The Madness (March 2011)
Update: Tuesday, April 5 at 4:00 PM ET
Congratulations to UConn on winning the national championship. No matter how poorly Butler shot tonight, with the Huskies' run through the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, it's impossible to say that the team did not earn this title. Both teams found an extra effort level for the game, gave everything they had and tried. It was frustrating to see so many missed looks, but it was also refreshing to watch such hard work out there.
It's a good thing (for the league at least) that the NBA did not play any games on Monday. Juxtaposing the effort in the national championship game against the joke that is the NBA may have given credence to many NBA detractors who think players are "over-paid, lazy, pot-smoking thugs" (the part in quotes is actually pulled from email correspondence I had with someone you would probably have heard of. While I obviously don't fully agree with this statement to this degree and they are definitely not my words, that resource went on to say... "Unless we know how many beers and bong hits and whether they cheated on their wife the night prior, it will remain a difficult sport to predict...").
To me, Jeremy Lamb should have won the M.O.P. He was the player that made the difference for that team in every game - offensively and defensively. I hope he sticks around for at least another year, but I also can't wait to see how his smooth game translates to the NBA. As far as the national championship game is concerned, Alex Oriakhi was the most valuable player on the floor. He dominated inside for every one of his 25 minutes, keeping Matt Howard from being able to do anything, while also making it impossible for Shelvin Mack (or others) to get shots in the paint.
When it's all said and done, as crazy as this tournament was and with most in this industry suffering greatly, I'm happy with our overall performance. Of course, I wish we could have maintained the numbers we put up in the first five days (counting Tuesday and Wednesday), but a) sustaining performance that is significantly greater than our own confidence should never be expected and b) as we have noted in the past, confidence in our picks subsides as tournaments proceed due to better education by the public and the teams coming closer together - so naturally, as confidence goes down, so should performance. Performance relative to confidence is what we should be measured by. Our 57%+ picks hit 61%. Our 60%+ picks hit 78% (7-2). And overall, we were profitable (net of the cost for access for $50+ players who were subscribed for the whole tournament) with all playable ATS picks and all playable O/U picks. And actually, while we did not tout it much throughout the tourney because we just launched the feature in the Customizable Predictalator, the most profitability could be found in playing our playable money-lines. Essentially, any time we had less than a 54% ATS opinion on the favorite to cover, we also liked the money-line value on the underdog. This provided great value in this tournament and points to an interesting paradox for books (not valuing dogs on the money-line appropriately in the tournament relative to spreads) that may (unfortunately) change next season.
Anyway, here are final numbers for the tournament... ATS Locks of the Day: 6-3 ATS (67%); All playable ATS picks: 28-22-2 ATS (56%); Paul's Picks 15-10 ATS (60%); Normal or better: (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 20-13 (61%).
The initial MLB blog should go up tonight or tomorrow. Thanks for the interest.
Update: Sun, April 3 at 7:45 PM ET
Another strange/interesting day of games has yielded one of the more unlikely championship games we have seen in any sport. Before the tournament, we gave this matchup a 1 in 30,193 chance of happening. After the first week, leading into the Sweet 16, this championship matchup was still just 1 in 305 likely. And, before yesterday, the chances of seeing a Butler-UConn title game were almost exactly 1 in 4.
Of course, that is specifically if likelihood of making it deep into the tournament is at all related to what teams have done during the regular season. For the first time in my experience covering sports professionally, the regular season appears mostly irrelevant for two teams that won their conference tournaments and have clearly (for two seasons now) played a completely different brand and level of basketball in single-elimination games. I don't expect that to be the norm and we have still have a very good tournament predicting games overall, but it is definitely noteworthy.
However, the notion that this somehow greatly aids the claims of anti-tournament college football proponents that the regular season in that sport would be greatly devalued by a tournament, is silly. Unless the regular college football season was shortened to six weeks and every DI "FBS" team got into the tournament, or until we see multiple games played in a week, every single game in college football will be very significant. In fact, the regular season would gain significance because more than just two teams would have a chance to improve their positioning during the regular season in order to make the post-season. No matter what we are led to believe, by the last 2-3 weeks of the season, there are generally only a few teams that have a chance to do anything truly meaningful (i.e. play their way into a shot at a national title).
Anyway, here are NCAA Tournament numbers from the Final Four... ATS Lock of the Day: 1-0 ATS; All playable ATS picks: 1-1 ATS; All playable totals: 1-1 O/U. For the tournament... ATS Locks of the Day: 6-3 ATS (67%); All playable ATS picks: 28-21-2 ATS (57%); Paul's Picks 15-9 ATS (63%); Normal or better: (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 20-13 (61%). Remember that you can always go back and look at our predictions from previous days. After the games, publish the same content that subscribers received before the games.
And since we are talking about performance/numbers, here is an update on the free MLB trial so far (Thursday, March 31 - Sunday, April 3 before SF @ LAD game)... All playable picks: +$490 (for $50 bettor); Normal+ picks (57%+ to cover - there have been 12 so far): +$298; O/U at 56%+ (not that we will normally track this, but a Twitter follower brought it up): 10-2 (83% O/U) +$407. It's been interesting to follow our picks and interact with many of you during the first few days of the season. Finding value can be a tricky thing to master, but we'll help you along the way. Expect a baseball-specific blog entry very soon.
Quick hitters from Saturday's games:
It's not just that Butler can "play ugly" and still win, the Bulldogs prefer to "play ugly." They play a brand of basketball that annoys the opposing team by being physical, tenacious, smart and generally mistake-free. The key to Butler however, is that the team never gets away from that style. They can play with anyone because they never get away from what they do best. It's not a fluke that every Butler opponent for the past two years in the tournament has found a way to make crucial mistakes late in games when it matters most. Butler is comfortable in close games because it never tries to do too much as it just waits for opponents to screw up. Sure, luck is involved, especially in close games; yet Butler plays a brand of basketball that as a minimally subjected to luck in close games as any we have ever seen.
Congratulations to VCU and Shaka Smart who put together a great gameplan throughout the tournament and drew up a blueprint on how to play the role of Cinderella in a tournament like this (depth, experience, three-point shooting, a unique style of play that most teams rarely face). They had simply lived by the three for most of the tournament. Yesterday, they finally died by it.
In a similar manner to how Butler has made its mark in these tournaments, UConn keeps finding ways to let its opponents beat themselves. UConn has star players (though Butler may have two future NBA players in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack) and better athletes, but the Huskies also play great defense, hustle and do all the "little things." It will be very interesting to see how the game plays out on Monday. In a close game - and there is a good chance it will be close, it is tough to predict which team has the edge given how well both plays at that point.
That being said, for as much credit as I just gave UConn, Kentucky should have won that game. The Wildcats are/were as talented as any team in the tournament. And they were right there at the end of the game. Ultimately, freshman who had played well beyond their years recently, played like freshman. I touted the team's ability to protect the ball, shoot from deep and make its free-throws. Kentucky didn't really do any of those things well last night. And UK folded in the only facet of the game that is defense-independent - at the free-throw line. Call it nerves, psychology or just dumb-luck, whatever it is that leads to teams shooting free-throws at a significantly different extreme than usual, it happens and it very often leads to unpredictable results (relative to our expectations). Against Ohio State and North Carolina, the Wildcats won over great competition by going 22/28 from the free-throw line. On the season, UK hit 71% of its free-throws. Last night, Kentucky went 4/12 from the line...
Update: Sun, March 27 at 7:45 PM ET
Our own odds gave this Final Four a 1 in 93,297,507 chance of happening. It didn't happen in 50,000 simulations of the original bracket. Even with the chaos of VCU and Butler (both of which we did like as having money-line value) - who combined to lose to five teams that finished .500 or worse and have been underdogs in all nine of their games thus far - the Elite Eight was much better to us (and viewers) than the Sweet 16. The lines (fortunately) did not give us much value picking sides in the two games with the bigger underdogs/Cinderellas. And in the other contests, we correctly acknowledged the value in Kentucky and Arizona. Plus, the top overall play of the Elite Eight - Florida-Butler OVER (132) provided what has seemed to be the rare gift of hitting the OT over (we've been on the other side of that far more often than not).
