Sunday, March 29, 2009


I have been asked a number of times on radio shows and once when speaking about the book at my university library if I think that the games are influenced by point shaving.

My regular answer is that they are not and yesterday provided some more evidence to support it.

Shaving, for those readers unaware of it, refers to a practice of deliberately reducing a differential in a game's outcome. A criminal might suggest to a player that instead of the team winning by 7 why not win by just 5. A win is a win. If a spread is 6, the criminal and any conspirator might rationalize that to shave would be harmless. The team would win and a bettor would win. The team would win by 5 and the bettor would win because the 6 point spread would render the bettor, better by one point. This logic is convenient, irrational, worthy of ridicule, and reprehensible.

Nevertheless, there certainly have been instances when shaving has occurred with scandals in the 50s, 60s, 80s, and recently in the nba when an official was accused of and admitted to shaving points by making strange officiating decisions to influence a score.

I have been curious to see how the ends of tournament games might be affected by strange behavior. I have not detected any strange behavior. The players and coaches seem to be unaware of the spread entirely.

Yesterday, for example, the end of the Connecticut game with Missouri was a classic case when the game was won on the court, but people in Las Vegas suffered infarctions. The spread in the game was 5 1/2 points, Connecticut was up by 7, and Missouri had the ball with a few seconds left. The game was over. A Missouri player dribbled the ball and with less than anything approaching enthusiasm drove aimlessly to the basket. He was unimpeded as he should have been. The last thing CT would want to do in that scenario was foul. As he drove to the basket people in Las Vegas held their collective breath as the Missouri player flipped a shot up without much in the way of concern regarding the success of the effort. As it turned out, the ball rolled around the rim and out. No big deal was made of this on the court, by the players, by the coaches, or by the announcers. If shaving was prevalent, someone, somewhere, other than las vegas, would have reacted to this event. That ball rolling around cost some people hundreds if not thousands of dollars and made others hundred if not thousands richer. The ball goes in, the differential is 5 and someone with 5 1/2 is a winner. The ball bounces out, the 5 1/2 is one and half points short. There was no reaction on the court. If you listened carefully you might have heard the groans from Nevada, but not on the court where the games was played.

This could be naive, but I dont think I am wrong. I doubt that anyone on that court knew of the spread or was concerned with it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

limited wisdom

This morning, after the initial games of the sweet sixteen were played last night, I visited a website to find out what the over was on each of the games and to see if the pundits had got it right. I happened on one site which not only gave the spread, but also provided commentary on how the bets had been coming in prior to game time. One feature of the site indicated what the wise bets were. Of the five wise bets identified on the site, three turned out to be correct.

I then scrolled down to read comments made on the site. The most amusing comment was posted by a visitor who scoffed at Villanova's chances against Duke. The remark was unequivocal "If anyone in their right mind thinks that the defensively deficient Villanova Wildcats are going to beat Duke tonight they're absolutely CRAZY!" The final score was Villanova 77, Duke 54. The defensively challenged Wildcats held mighty Duke to the lowest score among the 8 participants last night.

While I was amused as I read this comment, it also reminded me of a humbling moment. I do not pretend to be an expert. Actually, in the book I make the comment that my only wisdom in this arena is the wisdom to know that I am not wise, and that few who bet regularly could be sufficiently wise to come out regular winners. However, when interviewed about the book, almost invariably, the host asks me "who I like." I listened to the podcast with Howard Schwartz the other night, heard Howard ask me for my picks, and heard my response. As it turned out, I was three for three. Certain that Ohio State would beat Siena, Butler would beat LSU, and VCU would prevail, I cringed as I heard each utterance as all three teams lost their games. (But VCU did cover. Maybe Butler too. Don't talk to me about Siena).

The Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys is not about betting wisdom. It is about the subculture of fans who travel to las vegas and bet. Within the subculture are those that fancy themselves to be knowledgeable--even though they really consider the excursion an amusement park ride as opposed to a money making expedition. This illogical assumption--that you can outsmart the sports books--is part of the amusement at the sports book. The logical assumption is this: If there were many genuine pundits, there would be no Las Vegas.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


One of the perks of writing a book like this is that occasionally someone will contact me and want to do a media interview. This gives me an opportunity to speak again about the project and I enjoy doing so. On Monday I was on a radio talk show program and not only conversed with the host, but also had a chance to speak with a caller who phoned the program while I was on the air.

I had just mentioned that it is difficult to win regularly betting on basketball in Las Vegas. The phone rang and soon thereafter I was involved in an exchange with a man who identified himself as hurricane.

