I’m going to Las Vegas for the first two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and intend to place a few bets while I’m there. I’m no college basketball expert, nor am I a sports betting expert. But I do know a little about both, and I have a guide for betting the Final Four so I can enjoy games I’d otherwise not watch and leave Sin City with some money in my pockets. So whether you’re in Sin City, Atlantic City, or wherever sports betting is legal, here are four tips for betting the Final Four to help you enjoy March Madness to the fullest.

1) Don’t bother betting the spread

The first rule of betting the Final Four is to bet the moneyline. Unless you have intimate knowledge of the teams playing the game, betting the spread during March Madness is just that -- madness.

More often than not, betting the spread will burn you. It’s hard enough to pick the winners of the 32 first-round games let alone determine by how much each team will win or lose. Sure there can be more money in it, but there’s nothing worse than picking the winner and losing your bet because of the spread. So don’t bother.

The over/under isn’t much better because determining how many points two teams will score can be just as risky as betting the spread. You’re still dealing with points instead of outcomes. Stick to the simplicity the bracket provides and pick the winners and leave it at that.

2) Parlay your way to the cashier

Pooling your picks together into one bet is a great way to win that money you left on the table by not betting the spread or the over/under. Out of 64 teams, you should be able to pick at least three teams you’re confident will win or lose and parlay them together for a satisfying win.

Parlays are also the most fun. Since more teams are involved, you’ll have a vested interest in watching more games. Parlays also give you an opportunity to enjoy winning and losing with friends. Have two friends each pick a team to add to your parlay and split the bet three ways. You and your friends will enjoy rooting on the same teams, and whether you win or lose, the entertainment you’ve received and bonding you’ve done thanks to your friendly parlay should make for a nice consolation prize.

3) Diversify your long-term investments

Putting your entire nest egg into one exchange traded fund or behind one business isn’t good investment advice. The same goes for sports betting. Betting on your favorite team to win it all isn’t a great way to invest your money. First off, you’re betting your heart instead of your head, which is only excusable if you win and tends not to happen on bets of the heart.

The only bets of the heart I’ve won are the two times Duke has won the National Championship since I started filling out a Final Four bracket (2010, 2015). Duke is the only winner I’ve ever picked since I started filling out a bracket regularly, but I’ve never actually had any money on it. Still, it’s a good example of what not to do, because I’ve been wrong 10 of 12 times. And while I have money down on Duke to win it all this season, I also have money on a few other teams.

Instead of picking your team to win it all, pick your team and then three others you think can win the championship. Maybe they’re your Final Four teams. Maybe they're FiveThirtyEight's projected Final Four. Maybe they’re the odds-on favorite, your local team, your alma mater, and a sleeper. Whatever combination you decide, when making the long bet on the champion, it’s best to have a few horses in the race with varying odds of winning. Your best bet would be to pick a pair of high-seeded, title contenders, one four- or five-seed, and one team with long odds you feel is best equipped to make a run to the Final Four. That way, if your favorite team is knocked out early, you still have reasons to watch and a chance to win your money back.

4) Budget busters to avoid in the first round

No guide for betting the Final Four would be complete without warning you of games for which you should simply sit on your wallet. No need for you to lose your entire roll in the first round because you bet the wrong way on a bunch of coin flips. These toss-ups will be fun to watch whether you’ve got money riding on them or not. I just don’t think you should risk your hard-earned money betting these games -- unless you know something I don’t.

Kentucky (5) vs. Davidson (12)

Since 1985, a 12-seed has upset a five-seed in all but four tournaments, and Davidson is probably the best 12-seed in the tournament. There’s just nothing safe about a 5-12 matchup, and with the spread at six points, this will likely be the biggest nailbiter of the 5-12 games.

Davidson is one of the best in the tournament at limiting possessions, which could be a problem if Kentucky comes out a little wild, turns the ball over early, and finds itself playing catch up with very few possessions. And Davidson won’t give them many extra possessions, either. They don’t turn it over often or take bad shots, so they could have a chance behind senior forward Peyton Aldridge, who averages 21 points per game. If you’re looking to bet an upset, though, this would be one worth a look. Otherwise, leave it alone.  