Here are NCAA Tournament numbers from the Elite 8... Normal or better picks: 3-0; All playable ATS picks: 2-2 ATS; All playable totals: 2-2 O/U. For the tournament... All playable ATS picks: 27-20-2 ATS (57%); Paul's Picks 14-8 ATS (64%); Normal or better: (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 20-13 (61%). Remember that you can always go back and look at our predictions from previous days. After the games, publish the same content that subscribers received before the games.
Quick hitters from Saturday's games:
With respect to the Butler-Florida game, if I had to choose, I would rather win our better pick (the OVER 132 at 59.9%) than the side (Florida -3 at 53.4%). A normal $50 player using the Play Value Calculator recommendations would be up $63 on that game if he/she had played the side and total. Those who just played the total because it was a normal+ pick were up $75. And those that played just the side out of preference to play sides or because it was noted as a Paul's Pick (sorry for the confusion - more below), would be down just $12 (for a normal $50 player). So in general, OT was good for us. The fact that Florida decided to start launching contested 25-foot threes in OT was not good for us. The Gators mismanaged the last nine minutes of regulation and the OT (from up 51-40 to losing 74-71). I can't imagine Billy Donovan was telling his perimeter players to ignore what had been working for the Gators all game and just start chucking up low-percentage shots. Still, if Brad Stevens truly thinks that Donovan out-coached him, he must have an extremely low opinion of himself.
And I would not be one to share that opinion. It's interesting to see John Calipari and Stevens in the same Final Four because they have, with Calipari at Memphis and Stevens at Butler, taken contrasting approaches with teams in similar positions. Playing the weak C-USA, Calipari recruited young players to come in, play a fun brand of basketball and blow everyone out. The Tigers set out to destroy all of their opponents and usually succeeded. With a veteran team in the even weaker Horizon League, Stevens played it coy, getting enough out of his team to make the tournament, but not wearing them down and not giving anything away. So whereas the Tigers were comparable to a team like last year's Cleveland Cavliers - go for broke, win as many as possible, have fun because you don't know how long it will last - this year's Bulldogs are the Boston Celtics - wake me up when it counts. Butler lost to Evansville (#178 in our final regular season Power Rankings), Wright State (#111), UW-Milwaukee (#140 - twice), Valparaiso (#91) and Youngstown State (#226) during the regular season. The Bulldogs ranked outside of our top 100 (#114 of 345 teams) in defensive efficiency, their calling card in the tournament, from the season and were only 42nd in offense. Plus, they have been underdogs in all four games they have played in the tournament this season. We had Butler winning over Old Dominion as more likely than not and found money-line value in each subsequent game, yet never assumed the team would be more likely than not to win over Pitt, Wisconsin and Florida. Needless to say, while I have the utmost respect for Brad Stevens and what he has done over the past two seasons, he does not make my job very easy.
Arizona-UConn was a great game as expected. For the first time ever in basketball, we simulated that game to a perfect tie in the numbers, where each team won 25,000 times and scored 74 points on average. Of course, I could have re-simulated to actually figure out a winner (it is highly unlikely I would have seen another perfect tie), but I thought that was so noteworthy that I should run with that result. The game came down to multiple attempts at game-winning shots in the last ten seconds. While I'm not sure why the play was drawn up for the team's best interior scorer/manimal to heave up a three, fortunately, the game stayed within three points. The rebound and kick for another three makes perfect sense, but I don't get why Williams did not at least get a chance to create his own shot in attempt to tie or get an "and one" for the potential win. I'll take the ATS win on a normal+ pick and be happy enough that OT did not cost us the side even if it could have won us the total. Like before, we hit the normal pick in this game and lost the weak pick. A normal $50 player using the Play Value Calculator recommendations would be up $33 on that game if he/she had played the side and total. Those who just played the side because it was a normal+ pick were up $56. So on the day, a $50 player playing all of our recommendations would be +$119.
In related news, Jeremy Lamb is silky smooth. I've heard Rip Hamilton, which I get, but I'm starting to see hints of George Gervin. As alluded to in the commentary on this game, Lamb ended up being the secondary player, outside of Williams and Kemba Walker, who stepped up to lead his team to victory.
VCU just beat Kansas. The Jayhawks looked like the perfectly-constructed team to take down the Rams. On the year, KU hit the glass well on both ends, led the country in field goal percentage and had only lost to a four seed (Texas) and a five seed (Kansas State) - two teams Kansas also defeated. VCU was the most debatable at-large participant in the field, losing games to USF (#100), Georgia State (#199), Northeastern (#185) and James Madison (#99) among the Rams' 11 losses. VCU ranked 59th offensively and 112th defensively during the regular season. Obviously, the Predictalator will struggle to determine that that kind of team could win (or even keep games close) over five superior teams.
There are some themes to this straight-up upset and many of the ATS losses that we have incurred. Many of the favored teams that have lost, like Kansas (and Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Ohio State, etc.), have shot significantly worse from the free-throw line and behind the arc than expected. Free throws should be completely defense-independent, while threes are not as impacted by defense as other areas of the game. At halftime of this game, Kansas, a 68% free-thrown shooting team on the year, was shooting 42% from the line. VCU, a 37% three-point shooting team on the season, was shooting 53%. Yeah, that's not very likely. Luck and general randomness are part of that. In addition to plain luck, with no dominant team, it seems as though, after the first week of the tournament, "the moment" may have become too much for teams of which much was expected. That's a relatively new element to this level of the tournament - or at least it was rarer before. Typically, either both teams are better and more evenly matched or one team is dominant and can easily overcome pressures of "the moment." If this theory is even accurate - "luck" could simply be the reason free-throws and threes are being missed by favorites at inopportune times - I am not sure this effect will ever be as evident in the future as it is this season (it could be more evident), but it is definitely something for us to watch and research as much as it warrants. Of course, it would be virtually impossible to determine which players and teams would be more subject to "the moment" than others.
Another semblance of a trend is in the style of play that we see out of VCU. The Rams are not Grinnell College or even Loyola Marymount, but they are deep and experienced and they do press and shoot a lot of threes at an effective rate. With a frustrating style that forces turnovers and an offense that can score in bunches, that's a great recipe for an upset. Belmont had a similar team, yet ran into a terrible matchup for that style. Wisconsin Green-Bay has a similar women's team that makes that sport a lot more interesting to watch.. Experience isn't easy to sustain, but don't be surprised to see that kind of team continue to pull off upsets in the tournament.
And lastly, several people have been asking about the fact that, even when we have "no picks" or are very slightly leaning toward the favorite to cover (like in all of Butler and VCU games as well as games like Arizona-Duke), we see playable value on the money-line for underdogs. It seems as though, especially at this point in the season, given the nature of the single-elimination tournament and the caliber of the teams, money-lines are disproportionately favoring expected winners. We tend to see much less of a middle ground in between a cover and a loss by the favorite than the lines would suggest. There are only three games left in this tournament and the Final Four matchups do not really allow for this phenomenon to be exploited, but this is definitely something to watch as we get back into the tournament next year.
Kentucky is really good. This is my favorite Calipari team since Marcus Camby played for UMass. The Wildcats are young, talented and loaded with high school All-Americans, but they also play very smart and can adapt to just about any tempo or style. Had UK been in just about any other region, we would have liked the Wildcats to make the Final Four. At the very least, UK-Ohio State should have been a regional final game, if not a Final Four game or national championship.
Kentucky (-1.5) was our only normal+ pick on Sunday. A $50 player would have made $59 playing that game. With winning play on the UNDER (146) in the UK-UNC game and losers Kansas (-11) and OVER (146.5) as weak plays, Sunday netted a $50 player who played every play $26. If that same player played just sides, he/she made +$30.
All four remaining teams have been underdogs in at least one game, combining for 11 straight-up wins as underdogs so far.
