31 March 2013

March Madness: Elite 8 Preview - Chalky Sunday

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Gators will gobble you up...

We went 2-1 yesterday in Elite 8 action for a profitable day when Wichita State +5 exceeded expectations and we split our smaller action on Syracuse/Marquette game (Marquette +5 lost but the UNDER won). Still kinda shocked with the Shockers victory as well. I figured they'd keep it close and that Ohio State would pull it out. They got too deep in a hole and waited too late to make a run and ran out of time. We whiffed on Marquette who couldn't hit a shot to save their life against Syracuse's dreaded zone. I think Boeheim's working some alchemy here and created a force field that makes it nearly impossible for opposing players to penetrate. NCAA might need to send in Mulder and Scully to investigate Boeheim's paranormal assistance. In the meantime, the Orangemen advanced to yet another Final Four. How about that -- a #4 and a #9 seed advancing? If you picked chalk this year and all #1 or #2 seeds to advance to the Final Four, then you were totally screwed.

The Elite 8 is not over yet. We still have two games to play in the "chalkier" side of the bracket that include two great games.  Louisville is the only #1 seed left in the tournament and they're taking on the hated #2 Duke Blue Douches. In the other match up, we have #2 Michigan rumbling with #3 Florida.
Sunday Elite Eight Games (All times ET)
2:20pm #3 Florida vs. #2 Michigan +2.5
5:05pm #1 Louisville vs. #2 Duke +4
Here is what we think of today's games...

DIMES

#1 Louisville (32-5 and 22-15 ATS) vs. #2 Duke (30-5 and 19-16 ATS)
Opening Line: Louisville -3.5 and 137 o/u
Current Line: -4 and 137.5
Pick: Louisville -3.5

This is a big bet only because I'm stubborn and hate Duke. I gotta get my money back from fading Duke in the Sweet 16. Plus, this championship belongs to Louisville. Only Duke stands in their way from a Final Four berth and an eventual title. Louisville is in the middle of a 13-game winning streak and every gambler knows they are  9-1 ATS in their last 10 games with their only loss coming at the hands of the Ducks on Friday.

These two teams met in the Bahamas around Thanksgiving and I heard rumors that both schools banked a gajillion dollars to play at the Atlantis. Duke (ranked #5 at the time) beat Louisville (#2 at the time) by five points but L'ville didn't have their human flyswatter in Gorjui Dieng. The Bahamas game was the first time Coach K and Pitino played each other since March Madness in 1992 (the epic Duke v. Kentucky game). Coach K won their last two meetings, but you know Pitino wants to shove a win down Coach K's throat and exorcise the ghosts of Christian Laettner. Besides, Pitino in the Final Four is just one of the main and necessary components for a showdown between Pitino and his former pupil and star player at Providence, Billy Donovan.


NICKELS

None. I should be betting Louisville in this category, but I have that nagging Duke bias and driven by revenge. It'll either ruin my Easter Sunday, or make it an awesome end to the weekend.


PENNIES

#3 Florida (29-7 and 18-15 ATS) vs. #2 Michigan (29-7 and 17-16-1 ATS)
Opening Line: Florida -3 and 131 o/u
Current Line: -3 and 133
Pick: Florida -2.5

It's taking every bone in my body to not bet Michigan after they whooped a media darling (VCU) and then luckbox'd a win against a #1 seed (Kansas). Plus, the Wolverines played a tougher schedule (Big Ten vs. Florida's cakewalk through the SEC). Then again, if Kansas didn't choke I wouldn't be talking about Michigan. Those kids at Michigan never gave up and played hard down the stretch and kept the game within reach to give Trey Burke to inflict some damage. Burke drilled a tremendous 35-footer when Michigan needed him to hit a big shot to force the game into overtime. But Burke and the offspring of NBA stars -- Hardaway 2.0 and Little Big Dog -- and the diaper dandy in Mitchy McGary is still not enough to handle Florida's tight knit, yet faceless unit. The Gators are like a team of Navy Seals or ninjas. They really don't have someone who stands out as the "star player you must stop", which makes them dangerous because any one of them can kill you when you least expect it.

Billy Donovan's squad got off to a sluggish start against Gulf Coast, but they shrugged off a bad first half and came out swinging in the second half. Although they won by double digits, they failed to cover. The under is 11-3 in Florida's last 14 games (10-4 straight up and 6-8 ATS in that stretch). Florida's last four defeats were by13 points combined (at Missouri, at Kentucky, at Tennessee, and Ole Miss in SEC tourney). When Florida loses, it's a close one.
 
I have a gut feeling and expect to see a Pitino-Donovan showdown. The press will have a field day and the talking heads will fall out of their seats hyping up a Louisville-Florida championship game. I'm not going to say that the suits at CBS are rigging the Final Four, but if you see some shady whistles in this game going against Michigan and Duke, then it makes you wonder...

30 March 2013

March Madness: Elite 8 - Saturday Preview

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA


Down to the Elite 8 teams with two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday. The winner of each game advances to the Final Four. The loser? Goes home to lick their wounds.

We had an interesting Friday night and went 2-1 betting dogs (we passed on FGCU and they covered) but lost a big bet on Michigan State. Coach K has Tom Izzo's number. Duke pulled away in the second half and slammed the door shut. The two games we won (Oregon +11 and Michigan +2) only materialized because of late second half meltdowns. Kansas blew a double digit lead in the last three minutes, Michigan's Trey Burke drilled a 35-footer to send the game into overtime, and Michigan stole a victory in OT. Louisville was ahead the entire game but let Oregon in the back door in the closing minute. Florida Gulf Coast took an early lead, but Florida stormed back and finally secured the least with 2 minutes to go in the first half. In the second half, Florida dominated the action but in the last minute or so, Florida Gulf Coast snuck in a backdoor cover.

The Dogs went 3-1 on Friday, but they all needed backdoor covers. Unders went 2-2.
Elite 8 - Saturday Games (All times ET):
4:30pm ET #4 Syracuse vs. #3 Marquette +4.5
7:05pm ET #2 Ohio State vs. #9 Wichita St. +4.5
I don't love any of these games enough to make a big bet. With only four games scheduled over the weekend, a savvy bettor would try to find the best bets that meet their minimal requirements, otherwise they would pass. However, with March Madness winding down (only seven games remaining), there's tons of temptation to bet these Elite 8 games. This is similar to the Monday Night Football trap in the NFL. Almost every instance, the MNF game is not the most optimal game on the schedule, yet it draws tons of action because it's the only (and last) game to bet. So basically what I'm saying is that at this point in the tournament, if it's not an optimal situation, the best bet is to NOT bet. Quality over quantity. Of course, that's like telling a well-seasoned alkie that he shouldn't have a drink. If you're reading this, most likely you're a degenerate or have degen tendencies, and you'll want to put a little taste on these games.

DIMES

None. No big bets. I'm easing off the pedal. We will be placing smaller ones just to keep things interesting.

NICKELS

#2 Ohio State (29-7 and 20-13-1 ATS) vs. #9 Wichita St. (29-8 and 18-14-2 ATS)
Opening Line: Ohio State -5 and 127.5 o/u
Current Line: -4.5 and 129
Pick: Wichita St. +5

The bookies and public had overrated Ohio State, while they had undervalued Wichita State (they were dogs for the first two games). Wichita State is a good ball club... for a #9 seed. The Shockers shoot well. They defend well. They hit their free throws in crunch time. They don't get rattled when they experience those 8-0 and 10-2 scoring droughts, and instead, they hunker down and play tougher and stop the bleeding. They are a true team. Can you name any players on the Shockers? Okay maybe one player -- Cleanthony Early -- who has a name that sounds like he's a character from a Kurt Vonnegut novel. But how about the rest of the starters? Can you name two names? Three names? Nope. That's what I like about them... Wichita State plays as a unit and a true team. They took down overrated Gonzaga but picked off one of the hottest teams in the tournament in LaSalle.

Ohio State has won 11 in a row and shall beat Wichita by three, but fail to cover. It's their M.O. to win the game by only three points. Ohio State will keep the game close and it will be tied with 10 seconds left and Aaron Craft will hit a trey as time expires to win the game. Again. This will be yet another replay of Ohio State's last two games in which they won on their final possession by nailing treys (Craft hit one and LaQuinto "LaQuinta" Ross drained the other).

By the way, I told ya that Wichita State was going to be the only team leftover from the state of Kansas (after KU got picked off by Michigan). But their run will come to an end. Ohio State's destiny lies in the Final Four (and they want revenge from last year's disappointing exit).


PENNIES

#4 Syracuse (29-9 and 19-15 ATS) vs. #3 Marquette (26-8 and 14-15-1 ATS)
Opening Line: Syracuse -4.5 and 129 o/u
Current Line: -4.5 and 127.5
Pick: Marquette +5 and lean the UNDER

I like the fact that Marquette isn't completely clueless on how to play against Jim Boeheim's zone. They only had two days to prepare, but they're familiar with Syracuse so they won't be at a huge disadvantage compared to the other Elite 8 teams who have to prep for opponents on short notice. Both Big East teams know what they need to do to beat each other. No surprises here.

Marquette won their previous match up and have gone 3-1 in their last 4 meetings. Buzz Williams and his Marquette squad consistently broke down Syracuse's tough zone. Plus Marquette is a veteran squad knows how to win close games and play with poise when the game is on the line.

I guess the biggest shocker in the Sweet 16 game was how terribly Indiana handled Cuse's zone defense when they knew it was coming! Then again, Marquette knows the zone is coming and they'd defeated it once before this season, but it comes down to whether or not they can execute a proper zone-busting defense and hit their three-pointers and attack the middle.

Syracuse wins low-scoring games because their zone forces opponents to take a lot of bad perimeter shots. In the tournament, Syracuse's opponents have been shooting horribly from three-point range. It only take a couple of streaky shooters to destroy a zone, so it will be up to Marquette's sharpshooters (gunner Vander Blue) to take advantage of weakness' in Syracuse's zone.

29 March 2013

March Madness: Friday Sweet 16 Preview - Dogs, Dogs, Dogs

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"We're now +13 dogs against the Gators?"

The Sweet 16 games continue with four games on Friday including a pair of #1 seeds (Louisville and Kansas), two Michigan teams, and two Cinderellas (Florida Gulf Coast and Oregon). The four teams who win will advance to the Elite Eight and play on Sunday.

In Thursday's Sweet 16 games, the dogs went 3-1 and the UNDERS also went 3-1. We had a very good Thursday with a 2-1 clip, especially 1-0 with our DIMES wager with Wichita State.
Friday Games (all games ET)
7:15pm #1 Louisville vs. #12 Oregon +11
7:27pm #1 Kansas vs. #4 Michigan +2.5
9:45pm #2 Duke vs. #3 Michigan State +2.5
9:57pm #1 Florida vs. #15 Florida-Gulf Coast +13
On Friday night we're backing all dogs and you should cherry pick a couple of UNDERS! We like both Michigan teams, both Cinderellas, and fading the Dookies. Here is how we rated the games based on our unique ranking systems (DIMES, NICKELS, PENNIES, and PASS)..


