Josh Nagel’s blog

March 24, 2009

NCAA Tournament picks, therapy and a case of GONADS

Filed under: Sports,Sports betting — jnagelreno @ 8:57 pm
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What the gambling gods giveth, they sometimes taketh away. On some splendid days, each can happen within seconds of the other.

 

Welcome to the NCAA Tournament.

 

As a seasoned sports bettor hardened by years of improbable bad beats mixed in with the occasional diamond-encrusted day of good fortune, I’ve learned to take my medicine and my luck with equanimity.

 

Failure to learn this skill can come with specific health hazards, the most severe of which is an irreversible case of Gambling On NCAA Action Death Syndrome or, as it’s commonly known in the medical community, GONADS.

 

Trust me, the symptoms aren’t pleasant; I’m still in therapy over Chris Duhon’s half-court heave in the 2004 Final Four that allowed Duke to cover the two-point spread against Connecticut.

 

My recovery is going quite, well, thank you, provided I diligently and consistently apply my newfound zen-like mindset to the outcome of sporting events on which I have wagered. I’ve made considerable progress in my quest to handle extreme finishes, win or lose, with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders.

 

Until Sunday, that is, when I really needed my picks to win. Accordingly, the gambling gods punished me for the sin of coveting thy betting slip. All the sure signs of first-degree GONADS came rushing back – the fever, rapid heart rate, inability to breathe or speak, constant shakes.

 

Then the games started.

 

The picks I so dearly sweated were Michigan State -4 over USC and Marquette +3.5 against Missouri. I put a five-unit play on the Spartans, a smaller play on the Golden Eagles and emptied my account at www.bookmaker.com with a parlay on these picks.

 

My obsession with winning these picks was two-fold, partly about the cash and partly about pride. For a while, I couldn’t decide which was more important.

 

As soon as Sunday’s lines were released, I determined Michigan State would be my biggest play of the tournament, a step up from the three-unit win I posted on UConn -10 over Texas A&M on Saturday. While well aware of how red-hot the Trojans were heading into this contest, I nevertheless concluded the value rested squarely on the other side.

 

This struck me as a prime stage for a vintage Tom Izzo-coached performance; it figured to be tight for about 30 minutes, at which point the rebounding and defensive prowess of the Spartans would take hold and produce a run along the lines of 15-0 from which the Trojans would never recover.

Fewer benjamins but far more pride was riding on my Marquette pick. You see, as a writer for Covers.com, I was given the plum assignment and welcome challenge of providing a preview and spread prediction for every NCAA Tournament game in the West Regional.

 

Picking games ATS for public consumption isn’t easy, and it’s not a task to be taken lightly, lest you pick a whole bunch of losers in full view of sports-betting types and become known as an ink-drenched schmoe incapable of practicing what he preaches.

 

(At the risk of sounding self-serving, I will note that through the conference tournaments and the NCAAs, I have yet to post a losing record on a day’s picks).

 

So I viewed Marquette as the ultimate “fade-the-fade” play, figuring many bettors would overreact to the Eagles’ sluggish performance in their first-round win over Utah State and bet Missouri without comprehending the big picture.

 

What’s more, I truly believed Marquette had enough good players to make Missouri pay for its pressure defense, and if the Eagles could survive an early blitz, they could come back and the Tigers might freeze with the game on the line. 

 

Well, if you follow the NCAA Tournament, you know how this story ends. My full-fledge bout with GONADS involved a few moments in the second half when three excruciating words came to mind.

 

I was wrong.

 

A few moments later, they were replaced by three others.

 

I was right.       

 

Both outcomes hung in the balance as my wallet clamored for the Spartans, my ego yearned for the Eagles, and my brain just wanted this case of GONADS to be put out of its misery.

 

At one point, I resorted to prayer.

 

“Oh, gambling god … Patriarch of the Parlay … Father of the Fade, please, oh please, I’ll never ever gamble again, I swear … if you’ll let me win just this once. OK, twice. But please …”

 

I watched intently as the networked zoomed into the final minute of the Marquette game, during which the Eagles found an “unusual” way to turn a four-point lead into a four-point loss in 60 seconds.

 

Wow. I had lost the straight-up pick and ATS bet in one fell swoop. For a second, I felt like the basketball player in that new sports bar commercial who suffers the double-edged indignity of not only taking a slingshot T-shirt in the nuts courtesy of the blinded mascot’s errant trigger, but has the point guard’s precise entry pass clock him square in the noggin as he collapses on the hardwood.

