Let me begin right off by saying that I am a college basketball diehard through and through. Like most sports fans, I cheer on my favorite teams in a number of sports. But at the top of my list has always been college basketball.
My dad was a star forward playing both junior college and AAU basketball. I had the honor of being Coach Dean Smith’s first recruit at the University of North Carolina back in 1968. I was a spectator in the Louisiana Superdome when the Tar Heels won two national championships. If you come to my office I’ll show you a ball sent to me by Coach Smith autographed by the entire 1982 championship team including Michael Jordan.
I’ve been a front row LSU basketball season ticket holder since the 1970s, and regularly talk basketball trash with legendary former Coach Dale Brown. All in all, I have bled for the college game. But I have a confession to make. The thrill is gone. These past few weeks, I didn’t become enthralled with March Madness. It was more like March Sadness.
Liza Minnelli said it best in the hit movie and Broadway show Cabaret.“Money makes the world go round.” We have tolerated for years the extravagant salaries paid to college football coaches. At LSU, for example, six of the seven highest paid employees in the entire university are in the athletic department, which Governor John Bel Edwards labels as “obscene.” LSU will pay three former football coaches more than $12 million not to coach. Fired Coach Les Miles receives $133,000 each month with a total payout of almost $10 million. But at least we rarely hear of financial scandals involving players in the football ranks.
Basketball is where the financial bribes and continuing ugliness takes place. The FBI is presently investigating a number of college coaches as well as sports agents for payoffs to players to attend various colleges. Ten agents and coaches have been arrested with numerous allegations involving some 30 schools. Seventeen teams that participated in March Madness are currently under investigation.
Two former LSU players have been accused of receiving cash payoffs from sports agents in a detailed report from Yahoo Sports listing numerous payments to dozens of current and former basketball players. A number of major basketball schools are being investigated, including programs at Duke, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan State, USC, LSU, Alabama and a host of other schools.
Numerous colleges are also being investigated for their academic shortcomings when it comes to athletes. A recent probe at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina, determined that a number of athletes received passing grades but never attended classes. Now I bleed Carolina Blue, but UNC should have been put on probation for allowing such scholastic cheating. The NCAA turned its head to the academic deceit saying, “The NCAA defers to its member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred.” The old “let the fox protect the henhouse rule” is how the governing body reacted.
One would expect that the NCAA, the ruling body over college sports, would be the wall of protection against the influx of the shady, money-grubbing influences on college players. But the NCAA itself has been obsessed with the bottom line dollar and will (get this) clear almost $1 billion a year for just the March Madness basketball tournament. And it should be noted that the NCAA president is none other that former LSU President Mark Emmert. Good or bad, LSU seems to always be in the mix.
Much of this corruption is caused by alumni pressures to win, no matter what the cost. But that’s not the way it should be, at least from my perspective. Maybe I was raised and played these games at a time where we competed for the love of the game, and at best, an athletic scholarship to give us a decent education. I suppose it’s a changing environment and the current world we live in.
Oh, I’ll continue to keep my front row basketball tickets, and cheer on my alma mater. But it’s just not the same any more. And the fans, the colleges, and the teams themselves are not the better for it.
Peace and Justice
The number one overall seed in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament fell to the 64th overall seed -- the first time a 16-seed has beaten a one-seed in the history of the Final Four tournament. But that one upset hardly tells the story of the bad beats abound during March Madness.
My friend and I experienced the bad beats abound during March Madness on a blue chip parlay betting the spread -- even though I had planned to not bet the spread beforehand. We placed $20 on Duke, Kentucky and Kansas to cover their respective spreads because the $76 payout on our $20 bet was too attractive to avoid. (We made another $20 parlay bet on the same three teams to win outright to cover our potential loss on the spread parlay.)
Duke doubled the 10.5-point spread against Rhode Island, and Kentucky easily covered the 5.5 points by which they were favored, winning by 20. Kansas just had to win by five over Seton Hall and we would have won almost $150.
With 1:20 left, Kansas led by eight, but then Khadeen Carrington scored seven points in a minute to keep Seton Hall just five points back. After a pair of free throws by Malik Newman, we were good, leading by five. But there was plenty of time for Seton Hall to get off a three, and despite being well defended, Myles Powell knocked down a fade-away three as the buzzer sounded to deliver our money to the house.
We managed to find one of the few bad beats specifically betting the spread. I even went to Vegas with a plan for betting the Final Four that included never betting the spread, but the potential payout for betting the spread was just too attractive for me to avoid.