DIMES

#2 Duke (29-5 and 18-16 ATS) vs. #3 Michigan State (27-8 and 14-16-2)
Opening Line: Duke -1.5 and 133
Current Line: -2.5 and 134
Pick: Michigan State +2.5

Fuke Duke. Izzo getting points? Take it to the bank. F-U-C-K-D-U-K-E.

* * * * *

NICKELS

#1 Kansas (31-5 and ATS) vs. #4 Michigan (28-7 and ATS)
Opening Line: -2.5 and 136
Current Line: -2 and 136.5
Pick: Michigan +2.5 and leaning UNDER 136.5

We jumped on Michigan +2.5 when the lines opened. Michigan looked like a championship caliber team during their dominating victory over VCU in the last round. Meanwhile, Kansas did not have an impressive victory over UNC last weekend. It wasn't so much they cruised to victory as UNC handed them an easy win.

Both teams had the beneift of "home games" with their opening round games hosted in their backyards so their legion of fans could make an easy commute to the games. This game will be played in Cowboy Stadium aka Jerry Jones' gaudy monstrosity of a coliseum.

I like the under in games where teams have to play in huge football stadiums. It's a depth perception thing and the crowd is too far away from the action. Toss in the fact that both teams had several days to crunch film and study each others' offense, you have to assume both defenses will do a better job with the extra time. The under is ripe for the picking... but I'm on the fence because Michigan's shooters can get hot and then it's lights out and all of a sudden both teams drop 75 points.

Kansas has a veteran squad that plays with poise in crunch time. But can they stop Trey Burke? How about Hardaway 2.0 or Robinson 3.0? The triumvirate will be a handful for Jawhawk defenders.

This is your typical super close Sweet 16 game, so take the team with the points.

* * * * *

PENNIES

#1 Louisville (31-5 and 22-14 ATS) vs. #12 Oregon (28-8 and 15-18-1 ATS)
Opening Line: -9.5 and 127.5
Current Line: -10.5 and 131
Pick: Oregon +11

I usually fade Cinderellas when it gets to the Sweet 16. Let's face it, math is against them. Double digit seeds almost never advance to the Elite 8. They often have enough in the tank to get to the Sweet 16, but then they run out of gas and have to hitch back home. With that said, both Cinderellas will go home today, but we kind of like them as big dogs.When are you going to see double digit spreads this late into the tournament? Hard to pass up all those free points.

I'm a sucker for those cuties Oregon cheerleaders. Mostly everyone opened at -9 or -9.5. We grabbed an 11 when we found one, but it's been hovering around 10.5 right now.

Everyone knows Louisville should win and the numbers are in their favor (10-1 ATS in their last 11 games). Oregon has a freshman sensation in Damyean Dotson. I love DD. The kid gets better every day. Much like DD, Oregon is way under the radar. They're an afterthought. Everyone knows Louisville is going to the Final Four, so Oregon is just a speed bump for them. Plus, all of the Cindy love has been going to Florida Gulf Coast. Yeah, FGC get all the attention while Oregon continues to be an ugly duckling, a role they've undertaken the entire tournament (beating #5 Oklahoma State and #4 St. Louis). The public has faded them in both their previous games and almost all the public money is coming in on Louisville.

Louisville is by far the superior team, but Oregon is completely ignored by everyone, which gives in tons of inherent value. The line is double digits, so it's hard to pass it up. Rick Pitino's destiny is another Final Four berth and his L'ville squad should advance with a modest sweat. If Louisville doesn't play hard until the buzzer, Oregon can easily sneak in the backdoor with a cover. This might be the only game in which I like the OVER (wish we grabbed it a few points ago). That's where all the money has been... on the OVER. The line has moved 3-4 points since Sunday.

This never gets old...

* * * * *

PASS

#1 Florida (28-7 and 18-14 ATS) vs. #15 Florida-Gulf Coast (26-10 and 6-0 ATS)
Opening Line: -11.5 and 133
Current Line: -12.5 and 136
Pick: PASS... but lean FGC +13

We should have passed on everything today except Michigan, but we're action junkies.

The public hitched their bandwagon to FGC. Yet they are clearly a much stronger team than most #15 seeds we've seen. They beat one of the better teams from the MWC and one of the top defensive teams in the country in #7 San Diego State. They also beat another tough defensive team and one of the elite Big East teams in #2 Georgetown. Now it's time to take down the Florida Gators in the battle for college hoops supremacy in the Sunshine state. I expected Florida would be battling Miami in the Final Four for a shot at the title game, but Miami busted on Thursday. Alas, only two Florida teams are left and after this brawl, there will only be one.

I'm tempted to jump on the dog, because I don't want to follow the herd (all the money has been pouring in on Florida as the line jumped from -11.5 to -13 with only the wiseguys and syndicates gobbling up early numbers on Florida). The media is madly in love with this Cinderella, but history is against them. It's 11:59pm and the clock is about to hit Midnight. Cinderella is about to be turned into a pumpkin and Gulf Coast is about to become a wispy memory. But the million-dollar question is... can Florida cover double digits?  Will this line go even higher or will the wiseguys beat back the umber to 12 and under? Alas, that's a question I keep struggling with, which is why I'm passing.

I feel bad for the donks who fired away at moneyline bets on FGC at +650 or +700. I like mostly all the dogs today, but it looks like the bookies will be printing money today when Florida wins by 20.

* * * * *

Thursday Review...

Crazy games on Thursday eh? Dogs went 3-1. Lots of low-scoring with unders going 3-1. But we went 2-1 and hit our DIMES bet.

#2 Miami played like crap and got their asses handed to them. Man, we donked off a small bet on the Canes when we warned everyone that Marquette was a dangerous cockaroach that will not die! The Marquette Roaches busted a bunch of brackets. The Ohio State advanced to the Elite 8, but failed to cover against Arizona and we won a close shave (Arizona +4). Wichita State got off to a hot start and held off LaSalle and we shipped a monsterbetten. REDEMPTION! With LaSalle's defeat, we won back all the money we had lost on them. We wisely avoided the Indiana/Syracuse shitshow but shoulda went with our gut and hammered UNDER (which we also recommended but I was too pussy-shit to fire away on my own advice). Sadly, another #1 seed bit the dust when Indiana couldn't solve #4 Syracuse's zone and they got brutally bounced by Boeheim.

28 March 2013

March Madness: Thursday Sweet 16 Preview

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

See you in the Elite 8?

The Sweet 16 is finally here and after a rumble over the next few days, only four teams will be left standing. Who will it be? Is it time for the Cinderellas to go home and the top-seeded teams take care of business? Or will one of the Cinderellas like LaSalle or Florida Gulf Coast extend their magical run?

Every team had a few days to return home to rest, study film, and prep for the next game. In this upcoming round, I generally like unders and favorites. I look at potential unders because teams have extra prep time to work on defensive match-ups. At the same time, I tend to back more favorites while trying to fade the "Cinderellas" after the media, talking heads, and public have all jumped on their bandwagon and inflated their value.

The Thursday games include a #1 seed (Indiana) and a pair of #2 seeds (Miami and Ohio State). There's also a Cinderella trying to stay alive with #13 LaSalle squaring off against #9 Wichita State.
Thursday Games
7:15pm ET #2 Miami vs. #3 Marquette +5
7:47pm ET #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Arizona +4
9:45pm ET  #1 Indiana vs. #4 Syracuse +5.5
10:17pm ET #9 Wichita State vs. #13 LaSalle +4
I ranked the first batch of Sweet 16 games using our system of Dimes, Nickels, Pennies, and Pass.

DIMES

#9 Wichita State vs. #13 LaSalle
Opening Line: Wichita State -3.5
Current Line: -4.5 and 135.5
Pick: Wichita State -3.5

LaSalle burned me three times. No way they can burn me a fourth, right? LaSalle won a play-in game last Tuesday (BSU) and then won again on Thursday (Kansas St.) and Saturday (Ole Miss). Now they take on the Shockers of Wichita State. I'm only betting this game bigger than I should out of spite. I know, it's foolish to bet angry and that's a huge leak over the long run, but fuck it. I gotta get my money back from those LaSalle fuckers. Besides, Wichita State looks strong on paper and no one can stop Cleathony Early (awesome name by the way). In mostly every power rating the Shockers hold an edge over LaSalle, but Ken Pom's power ratings mean jack shit when you get down to crunch time and it boils down to which team has more heart to play tougher defense and which team hits their free throws with the game on the line. LaSalle has been shooting lights out from downtown, but can they continue to keep up that pace?

Bottom line... History is against LaSalle. Double digit seeds rarely move onto the Elite 8. LaSalle's nifty run (from play-in to Sweet 16) comes to an end tonight, meanwhile Wichita State shall become the only Kansas team to advance to the Elite Eight (yes, I know the Kansas game isn't until Friday, but Michigan is going to pick off the Jayhawks; I'll write more in tomorrow's preview).

* * * * *

NICKELS

None. I really didn't love any of the games for today and only threw a couple of pennies on two games just to keep things interesting. I probably would have only made the Wichita State/LaSalle game a Nickels pick if LaSalle hadn't schooled me three times last week.

* * * * *

PENNIES

#2 Ohio State (28-7 and 20-12-1 ATS) vs. #6 Arizona (27-7 and 16-16 ATS)
Opening Line: Ohio St. -4 and 132 o/u
Current Line: -3 and 134
Pick: Arizona +4

Aaron Craft bailed Ohio State out of potential peril against Iowa State. Craft bricked a couple of clutch free throws, but drew a highly-controversial offensive foul (it was a 50/50 call and coulda gone either way), and then knocked down a three-pointer as time expired to knock off Iowa State. Who knows if the ref makes a call the other way and then I'm writing about the Mayor's Cyclones squad in the Sweet 16?

Arizona's guards are going to have a tough time dealing with Craft on both ends of the floor and not let him get under their skin. They also have to figure out how to contain Deshaun Thomas.

Ohio State knows this side of the bracket is theirs for the taking but they might have their minds thinking about the Final Four while overlooking the opponent in front of them. Ohio State might have a few problems handling Arizona's playing style and then there's the question about who's going to guard Solomon Hill.

This game is hosted in Los Angeles and Arizona will attract a sizable fan base. Ohio State had a favorable draw in the opening rounds with essentially two home games in Dayton, OH. Now Ohio State has to travel out west and play in Arizona's backyard.

The public loves Ohio State, especially in the middle of a 10-game winning streak including three wins in the brutal Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes are on a roll and should flatten those pesky Wildcats if this game were in Ohio, but since it's out West, Arizona has a legit shot. The Pac-12 fared well in the opening rounds, but Arizona's wins were not all that impressive (they beat Belmont and Harvard). Still, they got the job done. Now they'll have a chance to play the foil as a pseudo-home dog.


