Tuesday, March 26, 2019

NCAA tournament outlook after the first weekend

            The NCAA tournament did not disappoint. The 84 hours between Thursday at 9 am and Sunday at 9 pm once again provided enough intense entertainment to leave this fanatic exhausted.

            No matter if your favorite team lost or is going on to the sweet 16 and no matter if your bracket is busted or not, the first weekend of March madness is Christmas for sports fans. Every game is a new present to open. The fattening cookies, sweet treats, and eggnog are replaced with fattening pizza, hot wings and beer. When done right, it's the quality time spent and conversations had with family and friends that make both occasions so great. I would like to extend a personal thank you to my friends Tim, Rob, and Aaron along with my sister, brother-in-law, and dad for humoring me in my nonstop texting which made my first four days of March madness 2019 special. The only thing that could have made it better is if our Iowa Hawkeyes could have completed that feverish comeback against Tennessee.

            What makes the tournament my much preferred holiday is the bracket competitions and gambling excitement. I hope my attempt last Tuesday to give you a tournament present of a perfect bracket was a success for you or at least close. As predicted we had one 13 seed or higher get a win, three of the four 12 seeds got a victory, and you made out just as well flipping a coin to pick the eight versus nine match-ups as I did. Because of the three 10 seeds and four nine seeds pulling out the not so incredible upsets, the number of upsets overall was a little above average this year. However, if you stuck to the top four seeds in each region overwhelmingly making it to the sweet 16, as I advised, you should be looking at a fairly clean bracket going into the second weekend. Here on out is crunch time and where each team has real value. Most contests give 10 points per first-round win, 20 for a sweet 16 correct pick, 40 per elite eight pick, 80 per final four pick, 160 per championship game participant, and 320 for picking the champ. Because of this, even after going 24-8 in the first round and 10-6 in the second, my bracket still has a chance to make some noise with seven of my elite eight picks still live, and my entire final four still intact.

            As for the headlines of this weekend, we all knew about the Duke freshman coming into the tournament, but I think three players not as hyped as Zion made their presence felt and may do so at the next level. Ja Morant got his team as a 12 seed to the second round. At the next level, he will be a solid starter and multiple time all-star. His game compares to Chris Paul, but we'll see if he can achieve that level of greatness. Tacko Fall is a freak of nature who without foul trouble may very well have put an end to the unstoppable force that is Duke. He also seems to be more mobile and sturdy than the seven and a half footers we have previously seen in the NBA making him an updated version of Shawn Bradly. Naz Reid has yet to really put his stamp on this tournament but still has his team alive. He has shown that he has the natural abilities and the right mentality to do the dirty work necessary to make a good team great, ala Draymond Green.

            For those of us who enjoy sports betting it was a great weekend for money line parlays on the favorites. Now it's time to move on to week two. After my initial glance at the money line prices for this Thursday and Friday, there appears to be some cash to be made on three large underdogs. It jumps off the page that the sports books are giving great value to the money line bets on Florida State at +230, LSU at +210 and Oregon at +270. I wanted to wait until I had a bet I felt extremely confident with before I put out my first public betting strategy on my blog, but I honestly feel the value offered in these three long shots is too good to pass up. My preferred way to bet in 2019 is in-game but if you aren't doing that yet, one option I was initially looking at was the North Carolina versus Auburn over. The problem is, now this total has already been bet up a couple of points to 164. If you're comfortable at that inflated number, I would grab it now because I expect it to continue to rise until game time. That being said, if you really want to feel good about your money, I suggest you start in-game betting. My biggest two strategies in the sweet 16 will be waiting for a lull in the action before betting the UNC game over 160.5 and the over in the Purdue versus Tennessee game, if it drops to 140.5 or lower. However, I make it my personal policy to not make a bet at -121 or worse unless I feel it is a true lock. If these numbers don't reach the goal numbers I suggested, or the numbers you set for yourself, remember, it is better to not make a bet that would have won than to settle for a bad number and lose.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Bracket Busted?

            The most exciting two days in the 2019 sports world have come to a close, and they did not disappoint. New stars and Cinderella stories have emerged.

            Thursday started it off with four fairly predictable upsets, two of which I called for on Tuesday and a 3rd I bet last minute after the Howard suspension for Syracuse. The fourth one (Minnesota) I just didn’t see coming but, according to my betting account balance, three out of four ain't bad when it comes to plus money underdogs! The upset I called for that didn't happen was New Mexico St. over Auburn. If you were with me you know a last 10 seconds of horror snatched victory out of our grasp.