Hurricane took issue with the claim that it is difficult to win in las vegas. He said he was a prognosticator and had been successful. Then in a way that would seem to make sense if I did not know better, he began to explain a method that he uses to win with his basketball betting. It was a complicated formula which I might have worked at trying to understand if I did not know that it could not possibly be effective over the long haul. Interested readers might want to look at Chad Millman's book, The Odds, which traces three professional gamblers' attempts at picking basketball games as their primary job. No matter how wise you are, you can not predict unpredictable last second changes that affect the spread. For those contemplating doing so for anything other than an avocational adventure, I suggest you reconsider.

Or you can call hurricane and fly with him out to Las Vegas. I am sure the casinos have already sent a private plane for him because he has a system.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Degree of Difficulty

The startling ability of Las Vegas pundits to establish an accurate point spread was exemplified yesterday and accounted, no doubt, for agonizing at sports books all along the strip.

Michigan State defeated Southern California 74-69. The Las Vegas spread: four points.

Missouri defeated Marquette 83-79. The Las Vegas spread: three and a half points.

Pittsburgh defeated Oklahoma State 84-76. The Las Vegas spread: eight points.

For those not betting too much, the last seconds even in a loss can be a wild ride when the spread is so on target. In each of the referred to games yesterday a last shot make or miss would be meaningless to the game's outcomes, but would result in a winner or a loser in a casino. There is always a game within a game.

When Memphis obliterated Maryland on Saturday, they led by twenty points at half time. No game, right? Not to a bettor who decided to wager on the second half when the second half spread was Maryland + 1/2. The last second Maryland basket in that game meant the final deficit was the same as the halftime deficit rendering the bettor a delirious winner in a game that had a twenty point overall differential.The wager was for 5 dollars and so the victor won less than the cost of a subway sandwich. It did not make or break the bettor. It just made for a fun ride.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

switched allegiance

For 39 minutes and about 50 seconds a table of dedicated viewers stared at one screen and cheered, often very wildly, for Western Kentucky in their game on Saturday against Gonzaga. Their focus on the one game was such that I wondered if they were Western Kentucky alums. After a spell it became clear that they were not fans of WKY, but bettors hoping the team would cover the 11 point spread. Their enthusiasm was so excessive that they regularly rifled up from their seats after a long three point shot by WKY or a slam dunk.

Often groups of friends/alums/bettors will pool their resources and bet a large sum on a particular game in hopes of a big payoff. Earlier in the day I had met a fellow on the elevator who was in Las Vegas with college buddies and had 800 dollars on Villanova. Villanova prevailed so this fellow no doubt is much happier today than he had been when we conversed in the elevator. Pooling money for a large collective wager, must have been the case for the 39 minute and fifty second fans for WKY.

Toward the end Gonzaga was up by more than the spread, so the dedicated WKY rooters were particularly excited when WKY mounted a comeback. And what a comeback it was. Stealing passes, nailing threes...with each basket WKY narrowed the gap almost certainly going to get close enough to Gonzaga to cover the 11 point spread. Every basket seemed to confirm a huge win.

But then something strange happened that could only happen in this venue. With only fifteen seconds remaining WKY had the ball down by two points. The comeback had been almost too good. When WKY threw up a three to try to win the game, the dedicated screamers exulted. He makes the three, and WKY wins the game and they win their bet. He misses the three, they lose by one, but they still cover.

So up on their feet screaming wildly, the group was startled when the shot missed, but a WKY player tapped it in, making the game a tie. Not a good thing. Looks like overtime. Maybe bye bye big bucks.

Therefore, abruptly with nine seconds left, these ersthwile wky fanatics started screeching for Gonzaga to score a goal. Thirty nine minutes and 50 seconds high fiving like mad for WKY, and then ten seconds shouting maniacally for Gonzaga.

When Gonzaga scored at the buzzer making WKY bettors winners, high fives were such that it became impossible to watch the oncourt celebrations because the revellers were blocking the screens.

Father and Son

On several occasions in the book I mention how people I have met in Las Vegas have come for March Madness annually for many years. On Saturday I watched nearly all of the games with terrific viewing companions from Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. I found out that four of the thousands who were in Las Vegas for the games this weekend were two father and son tandems. A brother and brother-in law and their respective dads were there for the 11th consecutive year. Sober and cerebral, funny and intelligent, it was a pleasure to watch the games with these folks. For these four, the first weekend of tournament games each year had become an opportunity not only to enjoy a feast of college basketball, but also an opportunity for them to reconnect and enjoy each others company. We discussed old Villanova teams, the nuances of parking at Logan airport, and of course the games we were viewing. As happens in these scenarios, viewing neighbors may find that they have different and sometimes opposing bets, but there is a genuine pulling for the newmade friends as each game winds down.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