#2 Miami (29-6 and 21-10-1ATS) vs. #3 Marquette (25-8 and 13-15-1 ATS)
Opening Line: Miami -5.5 and 127 o/u
Current Line: -5 and 127
Pick: Miami -5

On paper, Miami wins this game. The bookies know it (look at the line). The wiseguys and public know it (look at the line move). Every metrics and stat geek knows it after running millions of computer simulations. Yet, we still have to play the game. Add overzealous zebras, an unfamiliar neutral court, and tons of hype... then anything can happen to the heavily-favored #1 seed. The public is ga-ga in love with Miami, which is why I don't want to back them, then again, I don't trust Marquette at all because they struggle to cover the spread (2-5-1 ATS in last 8 games).

Marquette has a not-so favorable public perception after they stole a single-point win against Davidson and only beat Butler by two points. Two wins by three points? Not what you call dominating and makes you winder if Marquette even belong in the Sweet 16. Yet somehow by the grace of god and Davidson's major league choke job, Marquette still won both games by close shaves. That makes them somewhat dangerous, because they flirted with death in both opening games and stared into the darkness of the abyss while on the edge of extinction, yet they survived... twice.  On one hand, Marquette is like a fearless cockroach who will not die not matter how many times you step on them and drive your heel into their back, so they'll hang around until the final possession and keep the game close. Or you can make a valid argument that Marquette has used up all their run good from the college hoops gods and they're due for an ass-kicking.

Miami lost Reggie Johnson to a knee injury, which thins their already gaunt bench. If the zebras call a tight game and Miami gets into foul trouble, then they'll be in hot water. If Miami puts the clamp down on Vander Blue, then Marquette will have to find someone to make up for Blue's points production. Miami might want to get out to a good start and take an early lead because Marquette is 20-1 straight up when they hold the lead at halftime.

* * * * *

PASS

#1 Indiana (29-6 and 17-15-1 ATS) vs. #4 Syracuse (28-9 and 18-15 ATS)
Opening Line: Indiana -5.5 and 135
Current Line: -5.5 and 136
Pick: PASS but leaning UNDER

Syracuse is that pesky team that never does what you want it to. Bet the Orange, then they fail to cover. If you fade the Orange, then they crush you. It's frustrating. If I get antsy and decide to touch this game, then I'll take a look at the UNDER. Jimmy Boeheim will want to keep Indiana within arm's reach so he'll opt for a slow, plodding yet physical chess match. I have a gut feeling this game comes down to whoever has the ball last, which is why Syracuse and the points seems enticing, but it's hard to bet against Victor Oladipo because the kid wins big ball games. I can't tell if is one of those games in which Syracuse win by 2 points or Indiana wins by 12. If Indiana's zone busters are on target and pick apart Syracuse's zone defense, then it's going to be a long night for Cuse. This will be an ugly game, so I'm not going to bet it and will avoid the shit show (I sat through a puke-fest last weekend when Colorado lost to Illinois in a disgusting display of basketball with 40 minutes of atrocious shooting and sloppy execution on both sides). Anyway, I'm passing on this one but like I said earlier, give the UNDER some consideration.

Good luck today. Don't forget to follow us @Ocelot Sports.

26 March 2013

Heat Check

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

The Miami Heat played the Charlotte Bobcats last Sunday. Talk about a foregone conclusion. The NBA’s best team was playing the NBA’s worst.

Pauly told me the money line for the game was a hilarious -4000. Miami led by four after one quarter, by eight at half, by 16 after three quarters, and won by 32. I pointed out the uncanny progression to Pauly, who responded “It’s like the Fibonacci sequence for tanking NBA teams.”

That game marked the 26th straight win for the Heat, then last night they picked up No. 27 versus Orlando. Thus has the idea of an NBA team equaling or besting the all-time mark of 33 straight wins set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers -- something that seemed unthinkable for decades -- become a genuine possibility.

To win 34 NBA games in a row. Even though it has become more of a possibility, it is still hard to imagine. And not just for us poor Bobcats fans, for whom winning, oh, four in a row is perhaps similarly unthinkable. In fact, by winning 27 straight, Miami has won more games in this current streak than the Bobcats have won during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons combined. Charlotte won seven games last year, and 16 so far this season.

The Heat haven’t lost since February 1 when the Pacers beat them 102-89 in Indiana. Since then LeBron, D-Wade, and company been dancing their way through most of the league, shaking off slow starts and large deficits to win game after game after game.

All but eight of the 27 games during the streak have been against Eastern Conference opponents. Of the 27 games, 13 have been road games and 14 at home. They’ve beaten Philadelphia three times and a few other teams twice (including Charlotte). So far Miami has defeated 21 of the other 29 NBA teams during the streak, including every Eastern Conference team except for the Brooklyn Nets.

The average margin of victory during the streak has been just under 12 points (11.93), with that 32-point win the other night versus the Bobcats being the largest. Meanwhile there was a one-point win (vs. Orlando), and a couple of close-call two-point wins at Boston and at Cleveland, the latter game featuring a mind-boggling second-half comeback after being down 27. And Sacramento managed to take the Heat to two overtimes in Miami (the only game in the streak to go into extra time) before losing by a dozen.

Here are the 27 games during which Miami’s record went from 29-14 to 56-14, with the opponents’ records going into the games noted:

1. Feb. 3 -- 100-85 at Toronto (17-30)
2. Feb. 4 -- 99-94 vs. Charlotte (11-35)
3. Feb. 6 -- 114-108 vs. Houston (27-23)
4. Feb. 8 -- 111-89 vs. LA Clippers (35-16)
5. Feb. 10 -- 107-97 vs. LA Lakers (24-27)
6. Feb. 12 -- 117-104 vs. Portland (25-26)
7. Feb. 14 -- 110-100 at Oklahoma City (39-13)
8. Feb. 20 -- 103-90 at Atlanta (29-22)
9. Feb. 21 -- 86-67 at Chicago (31-22)
10. Feb. 23 -- 114-90 at Philadelphia (22-30)
11. Feb. 24 -- 109-105 vs. Cleveland (18-37)
12. Feb. 26 -- 141-129 (2 OT) vs. Sacramento (19-38)
13. Mar. 1 -- 98-91 vs. Memphis (38-18)
14. Mar. 3 -- 99-93 at NY Knicks (35-20)
15. Mar. 4 -- 97-81 at Minnesota (20-36)
16. Mar. 6 -- 97-96 vs. Orlando (17-44)
17. Mar. 8 -- 102-93 vs. Philadelphia (23-37)
18. Mar. 10 -- 105-91 vs. Indiana (39-23)
19. Mar. 12 -- 98-81 vs. Atlanta (39-28)
20. Mar. 13 -- 98-94 at Philadelphia (24-39)
21. Mar. 15 -- 107-94 at Milwaukee (32-31)
22. Mar. 17 -- 108-91 at Toronto (26-40)
23. Mar. 18 -- 105-103 at Boston (36-29)
24. Mar. 20 -- 98-95 at Cleveland (22-45)
25. Mar. 22 -- 103-89 vs. Detroit (23-46)
26. Mar. 24 -- 109-77 vs. Charlotte (16-53)
27. Mar. 25 -- 108-94 at Orlando (18-52)
And here’s a look at the Heat’s next seven games, again with opponents’ records indicated (as of today):

Mar. 27 -- at Chicago (38-31)
Mar. 29 -- at New Orleans (25-46)
Mar. 31 -- at San Antonio (53-17)
Apr. 2 -- vs. NY Knicks (42-26)
Apr. 5 -- at Charlotte (16-54)
Apr. 6 -- vs. Philadelphia (27-43)
Apr. 9 -- vs. Milwaukee (34-35)
Just five regular season games follow the April 9 home game vs. Milwaukee for Miami. While the Heat have already clinched the Southeast division title and have all but clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, they are still playing for home-court advantage in the finals. At the moment the Heat have a three-game lead over San Antonio (53-17) for the NBA’s overall best record, with both teams having a dozen games left to play. (Last year the Oklahoma City Thunder had home-court advantage in the finals when Miami prevailed 4-1.)

The Spurs game in San Antonio presents the most formidable challenge among these next seven games for the Heat, with the Bulls and Knicks contests representing the next two most significant hurdles.

Looking at the other teams standing between Miami and history, the Hornets/Pelicans ended another big streak last night, stopping Denver’s 15-game run with a surprisingly convincing 24-point win at New Orleans. The Heat have beaten Philadelphia three times during the streak, but most recently by just four points. And Milwaukee actually beat Miami once earlier in the year while also taking the Heat to overtime in one of the two games the Heat won against them.

In other words, of these next seven games, only one appears to be a forgone conclusion as the Heat make their run at 34 straight.

The Bobcats.

By the way, you know what Pauly was referring to when he mentioned the Fibonacci sequence, right? That series of integers starting with 0, then 1, then continuing with each subsequent number being the sum of the previous two. Of special interest because of the way the sequence sometimes occurs in nature, such as in the branching patterns of trees or the spirals of a pine cone or the seeds on a sunflower.

Like I say, it starts with zero, then 1, then you start adding from there...

So, you know... 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21... hmm...

Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.

25 March 2013

Let It Snow

By Joe Speaker
Los Angeles, CA

That was quite a week for the United States Men's soccer team. A flurry of injuries to defenders and goalkeeper Tim Howard, lineup question marks nearly everywhere and an anonymously-sourced article on Coach Jurgen Klinsmann that called his leadership into question. Not the type of run-up one would prefer to a key World Cup qualifier against a dangerous Costa Rica team and the Chicken Littles were out in force. As it turns out the only thing falling from the sky was snow, a perfectly-timed storm that muted creativity on the field and--after a 1-0 U.S. win--criticism off it.

The win pulls the Nats from last (with zero points) in The Hexagonal to second (with three) and though the Ticos have lodged a protest with FIFA, the result will likely stand (pending any well-slotted payments into Sepp Blatter's various slush funds) and temporarily keeps the anti-Klinsmann braying at bay. Clint Dempsey, in his first game as U.S. captain, provided the lone, early goal and the dense snow took care of the rest. At the opening whistle, the weather appeared to be simply a nuisance. By halftime, it was the story, reducing the final 45 minutes to farce.


So, a welcome result after a week of increased--and some would say welcome--scrutiny. An uncomplimentary Sporting News article claimed Klinsmann had lost the locker room due to his unorthodox training methods, questionable people skills and tactical cluelessness. The discontent came from anonymous sources, it should be noted. My take is basically "nothing to see here." You grant anonymity, you will get all manner of bitching, and while some of the complaints may have the whiff of merit, bitching is just something people do when the stakes are low. There's no insight there, just score settling, a slap fight initiated by disgruntled players, actions which drew the ire of team leaders Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and erstwhile captain Carlos Bocanegra, whose omission from the starting lineup against Honduras in the first qualifying game (a 2-1 U.S. loss on the road) featured prominently in the article.