            What I learned on day one is there are two players in this tournament that are not as talked about as Zion Williamson but are still NBA talents who will leave their mark on this tournament. Naz Reid for LSU is 6'10", has a solid frame, and moves well. He needs to work on his perimeter game to fit in the current league but, he has a real shot. Ja Morant has all the skills it takes to be a guard in the NBA today. Because of high school kids getting drafted in the past, and now the one and done rule, I haven't seen a sophomore this talented in the NCAA since the early '90s. Because of these two men amongst boys, I will be changing two of my previous picks to make the sweet 16 for Saturday's betting purposes: 1. LSU will not be upset by Maryland as I previously predicted. 2. Murray St. will pull off the upset eliminating Florida St. Other than those two, my bracket predictions remain as is for the other games on the first day of round two. You can take a look at my picks on my previous post, "How to Pick the Perfect Bracket."

            I know Gonzaga looked good against the 16 seed in round one but, I still don't get how they got the one seed over Michigan, Michigan St. or Tennessee. At first glance, I thought the committee did them a favor, giving them probably the easiest overall region of the four. But, after round one, it is clear to me, Morant and his Murray St. Racers have a real shot at moving on in this tournament and sending the Bulldogs home early!

            With both of my beloved Iowa teams taking the court Friday, I spent more time being a fan and less time being an analyst. Hawkeyes kept my heart racing and got the come from behind win. However, the Cyclones could not quite complete their own comeback and fell to Ohio St. making the Big Ten 7-1 in the opening round of the tournament.

            Friday was another good day for my betting account's bottom line and it was for yours too if you took my three suggested underdogs. For those of you who missed it (Tim) I tried to tell you on Tuesday that UCF is good: "UCF is a veteran team with a 7’6” giant and this time of year experience and size can quickly take over a game." With Washington, UCF and Liberty each getting the W, it made for a real nice 14/1 money line parlay.

            Lastly, what in the world is this "player's cylinder rule"? I knew a player could not touch the ball when it is on or above the cylinder of the rim, but did you know in 2016 they instituted a rule that says a player cannot invade the space immediately around an opponent? Is it just me or does that basically mean touching the air around another player is a foul? Doesn’t that essentially make it illegal to strip another player of the ball, even if you don't touch them? I'm pretty sure I've seen a couple hundred missed calls on that rule in the past three years. That is until Friday when out of the blue, it was called twice, and of course, both times against the team I was rooting for.

            If you are following along, you know my bracket looks fairly average. The good news for me is I've only lost 1 sweet 16 pick! For my thoughts throughout the day during the tournament follow me on twitter @Jake_Ruch. Let the madness continue…

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"How to Pick the Perfect Bracket"

            Everyone wants to pick the big upset. It’s fun to impress your friends and competition by being right but, is that what’s important to you, or are you interested in winning your pool?

            Since 1985 when the tournament went to the 64 team bracket format, every year there are multiple double-digit upsets. If you can pick one of them correctly, the higher the seed, the more high fives you will receive. The problem is high fives don’t buy beer!

            When picking your bracket, the first and most important thing to remember is picking upsets by 13 seeds or higher rarely pays off. This is because even though you look like a genius at the time, your Cinderella will most likely still be playing above their heads in the next round as well. Expecting them to get to the sweet 16 is just asking too much. In addition, when you pick the 13 or higher you have now eliminated a top 4 seed that is more often than not, going to make it to the sweet 16. As a result, you’ve effectively lost yourself two games by trying to outsmart the room. This is especially true for the 15 and 16 seeds as only one out of the nine of them to win a first-round game has ever made it to the sweet 16.

            Like everyone else, you remember the big 16 over 1 upset from last year and you want to be ahead of the curve this year. Some of you might even be able to name the eight 15 seeds that have beaten a two, and everyone remembers a few of the 21 14 seeds and 28 13 seeds that have made it out of the first round. The thing you need to realize is you only remember them because it's rare, in fact, your odds of being right are about 1/16. The cost of being wrong just does not outweigh the reward for being right because if you are wrong on your guess, not only did you lose the one you picked, but also the one that actually happened. If you want to pick a 13 seed or higher you better have some good information or be playing for bragging rights, not to win.
            If your goal is to win don't bother picking one! That being said the odds are in favor of one of these 16 overwhelming underdogs pulling out the miracle each year, so if you want that perfect bracket, you’ll probably need to pick one. If you believe distraction can play defense against a superiorly skilled team, then take Yale as a 14 seed but, don’t expect much credit because right now, it’s the cool thing to do.