grateful red

A point of Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas is that this trip for many of those who make it, is like a trip to disneyworld. And each block of games that the travellers watch, an example of a ride. Yesterday between the morning and afternoon games, I took the monorail to the stratosphere, a las vegas tourist attraction. Take the elevator up the 125 floors of the stratosphere and tourists emerge onto an observation deck from which they can see 360 degrees worth of this desert merged with hotels. There is both an indoor and outdoor observation area. From the outside viewing point, the entrepreneurs have mounted three rides which are evil knievel looking. Each takes courageous tourists out away from the building and extends them a thousand feet over the desert in what appears to be precarious space. This might have been for me when I was 20, but not now, yet the tourists were thrilled by the rides and one urged me to consider it. She was there with her son and said that her son made her take all three rides with him, but she said she was glad she had. I took her word that it was great, but had no trouble resisting any temptation.

Back at the Imperial Palace hours later, two dozen Wisconsin supporters were celebrating the thrilling last second victory of the Badgers in their first round basketball game. Wearing red tee shirts, reading The Grateful Red, these supporters were exhilarated having enjoyed the ride of viewing that game collectively in the charged atmosphere that is las vegas at this time of year.

Different rides, same sort of thrill.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day 2

There was no dimunition of enthusiasm on day 2 of the weekend. All four games in the first period went to the final buzzer in terms of the spread for the game. On the elevator on the way back to the room, a fellow was shaking his head back and forth like an extraordinarily cautious pedestrian crossing a street. He was so despondent that I asked him how he had fared. He told me he had lost 800.00. When I looked stunned, he said he would have won the 800, not that he had lost it. I have heard this remark before.

He wasn't quitting it did not seem to me. Just going back to the room to take a break. The fellows at a table in front of me were here for a bachelor's party weekend. At least that is what I thought they said. They started consuming at 9 a.m.

Taking the over at the convenience store

The activity this early morning in the casinos seems no different than in the past when I have travelled to Las Vegas for the games. On my way to a convenience store near the casino, at 650 a.m., I noticed that all the seats at the Flamingo sports book--a relatively small facility--were already taken. There were 8 people on line waiting to place bets at the counter. I walked to Ballys to see if it was similarly crowded there. Ballys is a much larger book, and the line was about four times as long. There were a few vacant seats available there, two hours before the first game. In the convenience store the two managers were inquiring about the starting times for the games. Neither was sure. I told them that the games began at about 9 (pacific). They were a bit concerned because, apparently, they were nearly out of beer having been especially busy with consumers seeking that product. When they ordered they should have taken the over for this weekend. They rolled their eyes as they told me the numbers of cases that had been lugged out of the store yesterday.

On the elevator a man was worrying about his Kansas team playing against North Dakota State. Several other fellows in the lobby were consulting their notebooks and betting sheets. The Today show had not yet completed its first half hour.

zips and zags

A buddy from high school called me during the course of the day and told me he was watching Gonzaga play the Akron Zips. He said he enjoyed viewing the zips and zags.

So did most if not all the people I observed at the sports books today. Zany characters spewing their wisdom, moaning about near misses, moving only every few hours off their coveted seats, and shouting--sometimes inexplicably--were all over.

One fellow told me he was "six for six" and I should "bet with the book" or "listen to me." Another person contorted like a pretzel every time his beloved Gonzaga "zipped, instead of zagged." A troop of rooters from Western Kentucky were exhilarated when their team prevailed and were popping off their seats as if they were mechanically propelled.

Today I met a person who had come to Las Vegas for 36 years. There was a father and son team from St. Louis where the son was likely in his mid forties. The mean age seemed to me to be no less than mid 30s. As I have observed previously, the people who come here annually seem less like inveterate gamblers and more like folks looking forward to spending time with friends in an environment which, to them, is like an amusement park.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

get it done

The economy does not seem to be affecting the enthusiasts. The line at the Flamingo to place a bet was about 150 amateur bettors long. At Bally's at 9 a.m. the queue was as long as at any time I have ever seen it.

Walking from Bally's toward the Paris I saw a fellow in a Butler shirt. I said "Go Butler." His response was similarly terse. "Get it Done."

At Paris near a bar a long banner attempting to entice the congregants read "hoop it up". Someone with less than genuine enthusiasm for Coach K and his minions was wearing a shirt that looked like a Blue Devils t, but the D was replaced with a P.

Lots of people whining about Memphis not coming close to Cal State Northridge and whining about Butler against LSU.