The article falls into the footnote bin for now, since the Nats got the three points. The manner in which they won however, fails to provide any answers to the questions which still plague the side. This is the same team that performed so poorly in Honduras (a 2-1 loss to open The Hexagonal) and a one-goal win in a blizzard hardly produced any quality football to lean on going forward. Yes, DaMarcus Beasley was a professional presence in his return to National Team duty (at left back, no less) and the midfield pairing of Bradley and Jermaine Jones (sporting a brilliant "Snow Fro") was as efficient as I've ever seen them. But THE GAME WAS PLAYED IN A BLIZZARD so there is really no way to properly grade the performance or infer that the team has gelled or turned a corner.

That's the beauty of CONCACAF and The Hex, however, and in this case, we'll have waited all of 72 hours until we get to find out--again!--what this team has in store. Hope you enjoyed the win because...oops, time's up.

Tuesday Night. Mexico. At the Azteca.

Spoiler alert: nobody expects the Americans to get a result at Mexico's home ground. Yes Jamaica just got a draw there in the first round of games. Yes, the U.S. 'B' team got a win there in a friendly last year. Those results mean nothing. The rabid Azteca crowd does not ramp up for Jamaica or friendlies. For the U.S., El Tri's players, coaches and fans break out all the emotion and gamesmanship: bags filled with questionable liquids, batteries, hotel stakeouts, a wall of sound that gives Phil Spector a boner. The Nats' qualifying record at the Azteca speaks for itself: one draw, 183 losses (approximate).

Mexico is struggling, you say? True, with two draws from two games thus far. The first, a drab scoreless draw with the Reggae Boyz, followed by a blown 2-0 lead in San Pedro Sula, where Honduras (leading The Hex with four points) scored twice in the final 13 minutes to gain the point. The Mexico defense will be without suspended starters Francisco "Maza" Rodriguez and Jorge Torres Nilo, mirroring the U.S. issues at the back and coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre is on an even hotter seat than Klinsmann (like always). This is a must-win for Mexico, having already dropped two points at home.

The U.S. used a makeshift back four against Costa Rica comprised of Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson and Beasley. That's a good strong foursome that matches up well against a good strong set of attackers, but they lack pace and will be sorely tested by Mexico's offensive stars: Chicharito, Gio Dos Santos and Andres Guardado. The last time the two full national teams played, this trio (along with a thankfully absent this time Pablo Berrera) danced through and around the Nats for four goals in the 2011 Gold Cup Final. Manchester United's Chicharito plays up top in a 4-4-1-1, while Dos Santos is allowed to freelance all over the park. His movement stretches the most disciplined of defenses and Chicharito is a master at exploiting the small spaces left open by his teammate's forays. Goodson and Gonzalez will have to be ever mindful of the "Little Pea" (seriously, is that some sort of Mexican idiom? Is a "Little Pea" a very dangerous thing south of the border?) and not get caught ball-watching.

In the middle of the park, Jones was injured in the Costa Rica game (frostbite, I think), so Klinsmann will have to find a replacement alongside Bradley. He hasn't brought in any reinforcements, despite my suggestion he call Florida Gulf Coast University to see if they have any holding mids. The spot will likely go to Maurice Edu, a defense-only guy with the pace to run with Mexico's attackers. Edu's problem is his inability to distribute the ball with any efficiency, which leads to the U.S.'s primary problem in these road qualifiers, their inability to release pressure on their defense by possessing the ball. The Honduras game was a prime example (although not the only one). Given a lead on the road, the U.S. couldn't hold onto the ball enough to force Honduras out of their comfort zone.They quickly and repeatedly gave it back to the Catrachos, who got on with another foray deep into the Americans' final third. The Nats sorely need a defender or midfielder to make those springing passes, that transition the team from defense to offense, make the opponents run back, instead of camping out in the U.S. half. Were Jozy Altidore able to control a ball and hold it up every once in a while, I don't think folks would complain about that, either.

The U.S. danger will come from counters and set pieces, as always, but the overhwelming focus of the evening will be defense. Keeping their shape, breaking up attacks 30-40 yards from goal and beating Chicharito to every cross.

Last Friday, the three CONCACAF qualifying games were played in conditions ranging from 90-degree heat to a blizzard. There is no way to predict what weirdness happens Tuesday night. Which is the way we like it.

24 March 2013

March Madness: Sunday 32 Preview and the Demonic Possession of Marshall Henderson

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA


It's Sunday. After three days of nonstop college basketball here we are on the cusp of the Sweet 16. Eight teams are already in and we're waiting to find out how the field gets trimmed by eight more teams. There's eight games today including a highly publicized match-up between Roy Williams vs. Kansas, the battle of double-digit seeds (#12 Ole Miss vs. #13 LaSalle), and yeah how could I forget... Fuck Duke.
Sunday Games (all times PT):
9:15am #2 Ohio St vs. #10 Iowa St +7
11:45am #1 Indiana vs. #9 Temple +11.5
2:15pm #1 Kansas vs. #8 UNC +6
3:10pm #3 Florida vs. #11 Minnesota +8
4:10pm #7 SDSU vs. #15 FGC +7.5
4:40pm #12 Ole Miss vs. #13 LaSalle +4
5:40pm #2 Miami vs. #7 Illinois +6.5
6:40pm #2 Duke vs. #7 Creighton +5
Here is a rundown of Sunday's games using the simplistic rankings: PASS, PENNIES, NICKELS and DIMES. Yesterday, we hit our DIMES game on Louisville, but shit the bed with our NICKELS game on VCU. We also went 2-1 in our PENNIES games on Saturday.


DIMES

#2 Miami (28-6 and 21-9-1 ATS) vs. #7 Illinois (23-12 and 14-18 ATS)
Opening Line: Miami -6.5 and 128.5 o/u
Current Line: -7.5 and 128.5
Pick: Miami -6.5

Heavy money has been pouring in on Miami from everywhere. Maybe a few wiseguys might be trying to pluck a few +8's out of the water but aside from them, there's very little faith in Illinois. This is a team that played one of the ugliest games (against Colorado) thus far in the tournament. I'm fading them on that performance alone. Besides, Illinois is 2-6 ATS in their last 8 games. Miami is going to the Final Four and this Illinois squad is just a bug that is going to get squashed by Miami's windshield. The Canes should win by double digits.

#3 Florida (27-7 and 17-14 ATS) vs. #11 Minnesota +8 (21-12 and 16-14-1 ATS)
Opening Line: Florida -8.5 and 122.5 o/u
Current Line: -8 and 124.5
Pick: Florida -8

Florida is on a mission to win the entire thing but they cannot overlook Minnesota and their savvy coach Tubby Smith. The Gophers are tough at home (they upset #1 Indiana) but they are atrocious on the road (3-8). Sure, they won their opening round game but UCLA was a joke. Everyone and their grandma knew Minnesota was going to win that game (and that freshman wunderkind Shabazz Muhammed was going thru the motions before leaping to the NBA). So Minny got an easy win against a team that put forth minimal effort, but now they have to face a team that is relentless on offense and defense. Billy Donovan's squad wins by double digits.


NICKELS

#12 Ole Miss (27-8 and 14-12-2 ATS) vs. #13 LaSalle (23-9 and 18-12)
Opening Line: Ole Miss -3.5 and 143 o/u
Current Line: -4 and 143
Pick: Ole Miss -3

Everyone hates this Marshall Henderson clown, which is why I love him. There's a fine line between plain crazy and fucking batshit nuts, and this Henderson kid flirts that line. Ole Miss is a perfect team for March Madness because they will never just roll over and die. They'll fight and claw until the clock runs out. I'm bitter because I faded LaSalle twice and they cost me good money. Time to get my money back. I've been singing the praises of Ole Miss since the brackets were released a week a ago. They were on my radar as a potential Cinderella. Guess what? Ole Miss is going to the Sweet 16... so long as Marshall Henderson doesn't do anything really crazy, like hump a bunch of LaSalle cheerleaders underneath the basket after diving for a loose ball.

Henderson taunting Auburn fans
 
PENNIES

#7 SDSU (23-10 and 14-13-1 ATS) vs. #15 FGC +7.5 (25-10 and 5-0 ATS)
Opening Line: San Diego -7.5 and 132 o/u
Current Line: -7 and 133.5
Pick: FGC +7.5

I was wrong and thought the media was over-hyping Florida Gulf Coast. Or maybe FCG exposed Georgetown and the Big East for being vastly overrated? Regardless, I'm jumping on the FGC bandwagon. I have no faith in MWC teams after New Mexico got their asses handed to them by Harvard. SDSU is the sole MWC team left in the mix and expect them to go down as FGC becomes the first-ever #15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.

#1 Indiana (28-6 and 17-14-1 ATS) vs. #9 Temple (24-9 and 15-16 ATS)
Opening Line: Indiana -12.5 and 147 o/u
Current Line:-11.5 and 147.5
Pick: Indiana -11.5

Ride the Oladipo Express to the Final Four, baby! Jesus Christ, I'm starting to sound like Dickey V. Temple is the worst team left in the tournament (yes, even Florida Gulf Coast is better) and probably should have lost their previous game. I wrote this once before, but Indiana has been blowing out teams all season long and they are well-trained to easily cover a double-digit spread.

#2 Duke (28-5 and 17-16 ATS) vs. #7 Creighton (28-7 and 19-13-1 ATS)
Opening Line: Duke -4.5 and 144 o/u
Current Line: -5 and 145
Pick: Creighton +5

I hate Duke with the passion of one million fiery suns and will bet Creighton out of pure spite. Bias gambling is not smart gambling, but it feels so much more satisfying when you win out of hate/spite than pressing a mathematical edge. I like this McDermott kid on Creighton. So does the media because he's the antithesis of Marshall Henderson, which is why I love this game. Two diverse personalities trying to achieve the same thing... a Sweet 16 berth. I do not hide the fact that I bleed Carolina blue, so I'm rooting for Creighton here. Fuck Duke.


PASS

#2 Ohio St (27-7 and 20-11-1 ATS)  vs. #10 Iowa St (23-11 and 16-13 ATS)
Opening Line: Ohio St -7 and 141 o/u
Current Line: -7 and 142
Pick: PASS... the Hoiberg Effect meets OHIO nation

Fear the Mayor. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has him team ready to unleash an aerial bombardment. Those corn-fed boys know how to shoot the rock. Iowa State is too dangerous and Ohio State might be looking way ahead after #1 seed Gonzaga got bounced last night. Then again, this game is in Dayton, which is right down the road from Columbus. This is essentially a home game for the Buckeyes, which is why I'm passing. You might want to consider taking a flier on the OVER or even Iowa State getting points. If this game wasn't in Ohio, I'd probably be betting Iowa State.