 

In other words, it hurt. But as I waited for an inevitable second dose of bad news, the Michigan State final score came across the screen. Leading 74-69 with 12 seconds left, the Spartans somehow avoided giving up what seemed a certain, backdoor, spread-covering basket at the buzzer.

 

Alas, all was not lost. I cashed my biggest bet of the tournament, and could cry “bad beat” about the Marquette pick. As far as GONADS is concerned, I got away with a mild case.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me … my therapist awaits.

 

(For more sports betting information, please visit my partners at www.covers.com, www.TodaysPicks.net and www.docsports.com.)            

March 19, 2009

Sometimes, it behooves thee to agree with Dickie V.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jnagelreno @ 5:50 am
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You know the NCAA Tournament seeding fiasco has gotten bad when you’re reduced to agreeing with Dick Vitale.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was admittedly in cahoots with the old wind bag Sunday, shortly after the NCAA Tournament seedings were announced.

ESPN has its own tradition on selection Sunday. Its executives wax and shine Vitale’s aging noggin, pull the “lift” lever on the remote-control pedestal they installed beneath his feet long ago, and subject viewers to a full-court press of the longing-to-be-loved analyst’s views on the NCAA Tournament.

This annual walkthrough in illusion of relevance wouldn’t be complete without Dickie’s trademark “tirade” in which he stares at the camera and loudly denounces the NCAA’s exclusion of a particular team from the field as the biggest social injustice since “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis’s indictment on lewdness charges.

Dickie’s sermon isn’t complete until he tells viewers that, despite the fraud and farce that went into the selections, he really means that the selection committee did a great job, and no hard feelings.

But this time, before his lame apology for saying so, Dickie’s rant was right on the mark. In particular, he suggested that Arizona didn’t deserve a ticket to the dance, and that its seat should have been reserved for Saint Mary’s.

I’ll amend that just a little to include both Arizona and Maryland as teams that have no business whatsoever being included in the 65-team field, and you can plug Saint Mary’s, Penn State, Creighton, San Diego State and any number of more-deserving bubble teams in their place for all I care.

The bottom line is that Arizona and Maryland simply do not qualify for admission to this event based on the well-document criteria that the NCAA has set forth for the tournament. What’s more, like Vitale’s tired rhetoric, these programs have lost relevance and the tournament is no better for their inclusion.

By now you probably know the basics; general qualifications include at least a .500 conference record, likely better if the conference is weak. A few big non-conference wins help the case, and avoiding losses to inferior teams is a factor. Moreover, playing well toward the end of the season doesn’t hurt. Arizona and Maryland failed miserably in almost all categories.

The Wildcats went 9-9 in a weak Pac-10 before essentially being manhandled by Arizona State in the conference tournament. Their resume includes at least one loss to every Pac-10 team except Oregon and Oregon State, and a memorable non-conference loss to UAB in which an Arizona player tackled a UAB player with the score tied and two seconds left on the clock. Nice wins over Kansas and Gonzaga should not outweigh their borderline embarrassing Pac-10 performance.

Same goes for Maryland, which went 7-9 in the admittedly strong ACC but lost back-to-back games to Boston College and woeful Virginia to end the regular season. Sure, the Terrapins won a couple of games in the conference tournament before succumbing to Duke, but their final 9-10 mark in the ACC – their win over North Carolina the only real highlight – should not be enough to make the grade.

There’s no other explanation for the Arizona and Maryland invitations aside from money and politics. The notion that they haven’t earned their spots practically is indisputable. But it stands to reason that these teams can bring more fans with them to neutral-site arenas than the Saint Mary’s of the world. And let’s face it, Maryland vs. California simply sounds a little sexier than Penn State vs. California.

But before you are tempted at the seduction, think again. These aren’t your father’s Arizona and Maryland clubs … shoot, they aren’t even your third cousin’s. Long gone are the days of Miles Simon and Mike Bibby and Final Four glory for Arizona, and Maryland has long lost the glow it had in the Juan Dixon-led glory years.

Arizona’s annual blind invitation has resulted in thumpings at the hands of West Virginia and Purdue the past two seasons. Maryland’s last NCAA appearance two years ago was met with a sound beating by Butler, the type of mid-major program that suffers the most when these high-profile, low-resume schools are let in.

Perhaps the only way to stop this transparent snubbing is to keep magnifying the farce in the media and hope that someone who matters someday changes his or her mind. If this means standing alongside Dickie V. once in a while, well, just remember the effort to promote meaningful change always comes with some sort of sacrifice.