The boys are here.

nit warmup

It is difficult to tell how robust the crowds will be tomorrow by what I saw tonight. There were people sitting in the sports books and some lines to place bets, but the lines could have been a function of a reduced staff. Several blackjack tables at Caesars were empty.

This all said, when Duquesne and Virginia Tech played their NIT game this evening a young man to my left twisted himself into contortions with each basket. Virginia Tech prevailed in double overtime by 8, which allowed the fellow to exhale since the spread was 7 1/2. Prior to the final buzzer, he bolted upright when Duquesne--then down by ten--connected on a three point prayer. This made the game suddenly a seven point spread and, judging from the reaction, nourished the young man's fledgling ulcer. Fortunately, a series of foul shots saved his day.

More will come tomorrow, though the question is--just how much the stock market has affected attendance.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Howard Schwartz

Howard Schwartz is the owner of the gamblers book shop. An interview I just had with him will be available as a podcast on beginning Friday night March 20th at midnight.

Howard is a very knowledgeable (and self-effacing) man. It was fun to spend time with him and I urge any sports fan who is in Las Vegas to visit his bookstore at 630 south 11th street. 702-382-7555. His sense of humor alone is worth a visit. Also, he stocks an extensive selection of books on gaming.


There were, a few moments ago, no fewer than 67 people waiting to check into the Flamingo hotel at 1230 pm on a Wednesday. A look at the group did not suggest that these were all, or even mostly, March Madness bettors. If the economy has affected attendance here, it is difficult to discern. I took a tour through the Imperial Palace, Bally's, and Caesars to see if there were congregants there awaiting the rush of tomorrow. Bally's and IP were all but empty. Caesars was not. Almost all seats were taken in the open area of the sports book. There seems to be many more reserved sections than in the past.

In a few minutes I will be travelling to the Gamblers Book Shop for a podcast interview with Howard Schwartz the owner of the store. Yesterday was a busy day with interviews on sports radio stations in Columbus, Richmond, and St. Louis. This morning a student scribe from Northeastern phoned with some questions.

Northeastern advances

Jetblue has tiny television sets attached to the back of each seat. I watched portions of National Invitation Tournament games as I flew out last night. Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas had gone toe to toe on Sunday evening arguing for and against respectively St. Mary's inclusion in the NCAA. Both Vitale and Bilas spoke of the talent of a player named Paddy Mills. I had never seen Mills play before, but watched portion of the St. Mary's NIT game against Washington State last night. This was a show. Paddy Mills made some shots that made Elgin Baylor, Connie Hawkins, and Michael Jordan collectively look like stiffs. One particular reverse layup will be on sportscenter highlights for a long time. Stephen Curry from Davidson and Mills meet in the next round of the NIT and it will be interesting to see if ESPN which carries the NIT will draw an audience away from CBS which carries the NCAA when the Curry-Mills matchup takes place.

On a very important note, Northeastern University, my school was invited to play in the 16 team CBI tournament. Northeastern is excellently coached by Bill Coen and a delight to watch because of its intelligent play. They/we lost in the first round of the CAA, but won our first round game with Wyoming in the CBI last night.

tournament conversation

The sports book at the Flamingo was relatively quiet when I arrived last night. There were a few people sitting in the comfortable easy chairs in the viewing area, but nearly all of what will be coveted perches from which to watch the games were empty. Of course, it was nearly midnight, two days before the tournament and for there to be even one person--as there was-scouring betting sheets at this hour says something.

At Boston's Logan airport I ran into a former student who, with his two co-workers--will be attending the beer distributors convention. They were kind enough to offer me a beverage as we waited for our flight which, interestingly, took off at 7:11, a time I imagine was either fortuitous or more likely deliberately selected to encourage superstitious passengers to fly JetBlue. While the three conventioneers were not going to Las Vegas to watch the games, we began to talk of the tournament. Not for the first time I was startled by how much March Madness pervades our culture. These three knew teams, spreads, and brackets. Each talked about "how they had" this team or that team to advance in their brackets.

Some very rowdy plane riders on the flight. Good natured for the most part, but not likely to feel many bumps along the way. When we landed in Las Vegas, a fellow two rows back from me spotted a crony he had not known was on the flight. After exchanging pleasantries, one asked the other how long he would be staying in las vegas. "Till Monday" he replied. "My liver hurts already."

back again

I am back in las vegas for march madness having arrived last night, March 17th, to the quiet rustic country sounds of las vegas. not. I imagine that St. Patrick's day is not the night to come to las vegas if you plan to sleep easily in a hotel room despite being 23 floors above the strip.

