in the state rooting for the local teams. For sportsbooks, such as DraftKings, Sunday delivered mixed emotions.

“One was excellent for us — best result — and one was the worst result for us. The worst result was Oral Roberts against Florida. I think that the bettors thought that Florida was an opponent that could be beaten. They actually lost three of their last five coming into this game. So, they thought they were vulnerable and they were. So, they bet Oral Roberts on the moneyline. They were getting a pretty good price — you know, 5-to-1, 6-to-1 — and they took advantage of that.

“The game that they didn’t do well on, which was one of our biggest results — that was on the good — was was the Illinois game. Illinois played Loyola after beating Drexel the first game. Loyola just played a lights-out game and beat them. They bet Illinois every way you could bet ’em: spread moneyline and involved in a lot of parlays.”

In a year of busted brackets, Iowa joins Illinois, Kansas, Ohio State and others in the graveyard of high seeds.

“People thought they would probably move on and make it to the Sweet 16 with no issues. There were a lot of bettors that picked them to continue on in the brackets contest, in the future book, and in a lot of different ways. They just thought that Iowa would move on. Unfortunately, they didn’t get there but it happens. This tournament is known for many upsets. And that was one of them.”

Photo by Darron Cummings / AP
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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