Ever timely, the Sopranos last night saw fit to include the death of oldtime mobster Carmine Lupertazzi, not one of the charmers. Could have fooled fat Bobby Baccalieri, who remembered Carmine with awe. "He invented point shaving," he said in tribute.
So here we are, smack in the middle of March but just at the start of so-called March Madness. A lot of people will engage in something crooked, though on an innocent scale, betting in pool after pool on which of 65 teams will end up in the Final Four or even win the entire NCAA men's college basketball championship. I assume most such "betters" don't know the first thing about the sport they're betting and that peer pressure is the main reason they participate. Which is really too bad, since basketball itself when played at the level it's now played at by top college teams provides more highs than a winning bet ever possibly could. Point shaving went out of style decades ago, if you don't include a team or two at Boston College, which is where John Kerry attended law school. Too bad betting pools haven't done so as well.
In any case, anyone looking to make a killing this month is already too late. The tournament to bet on wasn't the NCAA championship, but the Atlantic Coast Conference season-ender. Two weeks ago the University of Maryland, with a young squad that seemed chronically out of synch, was on the verge of going nowhere this year. It had trouble defending its home court, let alone hitting a jump shot. It had to win its final two games just to qualify as the ACC tournament's number 6 seed. On Friday night it won the fourth of four games played that opening day, beating the #3 seed in a frantic game that ended at midnight. By three in the afternoon on Saturday it was back on the court against a more rested North Carolina State team -- and was on the verge of being blown out.
NC State scored at will throughout the first half, and was about to double the score to 48-24 at half-time, when Maryland decided to start its comeback. A steal and a layup cut its deficit to 19 points at the buzzer. The second half was all Maryland, and it won by 3. Nineteen hours later, in the championship game, it hit even more rested and always godlike Duke with its best shots, absorbed some in retaliation, but came back and won going away in overtime. Duke hadn't lost one of these tournaments in 6 years. Some team had to beat them and it did. Basketball aficionados will be talking about this Maryland team for years -- precisely because all bets were off.
Six ACC teams made the final 64 this year. All are talented and hard-playing enough to win it all, but so are Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Stanford and maybe one or two others.
Those who'd rather bet than observe and learn are encouraged to direct their attentions elsewhere. There's the Republican administration of state of Maryland itself, which wants to bring casinos into an already famously disreputable state. Or they might get in touch with the father of one of the grooms featured in yesterday's hoity-toity New York Times weddings page. He's described in the item as "a consultant on establishing lottery and gambling systems overseas." No word yet if that's a form of outsourcing the Times supports. Or if Dad will replace Carmine on The Sopranos.
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