If the economy is affecting las vegas there were no discernible signs last night. My hotel was completely sold out, the lines at the registration counter were large and the armies of revellers on the strip something from a Saturday night at the height of prosperity. I heard a police officer chatting with a visitor and caught a piece of the conversation. "This never gets old" he said as he negotiated the walkway dodging a remarkably diverse population of people in green.

Las Vegas this weekend is hosting a beer distributors convention. Go figure.

Monday, March 16, 2009

siena a 9?

Last year I met some wonderful people who root for Siena. I was fortunate to get a media pass to watch the MAAC tournament in Albany, New York and sat next to two stalwart Siena fans throughout the tournament who were kind and showed a novice around the press table. They also introduced me to several cronies in the stands who were similarly Siena fans and similarly gracious despite my Albany roots. (Albany and Siena are North Carolina/Duke type rivals). In December I travelled again to Albany to watch the annual Siena Albany rivalry game and sat next to a Siena rooter who, despite our different allegiances, was as cordial as one could be. Just last week at the CAA I met a former head coach of Siena who still has some feelings for the club and was nothing but a gentleman.

I wish these people well, but Siena being a 9 seed is outrageous. VCU, an 11 seed, would beat Siena by 20 points and the subs would play the last five minutes. For those pundits who think Siena will progress (and I read the words of an expert today who believes they will get to the sweet 16) it will not happen.

dick and jay

The jawing on the selection show last night between dick vitale and jay bilas was interesting and revealing. The two, for those who did not see it, were arguing-less than amicably--about whether St. Mary's or Arizona should have been selected to play in the tournament. Neither of these broadcasters have a vested interest in which team gets to go, yet the force of their arguments would make one think so. Their particular conversation reached a greater audience because of the espn platform, but throughout the country among basketball enthusiasts similar debates took place albeit with fewer observers. More people argued over St. Mary's last night than about foreign policy. The NCAA tournament has a pervasive effect on discourse, advertisements, and business. A cable company has sent out an ad urging me to "catch hd madness". In Sunday's circulars, Best Buy presented an ad that looks like a bracket urging readers to buy a gizmo that will allow them to "connect to the madness."

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I entitled one section of The Madness of March, "You Got a Lock?" because that was an inquiry presented to me in 2007 from a fan turned bettor--a stranger--in a sports book.

A good thing to remember in Las Vegas is that there are few locks.

Last Sunday evening after the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, I was seated at the Marriott bar and found myself conversing with a fellow who knew nothing about college basketball. The Marriott was the headquarters for the tournament and in several spots around the lobby there were signs that read, Welcome CAA. This fellow wanted to know what the CAA was. I explained. He had never heard of the CAA and had only a passing acquaintance with the NCAA tournament.

We talked some more and he told me he was a banker. We began talking about the market. I asked what his thoughts were about a light at the end of the tunnel. He gave me what insights he had. In the course of his description he told me, without my solicitation, of several specific stocks that would do well this past week because of his sense that they were undervalued. Also he believed that there would be some movement in Washington last week that would spark the market.

As I considered our discussion subsequently, I saw no difference between what he was saying about stock x and stock y, and what march madness bettors will be saying about team x and team y, this week.

There was another similarity between his tips and those I have heard before by pundits attempting to predict the unpredictable. Last week half of my banker friends predictions were correct and half were incorrect.

Pencil sharpening

In two hours the teams selected to play in the NCAA tournament will be announced and matchups identified. Throughout the country basketball fans with plane reservations for las vegas are sharpening their pencils. Already they are all ready. There will be some surprises by 7 oclock. Some so called bubble teams took a hit when Mississippi State defeated Tennessee in the most bizarre and poorly officiated last 60 seconds of basketball history. Mississippi State players would have been working on their final exams had they lost, but soon they will see where they are going on Thursday or Friday. Some team, from some conference, that did not win its tournament will be out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

north dakota state

There have been so many thrilling games in the preliminary conference tournaments. The weaker conferences are playing for a chance to go to the dance. A defeat abruptly ends their season. When Connecticut lost last night in the Big East quarterfinals, the Huskies might have dropped in terms of overall seeding, but are still guaranteed to be invited to the tournament. However, in the Summit conference when North Dakota State played Oakland in the finals, North Dakota State needed a victory to advance and was losing to Oakland the entire game up until the very end. When they were ultimately victorious the group pile on at midcourt was beyond exuberant. When interviewed, the NDS coach explained the value of the victory for not only the school but a region. It will be good, he claimed, for viewers for once to hear the word Fargo on something other than the weather channel.

six overtimes

This week I have spoken to a number of groups about The Madness of March. Typically someone asks me to characterize the people who travel for the first four days of the tournament. Those who go are, in a word, fans. When I was in Richmond at the CAA tournament last weekend I met dozens of George Mason University fans who were excited about their team's progress. One woman was dressed in a one piece green suit that could only be appropriate for a fan rooting monomaniacally for the Patriots.