#1 Kansas (30-5 and 19-15 ATS) vs. #8 UNC (25-10 and 21-12 ATS)
Opening Line: Kansas -6 and 142 o/u
Current Line: -6 and 143
Pick: PASS... media wet dream

Emotional game. Kansas should win, after all they are playing essentially a home game. Shamus' scouting report said the Heels would struggle against Kansas' big guys and they've lost a few big games on the road (Indiana, NC State, Miami). Kansas is going to be fired up to beat their old coach in Kansas territory. Roy Williams is 0-2 in UNC's previous meetings against his old team.

Best of luck today. Don't forget to follow @OcelotSports on Twitter.

23 March 2013

March Madness: Saturday 32 Preview and Smoking Hot Oregon Cheerleaders

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA


Whew. I don't know about you, but I barely survived the first two full days of March Madness. How's your bracket holding up? Yeah, I know it sucks that someone's wife picked Harvard, LaSalle, and Florida Gulf Coast and is currently winning your pool.

Now that the opening round is out of the way, it's time to figure out which teams will make it to the Sweet 16. Which teams had a fluke win and which teams are the real deal? We'll find out soon enough.
Saturday Games (all times PT):
9:15am: #4 Michigan vs. #5 VCU +3 
11:45am: #3 Michigan State vs. #6 Memphis +5.5
2:15pm: #1 Louisville vs. #8 Colorado State +10.5 
3:10pm: #6 Arizona vs. #14 Harvard +10
4:10pm: #4 St. Louis vs. #12 Oregon +3.5
4:45pm: #3 Marquette vs. #6 Butler +2.5
5:40pm: #1 Gonzaga vs. #9 Wichita St. +7
6:40pm: #4 Syracuse vs. #12 CAL +7.5

I'll break down these games by potential bet sizes: Dimes, Nickels, Pennies, and Pass. You're bright enough to know what I'm alluding to! Here we go...

DIMES

#1 Louisville (30-5 and 21-14 ATS ) vs. #8 Colorado State (26-8 and 14-15-1 ATS)
Opening Line: L'ville -10.5 and 134 o/u
Current Line: -11 and 135 o/u
Pick: Louisville -10.5

Louisville is in steamroller mode. Coach Pitno has his team firing on all cylinders. They will not back down against anyone, especially CSU. The Mountain West has been getting their ass kicked (e.g. New Mexico getting picked off my Harvard and Cal knocking off UNLV). MWC teams went 2-4 with only SDSU and CSU advancing. CSU is a mere speed bump on the road to the Final Four (and beyond) for Louisville. As long as they can hold CSU under 70 points (6-6 record in games under 70), they'll be in great shape. Louisville won 11 in a row and are 8-0 ATS in their last 8 games. Expect Pitino's crew to win big.


NICKELS

#4 Michigan (27-7 and 15-16-1 ATS) vs. #5 VCU (27-8 and 11-17 ATS)
Opening Line: Michigan -2 and 141.5 o/u
Current Line: -4 and 143
Pick: VCU +4  and VCU moneyline +150

I'm gonna ride Shaka Smart's magic carpet ride to the Sweet 16 once again, even though he's going deep behind enemy lines (Auburn Hills, MI). Michigan played air tight defense against S. Dakota's Nate Wolters and cut the head off that one-headed snake of an offense, while VCU obliterated #12 Akron. Michigan will have their hands full against Smart's up tempo squad that wreaks havoc against whomever they play. You should consider the OVER in the game with all the hot shooting from Michigan's tandem of Robinson/Hardaway and the trigger-happy VCU offense.


PENNIES

#6 Arizona (16-7 and 15-16 ATS) vs. #14 Harvard (20-9 and 14-12-1 ATS)
Opening Line: Arizona -10 and 133 o/u
Current Line: -10 and 132.5
Pick: Harvard +10

How many people are going to fade Harvard out of spite for busting their bracket? With the exception of Duke, I cannot think of a more hated team in college basketball right now. But ya know what? I'm gonna back them. I got to get my money back after dinking it off with New Mexico. besides, Arizona struggles to cover the spread. Most of the time when one of these double digit seeds win their Round 64 game, then they'll win their Round 32 and move onto the Sweet 16 (where they usually run out of gas). Using that philosophy, I'm going to back most of the potential Cinderellas. I think Arizona is the most overrated PAC-12 team left, while CAL and Oregon are highly underrated. Maybe I'll get really frisky and bet Harvard +500 moneyline?

#3 Michigan State (26-8 and 13-16-2 ATS) vs. #6 Memphis (31-4 and 16-16)
Opening Line: Michigan State -4.5 and 130 o/u
Current Line:  Mich St -5.5 and 130.5
Pick: Michigan St -4.5

I was able to grab  Mich St. -4.5 and it's sitting on -5.5. I wouldn't touch this if it went -6 or higher. Memphis is a good team and you're going to give them 6 or more points? The more I think about it, if the line inches close to 7 by tip off, I might fire away at Memphis +7 only because Izzo's crew wins a lot but struggles to cover.

#4 St. Louis (28-6 and 22-10 ATS) vs. #12 Oregon (27-8 and 14-18-1 ATS)
Opening Line: St. Louis -3.5 and 123 o/u
Current Line: -3.5 and 124
Pick: Oregon +4

I got on the Ducks when there was a +4 out there for a brief moment before it returned to +3.5. I'm not sold on St. Louis, so I'm biased and I want to ride a hot team in Oregon. Besides, they are a better FT shooting team and have a deeper bench. Plus, they have one of my new favorite players is Damyean Dotson. And what the fuck is a Billiken anyway? Let's be honest here... the Oregon Ducks' cheerleaders are unbelievably super hot. The Ducks have to keep winning! If you believe in conspiracy theories, then the suits want to keep Oregon around just for the cheerleaders alone.

The Ducks' cheerleaders turned and twisted heads the other night

 PASS

#3 Marquette (24-8 and 13-15 ATS) vs. #6 Butler (27-8 and 19-13-1 ATS)
Opening Line: Marquette -2.5 and 127 o/u
Current Line: Marquette -1.5 and 124.5
Pick: PASS, but lean UNDER

The Big East is a Big Bust (with exception of Louisville and I think Syracuse is overrated). Marquette got damn lucky to be here. Butler should be playing Davidson, but Davidson blew a lead and let Marquette in the back door. Butler isn't as strong as previous years, so who knows if they can pull a horseshoe out of their ass one more time? If anything, take a look at the UNDER, but not if it keeps sinking! It's dropped 2.5 or 3 in some shops.

#1 Gonzaga (32-2 and 17-13-2 ATS) vs. #9 Wichita St (27-8 and 16-14-2 ATS)
Opening Line: Gonzaga -7 and 130.5 o/u
Current Line: -6.5 and 129
Pick:  PASS, but lean Wichita +6.5

I have no respect for Gonzaga, the weakest of the #1 seeds. They struggled against Southern on Thursday. With the exits of New Mexico, K-State, and Wisconsin, they also have a wide open lane to the Elite 8 with only Ohio State standing in their way of a Final Four bid. If they overlook Wichita St., the Shockers can catch the Zags with their pants down. If we can get a better number on Wichita, we might jump on them.

#4 Syracuse (27-9 and 18-14 ATS) vs. #12 CAL (21-11 and 13-16-1 ATS)
Opening Line: Syracuse -8 and 124 o/u
Current Line: -7 and 125.5
Pick: PASS, but lean CAL +7.5

I miscalculated Syracuse's last game. For one, I thought Montana's sharpshooters would give them a sweat and keep it close because the NCAA is breathing down Syracuse's neck with potential violations. Then again, when is Cuse not getting flagged for something shady? Cal beat a mediocre UNLV team, but they have a decent defense and get the benefit of a "home" game in San Jose (a quick hour drive from Berkeley). If Cuse is looking ahead to Indiana, then they're a prime candidate to get ambushed by Cal in front of their rowdy fans.

This is from the Fiesta Bowl, but who cares, right?
 
Good luck today. Let's go Ducks. For the love of God, please let the Ducks win.

22 March 2013

March Madness: Friday Dogs

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Rough day yesterday if you picked the wrong dogs like I did. If you had New Mexico going deep, then you're in trouble. Fucking Harvard. The search for a potential Cinderella continues.


Luckily 16 more games are on today's schedule to help wipe out the atrocious memories from last night. Here's today's slate of underdogs with only one #12 seed playing today (they went 2-1 yesterday)...
Friday Dogs:
#16 James Madison +21.5 vs. #1 Indiana
#14 NW St +20.5 vs. #3 Flordia
#16 W. Kentucky +20 vs. #1 Kansas
#16 Albany +18 vs.#1 Duke
#15 Iona +14 vs. #2 Ohio State
#15 Flordia Gulf +13 vs. #2 Georgetown
#15 Pacific +12 vs. #2 Miami
#13 LaSalle +5.5 vs. #4 Kansas St
#12 Ole Miss +6 vs. #5 Wisconsin
#10 Cincy +3 vs. #7 Creighton
#10 San Diego +3 vs. #7 Oklahoma
#10 Colorado +1 vs. #7 Illinois
#10 Iowa State +1 vs. #7 Notre Dame
#9 Temple +3.5 vs. #8 NC State
#9 Vilanova +4 vs. #8 UNC
#6 UCLA +3 vs. #11 Minnesota

Just like yesterday, I broke down the dogs into four categories...

Big Dogs

James Madison +21.5
NW St +20.5
W. Kentucky +20
Albany +19.5

Yesterday, the Big Dogs went 1-1. Louisville murdered NC A&T while Gonzaga struggled with Southern. Heck Southern had a two-point lead late in the game before the Zags pulled away. I still think the Zags are the weakest #1 seed and are vulnerable the rest of the tournament.

Indiana has been blowing out inferior teams all season long. Victor Oladipo gets better every game. You might want to back Indy if you're feeling frisky. Same goes for Florida. I can see Billy Donavan's squad playing uptempo and pressing with a 20-point lead. Which leaves you trying to decide to fade Duke or Kansas. The public usually hates Duke so that line with Albany is inflated and Duke should be a favorite by 24+ but all the Duke haters pushed the price down. Which leaves.... Western Kentucky. I don't have anything great to say about them or anything too horrible to say about Kansas other than Kansas is playing in their own backyard so this is almost a homegame for them. They'll be a ton of fans so even their second stringers might play extra hard in a blowout.

I'd pass on all of these big dogs, but if you hate Duke then go for Albany but try to find a better number.

Mid Dogs

Iona +14
Flordia Gulf Coast +13.5
Pacific +14

This is where you'll find a Cinderella, right? Maybe so, maybe not. Yesterday's Mid Dogs went 2-4 with only Harvard winning outright and Davidson covering (but losing by 1).