A quick update on NBA performance. With a strong Sunday, going 4-1 ATS, picks finished the week 19-15 ATS (56%). Since we switched to publishing weekday picks around 4:00 pm ET instead of at 11:00 am ET (beginning on March 14th), pick performance has improved with back-to-back 56% ATS weeks. It's harder to squeeze value out of the NBA, and day-to-day can still be up-and-down, yet, with that many games every day, 56% can return a high margin. Watch for news on NBA Playoff picks coming very soon.
The Assless Chaps (inside joke team name that resulted in a 40-point rotisserie win the first season I used it) of the 2011 PredictionMachine.com Auction League (12 teams, all-MLB and K:BB, Holds, batting Ks, OBP, SB-CS and SLG are among the atypical categories in the league): Jorge Posada, Carlos Pena, Ian Kinsler, Martin Prado, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Raburn, Dexter Fowler, Nick Markakis, Mark Teixeira, Paul Konerko, Kila Ka'aihue, Gaby Sanchez (probably not going to make the Opening Day roster, but I can't yet reveal who I hope will be taking his place from the Waiver Wire), Phil Hughes, Jeremy Hellickson, Madison Bumgarner, Luke Gregerson, Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, Koji Uehara, Rafael Betancourt, Brett Anderson, Brett Myers, Colby Lewis, Javier Vazquez and Ian Kennedy. It's not a pretty team. Hopefully, the sum of the parts... Thank you for allowing that moment of self-indulgence. As we get into the MLB season - which starts with a 10-day free picks trial on Thursday (no purchase necessary - just check it out on the 31st)- I'll try to refrain from making every blog post about my fantasy team...
Speaking of fantasy... If you have an iPhone and are interested in fantasy baseball, I highly recommend DraftOpt.com and their iPhone app. We have yet to advertise any external products on the site, so it is important for me to clarify that that is not what I am doing here. I don't receive any personal benefit from this other than to know that I am matching a great new product with others who could use it. The three people behind the site and the product - PhDs Matt Gibson, Jeff Ohlmann and Mike Fry - are all good friends and respected members of the sports analysis field. Beyond that, I owe a great deal of my career to Dr. Ohlmann (University of Iowa) and Dr. Fry (University of Cincinnati), who served as my advisers for my master's thesis on the NBA. They didn't quite teach me everything I know about analyzing sports, but it's close and they definitely got me started down the right path. I have the utmost respect that these individuals know what they are doing and are building a great product. So check out the site and the app if you are interested. There will be much more to come from DraftOpt.com as well.
Here are a few relevant customer support contact questions and answers from the last few days...
Question: How come one of Paul's Pick was not Over in the Arizona/Uconn game? It was the highest rated game on your board at 59.5%. The Fla. Gators where only 53.4. Just wondering?
Answer: The question you bring up is a good one and something that I genuinely believe we should give more thought. No matter how you look at it, the OVER in the Butler/Florida game was our best play of the night. I fear though, that the way we note our plays may be confusing.
From the outset, we have defined Paul's Picks as the top X ATS picks each day (or week in football). The reason we have Paul's Picks at all is because we wanted to merge the worlds of analytics and journalism by diving a little deeper into the numbers to explain why we were picking certain ways. We want to give our users additional confidence in the picks we are recommending. Since more people play and are interested in ATS picks, we focus on those. That's simply our attempt to cater to the widest audience we can. Plus, there typically is not much to write about for totals. It's much more interesting from a journalistic standpoint to talk about who is going to win and by how much. This usually helps to dictate how I talk about these games on radio interviews as well.
It was not necessarily our intent to use the Paul's Pick notation as a category for pick performance, but our performance with those picks essentially required us to market those.
I hope that makes some sense. Your underlying point is valid. I even tend to agree with it. We'll discuss and adapt going forward.
Question: I was interested basketball totals and whether or not your simulation accounts for the chance for overtime? When a projection is as close the Arizona/Uconn game was there has to be a pretty decent chance we will see overtime especially since most teams get horrible shots with the game tied in the final possession (see walker, erving vs. butler.) Obviously if a game goes into overtime it is overwhelmingly likely that the game will go over the total. Also, I have to feel bad for someone who is constantly forced to explain themselves after losing days.
Answer: It's definitely a unique industry to be in. Not everyone will stick with us and timing can often mean a lot in someone's (short-term) user experience. Those who stick around typically get that, while there are no guarantees, as long as picks are covering at or above the confidence we project, we are doing what we intend and are profitable (over the long-term).
With respect to overtimes, when we simulate a game 50,000 times, there is obviously a chance in each of those 50,000 games that the game goes to OT. All games are factored into our average values and the cover percentages. If the OT for the simulated game covers the OVER, then we will count it as the over. As a quick example, let's say that we are only simulating each game 3 times and the total is 145. If the first game is 81-80 in regulation, it goes over. If the second game is 65-60, it goes under. If the third game goes to OT and the final score is 74-72, it counts as going over. In that case, we would be 66.7% confident in the over. Obviously, we simulate the game more times to ensure that we have an adequate sample size, but the same approach would apply.
(Also see Derwin Kitchen vs. VCU...)
Update: Saturday, March 26 at 12:49 AM ET
There is so much that I could say and just as many things I want to say, but I'm a little too spent from the last couple of days of action (not to mention chasing three kids under the age of nine around all day). Know this, I/we hate losing. The overall record is good, but the last two days have been brutal (for the bracket and the picks). It's cathartic to talk through a losing day here and there, yet with two days with such unlikely outcomes, it's probably best to put it in the rearview mirror and look forward. The Elite Eight will definitely be an interesting one. Also know that every record we have ever published can and has been verified.
Timing of wins means a lot. I wish we could win every game, every day. At the end of today though, we have a record that's hard to complain about in the tournament more winning days than losing days. Does that matter to those who jumped on board for the last two or three days? Probably not - and that's totally understandable. At this point though, the only real strategy is to keep our head's up, stay patient, move forward and be smart. We will do our part by continuing to do all we can to provide the best possible product for all.
On a positive note, I would like to share my great appreciation for the overwhelming majority of our users who get the challenges of the industry, understand what we are doing and value the success that our approach to long-term sports investing can bring. I feel what we are doing is unique and it is the feedback that we get from our users that is the biggest catalyst for the positive modifications that we make to the site.
Here are Friday's final NCAA Tournament numbers... All playable ATS picks: 1-2 ATS (33%); Paul's Picks 0-2 ATS (0%); All playable totals: 1-3 O/U (25%). For the tournament... All playable ATS picks: 25-18-2 ATS (58%); Paul's Picks 12-6 ATS (67%); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 17-13 (57%). Remember that you can always go back and look at our predictions from previous days. After the games, publish the same content that subscribers received before the games.
Update: Friday, March 25 at 5:59 M ET
Thursday was not a great night for the picks. I'm not hiding from that. In fact, I think I've been writing the blog entry for Thursday's games in my head incessantly since Chandler Parsons missed the last shot for Florida that would have won the game for BYU in regulation (and given us the +2.5 BYU cover we needed - my/our/your outlook on yesterday may have been very different that shot gone in... or if Kyle Collinsworth had hit his second free throw for BYU to take tying the game most out of the equation). Anyway, I would love nothing more than to experience the catharsis that is figuring out where/why/when the picks that we lost went wrong (but hey! we hit the Arizona-Duke OVER, there was great money-line value in Arizona to win and SDSU was a "no pick" by the time the closing line, though we definitely count it as a loss in our numbers), but a) the least likely straight-up occurrence happened all four games - that's going to happen every now and then; and b) I've spent all day working on college and NBA picks, doing interviews, setting up for an all-day fantasy baseball auction draft at my house tomorrow AND I just "volunteered" (running my own company from home is defined very differently by family members who think I am always available) to babysit to six year olds and an eight year old for the rest of the night (fortunately, I genuinely do appreciate and enjoy spending time with my niece and nephews). So, I'll lump Thursday's and Friday's (and maybe even Saturday's) recaps together Saturday night as I watch games after the draft (the MLB really screwed leagues like ours by moving opening day up, eliminating an entire weekend for drafts and forcing most drafts to take place on days when college basketball games take center stage). Whether you followed all of that rambling quasi-nonsense, the updated numbers from Thursday are below. Game-specific commentary will be coming in 24-36 hours.
