New York Knicks Futility and Betting on the NBA Playoffs

My beloved New York Knicks have had a winning record just three times in the last 15 years. They’ve made the playoffs four times and won a single playoff series in that timespan. They went 32-50 this season, and I’m pretty sure they traded away their 2016 1st round pick in the Stephen Marbury deal … or was it the Andrea Bargnani trade? Oh, that’s right, it was the Carmelo Anthony trade. The one where they traded away half of their roster and multiple draft picks for a player that was going to be a free agent in a few months anyway. All of this to say, being a Knicks fan can and will drive a man to gamble. It’s all we have during playoff time! And with the new Commish, Adam Silver, giving his stamp of approval, there is no reason not to throw away some of your hard earned cash in the name of entertainment. Here are the bets I’m eyeing for the 2016 NBA Playoffs:

San Antonio Spurs +400 to win NBA Championship

After winning the Championship in 2014 to avenge their heartbreaking loss to the Miami Heat the year before, the Spurs came into last season fat and happy, literally. Which was perfect for the Golden State Warriors, as they never had to go through the defending champs on their title run. But they won’t be so lucky this time. Not only did the Spurs come back refocused this season, but they came back reloaded, as well, adding LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. While the Warriors were going all out to break the all-time regular season wins record, the Spurs were lying in wait, resting their players, and preparing solely for their inevitable Western Conference Finals matchup.

I do think the Golden State Warriors will win the NBA Championship, but at -150 odds, that bet just isn’t any fun. And I think the Spurs and Warriors are much closer than the odds reflect. I’m a contrarian bettor by nature, and I’m going to ride with the Spurs at +400.

Cleveland Cavaliers -260 to win Eastern Conference

LeBron has been on an absolute tear since going into “playoff mode,” and I just don’t see a team in the East good enough to knock the Cavs off with him playing at this level. I don’t love the odds, and I might be better off just betting on them series to series, but I’ll place a small bet on them at -260 to start, and go from there.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

2016 NCAA Tournament Final 4 Picks

And then there were 4. North Carolina. Syracuse. Villanova. Oklahoma. Who will prevail? Nobody knows … except for me, and I’m about to tell you down below:

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Syracuse Orange
Spread: NC -9

About 53% of the bets are coming in on the underdog Syracuse. I warned you during football season to beware of the public underdog, and the same applies here. The relatively high 9-point spread seems like Vegas is goading us into taking ‘Cuse, without them having to give up double digit points. North Carolina is 11-0, and has an average margin of victory of 15.8 points when playing on a neutral court this season. They have firmly established themselves as the best team in college basketball during this tournament.

Syracuse has enjoyed an exciting tournament run themselves, with great comeback victories vs. Gonzaga and Virginia. But I don’t see the same heroic effort happening vs. North Carolina tomorrow night.

The Pick: Take North Carolina -9, and bank on the double digit victory like Vegas is.

Villanova Wildcats vs. Oklahoma Sooners
Spread: NOVA -2

This should be one hell of a game. National fan favorite Buddy Hield leads the way for Oklahoma, and he has more than lived up to the hype in the tourney so far. But strong play from his supporting cast is the reason the Sooners have made it this far, and they will need to continue to play well in order to beat a strong Villanova squad.

Nova has been slept on for most of this tournament after several years of disappointing early exits, and they’ve made us all regret it in the form of our busted brackets (thanks Kansas). They have played like they were deserving of a #1 seed, and it is going to take a heck of an effort to knock them off.

The pick: I can’t deny I am a fan of Buddy Hield, and I have Oklahoma going all the way in my (3rd) bracket. I wouldn’t bet on this game, but if I did, I wouldn’t bet against Hield. Give me Oklahoma plus the 2 points.

*If these picks turn out wrong … April Fool’s!

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

How to Bet Day 2 of the Sweet 16: March Madness Survivor and ATS

Last night’s smooth sailing with all of the favorites winning by double figures might have just been the calm before the storm, because tonight’s slate of games looks much more treacherous. But there is no room for fear in sports gambling, so I’ll look to avenge my Duke loss and even up my ATS record, and more importantly, survive to fight another day in March Madness Survivor.