March 7, 2009

Charles Barkley is fooling only himself

Filed under: Sports,Sports betting — jnagelreno @ 10:11 pm
Tags: , , ,

When I heard Charles Barkley was due to report to jail this weekend for his latest brush with the law, a couple of words came to mind.

Good riddance.

However, I don’t expect him to return from his three-day stint for DUI – reduced from five days – much worse for the wear. Barkley has publicly said he wasn’t worried about doing a little time.

Who can blame him? You can picture Chuck, right about now, hamming it up with the guards at the local lock-up, spinning yarns about the NBA, women, gambling and booze, and having a good time of it.

It’s not hard to imagine the guys running the weekend shift determining that there would be no harm in setting Chuck up with a 32-inch flat screen in his cell so he doesn’t fall behind on his hoops, and offering to go get some take-out down the street because Chuck deserves better than the slop they are serving down in the mess hall.

Chuck would likely have a captive audience for his act, but you can count me out. Charles Barkley is a fraud, and I am tired of him. The former NBA star is worse than a caricature of himself; he’s a caricature of his caricature.

Chuck is in denial about a lot of things, but here is my main beef with him: He is nothing that he purports himself to be, least of all a champion of causes for the greater good.

Barkley’s greatest talent is his gift of gab, which serves him well as a studio analyst for TNT. He’s certainly qualified to admonish the Phoenix Suns for their treatment of Terry Porter, or call out Allen Iverson for not passing enough.

But that’s about where his credibility ends and the fraud begins. You’d have to think, too, that after paying his gambling debts and serving as his public apologist, that Chuck’s act must wearing thin over at TNT.

The network seems terrified of firing him for fear of a drop in ratings, but I’ve got news for the suits … he won’t be missed. Chris Webber was surprisingly engaging and entertaining while filling in during Barkley’s leave (I say surprisingly because, during his playing days, Webber didn’t strike me as the brightest bulb), and TNT should be happy to know that, even without Chuck, the show would go on.

The time is past due to draw the curtain on Chuck’s act, which is part professional victim, part loud-mouth commentator on topics on which he is uninformed, and all baloney, all the time.

Ever since he retired from the NBA, Chuck has taken strong public platforms on issues such as race, social class and politics. He repeatedly stated that, regardless of color, poor people suffered more discrimination than any other minority in the world.
Fair enough. For his part, Chuck promised to be part of the solution by starting some sort of foundation dedicated to helping tough-luck people get back on their feet. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the check to arrive. Las Vegas casinos can attest to this.

While still contemplating his philanthropic ventures, Chuck lost, by his estimates, at least $10 million in Nevada casinos. I’m willing to venture that the actual amount was much higher. The Wynn Casino got tired of waiting for the half-million Chuck owed, so they went public with the debt.

Chuck claims he’s not broke, but I’m guessing he’s closer than he wants us to believe. TNT sent the check to the Wynn to get Chuck off the hook, which might suggest that Barkley could not cover this amount in his bank account.

He claims he needs to tone down his gambling and drinking, but is pretty sure he doesn’t have a problem with either. Right. This is the same guy who vowed to dedicate his life to helping poor people and hasn’t lifted a finger.

He’s also weighed in – no pun intended – in the political arena and on the hiring practices at Auburn, but never learned to support to his arguments with a phrase other than “Kiss my ass,” or “It’s just wrong.”

These days, all of his words just ring hollow. It’s time for Chuck to stop fooling himself about his problems, and to stop trying to fool us into believing he is man of great character.

March 6, 2009

Some athletes still don’t get it

Filed under: Sports — jnagelreno @ 9:55 pm
Tags: , ,

There have been a couple of incidents in sports this week that reminded me why I am no longer a metropolitan sportswriter for a living. Basically, if you are around this scene for a while, it starts to kill your soul.

You lose your passion for sports, which is why you chose this profession in the first place. You might be surprised to learn that it’s not just the athletes I am talking about … I walked away, by and large, because I got tired of the hypocrisy of the fellow sportswriters.

The knock on these guys is that they are freeloaders who live for handouts, and cynics who look for any reason to bash an athlete without ever giving him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I found this stereotype to be true more often than not.

It seemed many scribes showed up to Oakland Raiders games for no reason other than the Sunday brunch the club offers the media around 10 a.m. on game days. Many of them had the nerve to complain about the quality of the food (the scrambled eggs were excellent, if you ask me).