The people who go to March Madness are those you spotted in the office today, Friday March 13th, who are having trouble staying awake in these last hours before quitting time. Their fatigue is due to something that many people could not understand. Your colleagues stayed up until 130 a.m. eastern time to watch all six overtimes of the thrilling University of Connecticut//Syracuse game. Then they were too wired to sleep for forty five more minutes.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

missing the memo

Nobody gave Towson State the memo that they were supposed to lose. They did eventually, but they played as if they did not realize this was supposed to be a shellacking. The last game tonight between GMU and Towson was the most exciting of the six I saw. Towson blocked ten shots and had it not been for one questionable call and one outrageous non call, the outcome might have been otherwise. The difference between a team getting close to the big dance and one that falls, is sometimes the difference between a charge and a blocking foul.

Back at the Marriot the joyous--and very polite--George Mason fans are enjoying the victory. When the team--also staying at the hotel--came in through the side door, the revelers rushed to that entrance and hugged them collectively with cheers and applause. After most of the players had gone to the elevators, some true loyalists applauded the manager who came in later hauling equipment and the energy drinks.

sticking around

It is surprising that Towson State is hanging around with George Mason. A last second three point shot by George Mason is the only difference in the game at half time. I thought George Mason would easily defeat Towson as did many in this arena. This tendency to be sure and be concurrenlty incorrect could account for the successes of the enterprises that line both sides of Las Vegas Boulevard.

post game show

The after game press conference was as predictable as they all are. No one will accuse college coaches and their star players of not staying on message.

The victors had to withstand the opponent's early lead and "overcome adversity". When the star player was asked if the team was thinking about last year's loss in a CAA semi final game, "No we just think about the present. Last year is last year." When asked about a particular opposing player. "We think in terms of team, not individual players." When asked about the value of a star player on VCU the coach said "we win as a team and lose as a team" and "he is not only a great player but a great person."

This is not to disparage Anthony Grant the VCU coach. He is as eloquent and professional as one could be. And his teams always play intelligently.

optical illusion

Eric Maynor just made a pass that was an optical illusion that resulted in a slam dunk. See it on sports center tonight.

the lung behind me stood up and screeched repetitively like a mantra. GAME IS OVER. GAME IS OVER. He is no doubt correct. Ten point lead and ODU is conceding not fouling.

Final 61-53.

eric maynor

When you watch athletes perform it is difficult to gauge how good they are because all of the players are so talented. So when someone like Eric Maynor takes over a game you must marvel at how quick and skilled he must be. He is able, it appears, to drive past talented opponents almost effortlessly. With 418 left he connected on a three from beyond NBA range. When it gets tight VCU gives him the ball and gets out of the way. Seven point VCU lead with not quite 4 minutes to play.

The lung behind me has beseeched the VCU coach to make a substitution for the last five minutes. Never mind that the coach is on the other side of the court and could not possibly hear even this human bullhorn over the din.

three student managers in orbit

With the score 24-18 Eric Maynor clearly the best player on the court, made his second beautful drive to the basket for VCU in the last few possessions. When he scored, three besuited student managers at the end of the vcu bench rocketed up from their seats as if they were jet propelled. One banged on his chest so ferociously that tomorrow, no doubt, he will feel it. Their enthusiasm has nothing to do with any pecuniary gains that may result from a victory. Emotion runs the show.

danes alive

Here I sit in Richmond, VA and I regularly am checking the score of a game in Albany New York. How to explain an affinity for a team because I graduated from there. I know none of the players personally, have not matriculated since Watergate, yet I am buoyed to see that Albany has closed the gap in their game against UMBC. Whatever the explanation might be for this affinity, those who sell yellow tee shirts in this region are grateful for it.


The first semi final game is, in its early stages at least, very intense. The CAA is a one and done league. Both of these teams have a chance to go to the tournament. They also have a chance to be eliminated before 6 p.m. daylight savings time. In the early going the score is 8-7 ODU and every possession is a war. The fellow to my right who writes for a Virginia paper says he has not seen the ODU coach so demonstrative previously. Demonstrative he is. So is the VCU coach who had his suit jacket on for all of about two minutes. I have not seen either coach sit down yet.

