Pints and Picks Special Edition: How Sweet the spread is

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During college football season each week DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and what to drink while doing it. Here, a very special PNP—Viva Las Tournament.

By Kyle Magin and Andrew Pridgen

kyleIVAJ,

The second weekend is upon us. While you got to celebrate weekend one by watching the West Coast’s play for attention in the second-most East Coast sport there is (NHL is your No. 1 there), I spent what I remember of Vegas watching my Spartans punch their way into the second weekend. They did it with all the grace of a drunk 17-year old experimenting with Baccardi Limon in his parents’ basement, but the Sweet 16 is the Sweet 16.

Before I get into my picks, o site proprietor, I want to summarize for you arguments I’ve had with multiple people online in the past week:

NBA fan: “College hoops is inferior in every way. The 35 second shot clock/two-half system/slow pace/massive moral failings and sloppy gameplay create an unwatchable product. You’re stupid for claiming to appreciate it.”

Me (College basketball fan): I’ll take the insane intensity of college basketball and its one-and-done playoff formula over the peaks and lulls of a series system. The NCAA tournament produces more exhilarating games in one weekend than the NBA does all season long, or for that fact, over the course of the last five seasons. I’ll take no-holds-ever-barred-basically-brawling basketball any day over the lovely, scripted waltz that is an NBA game.”

After stating our respective cases, both sides have attempted to sway the other with fact-based and anecdotal arguments to no avail. At best, we’ve agreed to disagree. At worst we’re still trading blows a week later. I’ve almost never seen this level of polarization in sports outside of a good old-fashioned “I went to State, you went to U and we’ll never see eye to eye” throwdown along team-based lines. It’s like sports’ very own Fox News-MSNBC divide.

We’re just not going to agree.

It’d be one thing if I was arguing these points with someone spinning for the NCAA’s right to sign a $1 billion TV contract and tell a kid he’s only entitled to the same remuneration he would have been allotted in 1954 when six games a year were televised. I’d get that man vs. machine dichotomy.

But, I’m having this particular argument with fans whom I agree with on a great many things. We obviously both like basketball, but expressing preference for a different form of it (the come-up & one and done vs. the finished product & playoff series) puts us squarely in different camps.

If sports makes odd bedfellows (Hunter S. Thompson and Nixon chumming around over the Redskins) I’d argue it makes equally strange enemies.

ajIVKM,

It’s good to see you back amongst the land of the living. I thought I lost you there for a minute between the ‘at Caesars book’ text and then a cryptic ‘I got pushed to teh [sic] back of the bar’ (misfire?) about four hours later.

I was getting ready to send out a search party.

There’s nothing I like more than cargo shorts, purposefully faded Ts and ‘Hey guys, let’s head over to Toby Keith’s’ at half time bro-down/throw-down even though I’ve, in more recent years on such weekends, experienced what I call the Conundrum of Clarity where even if I’m 14 Bud Light Lime-a-ritas in and its quarter to oneish (am or pm) I kind of take pause, survey the scene and decide that this whole thing is working out about as well as a pair of white jeans.

…I shake it off and go back to the swill and the parlay card, but that nagging voice is there and it says, ‘Get out…get out now. Get out while you can.’

Of course, that voice never crept up till I hit the downside of thirty so maybe it’s just my liver sprouting a Jiminy Cricket.

For this edition, I’m going to go with a pair of this weekend’s match ups that I’m truly enthralled by (lending credence to your notion there’s nothing more captivating on the hard court than a single-elimination tourney.) I’m pretty sure your internet stalker was just trying to get a rise, if it were up to me the NBA season would be a two-month 20-game regular season/warmup and a one-and-done tourney for two weeks after that. If placed correctly, the NBA finals could be in the second week of February—smack dab in sports’ Siberia.

My first of two offerings:

UCLA +8.5 vs. Gonazaga

I guess my question is with this big a spread is anyone betting the Zags?