Here are Thursday's final NCAA Tournament numbers... All playable ATS picks: 0-3 ATS (0%); Paul's Picks 0-2 ATS (0%); ATS Lock of the Day (0-1); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 1-2; All playable totals: 1-3 O/U (25%). For the tournament... All playable ATS picks: 24-16-2 ATS (60%); Paul's Picks 12-4 ATS (75%); ATS Locks of the Day 3-2 (60%); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 17-9 (65%); Normal+ O/U: 5-1 (83%); All playable totals: 17-14 O/U (55%). The only loss in those six O/U games with normal+ plays came in double-OT for a game that we originally posted as a "no pick," but accidentally became a normal+ play when the games were overwritten last Saturday. A loss is a loss, but that is a very unique, unlikely and unexpected way to lose. Remember that you can always go back and look at our predictions from previous days. After the games, publish the same content that subscribers received before the games.
Update: Monday, March 21 at 11:13 AM ET
How the majority of our subscribers fared with our information yesterday is not as obvious as it has been for the previous days in the NCAA Tournament. As mentioned, for the second year in a row, we had notably less (published) confidence in our top picks on the first Sunday of the tournament than we had Thursday - Saturday. The first Sunday and the day of the championship game seem to provide the least opportunity for line exploitation. Hopefully, you/our subscribers heeded the advice of the play value calculator. If so, and just the Paul's Picks, which went 2-1 ATS with fairly easy covers from Marquette (+4.5) and Ohio State (-11) and an ugly loss from Notre Dame (-5) to extend the record of Paul's Picks to 12-2 ATS on the tournament, were played, then it was a winning day. Even if all playable wagers were in play at the recommended values, it was a day just below break-even. This means that, assuming yesterday was played reasonably and in line with the recommendations, those who have been around for multiple days of the tournament should be way up, while those new to the info on Sunday are either up a little or down a little and in decent shape heading into the Sweet 16.
Despite less games, our confidence should pick back up a little with over-reactions, general ignorance and a different betting public heading out to Vegas this week (at least for Thursday and Friday as I have already seen in the numbers). That's not intended to be a sales line; that's the way it has consistently been.
With that all being said, here are Sunday's final NCAA Tournament numbers... All playable ATS picks: 3-4 ATS (43%); Paul's Picks 2-1 ATS (67%); ATS Lock of the Day (0-1); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 0-1; All playable totals: 2-3 O/U (40%). For the tournament... All playable ATS picks: 24-13-2 ATS (65%); Paul's Picks 12-2 ATS (86%); ATS Locks of the Day 3-1 (75%); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 16-7 (70%); All playable totals: 16-11 O/U (57%). Remember that you can always go back and look at our predictions from previous days. After the games, publish the same content that subscribers received before the games.
Quick hitters from Sunday's wins:
Wow Marquette. We have loved the Golden Eagles against the number, yet still only projected Marquette to make the Sweet 16 26.4% of the time. That's a great number for an eleven seed, but still not very likely (Syracuse was an Elite Eight team in our Predictalated Bracket). Marquette, which defeated Syracuse earlier in the year, did exactly what it needed to offensively to conquer the 2-3 zone. The Orange shot an astounding 14.1% better than the Golden Eagles in the loss but because Marquette dominated the offensive glass, shot better from three than two, got to the line to make 14 more free throws than Syracuse, and had over 20 fast break points off of Syracuse turnovers, they were able to win the game. We have been touting Marquette's offensive efficiency as the way it would defeat Xavier and at least keep things very close against Syracuse and the Golden Eagles have exceeded even those lofty expectations.
Wow Buckeyes. I feel like I have been saying that the top seven-man rotation for Thad Matta's team(s) is as well-crafted as any in the country since the coach took over in Columbus. I did not realize how literal that statement would be. All seven players fill critical roles and Matta appears to be one of the best, if not the best, coaches at determining which players should be on the floor to mesh best and counter the opponent at any given time. Jared Sullinger is the anchor in the middle offensively, rarely gets into foul trouble and hits his free throws. Jon Diebler hits from deep (50% from three) and adds underestimated length on defense. William Buford can bring the ball up the floor and create his own shot. David Lighty, is the most experienced player in Ohio State history, who does a little bit of everything well, but nothing exceptional (save for yesterday's ridiculous outside shooting display). Dallas Lauderdale is a crucial part of the Buckeyes' interior defense. Deshaun Thomas is the young, athletic change of pace, who can score in bunches off the bench. And Aaron Craft studies from the bench until he is ready to come in and run the show on offense. It's brilliant. Everyone fills a role. The only areas of redundancy for this team are great shooting, high basketball IQ and length - and that's a good thing.
We started the day off with a great game and a good win as Washington kept it close for a game that was played at the expected frenetic pace and was close throughout. Washington had the athletes and shooting ability to hang with North Carolina, but it will take someone with the length and strength to can keep Tyler Zeller and John Henson off the offensive glass (like Duke's Plumlee brothers have done) to beat this team. I don't have numbers to back this up, but it seems as though offensive rebounding prowess is as important a factor in winning tournament games as ever this year. Along those lines, John Henson continues to make himself a lot of money.
In the only ATS "no pick" of the day, VCU continues to make a mockery of brackets. Those who filled out brackets on Thursday morning (if allowed) had a huge advantage over those who filled brackets earlier. That seems to take a lot of the fun out of the 24 hours after Selection Sunday. Props to VCU though. The Rams were the second least deserving at-large team in the tournament (behind UAB), yet have responded with a very experienced and fun-to-watch team. Because the team has had to win three games to get here, VCU is the least likely Sweet 16 team this season. We gave the Rams just 2.2% chance to remain in the field (after winning over USC, Georgetown and either Purdue or St. Peter's).
Quick hitters from Sunday's losses:
Wow Notre Dame. I guess I probably could have lead with the losses for Sunday's recap, since Notre Dame put together the most note-worthy (in a miserable way) performance of the tournament thus far. The best thing that I can say about this is that, at least, it was not a heart-breaking, last-second, "how did that happen" ATS loss. The final result (especially against the number) was rarely in doubt. One of our Final Four participants, Notre Dame looked so strong in the numbers because of the team's offensive efficiency. On the season, the Irish shot 46% from the field, 72% from the line and 38% from threes. In this game, Notre Dame shot 31% from the field, 63% from the line and 23% from threes. Ouch. While I totally understand the Florida State has a tremendous defense - tops in the country in field goal percentage allowed and fifth overall in our metrics before this game - the Irish missed plenty of wide open shots and the Seminoles had nothing to do with all of those missed free throws. For Notre Dame offensively, this game reminds me of Wisconsin's 33 point output against Penn State. When a team that is so efficient, yet so slow and methodical, cannot find its shot early, it gets desperate and things get ugly. Compounding this effect, Florida State played the best offensive game of its season as well. The Seminoles usually shoot 44% from the field, 66% from the line and 33% from threes. They shot 46%, 72% and 47% respectively. That's not as much an ACC is better than the Big East thing, or a Notre Dame's defense against Florida State's offense was more exploitable than the other way around thing, as it was a luck thing. The Seminoles were hitting shots they don't usually hit. So be it. We had 58.3% confidence in the pick and our Paul's Picks were 12-1 ATS leading into that game. If the 41.7% likely outcome occurs to take us to 12-2 ATS, at the end of the day, I think I can take that.
I did not realize Jim Burr was going to be allowed to ref again after the St. John's - Rutgers game...