Begin Again

At 155 pm as I walked into the Coliseum to get ready for the 3 pm start of the game, over 100 VCU gold shirted students were waiting on a line to get into the Richmond coliseum. Ten minutes later they streamed in and took their places behind the basket for the game. Today will be dueling bands. Old Dominion's band to my left competing with VCU band to my right. Now thirty minutes before tip off, the blasting is at mid game decibels. When VCU came out for layup drills somehow the noise became greater.

Lobby is happening with coffee

Unlike last night, while the lobby is still populated, the nature of the noise and the concoctions in the containers have changed. Starbucks in the morning, Budweiser in the evening. Basketball at supper time.

Still there are dozens of yellow clad George Mason University rooters. Occasionally some fans from Old Dominion University appear, but this seems to be GMU turf. The lobby for this weekend clearly has a basketball theme. We, CAA fans, are welcomed with banners. Two basketball foul shooting machines have been placed in the lobby, several televisions are in and around the seating area where fans watch tapes of the various tournaments taking place this weekend.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lobby is happening

Certainly a disappointment that my university dropped its opening round game. I became a fan for the last few minutes and while we lost am nevertheless glad that I still can get excited about a game.

The official hotel for the CAA is jumping. The fans of the remaining teams are sure having a good time knocking them back. George Mason University fans are the most prominently represented. I sit in the lobby with four GMU ticket holders who are celebrating their victory. We chat for a while and then an older couple comes down wearing matching GMU striped shirts. They are a happy bunch and when a GMU player comes down they ask for, and are granted, a photo with him.

I feel for the coach of Northeastern, Bill Coen, who seems to work constantly to make the team excellent. Having been in first place much of the year and to lose in the first round, he must be heartbroken as are, no doubt, the players.


This final game could go either way. The score is literally 50-50 with 4 06 left to play. Northeastern has the ball. a player named Chaisson Allen has been exceptional, but looks exhausted. Now with 2 minutes and sixteen seconds left, Towson an 11 seed is in the lead.

thin crowd

As the final game of the night closes in on the end of the first half, the crowd at the Coliseum has become half full at most.

Nevertheless, it is the same drill for those who work the press tables. At nearly every dead ball, a CAA officer brings around stat sheets including information for every player who has entered the game. In addition to such mundane stats as how many points and rebounds each player has, there is up to the minute data on assists, turn overs,blocked shots, steals and minutes played. These sheet are distributed literally hot off the xerox machine every few minutes.

Meanwhile, the 11 seeded Towson leads the three seeded Northeastern by seven at the half.


The third game is nearly complete. With 29.9 seconds left G leads J by 6. They win by 8. JMU will be tough next year. Very well coached and if not for a few plays down the stretch, the ourcome would have been different.

The fourth game is about to begin. Northeastern, my university, is playing in it. If it was another team, I don't think I could last. Out come the teams to do their pregame warmups.

Brains and Braun

The GMU JMU contest is a good one for those who understand the cerebral nature of the game. In fact many of the teams in the CAA complement their physical strengths with intelligence, VCU is another good example. This war of the disparate consonant tonight is an example of how intelligent planning and executing is making for a game that is as much chess match as skill comparison. After a timeout JMU called and ran a very pretty play for a three. Of course, then a moment ago a player for GMU jumped through the roof to block a shot from a J man who was similarly in thin air.

scenes at press row

The press row experience is novel, at least to me, and I imagine most fans. I sat on press row during 2007 as I prepared for the book by going to preliminary tournaments, so I am more familiar than I had been. Nevertheless, the scene is unusual. The age range is vast with students speaking into microphones representing the schools and wizened veterans doing the games for radio and tv local stations or espn. There are about 80 people at two long tables who are doing everything from absolutely nothing, to feverishly speaking into microphones recording play by play action. To my left the young man from Espn radio has moved on from providing statistics in the first two games to doing the color for the second two. My neighbor to the right is taking notes for his article. His insights into the game are considerable. Behind my ear "HOW BOUT A CALL REF." Then when one is made, there is a sarcastic cheer from the very serious GMU fan.

chants from the crowd

It is halftime at the GMU/JMU game.

Four recurring chants from very animated GMU fans who are seated very close to my neck.

Ref, We're here to help you.

Aw come on. 33 should have fouled out already.

[on every JMU three point attempt] Nooooooooooooo

[After a foul is called on a GMU player] Why don't you wait for us to hit him.


Just one consonant separates these 2 teams. George Mason is the school that made an improbable run to the final four in March 2006. JMU is well coached and has made a 180 degree turnaround from the previous season. Both schools are about two hours from Richmond but GMU has more fans here.

