Friday, April 10, 2015

Losers - Good and Bad

  On Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats’ quest to be the first undefeated men’s college basketball team in 40 years came to an end when they lost 71-64 to the Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA championship semifinals. Kentucky coach John Calipari came in for a lot of criticism when his team seemed to grind the game to a halt after coming back from a nine-point hole to take a four point lead with over six minutes left in the game. Kentucky failed to score a single point over the next five minutes with three shot clock violations and hardly any touches for Karl-Anthony Towns, their leading scorer in the game.

  John Calipari is no stranger to criticism. He led Memphis and UMass to the NCAA final four and both had their appearances vacated after numerous recruiting violations were discovered long after Calipari had moved on to his next job, At Kentucky Calipari was the first coach to take advantage of the NBA rule that prevented players from jumping directly from high school to the pros by actively recruiting the so-called ‘One and Done’ players, who come to Kentucky for the year they are prevented from playing NBA ball. The strategy of recruiting supremely talented players that have no intention of attending college for more than one year is now widely imitated and it is no coincidence that this year’s college champions Duke Blue Devils were also a freshman laden squad of players who will have a large number of their team leave college and enter the NBA draft.

  For all the things John Calipari is, one thing he is not is a sore loser. Even as his team walked off the court without shaking the hands of their conquerors, Calipari was congratulating the Badgers and made no excuses after the game. In his press conference Calipari’s opening statement was “But we normally execute down the stretch, and we didn’t. They did. They made plays down there and we didn’t. “ When asked if the burden of being undefeated led to the defeat Calipari could have noted that Wisconsin shot 22 free throws to 10 for his team or an obvious shot clock violation late in the game that wasn’t called and led to a Wisconsin basket but instead he said “I think what impacted the game the most was Wisconsin and how they played. I mean, they out-rebounded us by 12 rebounds. That doesn’t happen. You think about this. We had six turnovers for the game. We shot 90% from the free-throw line, 60% from the three, and 48% from the field, and we lost? What does that mean they did?”

  The Wisconsin Badgers played the Duke Blue Devils in the championship game on Monday night. The game was closely contested with 13 lead changes. Just like the Kentucky-Wisconsin game the score was tied at half time and Wisconsin took a lead in the second half. Just like the Kentucky-Wisconsin game Wisconsin’s opponent (this time Duke) came charging back to take a lead. But unlike Kentucky-Wisconsin game, the Badgers couldn’t retake the lead and lost 68-83.

  Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has a reputation as a solid coach who doesn’t have the most talented teams but gets the most out of the talent he has by slowing the game down and recruiting tough players. I searched all over the internet and couldn’t find any examples of him ripping on referees or his opponents, but Ryan did a lot of complaining after the championship game. Ryan said that “there was more body contact in this game than any game we played all year”, “I just felt sorry for my guys that all of a sudden a game was like that”. Ryan also complained that the Badgers only got to shoot 10 free throws as opposed to 20 for Duke. At his postgame press conference Ryan talked about how his team was made up of players that tended to stay in school for four years and took a swipe at the Dukes and Kentuckys of college basketball saying “We don’t do rent a player”.

  Its understandable that Ryan was upset with losing, after all it was a championship game, but I can’t help but wonder at how little publicity Ryan got in the press for his complaining and at the same time I can’t help but contrast it to how I think Calipari would have been pilloried if he had made the same type of comments. After all, there were some close calls that didn’t go Kentucky’s way and Wisconsin did get 22 free throw attempts against Kentucky’s 10. Calipari came off like a gracious loser compared to the poor loser that Ryan appeared to be but at the end of the day everyone except Duke was a loser in the NCAA tournament this year.

  I don't have to wonder whether I'd be a good or bad loser in my Friday NBA picks as I had a winning record for the fourth time in five weeks with the only blemish a 2-2 record two weeks ago and the last I looked 2-2 is not a losing record (although I did lose 20 pretend dollars). My 2-1 record last week boosted my mythical winnings to $380 on a 13-12 record against the spread and a 4-0 mark using the risky moneyline wagers. I don’t know if my picks will continue into playoff season since not many playoff games provide good value bets. There are only marginal betting opportunities this week but I'll pick four games using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only.

Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks
The Bucks have been lackluster over the second half of the season but the Knicks have been the worst team in the league hands down. I can’t imagine anything other than a Bucks blowout to build some much needed confidence for the playoffs and think they will cover the 9 and a half points and make me $100.

San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets
The Spurs are on a roll with nine straight wins including a 12 point home win against the Rockets on Wednesday. The two teams play again in Houston tonight. The Spurs are in playoff mode and I don't think the change of venue will be worth 8 points so I'll bet $100 on the Spurs to neatly handle the Rockets, laying the 4 points on a $100 bet.

Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans couldn’t capitalize on their big home win against the Warriors on Tuesday and loosened their tenuous grip on the Western Conference's final playoff with their Wednesday loss at Memphis. The Suns were eliminated from the playoffs on Wednesday and while I do think they will want to show they were a playoff worthy team I look for the Pelicans to put on a big performance in their last weekend home game of the season and will predict them to take the game, covering the 9 point spread on a $100 bet.

Sacramento Kings at Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder’s dogfight with the Pelicans for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference makes this a must win game. Kings coach George Karl is using the last few games of the season to find out which players he wants to build around for next year. I’ll take the Thunder to take this must win game and give the 14 points on a $100 wager.