Yesterday, I foolishly thought this year's Cinderella could be S. Dakota State or Montana. The kids from the boondock states typically shoot lights out, but they didn't and instead of bombarding the big teams with a ton of three-pointers, both teams floundered. Credit Michigan for shutting down SDSU's Nate Wolters. Also, Syracuse destroyed Montana. Ugliest game I saw in a long time. I was totally wrong and thought the recent NCAA investigation into Cuse would mentally affect the coaching staff and team. Nope. They shrugged it off and beat the hell out of the Grizzlies. A high school team would have shot better than Montana. What an embarrassment to the Big Sky! But hey, the bookies were wrong too. After all, they set the line at -13.

Today is a new day. The only think I know about Iona is that it's where Jimmy Valvano got his coaching start and that they were involved in a controversial ending in a game against Manhattan College in which the zebras made a bunch of terrible calls. With #3 New Mexico out, you're salivating if you're an Ohio State fan. The #2 seed has a clear path to the Elite 8 with only the Zags standing in their way for a Final Four appearance. They will not let Iona get close enough to win, but can they win by 15? That's the big question. This game is in Dayton so it's almost a home game for Ohio State.

Florida Gulf Coast is in a good spot. Their coach had them face tough opponents and even beat Miami. The public likes FGC mainly because the media has been hyping them up after that impressive win against the Hurricanes. Georgetown has a great defense. I know a lot of people who have bet the farm on the UNDER in this game. I'm concerned that the media hype pushed this total much lower than it should be. if you were getting +16 or higher it would be enticing. As is, I'm skeptical at +13 because Georgetown has the opportunity to win by 20+. In the Pacific game, you might want to pay close attention to their story. The head coach Bob Thomason is retiring after 25 seasons. The players are motivated to play their hearts out for their beloved coach. Will the win? Highly unlikely, but they'll give Miami all they got and try to keep the game close.

Fire away with Pacific +14, but pass on Iona and Florida Gulf Coast.


12 vs.5

Ole Miss +6
LaSalle +5.5

Yesterday, the #12 seeds went 2-1. I faded #12 Akron and backed #5 VCU. Holy cow. That was ugly. The bookies set the line at -7 or -8 and VCU obliterated them. At the same time, Shaka Smart was pressing up 30 points and and the teams was still launching treys. I liked Oregon and had mixed feelings about UNLV/Cal, only because the MWC cannot win a game in March Madness and the pairing was pretty much a home game for Cal.

There is only one #12 game on Friday so I'll throw the #13 seed in with this mix. I love Ole Miss in this spot and I'm not going to back down even though two #12s advanced yesterday. Ole Miss is 6-1 ATS as a dog and Wisconsin struggled to cover games this year (9-13 ATS). Kansas St. should beat LaSalle easily. K-State plays 4 guards and LaSalle is almost a K-State clone, which means they might struggle against a team with the same playing style. This is one of those games if both teams shoot well, then the OVER looks good, but if either team has a bad afternoon, then this has the potential to devolve into a 20+ point blowout. I like K-State to go deep into the tournament, so they should easily handle LaSalle, who had to play on Tuesday in a play-in game against Boise State.

Fire away on Ole Miss +6 and fade LaSalle +5.

Coin Flips

Cincy +3
San Diego +3
Colorado +1
Iowa State +1
Temple +3.5
Villanova +4
UCLA +3

Yesterday the coin flips went 2-3 with Wichita State and Colorado State both advancing and a pair of #11 seeds (Bucknell and Belmont) put out to pasture. I liked Bucknell and they had the lead at one point in the second half before Butler pulled away.

Today, I love Iowa State and Minnesota. Both are favorites as lower seeds. No love for UCLA mainly because they lost their best defender to an injury and Shabazz Muhammed has his starry eyes fixated on the NBA. Iowa State is a tough team coached by the MAYOR! Fred Hoiberg is the greatest shooter to ever come out of the state of Iowa and he has his squad chucking up treys nonstop. I also like Creighton and UNC in their games, which means I'm fading those two dogs.

Fire away on Iowa State +1. Fade the rest of the dogs and back Minnesota -3, Creighton -3, and UNC -4.

* * * * *

You can find my picks over at Ocelot's Tumblr page. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter at @OcelotSports.

March Madness: The Bright Side of the Bracket

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC
Okay, so we’re 16 games in and half of the sheet of paper on which you’ve printed your bracket is already starting to resemble a game of tic-tac-toe. Carefully traced ovals highlight your successes from yesterday, while angry crosses denote your failures.

Hopefully after one day’s worth of games the X’s aren’t winning, extending toward the middle of the sheet to indicate one of your Final Four teams going busto in their first game. That should be the case for most brackets, especially since No. 1 Gonzaga survived that scare versus No. 16 Southern in the West region.

Of course, if you had New Mexico in your Final Four or (God forbid) actually winning the sucker, you might be in trouble. Like was the case for a few of the “experts” out there...



The filling out of brackets is a ritual millions enjoy, giving a lot of non-gamblers a small taste of the gambler’s thrill. Most bracket pools operate in a similar manner, inviting participants to fill out the entire bracket before the round of 64 games begin, then following a system that usually awards the fewest points for picking early round games correctly, then more with each round and the most for the final game.

For example, the ESPN “Tournament Challenge” -- which I would guess provides both the guidelines and a handy site for hosting most bracket pools -- gives 10 points for a correctly picking a round of 64 (or, confusingly, “second round”) game correctly, then doubles the points for each subsequent round -- 10, 20, 40, 80, 160, and 320.

Such a system means that wherever you stand after 16 games shouldn’t matter too greatly, unless, as mentioned, you have already lost your champion or perhaps a couple of final four teams. But even with No. 12 seed Oregon beating No. 5 Oklahoma State, No. 12 California beating No. 5 UNLV, and No. 14 Harvard beating No. 3 New Mexico, most brackets should still be relatively intact this morning.

Over on the ESPN page there’s a breakdown of “Who Picked Whom” among the 8.15 million brackets that were submitted. As is to be expected, the masses went with chalk more often than not, not just in the first round but all of the way through to the championship.

Of the 16 teams who lost yesterday, only the No. 3 seed New Mexico (the highest seed to lose thus far) had any significant support to have made a run in the tournament, but even there only 0.7% of the brackets had New Mexico winning it all and only 2.0% had the Lobos getting to the Final Four.

All of which is to say, most of us should not be despairing yet, even if our Thursdays didn’t go so well. As evidence to support such optimism, I offer the story of my NCAA bracket from last year. Which I’ll readily admit also affords me one last chance to do some March Madness-related bragging.

Last year in Pauly’s pool I had a decent Thursday, hitting 12 of 16, and a woeful Friday, hitting just 8 of the remaining games. That gave me 20 of 32 going into the weekend where I only managed to get 9 of 16 correct, securing me a sad little spot in the pool’s lower division.

However, all of my Final Four teams were still alive (Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, and Ohio State). As were six of my Elite Eight (those four plus UNC and Syracuse). Sure, it was an desperate situation as far as my overall chances went -- essentially I was down to having to hit a 13-game parlay to beat out everyone else and win. But I still had a chance.

The first night of the Sweet Sixteen went well for me, with all of my teams in play that night -- UNC, Kentucky, and Kansas -- winning their games to advance. So did Friday, as Syracuse, Louisville, and Ohio State all won as well. The weekend then went perfect-perfect-perfect-perfect for me, too, with Louisville and Ohio State winning on Saturday, then Kentucky and Kansas winning on Sunday.

All of you experienced prognosticators out there... you can see where this is going, yes?

For the first time ever in a lifetime of pool-picking, I’d correctly chosen the entire Final Four. And as I had Kentucky beating Kansas in the final, the last three games all went my way as well, although a stunning endgame sequence of screw-ups by Ohio State against Kansas in the semis was required along the way. It was about as unlikely as the road N.C. State took to win the 1983 title, but somehow I’d won.



As Pauly pointed out to me yesterday, sweating the first round in an NCAA bracket pool is a little like the first day of the Main Event at the World Series of Poker. While there’s going to be some excitement -- for example, how did Davidson (who I picked yesterday, incidentally) lose that game to Marquette?!? -- none of it is probably going to mean all that much in the larger scheme. Not yet.

Thus when I only got 10 of 16 correct yesterday -- placing me in a tie for 5,956,110th thus far among the 8.5 million filling out brackets on ESPN (!) -- I knew better than to get too agitated. I did have New Mexico winning one more game, but otherwise my Sweet Sixteen is still all there. In other words, the X’s have yet to edge over into the center of the page for me. And I’m guessing for most of you they haven’t yet, either.

So look on the bright side. Focus your gaze upon that clean, pristine side of the page, free of pencil marks and thus full of possibility. There’s still hope!

Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.

21 March 2013

March Madness: Thursday Dogs

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA


Behold, March Madness is upon us. Today is one of the most glorious days on the sporting calendar. The opening rounds (the real first rounds, and not the "second round" because of all this play-in malarkey) is like Christmas and New Year's and Fourth of July all rolled into one for sports bettors. It's the one time of the year when squares and sharps alike rub shoulders together and sweat the most exciting sudden-death tournament in all of sports.

I love to bet dogs on Thursday and Friday games, especially against tired teams who went to the finals of their major conference (e.g. ACC, Big East, SEC). The key is to cherry pick the best dogs and avoid the dogs with fleas.

Plotting a big score this year? Try betting on Cinderella before anyone knows Cinderella exists.

You have to find the right dog and fire away on the moneyline during this round and the next round. Once Cinderella reaches the Sweet 16, she'll lose value because the media will hype the hell out of them like a swarm of paparazzi chasing down a shitfaced starlet stumbling out of a club in West Hollywood. Plus, the public will be well aware of Cinderella story after two nationally televised games and the rapid-fire way news can spread through Twitter. Mostly everyone will probably might miss the opening round upset (on an early afternoon game), but they'll be paying more attention and catch Cinderella's second big win over the weekend. Public money can heavily influence the line and once the word is out on Cinderella, it will be impossible to find any juicy numbers in your favor. That's why you have to get in front of the entire market and find Cinderella now before any of the games tip off.

Thursday Underdogs:

#16 NC A & T +26.5 vs. #1 Louisville
#16 Southern +23 vs. #1 Gonzaga
#14 Valpo +10.5 vs. #3 Michigan St.
#14 Harvard +10.5 vs. #3 New Mexico
#14 Davidson +3.5 vs. #3 Marquette
#13 Montana +13 vs. #4 Syracuse
#13 S. Dakota St. +11.5 vs. #4 Michigan
#13 N. Mexico State +9.5 vs. #4 St. Louis
#12 Akron +8 vs. #5 VCU
#12 Cal +4 vs. #5 UNLV
#12 Oregon +2 vs. #5 Oklahoma St.
#11 Belmont +4.5 vs. #6 Arizona
#11 Bucknell +4 vs. #6 Butler
#11 St. Mary's +1.5 vs. #6 Memphis
#9 Wichita St. +4.5 vs. #8 Pittsburgh
#8 Colorado St. +2.5 vs. #9 Missouri
Theses games can be broken down into four groups of underdogs: Coinflips, 12 v. 5, Mid Dogs, and Big Dogs. You want to focus the most on Mid Dogs and 12 v. 5 because those offer the best value with the highest probability of winning.