Virginia Tech (8) vs. Alabama (9)

Alabama has relied on freshman guard Collin Sexton, described by Tully Corcoran of The Big Lead as “The Russell Westbrook of College Basketball.” Virginia Tech is the complete opposite, with six players to rely on for quality minutes and points. But Bama could be missing a formidable presence in the paint if Donta Hall isn’t cleared to play after sustaining a concussion in the SEC Tournament. Regardless of Hall’s status, I recommend staying away from this one. Virginia Tech is favored by two according to Intertops, so this one could be determined by a bad bounce.

Arkansas (7) vs. Butler (10)

The spread in this one is 1.5 points for Arkansas, but I’m not betting against a team with the Bulldogs’ postseason pedigree, no pun intended. I’m also not betting on a team that slows down the game like Butler, because that sort of play can’t help you when you’re behind, and it’s just not fun to watch. As someone who has watched Virginia play twice this season, I can tell you once was one too much.

The Razorbacks’ take risks on defense and could get burned by the sure-handed Bulldogs, who seldom turn it over. The Bulldogs have the shorter trip to Detroit and should be well-represented at Little Caesars Arena. Butler senior forward Kelan Brown needs to be great, or seniors Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon will be too much for the Bulldogs. I like Arkansas, but I’m not confident enough to bet on it nor intrigued enough to watch it.

Missouri (8) vs. Florida State (9)

Intertops has Florida State favored by one point in this one, and that’s enough reason not to like it. Missouri just got six-foot, 10-inch freshman forward and projected top-five NBA draft pick Michael Porter, Jr. back from a back injury that cost him most of the regular season. His production being a question mark is likely why the Seminoles are favored, but Florida State defends the paint well regardless.

Florida State makes teams bet them from beyond the arc, so the Tigers will have to match their season average of 38.5 percent from behind the arc to stick with the Seminoles, who played a tough ACC schedule and struggled with the best of the best conference. They beat UNC by one, but their next best wins are over Clemson (a five-seed) and Miami (a six-seed). For that reason, I like Missouri, but I’m concerned about what Porter can do after shooting 30 percent from the floor in his return against Georgia on Thursday.

Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)

All bets are off when it comes to the streaky shooting of freshman phenom Trae Young. Rhode Island is favored by two, but if Trae Young is hot, you can tear up your bet on the favorite. If he’s not, you can breathe easier knowing he’ll simply be setting up his teammates with fantastic looks.

Some say the only reason Oklahoma made it to the dance is so the NCAA would attract more eyes to televisions because of this kid’s ridiculous shooting (at times) and passing prowess and confidence (at all times). He’s a dynamic player who should raise ad revenues for the NCAA that they won’t share with him.

Frankly, Oklahoma is lucky to have pulled Rhode Island instead of, say, Nevada, who beat the Rams. Arkansas earned a split with fellow seven-seed Texas A&M, and even the length of the Aggies would give the Sooners trouble, both shooting and rebounding the basketball. Verdict: someone on the selection committee wants Oklahoma to stay and dance for a while.

That’s not a knock on Rhode Island. I just think they’re the most vulnerable seven-seed. Danny Hurley’s Rams have the experience but not the size. The Rams don’t have anyone on the roster taller than six-foot, eight-inches, so Young should get good looks at the basket, and if his shot isn’t falling, the painted area will be open often. But will all those twos be enough to hang with Jared Terrell and the Rams?

Terrell attempts more than five threes per game and hits 41.5 percent of his long-distance shots. But Young averages more than 10 attempts from beyond the arc per game, sinking 36.1 percent of them. The math isn’t in Rhode Island’s favor, so the senior, Terrell, will have to lock down the freshman, Young, defensively and shoot more threes than he’s averaged this season for the Rams to advance. I like Oklahoma in this one, and would bet on it if the Sooners were treated like underdogs. The moneyline for them to win pays just $120 on a $100 bet, according to OddsShark. That's not worth a bet, but it will be a fun one to watch anyway.

*Creighton (8) vs. Kansas State (9)

This one comes with an asterisk because Kansas State may or may not be at full strength for this game. If they aren’t, go ahead and take Creighton. But if the Wildcats do get all-conference forward Dean Wade (foot) and all-conference guard Barry Brown (eye) back for Friday night, keep your money out of this one. You’ll enjoy watching it regardless.