Michigan played the anti-Notre Dame role here and caught fire when it counted. While we loved the Wolverines to win over Tennessee, it was not by 30 points and they probably should have been in the game that long against Duke. Did Kyrie Irving actually play just 21 minutes, yet shoot ten free throws? It seems like, as we did leading into the tournament, playing him up to about twenty minutes is appropriate. However, it's almost like Nolan Smith and Irving have swapped roles from the beginning of the season. Given the way that Smith played after Irving's injury, that makes sense. It's also worth noting for those who still think Irving will lead this team to the title. This team is still in the hands of Smith, Kyle Singler and a front line that can dominate the glass.
Illinois hung with Kansas for about 35 minutes before the Illini went cold and the Markieff Morris dunk-a-thon began. While I cringe at the thought that any team that starts a player who has been suspended multiple times and thinks that "point plankn" makes any sense whatsoever may actually win the title, the path for Kansas went from the toughest of any top seed to one of the easiest we have ever seen. In fact, Kansas would be 70%+ favorites over all remaining opponents from its side of the bracket except for Wisconsin (the Badgers could actually give the Jayhawks a pretty good game). That gives Kansas about a 40% chance to make the championship game. Naturally, with such an easy path, the Jayhawks also win the title more than any other team at this point (25%). Here is the problem with that though. Yes, Kansas is the most likely NCAA Tournament champion right now. However, the winner of the left side of the bracket currently has a better chance to win the title than the winner of the right side. More specifically, both Ohio State (19% to win it all) and Duke (17%) would be favored over Kansas in the final (using numbers through Sunday's games - this could change). So, even though, Kansas is the most likely champion with 16 teams left, we still really like Ohio State (Buckeyes would be favored against all 15 other teams). Does your brain hurt yet? I can't wait to try to explain that a few hundred times this week...
Update: Sunday, March 20 at 4:26 PM ET
Many fans will remember Saturday as one of the wildest days in tournament history. Gamblers will remember it as so much more. I know that we have numbers are on our side, but with the runs that we have been able to put together in the NFL Playoffs and multiple seasons in the NCAA Tournament, I almost feel like there is something else. The numbers put us in position to cover far more often than not (especially in games with 1-2 point spreads), but "luck" has also been on our side in some of the craziest finishes against the number we have ever seen. The truth is that, with two minutes left in regulation for any of their games, the numbers did not like San Diego State (-5.5), Wisconsin (-2.5), Kentucky (-3.5) and Florida (-5) to cover, let alone all of them to go on to do so (plus, most of our subscribers probably got SDSU at -6, Wisconsin at -3.5 and Florida at -6, which all still covered). At the end of the day, we lost one ATS game and one national title participant, yet the Paul's Picks had their second consecutive undefeated day ATS and the bracket is in the 99th percentile in the major bracket pick'em games (we have tracked on Yahoo! for last eight years and are currently ranked 14,119 overall out of millions of brackets).
As noted on the site almost as soon as it happened, we are tracking our Paul's Picks performance slightly different thank our Predictalator Picks from yesterday. When the accident occurred, it became far more important to me to thoroughly explain, provide the added value of the updated picks and be very clear about how picks would be tracked as opposed to trying to go back and update all of the picks to the old lines (which would have been far more labor-intensive than it probably sounds, requiring quite a bit of manual over-writing of auto-generated article content). Some people had received picks at the "current" consensus lines anyway, so it would not really have been fair to change that back anyway. Here is the note from the site: Around 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, when updating picks for Sunday, March 20th, Saturday's picks were accidentally overwritten. The error was not realized until after the picks were published when the NBA picks went out (this also caused an error with the college pick availability going out before intended). This makes the information you are receiving more valuable because it has lines updated from today. However, we realize that it is inconsistent with the published Paul's Picks (though all of those plays are still playable at the new lines). No side has actually changed. We will track our Paul's Picks record against what is published on the Paul's Picks site. All other performance of picks will have to evaluated based on the new lines. Again, this information is more valuable to you now because picks are using more appropriate lines. It is important to us to note the reason for the discrepancy and be very clear about how we will track performance on these picks going forward. Thank you for your understanding... Ultimately, this actually hurts our performance numbers a little bit, as two "normal" or better picks were added (Cincinnati +3.5 and the UNDER 125.5 in the SDSU - Temple game) that lost. Integrity is more important than showing off a record, so we are compelled to include those games in our record.
With that all being said, here are Saturday's final NCAA Tournament numbers... All playable ATS picks: 5-1 ATS (83%); Paul's Picks 3-0 ATS (100%); ATS Top Play of the Day (1-0); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 3-2 (60%); All playable totals: 3-2 O/U (60%). For the tournament... All playable ATS picks: 21-9-2 ATS (70%); Paul's Picks 10-1 ATS (91%); ATS Top Play of the Day 4-1 (80%); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 16-6 (73%); All playable totals: 14-9 O/U (61%).
Quick hitters from Saturday's wins:
For their second game in a row, Wisconsin was our ATS top play of the day. The line we originally published had the Badgers covering at -2.5 60% of the time, but most of our subscribers probably got UW at -3.5, which was a 58.1% play (both qualifying as "normal" or better). I noted the similarities in strengths between Kansas State and Wisconsin's first opponent, Belmont. Both teams forced turnovers, hit the offensive boards and struggled with fouls. There is one huge difference between the teams though - physicality. In the first ten minutes of the game, Wisconsin's best two big men, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, were forced out of the game while bleeding from the head. This game was fitting of a guy named Mike Bruesewitz (though he looks more like Annie on the court than the offensive lineman his name alludes to), which then made it fitting that Bruesewitz hit the game-winning three-point shot. The beauty of this game against-the-spread happened at the end. The last "Paul's Pick" of the day and our ATS Lock of the Day, the ATS ending to this was dramatic in a fashion befitting of the day. Up three (remember most of our subscribers had Wisconsin -3.5) points with two seconds left, Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin, who struggled mightily all day, blocked the three-point attempt of Jacob Pullen, who had been on fire all day. Freshman Josh Gasser caught the missed shot, was immediately fouled and sunk both free throws to clinch the cover for everyone. If that shot is not blocked, Pullen either hits it and the game goes to overtime or the game ends and the Badgers fail to cover...
Did I mention how fun it is to root for my hometown teams (Wisconsin, Green Bay, Marquette, etc.)? Bo Ryan touched on it after the game, but I do think there is a stigma attached to Wisconsin sports that translates into those teams being undervalued. Of course, sometimes the teams live up to that stereotype, yet Green Bay losing to Detroit and Wisconsin scoring just 33 points against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament were two of the best things that ever happened to us because those publicly embarrassing games hid the true value of those teams, leading to an inappropriate public bias against them.
Jimmer... BYU's victory was not only the easiest cover for us on Saturday, it went off as our top play against the spread that day and represented a fascinating phenomenon from the tournament. Before the games started, I noted that the best ways to find value against the number in NCAA Tournament would be in finding underdog teams (by spread, not seed) likely to win outright or big favorites (around ten point favorites), who weren't favored by enough. That has been the case and then some this tournament. One, 1.5 or two-point underdogs are now 9-3 straight-up in the tournament. Only West Virginia (who closed at -2.5 in most books) over Clemson, Kansas State over Utah State and George Mason over Villanova won as small favorites. Fortunately, even though our lone Paul's Pick loss was Michigan State -1.5 against UCLA, we have been able to exploit this mind-blowing whiff by the general betting public on perceived close games. Our picks in those games are 10-2 straight-up and 8-2-2 against-the-spread (GMU and Kansas State were "no picks"). We have only lost with Michigan State and Vanderbilt, who lost by five combined points. This ability to pick straight-up winners when the public/linesmakers are baffled has carried our picks and our bracket. Thanks Vegas...
