Flashes one-point favorite in game

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Minutes after Kent State upset Alabama to reach the NCAA men's basketball tournament's 'Sweet 16,' Demetric Shaw was asked if he thought the Golden Flashes were the 'Cinderella' story of this year's March Madness.

"No," the Kent State guard said with a twisted smile. "Cinderella is more of a term for a lucky team."

A 20-game winning streak, Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament titles and a 'Sweet 16' berth have the Flashes thinking they are anything but lucky.

The players aren't alone in thinking Kent State could be in for something special. The professional gambler is jumping on the Flashes' bandwagon as well.

When the betting line opened Monday morning, Kent State was listed as 25-1 to win the national championship. Those odds may not sound terribly impressive, but according to the opening line, the Flashes were getting the bulk of the early money, ahead of schools with storied basketball traditions like Indiana (50-1), UCLA (40-1) and Kentucky (30-1).

Those three schools were all installed as lower seeds than Kent State by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, yet the 10th-seeded Flashes' performance in wins over Oklahoma State and Alabama last week has convinced the high rollers that they're for real.

History should be against the Flashes. Kent State is making its first trip to the 'Sweet 16,' while Indiana, UCLA and Kentucky have combined to win 22 national titles in the 63-year history of the Final Four.

Making the bettor's faith even more remarkable is the fact that Kent State will ultimately have to get by the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils in the South regional final just to reach the Final Four.

To earn the right to face Duke in the 'Elite Eight,' Kent State would have to beat third-seeded Pittsburgh Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

There are several factors that favor Kent State against Pittsburgh. First, USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan listed the Flashes as a 1-point favorite over the Panthers Monday morning.

"Right now, you have to look at what teams have accomplished, and Pittsburgh should be the favorite," said Kent State head coach Stan Heath. "But there is so much parity in college basketball that we are not a fish out of water."

Why is the favorite label important?

Kent State is an amazing 18-3-2 against the math since they opened the Mid-American Conference season Jan. 2. In other words, the Flashes successfully cover the point spread better than 78 percent of the time.

That type of consistency against the number is a big reason why Kent State has won the respect of the gambler.

Reason No. 2 to believe in Kent State Thursday night against Pittsburgh and again Saturday against Duke: the legend of Kentucky's Rupp Arena.

The 23,000-seat arena was the home of one of the great 'Cinderella' stories of NCAA history. In 1985, Villanova surprised the nation by reaching the tournament finals. Led by Ed Pinckney and Harold Jensen, the underdog Wildcats shot a stellar 79 percent from the field to knock off the heavily-favored, Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas 66-64 and claim the national championship in front of a stunned Rupp Arena crowd.

Nobody thought Rollie Massimino's Villanova club could win a national title in 1985. Not many more think Heath's Kent State squad will win it in 2002.

At least two groups do believe the Golden Flashes have a chance. The Flashes themselves, and the people who may know the ins and outs of college basketball better than anyone _ the sports gamblers.

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E-mail: dcarducci@recordpub.net

Phone: (330) 678-5460

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