Many of them also are obese, and it would seem to harm one’s credibility to chastise an athlete for his work ethic, when the critic was a 400-pound-plus blob who couldn’t walk up the stairs to the press box without nearly having a heart attack.

These guys would then mercilessly bash the club in their columns, and some of this criticism was well-deserved – they are the Raiders, after all – and such critique is in the job description of a columnist. But the more I hung around this atmosphere, it was clear there was more at play here than just shrewd critical analysis.

Sportswriters can be a bitter bunch. Most of them are failed former athletes themselves who got into the profession as a way to sort of live vicariously through those whose lives they wish they had. They harbor much resentment toward athletes who make anywhere from 10 to 100 times or more the salary that they take home, and this jealously often influences their work.

They will look for any reason at any time to unload an ink-drenched assault on a coach or a player. Ask them if they ever consider that pro athletes, no matter how much money they make, are still real human beings who deserve a modicum of respect, and you’d get an answer like this: “Screw them. For as much money as they make, I can say whatever I want.”

Well, yes and no. The Constitution does protect freedom of the press, and we certainly don’t need sportswriters who are awe-struck by the athletes they cover and go out of their way to kiss their asses. Those guys exist as well.

But if you’re going to criticize, the motive should be more from the standpoint of a public watchdog for the best interests of the sport, the fans and the general public, not to exercise a personal agenda of animosity towards those who have something you don’t.

But there is another side to this. Getting repeatedly blown off or publicly berated by these multi-millionaires who get paid a king’s ransom for playing a child’s game can take a toll. No wonder some of these guys are hardened and cold-hearted. I wonder what I would think today had I stuck with this grind for a living.

This week, Manny Ramirez cited a “bad economy” while announcing his decision to make a huge sacrifice and sign with Dodgers for just $45 million. Carmelo Anthony proved that while there’s no “I” in team, you can’t spell Carmelo without “me.”

The Nuggets star refused to come out of a game when coach George Karl beckoned a substitute for him. What’s more, this superstar ball player stands by the defiance. After his suspension for this act was announced, Anthony made a point of emphasizing to the media that he cleared things up with Karl but did not apologize because, in his view, he had nothing to be sorry for.

“If I was wrong, I was wrong,” he said. “I don’t think I can be wrong for wanting to win a basketball game and trying to help my team win.”

Note Anthony’s careful use of the word “if.” Sort of like “if” O.J. Simpson killed his ex-wife. Most of us learn from an early age that helping the team win usually involves following the coach’s directives, and respecting that he or she is making decisions in the best interests of the team, whether or not you agree.

Manny Ramirez and Carmelo Anthony are prime examples of Athletes Who Just Don’t Get It. It’s enough to make a sportswriter choose a different profession, and enough to make a sports fan wish he had gotten into collecting stamps.

March 3, 2009

Yes, there will be

Filed under: Sports,Sports betting — jnagelreno @ 6:11 am
Tags: , ,

One of my favorite all-time Super Bowl bets is one that I lost. This is because the paper it’s printed on helped me win, metaphorically speaking.

Well, sort of.

The bet is about 5 years old, and yet I still have the slip to this day. I take a look at it once in a while because it features some words I find both amusing and partly inspiring.

Those words are: “Yes, there will be.” This is the only text on the betting slip.

Sports books offer all sorts of long-shot proposition bets on the Super Bowl, and this was one of them. You see, no Super Bowl has ever gone to overtime, none has featured a successful two-point conversion, nor has there ever been a safety. Thus, they offer long odds on each proposition.

I was betting on the safety at a whopping price of 8-to-1. Not that I had any logical reason to believe one would occur, but it would give me sort of an eclectic rooting interest and hey, for $10, the potential payout wasn’t bad.

But clearly the oddsmakers were betting big that nothing would happen. In fact, “No, there won’t be” was the whopping 1-to-10 favorite.

I never understood why they didn’t just print something more straightforward such as, “Safety +800” on the ticket. Evidently they weren’t into economizing, yet didn’t have room to explain the whole bet, so they went simply with “Yes, there will be.”

Of course, there wasn’t. Another Super Bowl went down in the books safety-free, and I was left with a losing sports bet that the hopeful side of me decided to turn into a fortune cookie, even if there was no fortune to be found.

Don’t get me wrong, sports betting should never be confused as analogous to anything that actually means something, but I’ve chosen to find some meaning in the verse on this ticket.