Creighton can score the rock and do so faster than just about anyone in the tournament, averaging 84.3 points per game. That’s an insane pace, but K. State held its opponents to less than 68 points per game, so don’t be surprised if this one ends up coming down to a final possession. The spread is two in favor of Creighton, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t cover. But I’m not going to find out the hard way.    

So there are four tips for betting the Final Four so you can hold onto your money throughout March Madness and come home from the big dance feeling like a winner.

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The eventual champion of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament may not get a chance to hang a championship banner from its rafters if the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants it that way.

Given what we know about the investigation uncovering recruitment violations committed by seemingly every competitive college basketball program, 2018 might be a repeat of 2013. If you remember, Louisville emerged from March Madness as champion that year only to have that championship vacated for paying escorts to “recruit” players. While those 40 alleged acts warrant the punishment received, not all recruiting violations should be treated equally. Some shouldn’t be violations at all.

For instance, it is alleged that the FBI has a recording of Arizona head coach Sean Miller speaking of a $100,000 payment to secure freshman center DeAndre Ayton, who could be the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Ayton makes Arizona a legitimate title contender, and one of those teams who could win the national championship only to have it taken away. This, too, would warrant a punishment on par with Louisville’s.

Handing out bags full of money is obviously a violation of the NCAA’s “amateurism” policy -- a policy alleged to exist to preserve the “integrity” of collegiate athletics while coaches and athletic directors “earn” million-dollar salaries on the backs of slave labor. You used to have to go pro to earn pro money. Now coaches can avoid the humiliation of failing at the highest level and still live like they made the big time.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is one of those coaches, and many wonder how he manages to recruit the best high school players without violating NCAA rules. Being the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division I basketball and having a chance to win a national championship every year can’t be only reasons why Duke has secured the top three high school recruits next year. He must be breaking the rules, right? Well, Krzyzewski wasn’t implicated in the FBI investigation, but one of his players was.

Duke University freshman forward Wendell Carter, Jr. is accused of violating the NCAA’s amateurism policy because his mother, Kylia Carter, had dinner with ASM sports agent Christian Dawkins and may or may not have paid for it. The meal cost $106.36, and Wendell Carter, Jr., who was a junior in high school at the time, wasn’t even there. This is where the NCAA can start revising its amateurism policy.

Buying someone food should never affect the eligibility of a student-athlete to compete in collegiate athletics, whether that food is consumed by the student-athlete or a member of that student-athlete’s family. Kylia Carter took time out of her day to accommodate Dawkins and discuss the future of her son. She shouldn’t have to pay for a meal -- a meal she might not be able to afford -- just to talk to someone about her son’s future, whether it be with a college coach or a sports agent. Wendell shouldn’t have to pay for his meals, either, regardless of who’s buying. If an agent wants to wine and dine him, Wendell shouldn’t have to say, “I can’t accept because I’m an amateur.”

Not a single collegiate athlete or high school recruit should have to pay a dime for food. This is the least the NCAA can do with its billion-dollar revenues: provide a per diem for meals to all NCAA student-athletes and stop considering meals as “benefits.”

Meals are calories; they are fuel. The athlete does not benefit from eating a meal. They might enjoy it, but there isn’t a meal in the world or a chef in the world capable of persuasion. No decisions are being made like Cypher’s decision to mutiny in The Matrix because of the juiciness of a steak. Let the student-athletes eat. Hell, for some of them, that dinner with an agent might be the last fancy meal they ever eat. They could tear their ACL the next day and never hear from another agent or college coach again.

Even when those recruits get to college they incur costs for calories. If you’re unaware of how meals work in college, here’s a crash course. Most colleges and universities include meal plans with room and board. That was the case when I attended the University of Washington as a freshman. Since I was living in the dorms, which all freshmen are required to do unless they’re living with family, I was required to pay for a meal plan. I didn’t want a meal plan. I wanted to buy groceries and cook my meals in the dormitory kitchenette, but there was no way around it. I had to buy a meal plan.

So I bought the cheapest meal plan available, and while it allowed me to buy groceries from the campus market, those groceries were much more expensive than they were at nearby grocery stores. The only way I could use my meal plan money, though, was using my student ID card, which, of course, was not accepted anywhere but on campus. It’s a convenient monopoly on food for the university, which probably helps offset the losses incurred when Amazon revealed to students the true price of their textbooks when purchased anywhere but a college bookstore.