BIG DOGS

NC A & T +26.5 
Southern +23 

Those 23+ point dogs look enticing, but there's usually a reason those teams are a #15 or #16 seed. The only time I would consider one of the Big Dogs is if they are playing teams that went deep in their conference championship. In this instance, Louisville qualifies, but they only had to play three games and won each game by an average of 16 points, including blowing out Syracuse in the Big East Finals. Meanwhile NC A & T played on Tuesday and won their play-in game, so they are playing on only one night's rest. If you're feeling frisky then take a shot with Southern because they are playing the weakest of the #1 seeds. A lot of different power rating suggested Gonzaga is more of a #2 seed and I even saw one that suggest they should be a high #3! If you like Southern, then wait until just before tip off so you can get an extra half point or a full point courtesy of all the Gonzaga bandwagon backers.

Pass on NC A & T, but take a late look at Southern +23.


MID DOGS

Valpo +10.5
Harvard +10.5
Davidson +3.5
Montana +13
S. Dakota St. +11.5
N. Mexico State +9.5

The Mid Dogs is where you'll find your Cinderella. The bookies who set the lines think it's going to be Davidson, which is why they are only +3.5 against Marquette. I'm not saying to fire away at all of these dogs, but find the right one and pound it on the moneyline for a huge payday. I like Montana and S. Dakota St. Both teams can shoot lights out. It's those types of teams that can cause troubles in the opening rounds. They don't need to win... but just not get blown out. S. Dakota St. has one of the best shooters in the country in Nate Wolters (he reminds me of Dan Majerle). If Michigan isn't careful he's capable of dropping 40+ points on them. Syracuse is one of those teams that goes deep or bails out early. They are vulnerable for a first-round upset here which is why I love the Grizzlies +13 in this spot! I have a lot of respect for Steve Alford's New Mexico and Izzo's Michigan State. Both teams have the potential to go deep and I have them doing damage in a few brackets. I don't think they'll have a problem winning or covering. I keep hearing mixed things about St. Louis. I don't know what to think, but if I can find double digits on N. Mexico State, then I might fire away.

Fire away with Montana +13, S. Dakota +11.5, and Davidson +3.5. Take a look at N. Mexico State. Pass in Valpo and the Ivy Leaguers.


12 v. 5

Akron +8
Cal +4 
Oregon +2

Alas, beware of fake Cinderellas, the ones who look like the hottie princess, yet will turn into a pumpkin come midnight. Those are probably the most dangerous teams because they will lead you astray. The fake Cinderellas? Those are the #12 seeds who do not win.  Everyone thinks they have potential, yet fail to live up to it.

That is why I like fading public trends. At this point everyone knows at least one #12 seed will beat a #5, but which one? I think the public overvalues #12 seeds (when it picks the wrong one). They key here is to select the right #12 seed (with Cinderella potential) and fade the other #12s. The #12 seed I like the most is Ole Miss +6 and they are playing on Friday. The #12s playing on Thursday including a pair of PAC-12 teams and another team who lost its best player for dealing weed.

If Akron's point guard didn't get busted for slinging dope, then I'd say the Zips were a good team to back in this spot. But I'm passing here. I think the wisegys will come in and bet Akron big while the public has too much respect for Shaka Smart so they'll either pass or back VCU. That leaves the PAC-12 teams -- Cal and Oregon. Which one will win? Will both win? Oregon won the PAC-12 conference tournament after beating a banged up UCLA team. They're a team that struggled to cover all season long. The line opened at -3 OK St. and jumped to -4 before dropping to -2. If you were able to snag Oregon +4, then you're in good shape. If the line bouncing toward 3 again I'll fire away. If not, I'll pass. UNLV did not look good against New Mexico. They had the advantage of playing at home in Las Vegas but still could not overcome a horrible shooting night. Weill they bounce back? Or bounce out of the first round? Cal lost to UNLV in December, but Cal gets to play this game in San Jose, which is almost like a home game for them. If Cal can contain Anthony Bennett, then have a great shot at picking them off. 

Pass on Akron and Cal, but take a look at Oregon +2. I love Ole Miss +6 tomorrow.



COIN FLIPS

Belmont +4.5
Bucknell +4
St. Mary's +1.5
Wichita St. +4.5
Colorado St. +2.5

As a rule you want to avoid as many coinflips as possible, which best explains the #8 vs. #9 seeds. There are three #11 seeds playing and one of them is going to win, but which one? Bucknell seems to be the best shot only because Butler is overrated, but the line has been pushed down to +4. My brother went to Bucknell, so I gotta consider them. I might take a shot if I can find a better number. The Belmont's spread seems about right. Arizona should win but then again you don't know which Arizona team will show up. I thought Middle Tenn St. was going to whoop St. Mary's in the play-in game because they didn't have their starting point guard, but St. Mary's did the ass whooping. Can they win again on short rest? My gut tells me there's something not right about the St. Mary's line. My numbers tell me St. Mary's is overrated and play not-so tough teams this season. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks the refs will screw St. Mary's out of any close calls since the NCAA is laying the smackdown against them next season for recruiting violations.

Pass on everything except take a look at Bucknell, especially if the line goes to +5.

* * * * *

You can find my picks over at Ocelot's Tumblr page. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter at @OcelotSports.

19 March 2013

30 Years Later, State Still Wins

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

In his famous ESPY speech delivered in early March 1993, former N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano spoke of the importance of doing three things every day -- to laugh, to think, and to cry.

I mentioned on Sunday how ESPN was about to premiere a new “30 for 30” documentary this week called “Survive and Advance,” the subject of which is Valvano’s NCSU team’s improbable, stranger-than-fiction run to the title in 1983. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend it highly. It’s currently making the rounds on ESPN’s collection of networks, so check your DVR and try to grab it if you can.

The ESPY speech is in there, of course. Along with a lot else worth your time if you’re a sports fan or just someone who enjoys stories about hope and friendship and love.



While watching I found myself thinking back to seeing all of those games play out 30 years ago. Way, way back I actually started out as a Wolfpack fan, primarily driven in that direction by the color red and players with nicknames like “The Glide” (Clyde Austin) and “Hawkeye” (Charles Whitney). I even have the vaguest of memories of getting David Thompson’s autograph when he came through my hometown of Elon for a visit after having joined the Denver Nuggets.

But I also always liked UNC and Dean Smith. Got Phil Ford’s autograph in there somewhere, too, I’m remembering, before he graduated in 1978. By the time Worthy, Perkins, and eventually Jordan came to Chapel Hill soon after, I was a fully committed UNC fan.

Now State is most certainly a rival of UNC. The famous cheer targets all three Big Four schools, giving the Wolfpack prominence...

Duke is puke, Wake is fake,
The team I hate is N.C. State.
You can’t go to heaven in a red canoe,
’Cause God’s favorite color is Carolina Blue!

Here’s the thing, though. Ask just about any UNC fan, and they’ll probably tell you they don’t really hate State. They do hate Duke. But State is more like a brother with whom you sometimes fight, but always have his back when he’s fighting someone else.

It was instinctive to pull for State once they’d upset the Heels in the semis of the ACC tourney that year, and later, too, when UNC fell in the NCAA regional finals to Georgia while State moved on. And while we didn’t have a special animosity toward Ralph Sampson and Virginia, he was Goliath, no doubt, and it was easy to pull for the “Cardiac Pack” against the Cavs in both the ACC final and later in the West regional final, too.

As a jump-shooting skinny kid myself, I was fascinated by Dereck Whittenburg, who it seemed was endlessly pulling up for long jumpers, which for the first time ever in the ACC counted for three. The ACC experimented with a short three-point line (just 17’9”) in conference games that year, and Whittenburg was shooting lights out from deep in early January before breaking his foot to miss most of the rest of the regular season.

But State had Sidney Lowe and Terry Gannon, too, with Gannon (a.k.a., “The Cannon”) in particular often keeping State in games with the long ball. Gannon led the league in threes that year, then in the ACC tourney final nailed 4-of-6 to help State top Virginia and earn an NCAA berth. State had four different players hitting threes in that game, in fact -- Whittenburg, Lowe, Gannon, and the big man Thurl Bailey -- while Virginia only had Othell Wilson shooting from beyond the arc.

Then came the NCAA tourney where there was no three-point shot. (The three-pointer wouldn’t be instituted nationwide until 1986.) The truth was, State was a balanced team with an excellent offensive big man in Bailey, a solid defender (though non-scorer) in seven-footer in Cozell McQueen, a good power forward in Lorenzo Charles, and bench contributors Gannon, Ernie Myers, and Alvin Battle.

Finally, Lowe and Whittenburg comprised a unique backcourt, having played together through high school (for famed coach Morgan Wootten at national power DeMatha Catholic) and for four years at State. Watching the documentary, you get to see what those of us following the Wolfpack during those years and at the end of that ’82-’83 season already knew -- the intense camaraderie between teammates who knew and trusted each other as well as has ever been the case on the college level.

The coach, of course, had a lot to do with helping build that chemistry. Valvano was impossible not to like -- always funny, always thinking, and like Dean Smith always appearing to have an awareness of the place of college sports in a larger context.

I remember watching the coaches’ shows every weekend on local TV, the half-hour programs when the coach would sit down with the lead radio play-by-play guy and break down the week’s games.

Dean Smith and Woody Durham would talk through UNC’s games, with Dean imparting humility and wisdom throughout. Then Valvano would come on. I can’t remember the host (it’s possible he did the show on his own). While I’m sure he also talked X’s and O’s and analyzed past games and future opponents, I mainly remember him cracking jokes and having fun.



He’d also devote a segment each week to interviewing to someone on the State campus. Then on Monday nights he’d host a weekly call-in radio show all by himself to talk not just about NCSU but hoops in general. Or anything else people wanted to gab about.

Speaking of “The Jim Valvano Show,” “Survive and Advance” shows a brief clip from the show that appeared Sunday morning prior to the ACC tourney final game versus Virginia. There you see Valvano walking around with a mic talking to a crowd of people and doing what is essentially a nightclub standup routine.

I vividly remember watching the show again three weeks later, the one following the semifinal win versus Georgia and prior to the final against Houston. Again, it was a similar non-show show in which there was very little mention of Saturday’s game or even the upcoming final, but rather it was just a half-hour of partying in Albuquerque with Valvano the host. Hilarious stuff, and looking back utterly revealing insofar as it showed how comfortable he was in the situation.

He was leading a team with absolutely nothing to lose, and with utter belief that they could actually win.