(Answer: The line opened at 10, so yes there are some on the powder blue bandwagon).

UCLA has proven not only do they belong but they can bang with everyone and when they do, their perimeter game is top-four in the field of 16. So why would a Gonzaga team, who has been notorious this season for blacking out entire halves, be almost double-digit favorite?

The Zags ended the season spotty (5-5) against the spread while UCLA was 8-2 and that includes their stammering around Vegas with all those bent-billed Chive followers through the Pac 12 tourney. I think what gives the Zags heft is their 27-1 record over the past 28 games and posted only two hashes in the right hand column all season. Plus, the Bulldogs just ripped a just-happy-to-be-there Iowa squad by 19, easily covering that six-point spread.

I’m tired of hearing that UCLA is like your uncle Albert at a graduation party, that he shouldn’t even be there. Bryce Alford is a wunderkind and nobody who’s ever set foot on a CYO court would cry foul over the goaltending call that sent the Bruins into the second round. Alford can dish and take and for some reason I feel like he’s showing signs of being Seinfeld-esque in his second season at Maples, he gets exponentially better with each episode.

The only lingering doubt is UCLA really has yet to establish a consistent inside game. They weren’t able to get footing in the paint against SMU and UAB with no presence underneath was, at that point, known as the only team luckier than the Bruins to be there. UCLA did show growth from the first round to the second working it down to Tony Parker, who’s got the best gut this side of Xavier cabbie Stainbrook, and Tom Welsh and his Pez dispenser body. The odd couple all of a sudden looked like Diesel and Walker (sorry, brainwashed by way too many Furious7 ads during the weekend) teaming up for one last hurrah as they took 18 shots down low. Look for this game plan to hammer the Zags strong middle to unfold Friday.

If the Zags get time to set up on D and Alford can’t feed his big men early or get his slashers down low in transition, it will be a long afternoon in H-town for the young guns of Westwood. Everything in UCLA’s game plan bent on getting the Zags’ questionable legs tired and then start firing the three ball. If you’re gun shy on the realness of a Pac 12 also-ran, a good barometer will be to see if the Bruins start hitting from range in the last four minutes of the first half; go ahead and take the over and the Bruins for second-half wagering if they do. A Steve Alford-coached squad is marked by the amount of swagger they leave on the floor and if they’re feeling hot they’ll telegraph their intentions like a drunk text to an ex.

OK KM, as you can see I’ve been WAITING for this all-West Coast-tourney moment longer than the Bobbi Kristina’s family has been to pull the plug (too soon?) …so look for another Pac 12 matchup (hint: with college hoops royalty) on the other side.

Quick question before I pass it on, what DID happen to you between 3 p.m. and midnight Friday?

kyleIVAJ,

Here’s a relatively sanitized rundown of that time-period:

Hit the pool at Vdara. I’ve never stayed there before but I can tell you the talent is OK and the service is phenomenal poolside. I was a little reticent about staying in the City Center area—Vdara, Aria, Cosmopolitan–and especially at Vdara because I generally am suspicious of any name that sticks two consonants that don’t go together right at the outset, and the place is non-gaming. Anyway, it went real well and at the pool that day. I pointed and laughed at a dude who was clearly hung over and getting the ‘get-well’ backrub from his lady while he hung his head. He looked and me mean and said some stuff, but I channeled my inner 5-year old and ignored him because I was in the pool and he was not. All children know that orders issued from outside the pool by someone not willing to come in are really more like suggestions.

Drunks understand this, as well.

After that we hit Caesars in a state of profound inebriation. We went to that restaurant in front of Caesar’s right on the strip–Serendipity–which I always assumed was where girls went to get ice cream before Elton John shows. They actually make a mean burger there, which I assume was my 91st slab of red meat in three days. From there, shoot, I really can’t tell you. We watched basketball. We played one-handed pop-a-shot (other hand was cradling obscenely obnoxiously-priced Ketel rocks) in the courtyard where the Elton fans Queue up before a big show. It was exactly the crowd you expected it to be–old ladies in every shade of cream and khaki god invented, vibrantly be-shirted men and a few dudes who were sternly banking goodwill ahead of some future transgression. They were a happy lot, though, and didn’t seem bothered even after the seventh time my attempt at catching a pop-a-shot alley-oop clanged off the rim and soared into the air.