Survivor Pick: Gonzaga Bulldogs

My bracket buster pick coming out of the Midwest region has lived up to their billing, and with Michigan St. getting knocked off, the opportunity presents itself to use Gonzaga as a survivor pick as well. The tremendous play of their talented frontcourt duo, Sabonis and Wiltjer, plus the surprisingly good guard play they have received in the first two rounds, has only hardened my belief that Gonzaga was being underrated coming into the tournament. Their opponent, Syracuse, has also played very well in the first two rounds, but wins against Dayton and Middle Tennessee doesn’t exactly have me running to jump on the ‘Cuse bandwagon. I’m going to live or die with the Bulldogs tonight.

ATS Pick: North Carolina Tar Heels -5

It looks like the cream might finally be rising to the top in this “no clear favorite” tourney, as North Carolina has absolutely rolled so far. They come into this game vs. Indiana on a seven game winning streak, and a 9-0 record when playing games on a neutral court this season. I don’t love giving the 5 points, as Indiana is a good team that is not just going to lie down, but I’ll stick with my Tobacco road picks, and hope the luck evens out for me with the Tar Heels tonight.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Delayed Live Blogging Day 1 of the Sweet Sixteen: Part 2

How can something be live and delayed at the same time? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll be writing it live, and posting it delayed.

5:55 – 7:11 pm
7:12 – 9:41 pm

7:12 pm – The camera caught Jim Larranaga tightening up the loafers and pulling the dress socks up high. Looks like he would get out there in full suit and tie if Miami needed him.

7:13 pm – Crowd looks completely empty behind Miami’s bench and jammed packed behind Nova. I guess even NCAA Tournament games have late arriving crowds these days.

7:30 pm – Ryan Arcidiacono is absolutely on fire. He has 13 of teams first 20 points. Timeout Miami. They need to respond.

7:40 pm – And respond they did, with a 12-0 run, capped off with a step back, Angel Rodriguez three. Other than a monster dunk, nothing is as sweet as the step back three.

7:54 pm – Nova player just drilled a shot from like 35 feet. I feel like Stephen Curry has somehow raised the collective shooting range of basketball players everywhere.

8:03 pm – Both games in commercial break. I just bought this Air Purifier for my insanely dusty apartment. If the color on the display is blue, that means the air is pure. Orange means medium pollutants are detected. Bright red is heavy pollutants detected. The thing has been bright red since I turned it on 6 hours ago. That can’t be good.

8:09 pm – Perfect time for the Nova/Miami game to go to halftime, right as my Survivor pick, Oklahoma, builds up a 10-point lead.

8:25 pm – Oklahoma goes into halftime up 19. A&M is going to need another miracle … I don’t see it happening.

8:26 pm – Is there a reason the sideline reporters need to be inches from the coaches faces? Tracey Wolfson was practically in Jay Wright’s armpit during their halftime interview. LaForce was going with the close talker from Seinfeld style. Can’t they just get a slightly wider camera angle to make it normal?

8:53 pm – The air purifier is down to orange! There is hope … for me, but not for Miami. Arcidiacono just nailed another 3 to put Nova up 20 with 5 minutes to go.

9:10 pm – Nova moving on. Cue Wolfson in Wright’s pit.

9:39 pm – Oklahoma moving on. Cue LaForce centimeters from Kruger’s face. Wait, even better! LaForce, Kruger, and Hield are literally arm in arm!

9:41 pm – Air purifier back to bright red. Hope that is not a bad omen for my Duke pick …

10:04 – 12:15 am

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Delayed Live Blogging Day 1 of the Sweet Sixteen

How can something be live and delayed at the same time? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll be writing it live, and posting it delayed.

5:55 – 7:11 pm

5:55 pm – I tuned in five minutes too early to watch the pre-game show, and now I’m forced to watch 5 minutes too many of Friends. Ross is having a baby, if you were curious.

6:00 pm – The Turner Sports intro montage starts with LeBron throwing down a nasty dunk, Stephen Curry hitting a 3 in a defender’s eye, Bryce Harper smacking a home run, and then … Rory McIlroy putting? Seriously?

6:03 pm – Studio shot opens with Ernie Johnson, Wally Szczerbiak, Seth Davis, and Buzz Williams. Where the hell is Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley?

