Tag Archives: 2011 NCAA Tournament

Sports Betting in Ireland

I spent last week in Ireland on a family vacation. I saw and did a lot of really interesting things, but most of them have no place on a sports blog. My visits to Ladbrokes, a sports wagering outlet, however, do.

Intrigued by these small shops that I spotted everywhere from Dublin to Kinsale, I stopped in on two occasions to place bets on a sport I’ve rarely watched: soccer. Search this blog for “soccer” and you’ll find no results. I don’t hate the sport, don’t claim it’s boring because there’s not much scoring—it’s simply not for me. I’m not even a pseudo soccer fan who pretends to care every four years during the World Cup.

Of course that didn’t stop me from placing five euro on Manchester United to beat Chelsea in their match last week.

Here is what I considered before making the wager: (1) it seemed to be the feature match of the day and I was told it would be on TV; (2) I had heard of Manchester United before; (3) Man U was an underdog; (4) the teller told me she liked Man U in this match. Now, one could argue No. 4 should have been a reason not to bet on Man U, but I figured the tellers stand nothing to gain if I were to lose.

In a cab on the way to the Kilmainham Jail (great tour, by the way), I asked the driver what he thought about my bet. “At 11 to 4? That’s a great wager. Those two clubs are about even, I’d say.” My confidence was soaring as I got validation from a second local. Later, at a pub, just before the start of the game, a fellow Guinness drinker told me he also felt the game was a toss up. “Will probably end in a draw,” he said. No, I didn’t want a draw (tie), because unlike other sports, a tie does not mean all bettors get their money back. Instead, the sportsbooks give you the option to bet that the game will end in a draw.

The game started while I was still in the pub and ended sometime during my dinner hours later. Manchester United won 1-0. It wasn’t until the next day, when I saw the newspapers, that I realized how big the victory was.

A couple of days later, I pushed my luck and bet on another underdog, though this time I took a “double chance,” meaning I’d win if my team won or tied. The team I bet on was called the Metz, and that is the only reason I bet on them. Sure enough, they played to a 0-0 draw and I won again. This was the first time in several years that the Metz have not let me down.

Obviously it’s a small sample size but I was 2-0, 100 percent, betting on a sport I know nothing about.

Contrast that to my annual performance in NCAA Tournament pools, in which I hardly ever finish near the top of the standings despite watching several college basketball games a week and studying the bracket for hours in the days leading up to the Tourney.

My older brother ran a pool this year that had nearly 100 participants. Had Kentucky beat Connecticut in the Final Four, his girlfriend, Donna, who watched maybe two games all season, would have won. Instead my good friend, Jason, won. He had Michigan, Syracuse, and Notre Dame going far simply because he knows people who attended those schools. But he somehow picked UConn to win it all and therefore claimed the top prize. I’m not knocking these people; I’m envious and a bit confused, just as soccer fans reading this must be surprised of my betting success in Ireland.

While I figured Kentucky was too inexperienced to make such a deep Tourney run and UConn was out of gas after its Big East tournament gauntlet, Jason and Donna likely didn’t consider these factors. Just as I didn’t consider—because I didn’t know—that Manchester United hadn’t won at Chelsea’s stadium since 2002.

As they say, ignorance is bliss. And sometimes rich.

Butler Loses to UConn in National Championship

“Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

Oh, right, I don’t have to steal a lede because the mid-major school with the enrollment of 3,600 and basketball budget that just this season cracked the top 100 (but still ranks just 98) did not win the national championship. Then again, perhaps the fact that it found itself in the game for the second straight year warrants its inclusion. Butler did a lot of things more difficult than beating Connecticut in the past two seasons, but Butler did not beat Connecticut so here we are.

If you wanted a thorough breakdown of the game itself, you came to the wrong place. Then again, where would you go for such a thing? I’d say the box score does the trick. Butler could not put the ball in the basket—not from close (3-for-31), from far (9-of-33 on threes), or even that well when there was literally no defense (8-of-14 from the free throw line).

Butler star Shelvin Mack had scored 24 in the semifinal game just two days before, his third time scoring at least that many in this Tournament, but he missed two open layups in the first few possessions that proved to be foretelling. The Bulldogs led 25-19 after hitting a three to open the half, but then shot an unfathomably bad 1-of-23 over a 13 minute span, scoring just three points as UConn built a 13-point lead.