Some more obnoxious drinking ensued and we headed back to Vdara to ready for our trip to Fremont Street. Now listen, you don’t need to prepare any special clothing for a trip to Fremont. That high school track shirt/boxer brief look you’re rocking now with the three-day drinking beard and flip-flops will place young among the neighborhood’s gentry. Anyway, we changed and went and immediately hit The D Casino which goes all-out to court midwesterners traveling for the tourney. I saw all manner of Big Ten fans in the establishment and everyone too poor/too sane to stay on the strip. I can’t really account for the next handful of hours, except at one point my traveling companions–two brothers–urged me to buy a round of drinks. In a discreet manner at the outdoor bar with the EDM music blaring and girls in bikinis dancing atop it we decided we were going to F***ING RAGE and bought up a round of vodka Red Bulls. Next we found ourselves dancing to the sounds of Monroy, the Fremont Street band that plays there every night from 10-2. They opened with something dope–probably Speedwagon–and then, lo, I heard the opening chords of Enter Sandman.

Nothing will excite a young man more than hearing the locker room dirge of his football-playing days. We rushed the stage, elbowing nobody out of our way to get right up front. I took like 30 cell phone pictures of the lead singer and guitarist who were happy to pose for my photos, which will likely never, ever be posted. I know at some point my friends peeled me away and we hopped in a cab for City Center, then my next memory was waking up in a panic that I would miss my flight out and have to stay in that town.

That’s a lot to swallow, AJ, do you want to get us back on track here?

ajIVKM,

Who told you I swallow?

…You know, I think you’re on to something: If every honeymoon kicked off each marriage like this, I think the divorce rate would be cut at least by one half of a tenth of a percent.

Thank you for taking me back there with you with that description of your 72 hours of #tourneytime. As you know, I was hanging with a under-the-weather toddler teaching him how to high-five…which actually was probably a little more similar to your day post-Caesars than I originally gave myself credit for.

I feel like you also touched on an aspect of Vegas/brotrips that I’ve long been suspecting. No matter where you are, it basically boils down to making your own fun.

Sure all the *stuff* is there and at your fingertips, but when it comes down to it, it’s sort of like those long summer days when all you had was a cut-in-half tennis ball and a yellow whiffle bat filled with rocks; with a couple of the right buddies that made for hours, days…weeks (?) of sun-up-to-beyond-dusk entertainment.

I haven’t had the balls yet, but one of these days I’m going to see if, say, a bro-group will join me out in Lovelock or Clovis or Arvin and all you can bring is your favorite case of beer, favorite pint of brown booze, a lighter, a buck knife and a sheet of canvas or fabric to make your Rambo-smock. I’m pretty sure that’s about all it would take to initiate the best. Weekend. Ever. (No phones allowed).

…And yes before you scroll down to the pick, this digression has a point: I think people have to get better at creating their own fun. Places where the fun is there for you: Brooklyn, SF…the big neon buildings as you make your way to the LAX domestic terminal, have become fucking the most unfun places in the world.

I’m not a big fan of the Beats, but I do believe if they were alive today they’d be texting their tomes into oblivion but also not be anywhere near the aforementioned played-out bergs. Coastal cities which used to be centers for the creative class are now billionaire playgrounds. Even Detroit’s comeback is so well-publicized it seems inevitable to be shitty within five year’s time.

But Salt Lake City remains.