The San Diego State-Temple game was one of the wildest ATS finishes that I have ever seen. For the second game in a row, bettors playing against Temple had to root for Temple in some situations just to cover. On Thursday, bettors wanted a Juan Fernandez two-point basket to go in to clinch a cover for Penn State +2.5. On Saturday, it was a little more complicated. While watched the games from my home/mancave, I started receiving texts and videos from friends, subscribers, etc. at the sportsbooks documenting the groundswell of OT and then double-OT support when it became fairly obvious towards the end of regulation and the first overtime that SDSU would not cover. I was hoping for the UNDER (125.5) and SDSU (-5.5) to cover. Both were similar picks - 57.6% and 55.2% respectively - and I wanted to keep our undefeated normal+ total pick streak alive (its now 4-1 o/u), while also preserving an undefeated ATS day. Somehow, Temple failed to put the SDSU away on many opportunities, while the Aztecs couldn't come up with enough big plays to make the run they needed cover - until the Owls ran out of gas with about 30 seconds left in double-OT. Maybe the craziest feat in this game is that the total stayed below the combined ages of the two head coaches (127) for 47 minutes and 21 seconds.
With the chaos of the above three games/wins/covers, for which many a friend/subscriber kept me abreast on (ultimately winning) parlays, it's hard to remember just how unbelievable the ATS wins for Kentucky (-3.5 and 132 on the total for the free pick) and Florida (-5, yet went to -6 before tip) actually were. With 2:02 left in the UK game, Kentucky led by just three and only 119 points had been scored. Eleven free throws and a three-pointer later, Kentucky won 71-63 (win and win on the free pick). With 1:33 remaining, Florida was only winning over UCLA by one point, 66-65. Seven unanswered Erving Walker points later, we hit our first Paul's Pick. Walker and Kentucky's Brandon Knight, who hit seven of eight free throws for Kentucky in final two minutes, are welcome over to the mancave any time.
We did not have a meaningful pick in the game, but I consider it a win to watch Kenneth Faried play. He should be a lottery pick. At this point, if he goes in the first round, the Spurs will probably take him and he and DeJuan Blair will dominate the glass in a rotation for the team over the next ten years.
Quick hitters from Saturday's losses:
While just about everything broke our way on Saturday, the night ended with a tough loss by my alma mater. The pick was originally posted as a "weak, but playable" pick, yet gained some pressure, moving to a normal+ pick when the line moved from -3 to -3.5, putting a three point UConn victory into play as a Cincinnati win. That was exactly the difference with 5:07 left in the game. We had a chance to win every ATS pick on the day if UC could keep it to that margin or less. Kemba Walker wouldn't let that happen. I hate losing, but I have to take this with some measurement. Cincinnati played its typical brand of tough, on-ball defense and minimal offense (despite touting himself as the best of both worlds with Rick Pitino's offensive expertise and Bob Huggins' defense, Mick Cronin's Bearcats play far more like Huggins' teams). One star player overcame that defense and the desperate shots down the stretch did not fall. It's ok. It was an enjoyable Bearcat team to watch, particularly in its ability to remain competitive (more often than not) against the top teams in the league. Hopefully, Yancy Gates sticks around. Five role players are current seniors, yet Gates, Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson form a solid core to advance the program further next season... Oh yeah, and Kemba Walker is actually pretty good. He's hit 78 of 86 free throws (91%) in nine March games.
I have to address Butler as a loss. We actually hit the OVER (127) pretty easily in this game, and the side was a "no pick," however, we did have Pitt in the Final Four of our Predictalated Bracket, so the loss really hurts. The Predictalator did not love the Panthers; the region just looked so winnable that Pitt ended up as the most likely team in the tournament to advance to the Final Four (the Panthers also had the highest chance we have ever published for a one seed to be upset in the first round). With the strong performance of our straight-up picks elsewhere, bracket pools are not lost yet. Just root for chaos (another Butler trip to the championship game would be ideal) in the Southeast and the rest of the bracket picks to tear it up. A team that we are not as high on as most like Kansas, North Carolina or Florida losing soon would be great as well. A Kansas loss to Illinois would be ideal (to give us ATS win and eliminate the first one seed we predicted to be ousted).
As for the game itself... The calls were right. The fouls were silly. Everyone involved handled himself well after the game. I'll spare you the story of how I was once granted two free points for correctly pointing out to an official that the rules are the same at the end of the game as they are at any other point. Long story short, I have a strong opinion on this topic. Anyone who thinks those fouls should not have been called is not watching the tape. Integrity of officiating it critical to sports (especially sports wagering - which is why I strongly believe that as much officiating in all sports should be automated as possible). Fouls with 39 minutes left in the game are fouls with 1.4 seconds left. Any other argument is indefensible. Butler played better than Pitt for 40 minutes and won.
Update: Saturday, March 19 at 5:48 PM ET
With picks for NBA today and Sunday in the tournament posted, three winning picks in the books (UK -3.5, UK-WVU Over 132 and Florida -5) without a loss and some fires fought (sorry about any confusion, but I think we ultimately generated more value for our subscribers even if it was unintentional), I'm just tying up the end of Friday's games and performance.
Final Friday NCAA Tournament numbers... All playable ATS picks: 7-4-1 ATS (64%); Paul's Picks 4-0 ATS (100%); ATS Top Play of the Day (1-0); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 7-2 (78%); All playable totals: 6-4 O/U (60%). For tournament... All playable ATS picks: 16-8-2 ATS (67%); Paul's Picks 7-1 ATS (88%); ATS Top Play of the Day 3-1 (75%); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 13-4 (76%); All playable totals: 11-7 O/U (61%).
Quick hitters from Friday's late wins:
Illinois is a little better than UNLV. I like the Runnin' Rebels and am on record as saying that UNLV had the best eight seed in the tournament. I still believe that. The problem for UNLV is that Illinois is the best eight or nine seed in the tournament. I'm not sure if the hometown fans in Vegas were blind or ignorant to that, or if the general public misinterpreted what it meant to go 9-9 in the Big Ten (or Big East ala Marquette) this season. The Illini have three seniors at critical positions that are capable of playing at an elite level. Give them the motivation to win and that team looks very, very good. Before the tournament, the Illini looked like the best team outside of the top six seeds with respect to winning it all. I think they proved that last night. So while Kansas was done a favor when Louisville and Vanderbilt went down, the Jayhawks have as tough a test as you may ever see for a top seed just to get to the Sweet 16.
It's always a little nerve-racking to put faith in an 11-point favorite to cover easily because of the motivation it takes to do so. Some of those nerves were eased by the fact that we were already 3-0 with Paul's Picks going into the game. But, in this business, right or wrong, it's more important to hit late games than early games, so the pressure was still on. Syracuse pulled through over an over-seeded Indiana State team that got a little too much credit for winning the MVC. Last season, the loss of Arinze Onuaku to injury hurt the top seeded Orange inside. Rick Jackson has played this season, especially yesterday, like he is trying to make up for that and then some.
Quick hitters from Friday's late losses:
Washington (-5.5) was a tough loss to take, though we saw the opposite scenario occur with Florida (-5) today, which was a Paul's Pick, so I'll consider our luck at least even on late-game scoring runs that fluctuate around a five point line, yet does not change the outcome. The Huskies were up ten points with 1:50 left in the game. Washington obviously won the game, yet the Huskies committed three indefensible fouls, missed two free throws (including the front end of a 1-and-1, missed another field and turned the ball over once to win by just three.
Um... VCU is playing better than anyone thought. The Rams are also playing better than they ever did during the season. Chris Wright is also apparently not yet healthy. It's a disappointing end to the Hoyas season. At 100%, Georgetown could have made a deep run in the playoffs.
Update: Friday, March 18 at 10:42 PM ET
I just got done watching our Top ATS Play of the Day, Marquette (+1.5), take down Xavier 66-51 and I'm currently watching (in addition to three other games), another Paul's Pick, Illinois (+1.5), which is leading UNLV by 22 at halftime. With Michigan (+1.5), winning by 30 (without shooting a free-throw), it looks like the trend is continuing that the public/books have grossly undervalued teams in games expected to be close. With Illinois, Washington (-5.5) and Syracuse (-11, our other "Paul's Pick) left to play, normal or better picks for the tournament are 11-3 ATS and O/U.