If you were betting on Texas Tech to cover the 11.5-point spread over Stephen F. Austin, you were disappointed that the Red Raiders didn’t try to score in the final 20 seconds while up 10. If you had your money on Purdue covering the four points by which they were favored, you were ecstatic when Dakota Mathias hit a three-pointer with 17 seconds left to push the Boilermaker lead to five. Even after Kelan Martin hit a layup to cut the Purdue lead to three with three seconds to play, if P.J. Thompson hits the front end of a one-and-one, you at least get your money back. If he hits both free ones you’re a winner. That had to hurt.
You might not have predicted Buffalo upsetting Arizona let alone covering the nine-point spread. But you might have been willing to bet that the two teams would score more than 158 points. The brutal irony in Buffalo’s drubbing of Arizona is that the Bulls actually took their foot off the gas pedal after Wes Clark hit a three to make it 89-64 with 1:17 left. The four points Arizona scored the rest of the way was two points short of 159 and a win for those betting the over.
Eight of the 32 first-round games ended with an underdog on top. University of Maryland-Baltimore County led the charge with its win over top-seed, Virginia. But two 13-seeds (Buffalo and Marshall) also upset two four-seeds (Arizona and Wichita State).
Syracuse, an 11-seed and a team some said didn’t deserve to be in the tournament, upset six-seed Texas Christian University. Another 11-seed, Loyola-Chicago defeated sixth-seeded Miami. Tenth-seeded Butler rounded out the upsets by double-digit seeds with its win over seventh-seeded Arkansas.
Alabama and Florida State both upset eight-seeds Virginia Tech and Missouri, respectively.
Six of the 16 second-round games resulted in upsets. Syracuse went on to upset Michigan State to make the Sweet 16. But Syracuse isn’t the only 11-seed in the Sweet 16. Loyola-Chicago also beat a three-seed in Tennessee to join Syracuse as a Cinderella.
Florida State is the next lowest seed left in the dance, defeating one-seed Xavier. Two seven-seeds also remain, as Texas A&M and Nevada defeated four-seed Auburn and two-seed North Carolina, respectively. Fifth-seeded Clemson beat fourth-seeded Auburn to conclude the second-round upsets.
Duke has the best odds of making the Final Four final and the second-best odds of becoming champion. They’ll face the lowest overall seed remaining in the tournament, Syracuse, whom they beat by 16 back in February. Syracuse’s zone defense was and still is superior to Duke’s, and it didn’t and still won’t matter.
Duke hit just two of 18 three-point attempts against the Orange zone, but the Duke zone sent Syracuse to the free-throw line just six times. The Blue Devils hit 14 of 16 free throws, 14 of which went to big men Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Marques Bolden. They hit 12 of those 14, which is well above their season average. Bagley shoots 62 percent from the charity stripe, Carter shoots 74 percent from the line, and Bolden hit 59 percent of free ones this season.
Syracuse will have to put the Duke bigs on the line again and hope they miss more often. It’s really the only chance they have unless they shoot the lights out against a Duke zone that has improved since they last played.
The team with the best odds to become champion is one-seed Villanova. They get a tougher test than Duke to open the Sweet 16, though. Fifth-seeded West Virginia will hope its full-court press can limit Villanova’s league-best scoring efficiency, a tall task for the gritty Mountaineers.
Gonzaga checks in with the third-best odds to reach the final and win it all. Florida State stands between Gonzaga and the Elite 8, where either third-seeded Michigan or seventh-seeded Texas A&M will be waiting.
Second-seeded Purdue has the fourth-best odds to become champion despite having just the sixth-best chance to reach the final. That’s because Purdue has the toughest road to the Final Four, playing three-seed Texas Tech and potentially facing one-seed Villanova.
Fifth-seeded Kentucky has the fifth-best odds to be one of the Final Four and tournament champion and has one of the easiest paths to those ends. Ninth-seeded Kansas State awaits on Thursday, and if Kentucky wins, the Wildcats will either see seventh-seeded Nevada or 11-seed Loyola-Chicago.
Michigan has the sixth-best chance of reaching the final and becoming champ, with Kansas, a one-seed, checking in at seventh. The Jayhawks’ low odds despite their seed likely has to do with how Duke and Clemson have looked in the tournament thus far. Fifth-seeded Clemson smoked fourth-seeded Auburn by 29 in the second round, and Duke won both its games running away.
So if you’re looking to make back some of the money you lost on the bad beats abound during March Madness’s first two rounds, Duke and Villanova are the best bets to reach the Final Four.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.