Las Vegas There’s a place where seeds don’t matter nearly as much as scores, and “madness” isn’t nearly strong enough to describe the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament experience.
Welcome to Las Vegas, the only place on the planet where a 25-point blowout between a powerful No. 1 seed and a scrappy 16 seed keeps thousands of basketball junkies on the edges of their seats until the final horn.
A typical day of March Madness, Vegas-style, begins bright and early. The diehards hoping to get the best seats at the sportsbook charge straight in from their night out on the strip.
Been there. Done that.
But it can be tough to entertain yourself for five hours before the sweet sound of CBS’ tournament theme song fills the air with optimism and excitement. So, this time, I and a group of six friends, who have done this for eight straight years, settled into our seats at The Orleans for the day’s action.
The first rule of thumb is to get hot early. My dad always taught me to make a sure-fire bet right away. That way, if you win, you’re playing with house money. And in Vegas, there’s no better phrase in the English language.
With that in mind, my first action of the day was a parlay that included LSU minus 2 against Butler and over 128 points in the game. A slow start between the Tigers and Bulldogs left me wondering if this just wasn’t going to be my year. When you’re in Vegas for the tourney, you live and die with every possession of every game.
A furious flurry at the end of the first half put us back in the game. LSU and Butler traded buckets quickly during the final few minutes, and the Bulldogs hit a three with less than 10 seconds to play in the half. The halftime score was 35-29, LSU, exactly halfway to 128 points. Hearts raced, voices roared, and drinks were raised.
In the end, LSU won, 75-71, and I won my bet. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted I also bet on BYU (minus 3) during the 9:30 a.m. session, and they were waxed by Texas A&M.;
Here’s a taste of the rest of the best Day 1 action:
Northern Iowa +8 vs. Purdue: One second, a charge called on Northern Iowa with 30 seconds left seemed to put the spread in jeopardy. But 12.3 seconds later a UNI three-pointer brought the margin back down to three, and everyone in the room — most now officially diehard Panthers fans — erupted with joy and began planning what to do with their winnings. In the end, Purdue won, but Northern Iowa covered. No one remembers the final score, just that UNI stayed within eight points. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
Cal-State Northridge +20 vs. Memphis: There’s nothing better than being in Vegas when a heavy favorite is on the ropes, save for the Bucknell and Bradley debacles, anyway.
UNC vs. Radford under 163: Despite Carolina’s best efforts (three turnovers while inexplicably pushing the ball in the final minute), this one stayed under. And let me tell you, that last minute was wild. The final score was 101-58. Everyone at home long ago had tuned this one out. But hundreds around me were hanging on every possession until the end.
Such is life in Vegas in March.