Louisville basketball and betting the Final Four

The University of Louisville has hired Chris Mack as head men’s basketball coach. News reports describe the contract as seven years at four million per. I haven’t seen any numbers on how much he’s getting from Adidas.

Some people would say the Rick Pitino era ended when he was fired last fall after a succession of scandals. I don’t think it ended until the University announced that interim coach David Padgett would not be retained a few weeks ago.

As I’ve written before, I’m a 1980 alum of U of L and I was a serious fan of the program before the University hired Pitino. I won’t belabor all of the cogent, tightly-wound, and correctly-spelled arguments for that. If you’re interested, you can see them here: https://wordsbymattroberts.com/2017/09/29/we-have-met-the-enemy-and-it-is-us/

So what about Chris Mack? Is this really a house-cleaning, high-integrity hire?

Mack came from Xavier, which consistently posts excellent Academic Progress Rate (APR) numbers. He’s almost a Louisville guy, having married a Louisville native and residing in Northern Kentucky while he coached at Xavier. It appears he has no ties at all to Ricky (The Prince of Darkness) Pitino, and he apparently ran a clean program in Cincinnati.

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One minor concern is a reference to one of Mack’s players in the burgeoning shoe money scandal that forced U of L to finally cut ties with Pitino. The player reportedly received $7,000 from an agent while playing at Xavier. But that’s a far cry from systematic corruption or the repeated scandals that Louisville is trying to escape. And it’s at least plausible that Mack had no knowledge of the payment.

He can certainly recruit Indiana players. Over the past few years, two of the best in the state (Trevon Bluiett and Paul Scruggs) have played for him at Xavier. Scruggs concerns me a little. While writing Thirty-Two Minutes in March I learned that Scruggs was in the Crispus Attucks program in Indianapolis before suddenly appearing at Southport High School for his freshman year. With Indiana’s open enrollment law, there’s nothing improper about that. But then for his senior season he left Southport and enrolled at Pro Prep in California, which isn’t even a school. It’s a basketball program that arranges for classes elsewhere.

Again, nothing improper about this. Necessarily. But it smells like everything that’s wrong with college basketball.

Then again, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not 1954. The high school and college athletics landscape isn’t what it used to be. What is?

I don’t know if I’ll ever be as much a fan of UL basketball as I once was. I’ve sent three of my kids to Indiana University and spent more on their education in one semester than I did in four years at Louisville. But I won’t actively root against the Cardinals at this point. If Mack proves to be the stand-up guy he appears to be, and the University shows that they’re committed to running a clean program, I can support them.

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We made our annual March Madness trip to Vegas for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. The basketball betting was up and down, but we went 3-2 on our sweet sixteen wagers we made before heading to the airport. We cashed on Villanova -5.5 vs. West Virginia, the Loyola moneyline at plus-120 against Nevada and Syracuse plus 11.5 versus Puke. Our losses were a moneyline bet on Clemson against Kansas and Purdue minus 1.5 versus Texas Tech.    

Photos taken at Las Vegas.

In the Final Four this weekend, Loyola is getting five and a half against Michigan, and Villanova is a five-point favorite over Kansas. I could present a detailed statistical analysis for picks here, but that kind of thinking put me into a -1200 unit hole during our NCAA pool. I only started to recover when I picked games based on gut instinct. So that’s what I’m doing here.

Loyola’s a great story, but I think Michigan is the kind of team that would give them trouble, so I’d lay the points before I’d take them. Nova looks unstoppable to me, but I don’t think they’re five points better than Kansas. Which sets up a Michigan-Villanova final. I’d like to pick a Big Ten team here, but I think Nova is just too good. A final of 80-72 sounds about right.   

 

Paul George Leaving? That’s a shame. Any baseball games on TV today?

I’m not sure what to make of all the outrage over Paul George leaving the Indiana Pacers. If you don’t follow the NBA in general or the Pacers in particular, George will be a free agent at the end of the 2017-2018 season. A few days before the NBA draft, his agent informed the Pacers that he will not sign with the team after his current contract expires and he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers in his home state.

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He didn’t say he was holding out. He didn’t say he wasn’t going to play hard. He didn’t say he hates living in Indiana. But the internets went nuts. One sporting goods store gave away all of their Paul George jerseys. People posted video of flaming PG jerseys online, and his basketball ability was suddenly considered “third-rate”, and there was a lot of “good riddance, we don’t need him” on Facebook.

I don’t claim to be a huge NBA fan. I go to two or three games a year when I get free or reduced-price tickets. I watch them on TV occasionally. At least up until college basketball starts. Then I watch them after the NCAA tournament until major league baseball begins. So maybe I shouldn’t expect to understand the anger from die-hard fans.

Spoiler alert: that doesn’t keep me from having an opinion. So here goes:

Paul George is a temporary employee of Indiana Pacers, Inc. As such, he’s looking out for himself, just like Pacers, Inc. protects its own interests every time they sign a contract. Did the Pacers give him a lifetime contract or pay him more than he asked for out of loyalty? Of course not. They’re a business trying to make a profit. They will pay a player as little as possible so they can pay other good players to improve their team and win. To make money. Not for the greater glory of the state of Indiana; to make money.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. But neither is there anything wrong with Paul George trying to get what he wants, whether it’s more money or winning an NBA championship, or just getting paid to play for his hometown team.

People around here like to lionize Reggie Miller because he spent his whole career with the Pacers. They seem to forget that, at one point, Reggie was making noises about wanting to play in New York. He also didn’t take long to list his Indianapolis home for sale and move back to California after he retired.

It’s fun to pull for professional teams, and I understand how easy it is to identify with great players and start to imagine that they owe loyalty to a team, a city, to us. But the fact is, loyalty has to be a two-way street. Otherwise, one of the parties is being played for a chump. So good luck to PG, both this season and the rest of his career. And good luck to the Pacers.

But not to the Lakers. I hate those guys.

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The NCAA has announced penalties imposed on the University of Louisville basketball program as a result of stripper-gate. The University will have to pay a bunch of money, and the NCAA will vacate their 2013 National championship along with their wins from 2010-2014 and their 2012 Final Four. The program will be on probation for four years and Head Coach Rick Pitino is suspended for the first five games of the 2017-18 season.

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The University – currently led by an interim president since the idiot governor fired the prior president and the entire board of trustees – has vowed to appeal the penalties, believing they were excessive. Pitino has sent a letter to boosters asking them to keep their chins up (and, presumably, keep donating) and trust the appeals process.

I really don’t understand this strategy. Seems to me it’d be more effective to blow up the program and start over immediately with a new AD and new coach. But maybe the interim president has been told he’s not really in charge. Pitino is doing what Pitino does, which is aggressively promote himself. But as long as he’s there, the program will be a punchline and treated like Exhibit A in What’s Wrong With College Sports in Particular and America in General.