I've been reciting it for months: our performance improves with guaranteed motivation to try one's best, a full season's worth of data and the general ignorance of a larger-than-otherwise public that thinks it has an opinion on major events. Steve Rothman, a respected poker player, Wall Street analyst and general pop culture connoisseur, who joined ESPN's Chad Millman for an Oscar's related Behind the Bets podcast once said, "I'd rather be staring down the guy in Vegas who is setting a line than the entirety of Goldman Sachs." While that's definitely true, linesmakers are pretty good too - their objectives are just a little different. (With all due respect,) I'd rather be staring down a million idiots than the guy in Vegas who is setting the line. You are not all idiots, especially outside of the sports world, yet there are many, many ways in which the allure and nature of the sports world, with its traditions, publicity, allegiances and instant win-loss gratification can lead the masses down the wrong path. That's what we try to exploit. The market really only has inefficiencies if the public lets it.
Of course, we could lose every pick the rest of the tournament too - but recent performance (2010 and 2011 NCAA Tournaments, 12-0 ATS in NFL Playoffs, NBA series, World Series) suggests that this phenomenon is, and should stay, true.
I'll get the final Friday numbers tomorrow (morning probably - after the email), but here are some thoughts on our wins and losses so far today...
Quick hitters from Friday's wins:
As a Wisconsin native, who went to the University of Cincinnati, it's been fun to be able to root for Wisconsin, Marquette and Cincinnati, and against Xavier. When the bracket came out, the 6-11 seeds all looked interchangeable. Beyond that, the elevens looked like a better group than the sixes. Two elevens have won outright as dogs already and another (VCU over Georgetown) is currently winning by 11 at the half. The committee's goal is a little different than the bettors. I'd say that the committee got it right based on who deserved to be in what seed, but the bettors made mistakes by following suit (save for with Cincinnati, who we liked to win outright as an underdog ATS). With Xavier, it was a little different than expected. Instead of being the best chance the Musketeers had of staying in the game, Tu Holloway had one the worst games in his career. He and Xavier should bounce back next season though. Watch out for XU in 2011-12.
I still cannot figure out how Tennessee was favored in that game. We didn't factor anything related to Bruce Pearl's plight, but I would have thought that would play against the Volunteers in bettors minds (if anything). Michigan played one of the most perfect John Beilein games ever - scoring just about everything from the perimeter and not getting to the line (like at all). The 8/9 Big Ten teams that are advancing could be trouble for the one seeds on Sunday.
Watching the UNC-Long Island game was a lot of fun. I desperately wanted the deep, athletic Blackbirds to win that game. Instead, we had to sweat it out a little against the line (+18.5). The pace and offensive nature of the game made it a blast. Ultimately, North Carolina's length and ability to stay out of foul trouble despite the pace won it the game. Tyler Zeller looks unbelievable against teams like LIU, Clemson and Miami. That will probably still work against Georgia or Washington as well. The real tests will be Syracuse and Ohio State (provided those favored teams get there).
Memphis-Arizona ended up being one of the more entertaining games. We liked Memphis to keep the game within six points and the Tigers did. With those teams, the extra weight that we give to recent games - while still always considering every game that a player has ever played - seemed to make the difference. Memphis has a ton of talent and closed very strong. Arizona has one of the best players in the country, yet struggled down the stretch. We loved Memphis to keep the game close in a high-scoring game. That's what happened. In fact, including the OVER (139) in the Arizona-Memphis game, normal or better totals went 3-0 O/U, to take our tournament record to 4-0 in those games.
Oakland found a way to keep it close enough to cover, yet not shock the world and win. That's right where we expected them to be. I made similar comments before the games started, but I really thought that the lines for the Belmont-Wisconsin and Oakland-Texas games should have been the other way around. Keith Benson had an ok final game for Oakland. What I don't understand as it relates to Benson is how a guy like Hassan Whiteside got some first round discussion after a decent freshman year, yet Benson, who is almost identical in size, is currently getting little to no NBA Draft love. NBA scouts are more afraid of letting a high potential player slip away than they are looking to find the best NBA player for their teams. That may change. Tristan Thompson may have put up big numbers, but his inability to shoot effectively from the line is still a problem. Especially with Kyrie Irving back in the fold for Duke, Texas is not going to win over Duke if Thompson shoots 50% from the line (he shot 48.6% during season). And lastly with this game, was President Obama's speech intentionally planned to start just as that game ended? It seemed like a perfect time during a lull in the on-going games.
It only takes one player at the end of the game to make a big impact against the number. I'm not sure why Steve McNees decided to foul Ben Hansbrough down 11 points with 17 seconds left and the rest of his team giving up, but I'm glad he did to lead to the push. The closing line in that game was +14 as opposed to the +13 we published earlier in the week. At +14, though, the pick was no longer playable.
Other than the fact that no UNDER is ever really safe during a Duke game, it's hard to tell what to make of Kyrie Irving's return to the Blue Devils. Before the tournament, we were playing Irving 12-18 minutes a game at 100%. That's basically what he did in mostly garbage minutes against a bad tournament team. I can't say we saw enough yet to warrant changing that assumption. In this game, the UNDER (134.5), a normal+ pick, did hold up - barely.
Quick hitters from Friday's losses:
Texas A&M, the free pick as a pick'em game today, lost 57-50 in a game between two of the best defenses (and relatively worst offenses) in the tournament. Florida State's defense, however, had nothing to do with the fact that Texas A&M shot 47.4% from the line. When teams shoot extremely worse (or better) than usual from the line, that is often a recipe for an ATS loss from our picks. Free-throw percentage is the one critical element to the game that is unaffected by the defense and should remain consistent from game-to-game. Fortunately, the offensive ineptitude helped the UNDER (122.5), another normal+ total play, cover pretty easily.
Of course the only 20+ point spread for which we had an opinion on the game failed to cover. For much of the regular season, we did not publish picks with lines about 16.5 points due to concerns regarding motivation to win by that much. We made a decision that has proven wise to better evaluate our confidence for all games based on the relative extreme of the line. In this case, with one of Boston University's best players out due to injury, Kansas looked so much better (25+ points) than the Terriers that the pick stayed in the weak, but playable category. Kansas was up 24 points with 2:37 left. The Jayhawks did not score another point the rest of the game, failing to cover.
That's it for now for playable ATS losses - just Texas A&M and Kansas.
Update: Friday, March 18 at 6:12 PM ET
Welcome to the Madness blog, where we will go through the previous NCAA tournament college basketball games with my quick hitters on each game as well as some other general thoughts. As many of you have probably gathered, 140 characters does not work very well for me, so this is the closest I get to real-time Tweeting and/or live-blogging. Expect periodic updates from now on. I know that I'm a day late, but I'll catch up now. Along those lines, with the start of the NCAA Tournament and St. Patrick's Day coinciding, yesterday had to be one of the greatest days in sports bar history. Count me as one of the (estimated) billions of Americans who participated. While I have a similar set-up (allowing me to keep up on/watch every game at one time) at home and remained in constant contact to customer support and roster information, blogging was not really in the cards yesterday.
The fact that we had a good day factored into the lack of blog updates yesterday as well. The blog is often much better served as catharsis than it is touting. That's human nature. Plus, I'm terrible at effectively touting my/our success and you (besides maybe my parents - hi mom and dad) don't want to read me ramble on about "winning" for pages upon pages.
That being said, as I write this, I'm watching Texas A&M take on Florida State (today's free pick). Texas A&M has a small lead. If the Aggies hold on to win and the teams don't combine to score 76+ points in the second half, normal or better (57%+ to cover) picks will be 11-2 against the number for the tournament. Remember that you can always go back and look at our predictions from previous days. After the games, publish the same content that subscribers received before the games.
Final Thursday NCAA Tournament numbers... All playable ATS picks: 8-3-1 ATS (73%); Paul's Picks 3-1 ATS (75%); ATS Top Play of the Day (1-0); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 5-2 (71%); All playable totals: 3-2 O/U (60%). For tournament... All playable ATS picks: 9-4-1 ATS (69%); Paul's Picks 3-1 ATS (75%); ATS Top Play of the Day (2-1); Normal or better (57% to cover ATS or O/U): 6-2 (75%); All playable totals: 5-3 O/U (63%).
