I bet everyone reading this blog has made a wager in their life. It may be as big as a sporting event bet or as small as a wager between friends that they'd get away with hiding their report card from mom. It's these wagers as a child that led to the compulsive gambling that I'm fueling with these posts. We all participate in NCAA tournament bracket pools in the office or with your family. Imagine that in a larger scale with more televisions then you could conceive of. I'm talking about the vacation that every sports fan must make before they head to the great stadium in the sky.
My father and I have flown to Vegas for March Madness the last four years and every year is as magical as the one before it. The trip starts on Selection Sunday as you are essentially on the clock the moment the field is announced. With every wager under the sun available in Sin City, you have to figure out what your plan of attack is. When that magical time arrives to get on the plane, you are greeted by hundreds of guys with caviar dreams and old sweatshirts that have given them luck. They've also been used to wipe up messes in the frat house, but they are good luck. The plane ride is filled with college basketball fans with enough passion and optimism that nothing could stop them.
You arrive at your hotel walking thru the sportsbook to get there ((pictured something like this on the right, thanks sportschump.net)).
There are more glowing lights and televisions then you've ever seen. Every sport laid out perfectly in an array that makes it seem so easy to make money. I mean, you've made wagers before so this should be a piece of cake. You pick up every form the casino offers and bring them up to your room to plan out your attack. People around you will be mumbling about locks and teams they swear will win. Pay no attention to them and go with your gut.
At home, the problem during the first two rounds is that you can't watch all of the games at once and are sure you are missing something. Not a problem in Vegas. Casinos open up auditoriums and ballrooms to fit the masses of people who descend upon this town in Nevada. All shapes, sizes and ages arrive knowing that they are going to win their wagers. You make friends...especially with the guy who is also wearing your alma mater's shirt. You also make friends with the guy who may have the same wager as you one game. Problem is, the next set of games, he may be your biggest enemy. Every basket is scrutinized and cheered. There are occasional chants of defense by ambitious fans. It's a gameday atmosphere without being at the game. Breakfast, lunch and dinner unfortunately will consist of the hot dogs and nachos they serve because let's face it, you don't want to get up and miss a crucial basket. Oh yeah, the tournament has also been known to coincide with St. Patrick's Day which brings out more college students and more opportunities to look at the talent you probably won't have to pay for.
A word of warning for those considering this endeavour...you won't get much sleep. With the time difference, the games are on earlier so sleep will be an issue. Another issue will be getting a seat for the festivities. My word of advice is to go to the sportsbook in your hotel so you don't have to get up earlier to find a cab to take you across the strip. My father and I stay at the Hilton which has the best sportsbook/atmosphere for this. We used to go to the Stardust until it met it's wrecking ball fate. The lack of sleep will all be worth it if you win. Final word of advice is to stay one day past the first weekend to detox, sleep and have your night at the craps table. Oh yeah, don't take the red eye...that's just not fun for anyone.
If you aren't planning your trip to Vegas for this coming March after this, then I don't know what else I can do. With that, let's go to Saturday's picks. Rider lost in overtime to Iona so we fall to 2-2.
Tennessee/Vanderbilt Over 146 -- Volunteer players have said this is a must win after the team started 0-2 in the SEC. Tennesee hosts Vanderbilt as the Volunteers wrap up a streak of seven home games out of eight. The Vols defense has abandoned them as of late giving up over 80 points in three of their last four games. They havent had an issue scoring in those games, but the lack of defense gave them those losses. Tennessee averages over 75 points per game while giving up exactly 70. The team has three weapons led by Scotty Hopson (16.5 ppg), Tobias Harris (15.7 ppg) and Cameron Tatum (10.4 ppg). At their best, the Vols are forcing turnovers with the press and are pushing the tempo. Vanderbilt enters this game with a record of 12-3 and an offense that produces nearly 80 points per contest. They have three weapons as well with John Jenkins (18.4 ppg), Jeffery Taylor (14.5 ppg) and Festus Ezeli (12.9 ppg). Vandy has played in four road games this season scoring over 70 in each and allowing that much in three of them. They have also scored 70 or more points in all but one game which was against Nebraska on November 18th when they managed only 59. Tennessee has gone over in nine of their 13 totaled games while Vandy has done so in six of 11. We'll take our chances that this one will be a shootout much like the two last year which hit 161 points.
Kansas State -11.5 -- The Wildcats will be in a foul mood Saturday after falling at home to Colorado. In comes a Texas Tech team who has failed to beat a single team ranked in the top 150 of the RPI. The Red Raiders were embarrassed at home by Texas last time out. Kansas State gets Curtis Kelly back from his NCAA suspension on Saturday and he'll be a huge help. Kelly averaged 10.3 points per game in just eight contests so far this season. He'll complement Jacob Pullen (17.7 ppg) and Rodney McGruder (11.9 ppg) well. With Kelly back, the players can return to their roles on the team that they were supposed to play. The Red Raiders have failed to cover in 10 of their 12 lined games this season. They are allowing 74 points per game which is 138th overall in the country. They do have multiple weapons, but the road has been unkind. They've lost all four of their games away from home. North Texas, South Florida, Washington and UTEP all managed to defeat the Red Raiders in their buildings. Home hasn't exactly been kind either as they fell to Baylor and Texas the last two times out. Kansas State has won the last two meetings between these two teams by double digits. They'll make it three with a win on Saturday.
North Texas -5 -- A trip to Troy could be just what North Texas is looking for. The Trojans are 3-13 this season and are allowing 81.1 points per game. It is a complete rebuilding project for Troy who had to remake their lineup from last season. The team has allowed at least 80 points nine times this season which isn't exactly good with a team like North Texas coming to town. Troy is coming off a victory against Western Kentucky, but the Hilltoppers are nowhere near what they were last season. Homecourt has produced only two victories for the Trojans with the other coming against a school named Huntingdon. North Texas puts up 79 points per game and loves to play at a fast pace. They have scored at least 80 points in four of their last five games with the lone 71 point effort resulting in a loss. Tristan Thompson (16.9 ppg) leads a quartet of double digit scorers on the Mean Green roster. The others are Josh White (14.8 ppg), George Odufuwa (11.4 ppg) and Dominique Johnson (10.4 ppg). UNT has covered in 19 of their last 27 road games. The over would also be a great play in this game as points will be put up by both teams.
On The Radar (These aren't official picks unless they win in which case I will brag endlessly in this spot. If they lose, I will insist they weren't official plays and my record won't reflect it)
Marshall +4 -- No Wesley Witherspoon for Memphis who hasn't been playing their best ball as of late losing to SMU and narrowly defeating East Carolina at home.
Duke -22 -- Coach K's rat pack should have no issues with UVA. The big issue will be when he takes his foot off the pedal which sometimes plays havoc with the Duke bettor.
Florida International +7 -- Isiah Thomas has this team playing well for the most part. Much like the old Knicks, road games have been an issue for FIU.
Columbia -3 -- Cornell's going to find out the Ivy League wasn't too thrilled with them railing on everybody.
Indiana -1.5 -- Hoosiers fans aren't use to being winless in the conference this long. Yet that is one fanbase that turns out in droves to the stadium despite the record.
Cal Poly -3.5 -- The Mustangs play defense. Their defense is so good that the other team has been known to fall asleep. This one may not hit 60 points on either end.