I’d say this best sums up Butler’s offensive woes: Two days later, I can recall every two-point basket (who made it, where they were on the floor) and could probably reconstruct most of the threes, too, if I really thought about it.

It’s a testament to how good the Bulldogs are at other phases of the game that at the under-12 media timeout in the second half they were only down five. But at the end Butler was down 11, 53-41, in the lowest scoring national championship game since 1949.

So Butler does not get to put a national title banner in Hinkle Fieldhouse but it does get to hang another Final Four banner, and that is utterly remarkable. Butler trailed by six to UTEP in its opening round game of last year’s NCAA Tournament, then played tight games with Murray State, Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State before losing to Duke. This year, as an 8-seed, the Bulldogs beat Old Dominion at the buzzer, knocked off Pitt by one in a game analysts are still trying to understand, and, later, topped Florida in overtime.

Much of America was hoping this year’s title game would be a lot like the 2010 version except, you know, Butler would win. The stars certainly seemed aligned as UConn was a weaker foe than Duke. Of course the opponent becomes inconsequential when you can’t make a basket.

But I urge you, regardless of your level of college basketball fandom, to remember Butler not for its inability to play well in one particular game, but its ability to play extremely well in so many other games these past two years. It is extraordinarily difficult to navigate through an NCAA Tournament, as Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Kansas, and so many other really good teams found out this year and every year. Butler managed to do it twice, coming up just one win short each time.

You could look at Monday night as a missed opportunity, as a second chance that is rarely given in sports, especially sports that crown their champion through a single elimination, month-long tournament. And, in many ways, it was that. But Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs capitalized on so many other opportunities that will have far more lasting effects than a win would have.

I hope you enjoyed the ride.

VCU, The Bubble, and NCAA Tournament Expansion

Virginia Commonwealth’s run to the Final Four doesn’t validate the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s decision to include the Rams in the field, just as UAB’s poor showing doesn’t prove they were a bad choice. The discussion about which teams belong in the field and those teams’ performance once the Tourney begins are two separate things.

If you felt VCU had done enough before Selection Sunday to warrant a spot in the field—and more than other teams that were left out—then fine; and if not, OK. What they’ve accomplished so far is irrelevant. I’m guessing the committee members are taking some satisfaction in VCU’s run, though.

Given its appearance in the “First Four,” the play-in games to get into the original opening round of the Tournament, we know that VCU was one of the last four teams in. We can’t be certain they were one of the last three and therefore would not have qualified under previous years’ 65-team format, but it’s a very safe bet. If VCU found itself with the same profile compared to the rest of the field last year, it almost certainly would have been in the NIT.

And who knows, maybe in a 65-team Tournament Clemson doesn’t have to play an extra game and then travel halfway across the country for an early tip 36 hours later, perhaps allowing the Tigers to go on a run. Maybe Southern Cal gets in without having to face VCU in a play-in game and they take the same path the Rams did to reach Houston. These teams can’t complain because they did at least control their own destiny. The point is, adding more teams certainly doesn’t increase the chances of a magic run like VCU’s.

As I noted in my Final Four preview, this was a positive consequence of expansion but still doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for college basketball.

A Final Four banner will be hanging here next season. (Credit: Mentes)

The annual arguments over the last few teams to get bids can get exhausting. My thought has always been that any team that finds itself on the bubble had plenty of opportunities to secure a place in the field, especially if it is from a power conference. The teams themselves should never be criticized on Selection Sunday—they don’t have to apologize for receiving invites—and sometimes the committee backlash is a bit harsh.

But VCU has reminded us what George Mason highlighted in 2006: those last few spots do matter. We assume none of those teams have a shot at the national championship, but can we really believe that anymore? VCU is a small underdog against Butler and would be projected to have a better chance in the finals than it supposedly did against Purdue or Kansas.

Getting into the Tournament matters. Advancing to the Sweet 16 matters. A Final Four appearance is obviously extremely special. These are the types of things that have effects on recruiting, merchandise sales, applications to the school, and coaching decisions (as far as hirings, firings, and raises).

VCU’s run is why Seth Greenberg is livid every year. Virginia Tech has never had a Final Four caliber team, but no bubble team—VCU included—is ever considered a threat to advance that far. We have examples that show us it is possible though: The team that very well might have been the last team in the field has reached the Final Four twice in the last six years. So yes, the post-Selection Show bubble talk can get excessive because, let’s face it, it’s a subjective process and all decisions are final, but it is important.