6:09 pm – Kenny and Charles are in the New York Studio! Phew. Along with Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg.

6:15 pm – All of the “experts” like Villanova over Miami (so do I). Is it too late to get those bets in on Miami?

6:20 pm – Texas A&M players saying they are a team of destiny. More like Final Destination.

6:25 pm – Ernie throws it to sideline reporter Allie LaForce. I wonder if changing your last name actually makes people think differently about you. Maybe keeping Michael Halpern is a mistake. Michael LaGenius is the answer! (Or not)

6:40 pm – This pre-game show desperately needs more Kenny and Charles. Send it back to the New York studio already!

6:45 pm – Love Coach K getting chippy when asked about that 0-4 NCAA record on the West coast. His answer didn’t really make that much sense, but who cares!

6:51 pm – Fun fact: I met Wally Szczerbiak at a bar on Long Island one night. Really nice guy. More importantly, the women in his crew were all insanely hot. Legitimate models.

6:59 pm – They are doing a piece with Buddy Hield in the Barbershop while he is getting a buzz and shave. He is trying to do an interview while the barber has a razor around his throat and mouth! Stop talking, Buddy, the interview isn’t worth it!

7:00 pm – The real pre-game show is starting on CBS. I need more TV’s. It is going to be tough flipping between these four great games. Is split screen still a thing on your remote? Sounded like such a great idea when it first came out, and was so horrible in practice for some reason.

7:08 pm – Both channels are in commercial. Maybe one TV is just fine.

7:11 pm – Miami vs. Nova is about to tip off. Catch you guys in a little bit.

7:12 – 9:41 pm
10:04 – 12:15 am

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

How to Bet Day 1 of the Sweet 16: March Madness Survivor and ATS

If you survived through the first weekend of your March Madness Survivor pool, congratulations, you deftly avoided several landmines. If you did it on the backs of 20 other teammates (like I did), two-thirds of whom were obliterated by said landmines, I take that congratulations back, you accomplished nothing. In either case, it is time to stop patting yourself on the back, and get back to work. It only gets harder from here.

Because there are “only” four games per night in the Sweet 16 (Thursday and Friday), and most people’s brackets are busted beyond recognition, I will include an against the spread pick to keep things interesting.

Survivor Pick: Oklahoma Sooners

Kansas is the “safe” pick, but you are going to need to use them later in the tournament. Now is the time to use your Oklahoma Sooners bullet, if you have not fired that one off already. Oklahoma is led by one of the best and most exciting players in the country, Buddy Hield. He just dropped 36 points on VCU to lead Oklahoma to the Sweet 16. But they are more than just Hield, as three other players average double figures. They have one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the county, and a nasty front court player in Ryan Spangler, who averaged 9.3 rpg.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M just went on an emotional rollercoaster ride, needing a miracle to beat Northern Iowa in double OT. They celebrated like they just won the national championship, and maybe rightfully so, considering the way they came back from the dead. But this looked like a team that was destined to get knocked off. And if you have seen the Final Destination movies, you know death doesn’t quit. Take the Sooners on Thursday night.

ATS Pick: Duke Blue Devils +3

I’m going to keep riding Duke, and their seemingly, surprisingly underrated trio of Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, and Marshall Plumlee. Maybe the 2nd half scare vs. Yale have some running for the hills, but Yale was a legitimate team with no quit in them. And Oregon struggled themselves in round 2 vs. St. Joseph’s, pulling off a narrow victory after being down seven with five minutes to play. In this Duke vs. Oregon Sweet 16 matchup, Duke will have the best player on the court, Ingram, and the best coach, Mike Krzyzewski. This should be a close game, but I like Duke to win it, and the 3 points are just gravy.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Busted Bracket Monday

After the basketball Gods graced us with four consecutive days, from high noon until midnight, of pure basketball bliss, it has come time for them to collect their penance from us fools who dared to attempt to predict the outcomes of these games. The unforgiving red slashes that litter our digital brackets today are a humble reminder that the future is uncertain, and we aren’t very good at predicting it. But it sure as hell won’t stop us from trying! Here are four thoughts to help make sense of the first two rounds of the 2016 NCAA Tournament:

1) If you still question God’s role in this tournament, just listen to who 99% of the winners gave all the credit to in their post-game interviews, none other than Jesus Christ himself. Ancient Aliens has really dropped the ball for not doing an episode on this … “Am I saying extraterrestrials are solely responsible for determining the winners and losers of NCAA tournament games? … Yes, yes that is exactly what I’m saying.”