The arena was emptied during the intermission between the first doubleheader and the beginning of this one. Again the place is yellow, because GMU and JMU are both teams with yellow or gold in their uniforms. A bunch of folks who will give me a headache by the end of the evening are behind me wearing shirts that say Mason Nation. A few rows next to them are other likeminded rooters for GMU sporting yellow shirts that read Gold Rush.Gold Rush or Mason Nation they sound the same screeching for their players.

why do people enjoy sports

The end of the Old Dominion game against Hofstra is an example of why sport is a multi-million dollar industry. It was a thrilling conclusion to a hard fought game. with ten seconds left ODU had possession, but Hofstra was able to steal the ball and call time out. Charles Jenkins took a last shot for Hofstra that was unsuccessful and ended their season. Even for dispassionate viewers, this was suspenseful.

Old Dominion will advance to play Virginia Commonwealth University tomorrow. Hofstra was one second away from continuing its season, but now are done.

Overheard conversation from behind me somewhere. "I told you to take the over."

travelling man

To my right in the Coliseum is a man who lives in Cleveland, travelled to Indianapolis to watch a double header in the Horizon conference last evening, then drove through the night to be here in Richmond for the CAA Jay Pearlman works for and is a reservoir of sports information.

danes redux

I spoke too soon about the virtue of the information highway. Indeed it is fast, but sometimes this just means that the wrong information gets to us quickly.

The website that listed the half time score for the Albany-Vermont game had it reversed. Albany was ahead by 14 at the half, and despite a Vermont comeback prevailed in overtime. This is the good news. Wonderful news if you are an alum. The bad news is that Albany a 7 seed has a chance to go to the dance and Vermont a 2 seed has no chance. Last night Tennessee-Martin, a one seed in the Ohio Valley conference was defeated by Morehead State. The wildness that is the NCAA is preceded by these preliminaries. In conferences like the AmericaEast, Ohio Valley, and Colonial Athletic--no matter how well you do during the regular season, you may become a loser on the basis of an early loss in the conference tournaments.


bucket list

At press row I am seated next to a producer for ESPN Radio--Richmond,
Matt Josephs. He saw a copy of Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys near my seat and told me that he will be going again, for the fourth consecutive year, to Las Vegas to be among the sports fans who watch the games during the first weekend of the tournament. He said that he thinks going to Las Vegas for these four days should be on every sports fans bucket list.
I am here courtside at the Richmond Coliseum at the start of the first of four games that will begin the day for the Colonial Athletic Association. The atmosphere is charged. VCU is playing Georgia State and this is, essentially, a home game for the VCU Rams. Outside the coliseum fans congregated wearing tee shirts reflecting their affinities. Several VCU supporters wear a shirt that has the score of the Ram victory over Duke in 2007.

Friday, March 6, 2009

what happened to Drexel?

Towson State inexplicably defeated Drexel in the first round of the CAA. This is what makes these preliminary tournaments completely unpredictable. Drexel had played extremely well down the stretch in February, but nevertheless scored only 14 points in the first half tonight. Storming back to score 48 in the second half was not enough. This must relieve Northeastern who now will face 11 seeded Towson on Saturday night instead of a Drexel team that gave NU fits during the season.

tournament madness

Both the CAA and America East tournaments begin today. Georgia Southern showed that some of its late season wins were not a fluke in their opening round win against Delaware. I will be at courtside in Richmond tomorrow and on Sunday watching the quarterfinals and semi finals of the CAA. My university, Northeastern, is a three seed, but needs to play better than it had in February to do well. The likely opponent tomorrow will be Drexel a team that has played Northeastern well in the regular season games. My alma mater Albany will have a tough road in the America East if it wants to return to the big dance. It is a 7 seed, but the tournament is at Albany and that ought to provide an advantage.

Howard Schwartz of the gamblers book shop had some kind words about The Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in his most recent podcast. Also, some favorable words for the book were written in Booklist, a publication for the American Library Association.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Albany fans

For those baby boomers who remember the great Albany teams of the late 1960s, I ran into Tom Doody, a starter on the 1967-1968 team, shortly before an Albany-Vermont game in February. It was remarkable how much he could recall from the 18-4 season when Albany was--despite the record--denied a bid to the then Division 2 NCAA tournament.

Last Friday I had the privilege of meeting John Volperian the host of Beyond the Game in White Plains. We recorded an interview about the Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas. John was a reservoir of information about all sports and fun to work with.

This Wednesday, March 4, I meet with Bill Littlefield host of National Public Radio's Only a Game program.

Monday, March 2, 2009

march madness begins

Welcome to the Madness of March blog. Today is the first working day at least of March and many of the pretournament conference seeds have been set. Look out for my university, Northeastern University, in the Colonial and my alma mater, University of Albany, in the America East.