Monday, April 3, 2017

Last Dance

My success at picking money line winners continued on Saturday night as both Gonzaga and UNC won as I thought they would.  However, if you wagered on the spread based on my wisdom I am likely not a welcome guest at your household. Gonzaga won by four and the spread was seven.  UNC by one and the spread was 4.5.   So, 2-0 on money line, 0-2 on the spread. This brings my sweet sixteen and onward totals to 12 out of 14 on the money line, and 8 out of 13 with one push against the spread.

Tonight is easy pickings (always words that make Las Vegas folks smile broadly).  But I think I have this one. Gonzaga is getting a point.  I think the Zags win and therefore will win both on the money line and against the spread.

If you are superstitious, you might not want to follow my wisdom.  Since 2013 most of the basketball games I have attended live, have been Northeastern games. However, in 2014, and 2016, I saw both Connecticut in '14, and Villanova in '16 play live.  And in both years Connecticut and Villanova went on to win national championships. This year I saw North Carolina play live.  So, since UNC is a competitor in the game tonight, if you believe in superstitions, go with UNC.  But I do not think they will win.  Gonzaga has depth. They have two seven footers each of whom is skilled. In fact, the player who comes off the bench may be better than the starter.

When I saw UNC play against Miami in January, Miami outclassed UNC.  UNC did not look like a .500 team that day.  Also, UNC is fortunate to be playing tonight. They are alive because of a bonehead play by Oregon in the semi-finals.  A bone head play that occurred twice in the last seconds.

Every coach in the country (except for the Oregon coach) will be happy with the last five seconds of the UNC-Oregon game.  That is because clips from the last seconds will illustrate what coaches preach regularly, certainly at the college level and beyond.  When I played for Albany, then a division 2 school (which then was the lowest level), the drills we spent the most time practicing were boxing out drills.  One was so effective that I can remember it now nearly fifty years later.  The coach put a lid on the basket. Then two players faced off at the foul line. One acted as if he was the offensive player. The other acted as if he was defending.  The coach threw the ball toward the hoop.  Since the basket was covered there had to be a rebound.  The goal was for the defender to box out the offensive player, and the offensive player to dodge the box out.  It was a great drill because the coach would often put a small guy as defender and a tall player as the offensive player.  And it became apparent that with good technique the smaller player would get the rebound even if he was outsized.

Every coach in the land must give at least lip service to the importance of boxing out.

In the UNC-Oregon game, with five seconds left and UNC up by 1, a UNC player went to the foul line and missed both shots.  This was good news for Oregon as they could get the rebound behind only by a single point and would likely have enough time to get off a decent shot.

The problem was, as replays clearly showed, neither Oregon player on the foul lanes made even an attempt to box out. So UNC got the rebound.  Oregon immediately fouled again.  So another UNC player went to the foul line. He too missed both shots now with four seconds left.

And then, incredibly, after getting burnt the first time, the Oregon players did not box out again so UNC rebounded the ball and won the game. Those five seconds will be shown over and over to players.

Earlier in the tournament Oregon made a dumb play but got away with it when they did not foul a Michigan player poised to win the game.  Oregon exulted because the Michiganite missed the shot, but they could easily have lost because of the mental lapse.

In sum, I don't think UNC is as good as they need to be, to beat the Zags. The Zags have two seven footers and a bunch of other solid players.  Gonzaga would have to get into early foul trouble or get a bad case of the heebie jeebies for them to lose tonight.  Take the point, bet the spread. On the money line, bet the Zags.

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