Kyle, you know well my love-hate with my erstwhile stomping ground, Utah. The Cult in their magic Underoos have run the joint since Joseph Smith ran around with cold-blooded serial-killing henchmen and wives still shy of their 10th birthday has been dragged clawing and kicking and wearing Little House on the Prarie garb at least once a year into something that resembles this century.

The city has a vocal if not overcompensating LGBT community and yet the state still allows firing squads. They’re brewing some of the best high-point swill—anywhere—within SLC city limits, yet I still can’t seem to figure out how they figured making every street north/south and east/west be a number. “I’m on the corner of 5th and 4th across from 7th and 9th.”

And yet, something about Utah just makes sense.

Why?

Because, like you and your bros in Vegas, they MAKE their own fun.

And that extends (tenuous, I know) all the way down to their hoops program; which brings me to:

Utah +5 vs. Duke

I’ll be the first to admit that I get waaaaay West Coast-centric during these runs, but has it failed me yet? The uneducated masses have been waiting for the other Nike to fall (or get kicked off) this entire tournament and be it through sheer will, athleticism or underestimation the Pac 12 is the conference you do NOT want to draw this March.

It’s not that I take Duke lightly, I think on paper they’re the second-best team in the tourney (Arizona, the best; operative word: Team. Kentucky is two lottery picks and some support guys with lines shaved in their head) and they’ve covered their spread both games thus far.

Actually, that’s an understatement, the Blue Devils have beaten down their opponents by a combined 48 points (basically putting a whole game between themselves and their victims).

Utah has overcome both stigma and their spreads, but by much smaller margins of victory and of the three Pac 12 teams remaining. Admittedly, they’re the most consistent but also most likely to bow out with a 42-point fizzle against Coach K’s defensive specialists.

Perhaps most telling for the Utes was how the Blue Devils stifled a more athletic bunch of jumpers and shooters in San Diego State Sunday, muting the Aztecs attack and ending up with a 68-49 victory that was less worth watching than the re-run of the Navy/Cleveland State Sweet 16 game featuring Mous McFadden and The Admiral from ‘86 showing congruously on ESPN Classic.

But now the Runnin’ Utes have THE Blueprint. Duke did the Aztecs by slowing down and playing man. Easy enough to crack especially as the Blue Devils, perhaps for the first time this season, are going to face off against a team with someone to match up against Jahlil Okafor in Jakob Poeltl.

Freshman center, meet freshman center.

No, Okafor/Poeltl isn’t Bird/Magic II and even though Okafor is on top of the marquee over the big Austrian, but the 7-footer can also defend outside the paint and carries well that Nowitzki gene where he makes about as many mistakes as the Swiss watch on his wrist. If Duke is looking to slow down the Utes’ attack and bang down low, it could backfire.

Okafor won’t go off for 26 on Friday and since guard play is evenly matched, this game comes down to the last possession. Coach K wouldn’t have it any other way.

OK, KM—you got one more?

kyleIVI do! And since I made everyone wait through my last two entries here, let’s get straight to business.

Thursday:

ND vs. Wichita State Over 137.5

I’m sort of psyched to see Notre Dame and Wichita State draw each other in today’s first game, because they both like to get up and down the court. Notre Dame is third in points per possession nationally, the Wranglers round out the top 15. This one is going to come down to the Irish’s ability to grab boards–they’re lousy at buying shooters second chance points and have been absolutely wretched at giving up second-chance buckets in their first two contests. The Wranglers are no world-beaters on the glass, but they’re miles ahead of the Irish, meaning the crew from South Bend is going to have to hit at a prodigious rate. Either way, look for the over.

North Carolina +6 vs. Wisconsin

Here we’ve got another case of two well-oiled machines clashing. I’m tempted to say Wisconsin’s ability to slow the pace down and the matchup problems presented by Frank Kaminsky will buy the Badgers a cover. However, North Carolina’s ball movement is of a level and quality that Wisconsin just didn’t see in conference play and likely haven’t seen this season. The Heels are second in the nation on assisted buckets–the kind of number that tires out a defense just looking at. The Badgers can play at a furious tempo, though, so I’m not calling a Heels win, but they get inside the touchdown.