2) 15 teams in the Sweet 16 are from major conferences (6 from the ACC), and the 16th team is Gonzaga, an established college basketball powerhouse. Who said there was parity in college basketball this year?

3) My championship pick, Michigan St., and another one of my final four picks, West Virginia, were both eliminated in the first round. Two of my sleeper/bracket buster picks, Wisconsin and Gonzaga, advanced to the Sweet 16, and three others, Hawaii, St. Joseph’s, and VCU, won their first round games and put up a heck of a fight in round two. I’ll take this small sample size to mean that I am a genius at picking underdogs, and unlucky when picking the favorites. 🙂

4) Bill Murray’s sad face while watching Xavier lose at the buzzer yesterday, basically sums up the collective feeling of Busted Bracket Monday:

Bill Murray

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Four Thoughts Following Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament

1) Maybe it was just me, or maybe it is from watching Stephen Curry routinely make unthinkable HORSE shots in games, but when Josh Hagins of Little Rock pulled up from the half court logo to attempt a last second, game tying 3-point shot, I immediately thought it was going to drop. And it did. Two overtimes later, and Little Rock was dancing, literally and figuratively. I had Purdue making a deep tournament run, so this busted my bracket a bit, but I can’t deny that I love to see Cinderella’s pull off crazy upsets like this.

2) That little dude on Yale, Makai Mason, played out of his mind. The only thing Baylor could do was fight amongst themselves during timeouts. In a one game elimination, all it takes is one guy to get hot to pull off a big upset. But it wasn’t just a fluke, Yale has a legitimate squad. They are big, hit the boards, play strong team defense, and share the ball on offense. Yale will face Duke in the 2nd round, who beat them by 19 points earlier in the year, but I would expect Saturday’s game to be much closer.

3) Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram, and Marshall Plumlee are a beast of a triumvirate. Duke played the entire game vs. UNC Wilmington in 2nd gear, except for one 8-minute stretch to begin the 2nd half which basically ended the game. It wasn’t a blow out, but it never felt like Duke was truly in danger of losing. I still like them as my Final Four pick from the wide open West region.

4) Two of my sleeper picks, Purdue and Arizona, were sent home. Thanks for showing up guys, you can pick up your participation ribbons at the airport. My only “bracket buster” pick that played yesterday, Gonzaga, cruised to victory on the back of Sabonis’ stat stuffing performance (21 pts, 16 rebs, 4 asts, 2 blks, 1 stl). I wouldn’t bet against them in round 2 vs. Utah.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

2016 NCAA Tournament Picks: East and Midwest Regions (plus Final Four and Championship Round)

The most exciting tournament in sports needs no introduction. But I’ll give it one anyway, not because it needs one, but because it deserves one … March Madness is here! And that means the national gross domestic product is about to grind to a halt as every man, woman, and child gives their undivided attention to college basketball. Leading up to the tournament, I’ll be going through each region with my final four pick, sleeper team, and bracket buster. Today we finish with the East and Midwest regions. The Final Four and Championship round predictions are included as well. Enjoy the mayhem, everyone!

East Region

Final Four Pick: West Virginia Mountaineers (#3 seed)

West Virginia is a defensive juggernaut, ranking 6th in the country in defensive efficiency and 1st in steals per game (9.9). Led by veteran coach Bob Huggins, they wear opponents down with their relentless full court pressure and deep rotation. The Mountaineers are battle tested, with signature wins against Oklahoma and #1 overall seed Kansas. They are a poor 3-point shooting team and can hit some offensive slumps, but their standout defense is enough to carry them past the other good, but not great teams in the East region.

Sleeper: Wisconsin Badgers (#7 seed)

No longer seeing longtime coach Bo Ryan stalk the sidelines for Wisconsin might look weird, but this is still the same old team. They play at a glacially slow pace, and play strong defense. After a rough start, the Badgers turned their season around by finishing 11-2, before losing in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. With wins against Michigan State, Indiana, Iowa, and Maryland, Wisconsin can beat anyone in the country.