The worst part about the meal plan is if you don’t use it you lose it. At the end of each quarter, I ended up drinking a gallon of milk every few days just to meet the minimum spending requirement of my plan so I could get the rest of my money refunded. You read that right: there’s a minimum amount you must spend in order to get your own money back from the college.

I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t these student-athletes on scholarship?” Well, some of them are, but most aren’t. Most have scholarships covering tuition only. Some have no scholarship at all. But even those with “full-rides” aren’t getting full-rides. There aren’t meal plans for collegiate football players who need to consume more than 4,000 calories per day. And who do you think pays for something a student-athlete needs that isn’t included with their meal plan? A coach or university administrator can’t or they could be found in violation the NCAA’s amateurism policy.

Consider this: a six-foot, 10-inch, 200-pound college freshman is still growing into his body. His coaches have asked him to bulk up, which means consuming more protein. I don’t know if you’ve been to college lately, but the last I was there (2013), the cafeteria didn’t have many protein-packed options. You could usually find chicken in some way, shape or form, and hamburger, but there’s only so much meat you can eat. Fish can be found, but a student-athlete can’t be expected to pound tuna sandwiches, peanuts and jerky after a workout. Pounding a protein shake, though, provides the muscles with what they need immediately, but you won’t find protein powder for sale on too many campuses. That’s a cost incurred by the athlete to fuel the vehicle that creates the revenue they’ll never see.

Slave owners fed their slaves because their revenue depended on it, but like the NCAA, fed them just enough to do the work and nothing more. The NCAA is on the verge of suffering a similar fate as those slave owners. The chatter slaves must have heard about the Union paying runaway slaves to serve as soldiers in the Civil War after Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is an uncomfortable simile to the NCAA’s amateurism problem. The appeal of playing for money internationally is growing and costing slave owners recruits, and talk of the G-League serving as a development league for high school recruits unwilling to attend college must feel like a Gettysburg Address waiting to happen to the NCAA.

If the NCAA doesn’t do something to appeal to new recruits, they stand to lose everything, because the NCAA isn’t a billion-dollar industry without March Madness, and March Madness isn’t March Madness without the best “amateurs” in the world.

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A three-and-a-half year NCAA investigation into academic fraud at the University of North Carolina ended with no evidence of wrongdoing being found despite UNC student-athletes taking classes that never met, had no instructors, and required just one term paper to be written and graded by a secretary.

UNC was alleged to have directed student-athletes to classes in its African and Afro-American studies program that were easy A’s in an attempt to keep them academically eligible to play sports. The NCAA couldn’t punish UNC for its African and Afro-American studies program because while most of the students enrolled in the classes were student-athletes, some of them weren’t.

Since the NCAA couldn’t find evidence in support of Tar Heels basketball player Rashad McCants’ allegations that tutors directed him to the courses and wrote papers for him, no action can be taken against the university. The only sanction taken was against the African and Afro-American studies department chair, Julius Nyang’Oro, who is retired, and it only limits his ability to obtain a job in college athletics.

So all colleges have to do in order to keep their student-athletes in the game is offer courses that require no learning to take place. Courses like billiards and bowling are apparently not easy enough, since they actually require student-athletes to attend. At my alma mater, enrollees in bowling were required to bowl a certain number of frames in order to pass the course, which could be done in a day. That’s still more than what was required of UNC enrollees in African and Afro-American studies.

Now that the NCAA has proven its inability to govern scholastic standards for student-athletes, the U.S. Department of Education needs to step in and eliminate or improve courses that have no place in postsecondary education. I’m not talking about cutting bowling and billiards. Those courses still require attendance, and you might even learn something if you take them seriously. I’m not talking about eliminating online courses, either. But I think an investigation of the term papers for UNC’s African and Afro-American studies program would prove that these courses are not of the caliber associated with accredited colleges and universities.

UNC might not have been found guilty, but everyone associated with and aware of the African and Afro-American studies program should be ashamed for depriving Tar Heel student-athletes (specifically African-American athletes) the knowledge of African and Afro-American history and culture. So instead of these athletes being informed, culturally conscious citizens, UNC is guilty of producing athletic automatons -- fast-running, high-jumping yes-men and -women with little to call on to form their own opinions and beliefs of the world around them. It’s a shame and a sham.


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