Kentucky -13.5 vs. West ‘Fuckin” Virginia (<<Here’s the link to hotlink that F-bomb).

West Virginia guard Daxter Miles Jr. uttered this sentence today “Tomorrow they’re going to be 36-1,” before going on to say John Calipari’s crew doesn’t play hard. That’s the point, AJ, where the captain of Utah’s newly-reinstated firing squad hands that dude his cigarette and stands back.

Xavier vs. Arizona -10.5

Staples Center really got screwed not landing more West Coast squads than the Wildcats. Could you imagine if UCLA and Gonzaga were in town, too? The place might actually fill up before tip-off (well, the first TV timeout.) As is, there’ll be a lot of Bearing Down in the City of Angels tonight. The ‘Cats play lockdown defense and score at as quick a pace as anyone in the country. Xavier runs a deeper rotation–eight guys get 20 or more minutes/game while the ‘Cats keep their minutes locked up in starters and one reserve. That’s Xavier’s best chance of keeping this one close, and the bit about this line that agonized me. But, with an effective homecourt advantage and more talented defenders, I think Arizona outlasts the Musketeers.

Friday:

UCLA vs. Gonzaga -8.5

So, UCLA has had a problem against tournament-level competition this season. One where (the last two games providing the exception) the cagers from Westwood usually get blown out. They compiled a 5-9 record against tournament-level foes this season (including an 87-74 loss to Gonzaga in December) and lost those games by an average of 17.3. Admittedly, things have gotten a lot better for Steve Alford’s Bruins since their early season struggles, but Gonzaga is firing on every cylinder right now, scoring nearly a half-point more per possession than UCLA. Mark Few’s guys advance to Sunday.

NC State vs. Louisville -3

Chalky! Underdogs cleaned up ATS on weekend one, going 27-21, but all good things come to an end. Pitino is part of a triumvirate of Italian Americans (Tom Izzo and Calipari being the others) who you don’t want to run into on a well-lit court in March. Last year was the first time in 5 trips to the tournament’s second weekend with the Cardinals that someone stopped Pitino in the Sweet 16. An NC State squad coming off two straight single-digit wins isn’t going to be the second.

Utah +5 vs. Duke

AJ, you covered it already. Utah’s pace of play and ability to pack the paint is going to be like solving a puzzle after 17 cups of SUPER KICKED UP HIGH-CAFF coffee for the Blue Devils. If they get out of this matchup, it won’t be easy.

I’m too close to my Spartans at this time of year to pick their matchup with Oklahoma. Depending on the moment, I’ll tell you they’ll lose by 20 or rebound their way into Indianapolis on the strength of two double-digit Ws. Good luck with that, they’re 2 point favorites, for what it’s worth.

I’m pooped AJ… Let’s do this again next week?

ajIVAJ

As long as you promise never to mention Baccardi Limon again, I’m in.

The PNP Recap—NCAA Tournament Sweet 16:

ajIVFriday:

Utah +5 vs. Duke

UCLA +8.5 vs. Gonazga

kyleIVThursday:

ND vs. Wichita State Over 137.5

North Carolina +6 vs. Wisconsin

Kentucky -13.5 vs. West Virginia

Friday:

UCLA vs. Gonzaga -8.5

NC State vs. Louisville -3

Utah +5 vs. Duke

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  1. […] I’m about to close this one out for $2,000 and you can hit me back with something on the turnaround, but I gotta understand one thing: For me, it’s atrocities upon atrocities here. I willingly watch, bet on and fawn over the NCAA Tournament with an evangelist’s high aspiration, forked tongue and double-sided face. I do this knowing full well the indentured servitude of the student-athlete and the literal sweat off their backs and their brows is fueling this kind of macabre three-week extravaganza that dictates not only this column but my weekends, free time and your pool time at Vdara. […]