Bracket Buster: None

The bracket buster in the East region will be that there is no bracket buster. In other words, picking a Cinderella team will bust your bracket.

Midwest Region

Final Four Pick: Michigan State Spartans (#2 seed)

Michigan State does everything well that you would want a team that is about to make a long NCAA tournament run to do well. They led the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (44.5%) and assists per game (20.7), ranked 2nd in opponents shooting percentage (37.7%), and ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency. They have a dominating player in Denzel Valentine, and one of the best coaches in the county in Tom Izzo. Bet against the Spartans at your own risk.

Sleeper: Purdue Boilermakers (#5 seed)

Purdue has a huge team, led by 7-foot center A.J. Hammons (15.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.5 bpg). They rebound very well, hit their free throws, and ranked 30th in the nation in opponents 3-point shooting percentage (31.1%). Victories against Wisconsin, Maryland, and Michigan State prove they can beat anybody. They don’t shoot the three well and can be prone to droughts, but if the outside shot is falling, Purdue has all the ingredients to make a surprise run.

Bracket Buster: Gonzaga Bulldogs (#11 seed)

Former Cinderella turned perennial powerhouse, Gonzaga finds themselves back in familiar position of being the underdog. But not really, because Vegas has them favored to beat Seton Hall in the first round. Nice job selection committee. But a #11 seed is in bracket buster territory, and you know what they say, if the shoe fits … no need to buy other shoes. The Bulldogs are led by senior Kyle Wiltjer (20.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and the emotional powder keg Domantas Sabonis (17.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg), son of legend Arvydas Sabonis. They don’t have any signature wins, and didn’t have a particularly great season, but their dominant frontcourt will be very hard to topple.

Final Four and Championship round

Kansas and Michigan State are the class of college basketball this season. They are both well rounded teams that can beat you in a variety of ways (inside scoring, outside scoring, defense). They have the perfect combination of talent, veteran leadership, and coaching that looks like it will lead straight to a collision course in the Championship round. And that should be one hell of a game. Michigan State beat Kansas 79-73 way back in November, and I’ll take them to win again, this time 76-74 in an instant classic.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

2016 NCAA Tournament Picks: West Region

The most exciting tournament in sports needs no introduction. But I’ll give it one anyway, not because it needs one, but because it deserves one … March Madness is here! And that means the national gross domestic product is about to grind to a halt as every man, woman, and child gives their undivided attention to college basketball. Leading up to the tournament, I’ll be going through each region with my final four pick, sleeper team, and bracket buster. Today we focus on the West region.

Final Four Pick: Duke Blue Devils (#4 seed)

In a relatively weak West region, where every team is vulnerable, I’ll put my money on the best talent. And Duke is stacked, with possible future #1 overall pick in the NBA draft Brandon Ingram, stud guard Grayson Allen, and yet another Plumlee brother patrolling the paint. The talent is not only on the court, as they also have one of the best college basketball coaches in the history of the sport, in Mike Krzyzewski. They only go about 6 deep, and struggled at points this season, but the combination of top talent and top coaching is too much to ignore.

Sleeper: St. Joseph’s Hawks (#8 seed)

St. Joseph’s has a veteran laden team, led by senior forward Isaiah Miles (18.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and junior forward DeAndre Bembry (16.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.5 apg). They don’t turn the ball over, hold opponents to just 29.5% from three, and allow few second chance opportunities. In other words, they don’t beat themselves. And in a region where every top team has been prone to lapses this season, a veteran team that limits mistakes can be a problem.

Bracket Buster: VCU Rams (#10 seed)

VCU and St. Joseph’s are both on the border between “sleepers” and “bracket busters.” I’m really not sure what category to put them in. Maybe a new category, “sleeping busters,” would be more appropriate? Or maybe not. Either way, the Shaka Smart-less Rams still play their signature style of swarming defense, ranking 16th in the nation in defensive efficiency. They force turnovers, shoot 36% from three, and pound the offensive glass. Senior guard Melvin Johnson (17.8 ppg, 39.5% 3-pt) is their lone offensive standout, but this team feeds off their defense. We have seen VCU make a run before, and the opportunity is there for them to make some noise again.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)