            10 – 12 seeds are a little trickier. This is where your bracket can be busted or you can take the early lead. Amazingly all three of these underdogs have a very common win percentage in the first round. All three are separated by just 5% and according to history; slightly over one out of every three of them will pull off the upset. With there being 12 teams with a 10 11 or 12 seed in the tournament each year, four of them will advance on average. I like Liberty, Murray St. and New Mexico St. each to advance from the 12 line. I know its cliché to pick the 12 versus five upset but, after zero of the 12s pulled it off last year, for only the fifth time since 1985, I’m figuring they will make up for it this year. Florida from the 10 spot rounds out my 4 for this year. The two popular upsets that I didn't take from this section seem to be, 12 seed Oregon who has gelled well after losing their all-star Bol Bol early in the season, and 11 seed St. Mary's who faces last year’s champion, Villanova.

            The eight/nine match-up is, as expected, a 50/50 proposition over time but the good news is even if you are wrong you don’t have to worry because all but 1 time in history the winner had to face the one seed in the next round anyway. If you are aren’t going to take the time to break the matchup  down, I recommend strategies such as: Which team’s mascot would win in a fight? Which teams primary color is your favorite? Which team has the best looking cheerleaders for the opponent to be distracted by? Or there’s the tried and true flipping of a coin. You can pick your favorite of these and feel good knowing you’ll most likely fair just as well as I did after hours of research.

            That being said the two nine seeds I like are Washington and UCF. Utah State hasn’t seen a defense like Washington’s all year in the mountain west and has played the 85th toughest schedule in the nation to come up with their 28-6 record. UCF is a veteran team with a 7’6” giant and this time of year experience and size can quickly take over a game.

            Now that I have explained how to get your bracket off to a perfect start the rest is up to you. I will post my bracket and you can feel free to copy as many of my winners as you like. In addition, I will be posting more of my thoughts about this year’s field and seedings on Thursday before the real madness starts. My predictions for winners round by round will be posted before the tip-off of the first game each day throughout the tournament. Be sure to check back often. Who knows, I may even throw out a couple winning bets before the championship is played on April Monday 8th.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cubs Win! Holy Cow! Go Cubs Go!

            In 1988 I was a five-year-old boy, trying to follow in my father's footsteps as a Cubs fan. Holy Cow! I screamed repeatedly. Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Shawon Dunston, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux, and Harry Caray, were the first six names I learned as I became a fan of the game.

            Later that season my competitive nature kicked in and I realized it would be more fun to root against my father's team, at least for a couple of series each year, than to cheer with him all season long. Back then we didn't have this endless litany of channels providing access to every baseball game on the planet. If I wasn't going to watch the Cubs on WGN, the only other option was the Braves on TBS. My mind was made up, I was a Braves fan, and so the cubs became my #2.

            At that time the Braves were just as bad as the Cubs. But, I had no qualms cheering for the underdog. As I've learned throughout my life, it's the role I was born to play. I rooted for Ron Gant, Dale Murphy, David Justice, Deion Sanders, Fred McGriff, and Chipper Jones as they became some of the best in the game. In the early 90s, it became fun to be a Braves fan as they built the best rotation in the history of baseball - Tom Glavin, Steve Avery, John Smoltz, and of course, former Cub, and my favorite pitcher of all time, Greg Maddux.

            In1995 I pulled for the team of budding superstars for the last season because when they won the title, I instantly knew, rooting for the champ wasn't something I could do. After the season I went back to those lovable losers, my cubbies.

            In 1998 I watched with amazement in shock and awe as "Slammin" Sammy Sosa launched bombs while he battled it out with Mark McGwire for the single-season home run record. To this day I'm still on the side of the argument that that was the most exciting season in baseball history. I know it's not a popular stance but, the fact is, steroids didn't ruin the game, they brought it back from the edge of darkness after the strike had turned many away from the sport.

            In 2003 I thought for sure this was our year. We had the great Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Kenny Lofton, and my second favorite pitcher of all time, Kerry Wood leading a pitching staff of Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Clement. At the end of the season, I yelled, screamed and choked back tears as we gave the NLCS to the Florida Marlins on the heels of the Bartman excuse. Just to be clear Alou wouldn't have caught that ball anyway, and it's certainly not Bartman's fault the team fell apart from that point on.