In short, “There Will Be” likely always will be a long shot. There will be dreams, goals and long shots, and most people probably will be in agreement with the house that the odds are stacked against you. “There Won’t Be” is the overriding sentiment for a lot of people these days.

And yet, what a triumph it will be the day your ticket is cashed. Even if it is overdue to hit.

It often feels like the oddsmaker of life is betting against you, but the only way you’ll ever truly be a loser is if you stop betting on yourself.

But as long as you have hope – even if it’s symbolized by a losing betting slip — there’s always a chance, no matter how slim, that something always will be.

Never mistake momentum for knowledge

Filed under: Sports,Sports betting — jnagelreno @ 6:03 am
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There’s an old sports axiom, courtesy of John Wooden, that states, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

This remains in sports lexicon – and found its way there in the first place – because of one Bill Walton, the free-spirited, peace-seeking redhead who went from UCLA All-American to oft-injured NBA journeyman to ultra-bold and super new-agey NBA analyst.

He never misses a chance to pay homage to the nearly 100-year-old legendary coach by repeating this mantra.

We won’t hold this against him, because bashing such a time-honored motto would be horrribbble … quite possibly the worst idea in the history of Western civilization.

But we are going to twist it just a little bit to illustrate an analogy. In sports betting parlance, a similar motto might read, “Never mistake momentum for knowledge.”

In the past few weeks, I’ve witnessed a couple of examples illustrating that failure to acknowledge this truth can be quite costly.

We’ll get to me in a minute. The first example was a recent contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” whose fatal gaffe was borderline tragic, simply because it didn’t need to happen.

There was an extremely sharp, late 50ish woman from San Francisco in the hot seat, and she immediately ran off about eight answers in a row without even thinking. Of course, most players are bound to get the first couple right, but this woman’s swift and confident answers as the difficulty increased showed she was of above-average smarts for a “Millionaire” player.

After breezing through the early going, there were a couple of questions that caused her to pause. She claimed to be not 100 percent sure, but that an initial thought came to mind for each question, and she would trust her instincts. She was right on both answers. The stakes were going higher, and she was in the enviable predicament of having all four lifelines at her disposal.

Unfortunately, when you invite disaster, it rarely declines. She fell apart on the next question. It was something geography-related, such as where a certain body of water is located (I don’t remember the exact question). The woman pondered the options, then stated, “Well, I am not really sure, but I’m going to ride my wave of momentum here … D, France, final answer!”

Insert loud, annoying, Buzzer of Defeat noise here.

Wrong.

This woman costs herself potentially hundreds of thousands in prize money because she somehow concluded that the “momentum” gained when she guessed correctly on a borderline question would carry over to the next one. Instead, her luck ran out.

It was a cringe-inducing scene because this woman was a viable candidate to go deep in the show. Even by simply diligently using her lifelines, she could have backed into a $100,000 payday, maybe better if she was fortunate enough to nail some of the big-money questions on her own.

Instead, she went home with $1,000 in prize money and a million dollar’s worth of What Might Have Beens.

Never mistake momentum for knowledge. I reminded myself of this lesson a few weeks ago, when I declined to leave well-enough alone on a profitable Saturday of college basketball betting.

I had bet seven games and went 6-1, a result I’ll take any day of the week. Then I saw a late-starting tilt between Fullerton State and Pacific about to tip off and I irrationally decided that there was value in Fullerton +1 at home.

This wasn’t exactly blind gambling, mind you, but it’s tantamount to the next-best thing. The Fullerton coach, Bob Burton, is a longtime acquaintance, and he has done amazing work with that program, including reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history last year.

In a nanosecond, I concluded that the oddsmakers didn’t know what I knew about coach Burton and the Titans, and the line was a major show of disrespect.

What’s more, I was feeling my sports-betting oats on this particular day, teetering on the outskirts of the proverbial “zone.” I was convinced ole’ momentum was on my side, and we know what happens next.

Ready, aim … fire. A blank.

What I failed to account for, which the ESPN2 commentators dutifully pointed out in the early going, is that Fullerton’s lineup was decimated by graduation and early-season injuries. They had only eight healthy players available against a well-coached and seasoned Pacific team. I could have known this too, had I, you know, looked into it a little.

But I let the euphoria of momentum take over and all logic, like my betting slip for this game, went to the curbside dumpster.

The result was predictable and ugly. Pacific shot something like 75 percent from the field in the first half, built a 20-point lead and never looked back. It was over in the first 5 minutes.

The lesson here being, whenever you think you are so on top of your game that you can’t possibly miss, think again. I know I will.

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