I remember that Monday, too. It was the day after Easter, and thus a holiday from school. I recall hanging out with buds in the neighborhood that day, shooting hoops in the driveway, excited to think that State was still alive and would be playing that night. But also feeling certain there was little chance they’d actually win.

In truth, it seemed much more likely they’d get crushed. Houston was an eight-point favorite (you see 7.5 and 8.5 listed here and there, too). Hakeem Olajuwon was a hundred feet tall. And Clyde Drexler -- also nicknamed “The Glide” -- could jump over him. There seemed zero chance “Phi Slamma Jamma” could be stopped.

And yet, they were, with the Pack making yet another comeback by scoring the last eight points to win 54-52, the game punctuated by that utterly tantalizing final play, perhaps the most exciting half-minute of college basketball there has ever been.

When that half-minute of peril-filled pandemonium culminated with Whittenburg launching the ball rimward from 30-plus feet, it truly felt like a high percentage shot. Sure, it was the result of an crazily chaotic, broken play, but for Whit to be the guy squaring up and letting it fly... it was perfect. It was awesome. He could hit it from there, I just knew it. That ball was going in.

And then... my goodness... it did go in. Though with some help from big Lo...



As a kid, I involuntarily leaped up off of my chair and into the air in the living room where I was watching with my Pop and others. It was incredible... more so, even, than the ending of the UNC-Georgetown final from the year before.

Thirty years later -- and after seeing it hundreds and hundreds of times -- I still get chills. Every single time. State still wins. It still seems hard to believe.

“Survive and Advance” is very well done, ably carrying us through the story of that amazing season and final run and allowing us to sit in on the reminiscing of a reunion of players of coaches. There’s a lot of emotion along the way, sharpened by the context of Valvano’s death in 1993 and the recent passing of Lorenzo Charles who was killed in a car accident in 2011.

Both were taken too soon. Both were 47.

That context gives the show’s title a second, heavier meaning, of course. But all of that is handled with care and not overdone, I think, ultimately moving the viewer as it presents not just the story of a basketball team that unexpectedly won some big games in dramatic fashion, but a group of people who loved each other and whom others loved watching. Even Carolina fans.

Like I say, check out the documentary. I’ll guarantee you’ll laugh, think, and cry. Multiple times.

Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.

18 March 2013

March Madness Tips

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

It's March Madness! This is the only time of year when 90% of you pay attention to college basketball. Don't worry if you don't know what's going on because this season has been one of the most wild and unpredictable in recent memory, so it's okay to go into the tournament totally blind. Plus, I'm here to share a few nuggets of wisdom I grokked over the years on how to fill out a potential winning bracket.



1. Sweet 16 From Nowhere.

Look back at the Sweet 16 teams from the last two decades. You'll notice there's 12 teams that should be there and 4 teams that surprised everyone. Usually a bunch of Top 25 teams get bounced in the first round and a couple of the Top 10 teams fizzle out in the second round. The Cindarellas are the three or four teams came out of nowhere to win their first two games and advance to the Sweet 16. With that in mind, you should purposely set aside three or four spots for underdogs. You need to find the next George Mason, VCU or Butler. Who will it be year? Middle Tennessee State? Bucknell? Great stat... there was at least a #10 seed or higher in the Sweet 16 in 26 out of the last 28 years. Add at least one double digit seed to your Sweet 16.


2. Obscure Conferences Are Obscure for a Reason.

Let's face it, teams from the most obscure conference might pull off one upset, but that's about it. Unfortunately there's at least a dozen teams who are dead money and will lose 99% of the time. Those walking dead teams come from the Big South, Big Sky, Big West, Great West, SWAC, MEAC, CAA, Northeast, MAAC, MAC, Summit, Southland, and Atlantic Sun. Stay away from them. If you want to get fancy with obscure conferences, take look at teams from: Patriot, Sun Belt, Southern, WAC, and Horizon League. The best value is finding one or two potential Sweet 16 candidates from the "middle majors" like Atlantic 10, Mountain West, WCC, MVC, CUSA, and Ohio Valley.


3. Free Throws.

Free points. That's what free throws are. Free points. The teams who don't shoot good free throws flush away free points. Winning teams (and teams who cover the spread) take advantage of the charity stripe and knock down their free throws. Pay close attention to teams with excellent FT percentages in crunch time (under 2 minutes to go). Clutch free throw shooting can seal a win. Some of the better FT shooting teams are: Indiana, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Bucknell, Davidson, and Missouri. Teams unable to hit their FTs late in the game will always be vulnerable. In the tournament, a single missed free throw can make or break a bracket. Avoid teams notoriously bad FT shooting teams: LSU, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Stephen F. Austin, and Akron.


4. Final Four Backwards.

Try picking your Final Four teams first, then go backwards from that round to the previous opening rounds. Once you see what opposing teams your Final Four selections had to beat to get there, you'll have a better indication of who played tougher teams versus who had an easier path to the Final Four.


5. Strength of Schedule.

You can depend on teams who played a strong schedule (Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, Miami, Marquette, Ohio State, Georgetown, and Wisconsin) and did not duck formidable opponents. I highly respect coaches who schedule games against tough teams, especially on the road. Those coaches know where their teams really stand because they were well tested and battle proven. Definitely shy away from teams who played a weak schedule (Gonzaga, Florida, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Missouri, and St. Louis). They have a deceptive record because they racked up a bunch of wins against sub-par teams. Some coaches like scheduling games against weaker foes (even Division II or III) early in the season to slowly build up their team's confidence or to selfishly pad their career win/loss record. When it comes time for the tournament, I love to fade those teams with soft schedules


6. Zebras.

Referees dictate the flow of the game. The zebras have all the power and you can only hope your game does not come down to a bad call. Supposedly the best refs work the March Madness tournament, which means those crooked Big Ten refs and Big East shysters will not be manipulating games with questionable calls. There have been several instances of horrible officiating this past week (e.g. Iona/Manhattan game and Charlotte/Richmond) and you can always expect the zebras make a ton of mistakes in March Madness.

You hate to see your bracket get busted by bad calls, but unfortunately, the zebras are a huge intangible that even the best gamblers cannot quantify. If the zebras decide to blow more whistles than normal and call a tight game, you want to be prepared. Your best bet is to back teams with a deep bench that are good at shooting free throws. Zebras who call a lot of fouls give teams extra free throw opportunities, which translates into free points. Also, teams with a deep bench won't be at a huge disadvantage if one of their starters gets tagged for a couple of quick fouls or fouls out late in the game.


7. Coaches.

Sometimes you're picking coaches and not teams. Like you can always guarantee certain coaches will get their teams to the Sweet 16, or you know some big-time coaches choke once it comes tournament time. The premier coaches -- Izzo, Pitino, Coach K, Boeheim, and Roy Williams -- know what it takes to get their teams to the Final Four and have done it multiple times with different squads, which is truly impressive. Don't overlook a new batch of young coaches who have been making their mark like Billy Donavon (Florida), Mark Few (Gonzaga), Brad Stevens (Butler), Shaka Smart (VCU), Josh Pastner (Memphis)..


8. #8 vs. #9

Believe it or not, the #8 vs. #9 seeds are often dismissed and overlooked. Sure, most of those could be virtual coinflips and usually are, but those are the games that require some extra-special research. Most of your peers will blindly pick #8 seeds to beat a #9 seed, and the only time they will pick a #9 if its a highly popular team or better-known school. Knowing that bias toward #8 seeds up front, use that to your advantage and try to get all four of these games right. That one extra game could make the difference between winning a pool or chopping up second place.


9. Fade the Talking Heads.

You know those talking heads and so-called college basketball experts on ESPN and CBS? Yeah, whatever they say... do the opposite, especially whatever Dick "Dickey V" Vitale has to say. They have no fucking clue what they're talking about. Usually those former coaches and personalities are so far removed from the game or have interns feeding them stats/info that they have no idea what's going on. Those talking heads tend to sway public sentiment so try to find some sweet spots where they are hyping up (or downplaying) a team.



10. On the Road and Neutral Milk Hotel.

In March Madness, every team is playing on the road at a neutral court. Some teams might have phenomenal records at home, but proficiency on the road separate the good teams from the great ones. I like backing teams with winning records on neutral courts in addition to good road teams in tough conferences (like the Big Ten or ACC), because they proved they can win in hostile environments. Good road teams include: Gonzaga, Memphis, Miami, Kansas, Louisville, VCU, and Bucknell.


11. Three Point Defense

Teams with a great perimeter defense can shut down an opponent's deep threat. Those teams will do a better job at protecting leads by preventing a barrage of three pointers. Avoid teams with weak perimeter defense. They might win an opening round game, but they will not last very long in the tournament. Smart teams  know how to exploit defensive liabilities and blow a game wide open.


12. Upset City: #12 Seed vs. #5 Seed.

At this point, even my grandmother knows about #12 seeds upsetting a #5 seed. Now that everyone knows this, you can use that information to your advantage and bet the #5 seeds, because the public will be overvaluing other #12 seeds and you can find some value betting the right/winning #5 seeds. At the same time, do not ignore the potential value of a picking upsets with a #11 seed or a #13 seed. The chances that a #14 seed winning is very unlikely and you can forget about potential upsets from #15 or #16 seeds. Stick with trying to find the best #11, #12, and #13 seed who can pull off an upset or two.


13. Automatic Bids: Awwww Shucks! vs. Second Timers

Be wary of the teams who are "just happy to be here." They might have snuck into the tournament through an automatic bid or might be the best team from an obscure conference (like the MEAC or the Sun Belt). They probably won't put up much of a fight so don't get all fancy and pick a bunch of them to go to the Final Four. Those "aww shucks" teams almost always get bounced in the first round and many of them get blown out. The most dangerous teams are the "second timers" and smaller conference teams who are playing in their second consecutive March Madness. They already got their feet wet last year and no longer have that "deer caught in a headlights" look. Those teams are packed with seniors looking to pick off an under-prepared high-profile school from the Big East or ACC. Take a look at Montana or Bucknell because they are teams who have been to the tournament a multiple times in the last few seasons.


14. Three Point Offense and Offensive Rebounding

Teams who can shoot three pointers very well always have a chance to win any game they play because even a double-digit lead late in the game is not a threat. At the same time, if you live by the three, you will die by the three. I want to keep an eye on teams that shoot a lot of treys, but also have very good offensive rebounding, which means they are chasing down their own missed and errant shots and give their three point-heavy offense a second or third chance bucket (and another chance at a three-ball).


15. Ask the Secretary or Consult Your Kids.

When in doubt, just have your secretary fill out your bracket based on color coordination of the teams' uniforms, or ask your kid to fill out your bracket based on cool school nicknames. In the past, I had a friend's son (who was barely seven years old) go deep in one pool. And in another pool, my friend's Thai mistress ended up picking a few crazy upsets that came true. Sometimes being completely random works.


Pauly is the author of Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker.