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March Madness: North Carolina is becoming the most popular team among bettors

Coming into the NCAA tournament, North Carolina was the weakest of the No. 1 seeds. The tournament selection committee, oddsmakers and college basketball fans could all agree on that.

Bettors are starting to see value on North Carolina after the first two rounds of the tournament.

UNC cruised by Wagner in the first round and then stormed past Michigan State in the second round after a slow start. Like all the other No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the tournament, the Tar Heels advanced to the Sweet 16.

While UConn, Houston, Purdue and even Arizona have shorter odds to win the championship at BetMGM, bettors prefer North Carolina.

North Carolina is popular among bettors

Since the first round of the NCAA tournament started Thursday, the most bets to win the championship have been on North Carolina. Among all recent title bets, 13% are on North Carolina.

That is reflected in the early Sweet 16 game bets as well. North Carolina is a 3.5-point favorite over Alabama, and the Tar Heels are the most popular side among all Sweet 16 games. North Carolina is the most-bet team for any Sweet 16 game, in terms of number of bets and the money wagered as well.

Harrison Ingram of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates during UNC's win over Michigan State. (Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
Harrison Ingram of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates during UNC's win over Michigan State. (Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) (Grant Halverson via Getty Images)

In the few days since the first round of the tournament tipped off, North Carolina has gotten the most bets to win the championship and to cover the spread in the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels made quite an impression.

The Tar Heels have a lot to like. Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis are a great inside-outside combo. The ACC has looked good in the NCAA tournament, getting four teams to the Sweet 16, and UNC led that league in the regular season. The Tar Heels were the weakest of the No. 1 seeds, but they were still a No. 1 seed.

And the skepticism over the Tar Heels has led to some decent odds.

Odds to win the championship

Here are the updated title odds for the top five teams at BetMGM:

UConn +200

Houston +550

Purdue +600

Arizona +800

North Carolina +1100

Give bettors this much: It's not every year you can take a No. 1 seed before the Sweet 16 at 11-to-1 odds. The Tar Heels' odds were +1300 before the tournament started.

The Tar Heels are a small favorite against a volatile Alabama team that is very good on offense and suspect on defense. Based on the future odds, North Carolina would be the rare No. 1 seed to be underdogs in the Elite 8 if it faces Arizona. Presumably, UNC would be a popular pick among bettors if that matchup happens.

North Carolina is a huge brand in college basketball, nearly won a championship just two years ago, is a No. 1 seed and is getting good odds because the Tar Heels aren't as strong as the other top seeds. It probably shouldn't be a surprise that UNC is enticing to bettors. There will be plenty of Tar Heels fans starting with Thursday's game against Alabama.