            In 2016 I made it to my first in-person Cubs game. Game five of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium was the highlight of my baseball experience. Nine years after getting out of the army where I made several great friends, I got to watch my Cubbies kick butt against my battle buddy's Dodgers on his home turf. I felt joy in my soul every minute of the experience. After the game I gathered with hundreds of fans behind the visitors' dugout singing "Hey, Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are gonna win today!" That season ended with their first World Series win in 108 years, an excited hug with both of my son's, and a celebratory phone call to my dad to share the joy of the Cubs victory. There was no choking back the tears this time, our dreams had come true.

            Since the World Series title, I have done what I didn't think I could ever do and continued to root for the favorite. The Cubs will always be my team, our team.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

LeBron the GOAT!

            King James has proven time and time again that he deserves to be known as the greatest basketball player of all time, yet, haters don't stop coming up with laughable reasons he's not.

            What LeBron has been crushed for in the past is basically admitting he needed someone to teach him how to be a champion. In doing so, he left a team honorably after his contract was over, and went to Miami to learn from Dwyane Wade what it takes to bring home a title. This is what's called humility, a quality that makes him great not just on the floor but, off as well.

            The biggest reason most use for being mad at him is "The Decision." Just to be clear, that means people are mad at a guy for hosting a televised event which he used to raise over 3 million dollars, all for charity. Since then he has financially put hundreds of children through college and opened a free school with amenities no other school has ever offered to students from that income bracket. These things scream to me that, he's trying to make the world a better place.

            The Qualifications that decide who is the GOAT are: skill, leadership, winning and ability to dominate a game. The GOAT must have all four. Arguably, he may not have as much skill as Kobe Bryant, he may not be as great of a leader or done as much winning as Michael Jordan, he may not be as dominant of force as Shaquille O'Neil, but he's the best combination of all four areas we have ever seen on the court.

            For those of you stuck in the past saying no one can top my GOAT, stop trying to use LBJ's time with the Lakers as proof he's not as great as Jordan or Bryant. Lakers are his Wizards, his thank you contract. You didn’t hold those things against MJ or KB. No one ever says, well, "His Airness" would be the goat if he didn’t play out his career in Washington and lead them to a 37-45 record each year. Nor do they say, "The Mamba" would be the greatest if he didn't steal that last contract from the Lakers, resulting in 0 finals appearances and a dismantled franchise for years to come. At least LeBron didn't give up mid-season and leave his team to go mess around on the diamond, or single-handedly tank a season while demanding a trade because he chased off his co-star before realizing he couldn’t win without one. In addition, LeBron carried the Cavs to the finals without a player close to the equivalent of Scottie Pippen, Shaq, or even Pau Gasol in '07 and '18, something neither MJ nor KB can claim.

            LeBron came to the Lakers to be a star at more than just basketball. Before you say, that’s why he's not the GOAT, this doesn't erase the things he did in the first 15 seasons of his career to become the GOAT. His time with the Lakers, especially the underwhelming stretch since he injured his groin on Christmas day, is just the latest pathetic excuse to not acknowledge his excellence. Let's not forget, as of the moment of his injury, he had that team of oft-injured castaways and infants in fourth place. That’s not fourth place in the "awful east," as everyone calls it to downplay his eight straight finals appearances. We're talking about the "vastly superior western conference."

            To begin the season, he came to Hollywood with every intention of teaching his teammates how to win. As he was trying to figure out the most effective way to do that, he realized they weren't getting it and he knew in order to keep this team in playoff contention, he had to revert from "teacher LeBron" to "I got this LeBron." Unfortunately, at 34 years old he found out something we will all learn at some point, and that is, everyone's body will give out eventually. No matter how many hours and dollars you put into maintaining your's, father time is undefeated.

            During his recovery, the coach and supporting cast couldn't even keep their record good enough to be in a playoff spot. So, why exactly should he have faith in any of them? Now, LeBron is trying to carry a group that has proven they aren't worthy of playoff contention, back into a top 8 seeding. On top of that, he's trying to play his way into shape at his heaviest ever playing weight because it's hard to do cardio while healing a pulled groin.

            To make matters worse, Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball, who should be bringing the ball up the court so the old man can have a break, can't stay healthy. These two players, who are frequently missing, are also large keys to making their team defense successful. At some point, the obstacles may even be too much for the GOAT to overcome this season but, I wouldn't bet against him next season if I were you.

            Just admit it already, not only is LeBron James the basketball GOAT, anything he does from here out can't diminish that, and he's also a guy we should all strive to be more like in our personal lives!

Riding Bike from Vegas to LA for Veterans' Mental Health - Part II

World's Tallest Thermometer Baker, CA. It's not letting up until dark. Day two of my 300-mile bike ride in three d...