Before we get into quick hitters on the games so far, I want to note a couple non-college basketball topics...
If you have an iPhone and are interested in fantasy baseball, I highly recommend DraftOpt.com and their iPhone app. We have yet to advertise any external products on the site, so it is important for me to clarify that that is not what I am doing here. I don't receive any personal benefit from this other than to know that I am matching a great new product with others who could use it. The three people behind the site and the product - PhDs Matt Gibson, Jeff Ohlmann and Mike Fry - are all good friends and respected members of the sports analysis field. Beyond that, I owe a great deal of my career to Dr. Ohlmann (University of Iowa) and Dr. Fry (University of Cincinnati), who served as my advisers for my master's thesis on the NBA. They didn't quite teach me everything I know about analyzing sports, but it's close and they definitely got me started down the right path. I have the utmost respect that these individuals know what they are doing and are building a great product. So check out the site and the app if you are interested. There will be much more to come from DraftOpt.com as well.
And in the NBA, we made a substantial change to our picks this week. No, even after a challenging weekend, it was not the engine that needed tweaking, it was the timing of the picks. From now on, on weekdays when games do not start until 7:00 pm ET or later, we will publish the picks at 4:00 pm ET. This helps us account for the most up-to-date injury and roster information. Fortunately, the change seems to have to have worked to a degree. It's a small sample size (just three days), but playable picks are 12-5 against the number and normal or better picks are 3-1 ATS since the change. Obviously, I don't expect to maintain 70%+ performance, yet I think this is a good step in the right direction.
Quick hitters from Thursday's wins:
The best win for us by far was with our ATS Top Play of the Day, Wisconsin (-4.5) over Belmont. Not only was it our best ATS bet (61.2%), the OVER (125) at 58.5% was the only normal or better total play of the day. A 72-58 Badger victory was huge. And, fortunately, it was never really in doubt after halftime. Belmont played its frustrating blend of tempo and aggression just as it intended - playing ten players nine or more meaningful minutes - but it did not work against Wisconsin. The Badgers committed turnovers on 19% of their possessions in the game. Even though that's almost 50% more than they usually commit, that would still rank in the top 100 in the nation - quite a feat against one of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers. Hitting 80% from the free-throw line, a Wisconsin staple this season, helped as well. Congrats to the Badgers (and thank you!).
For those who got to Vegas early and/or were paying attention right off the bat, the best value so far in the tournament was actually UTSA over Alabama State. We published the pick as 59.6% confident against a 4.5-point line that favored the Roadrunners. the line moved all the way down to -2.5 in some places and settled at -3. At -2.5, that became a 65%+ play. I'm guessing the late movement came from those who overvalued Alabama State's play down the stretch. The amount that it would take to move a game that many points made that a very painful overvaluation for some - not that I'm complaining as it made us love UTSA even more. A few moments of mild trepidation did kick in when a 20+ point second half lead was whittled to single digits, but UTSA still held on for a big win and great start to the tournament.
A strong case can be made that the eleven seeds as a group are better than the six seeds in this tournament. For Thursday, we were able to figure out which eleven was much stronger than its competition and which was not. Interestingly, the odds makers had it the other way around. St. John's sorely missed D.J. Kennedy and the Zags are much better than most eleven seeds usually are. Meanwhile, Cincinnati, our free pick of the day, drew off of the experience of playing (and struggling against earlier in the season) pressing Big East teams to leave no doubt against Mizzou.
What a bizarre ending, from a rooting standpoint, to the Temple-Penn State game. As 2.5-point underdogs (I apologize for the typo in this morning's email that stated PSU was a two point dog), I found myself rooting for Talor Battle to hit a deep three that tied the game, just so that they could lose on the next possession. If Juan Fernandez hits his game-winning shot from two feet further back, all the money goes the other way (and we go from 3-1 with Paul's Picks to 2-2). It hurts our published bracket, which had Penn State pulling the upset. However, those paying attention in radio interviews or to the write-ups for the picks could note that we like Temple as a very slight straight-up favorite (instead of the other way around) if Scootie Randall was healthy enough to play. He was (barely), so hopefully, some brackets are still intact from that game.
And with the brackets, remember that it is always most important to get the later games right than the earlier ones. Even after a tremendous game of upsets and close games, we have our Elite Eight still together (and have only lost one Sweet 16 team - Louisville).
UConn and Florida are two teams that we are not very high on relative to seed (neither makes our Elite Eight), yet we loved them against some exploitable, conservative lines. Blowouts ensued (but I would hesitate to read too much into that).
The Butler-Old Dominion game was a tremendous way to kickoff the tournament. Leave it to do-it-all Matt Howard to find that ball and hit that shot. Including Butler, among the four underdogs that we had winning outright on Thursday, all four covered and three won outright. Among the three upsets by seed that we were predicting, only one won. I find it fascinating that the books/public seem to be on the wrong side of these close games (though it should be noted that many books closed with Gonzaga-St. John's as a pick).
West Virginia was a late addition to the playable picks due to Tuesday's games. I'll take another win. Has there ever been a thicker NCAA Tournament team? I'm not saying fat. And I'm not even saying slow or nonathletic. The thick guys can move. It's like five Linas Kleizas on the court for the Mountaineers at all times.
It's not a win, but it almost counts as one. A meaningless three point basket by Wofford pushed at BYU (-8). In most books, that line had crept to at least -8.5. Meaningless shots like that (we got another to secure the OVER in the Clemson - UAB game too) can make this industry incredibly challenging, while also exciting. The more I watch those situations and the more I understand about the money on the line, the more I wonder why there is not more conversation about those shots. Personally, I'm very glad that it probably does not enter a kid's that the otherwise meaningless shot he is taking (that does not affect the straight-up outcome) could directly affect people's lives (financially). However, I'm curious as to what possesses some players to take those shots and others to just dribble out the clock.
Quick hitters from Thursday's losses:
Thursday's biggest loss came from Michigan State. The Spartans slept through the first 32 minutes of the game, only to outscore the UCLA Bruins by 21 points in the final eight minutes. Unfortunately, that inconsistency, while not typical of Tom Izzo's teams in the tournament, was typical of this team all season. Michigan State seemed to clearly have the best all-around talent, yet could not capitalize on that until it was too late. I can't really complain about losing by just 3.5 points ATS, when the Spartans were down double digits for more than half the game.
Morehead State. There comes a point in some games when winning ATS is not realistic and brackets just don't seem to matter anymore. That happened in the last minute of the Louisville-Morehead State game. There was a big part of me that relished seeing the game-winning three point shot go in (and the clean block on the other end). I absolutely hate losing, but watching that epic game almost counts as a win... Kenneth Faried looks the most NBA-ready player in this tournament. He plays much bigger than he is. I've heard the Dennis Rodman comparisons and they make sense to me given size, athleticism and playing style. But he is capable of being better. If NBA teams could redo the 2006 NBA Draft, Paul Millsap would be a first round lock (he went 47th overall). Faried is a more athletic Millsap. Don't make the same mistake again. And maybe most importantly, Faried, who has asthma, proved he can play effectively for 37 minutes against a pressing team in Denver... Which brings me to another point about this game. I understand Louisville lost Preston Knowles at a critical time, yet I did not understand why the Cardinals did not try to run even more. Louisville is deeper, more athletic, used to playing fast and physical games in the Big East and the game was a mile high.
And then there is Richmond. Apparently we had a hard time evaluating the Denver pod in the Southwest. Vanderbilt lived and died by the three all season. Ultimately, the Commodores died because of the other team's ability to hit from deep. The Spiders went 12-24 from three, propelling them into the next round to face Morehead State. The HUGE winner here is Kansas. We still think that the UNLV-Illinois winner can give Kansas some trouble, but the Jayhawks win big by not having to worry about Vanderbilt or Louisville. Richmond's great guard play could still give Kansas fits, just not in the same way or to the same degree that the depth and talent of the other teams could have.
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