Friday, March 31, 2006

Gambling: The cure for crushed dreams

You want George Mason to win, I want George Mason to win, everyone wants George Mason to win. By now you've probably seen so much Mason hype from the local sports news and ESPN that you actually think it could happen. And apparently the gambling community agrees, at least to an extent.

The spread going into Saturday evening's first Final Four game: Florida by six points.

Sorry, Mason, six points ain't happening. I'll be with everyone else cheering for another amazing upset, but you don't have anyone to run the floor or match size with Joakim Noah, and Florida's "small" forward is as big as your big man. And I know it's hard to bet against George Mason because you don't want to put yourself in a position where you're rooting against them, but you have to force yourself to put those thoughts aside.


Sentimentality is all well and good in the land of unicorns and rainbows and money growing on trees, but this is the real world and we're talking cold hard cash. Hell, Jai Lewis's grandmother would take Florida and the points on a six point spread.

Getting a spread like that is like finding a $20 bill on the ground. Well, not exactly. It's like finding a $20 bill on the ground and as soon as you go to pick it up, some leprechaun or genie or other creepy Disney character appears from a puff of smoke and tells you that if you attempt to take it there's about a one-in-10 chance that you'll lose $20 instead of get $20. I'm not a statistician and I've seen enough Twilight Zone not to trust genies, but I think I'd be in the majority in picking up the twenty.

The good news for George Mason is that throughout the year the Gators have had trouble finishing off opponents in close games, and hanging around late in games has been Mason's bread and butter in the tournament. So if they can keep it within the spread late, Mason will have a good chance. But at some point the Patriots have to hit a wall, and I'm thinking that point is going to come at about 6:07 p.m. Saturday.

So enjoy the Cinderella story while it lasts. Get in all your "Hoosiers" references while you still can. Feel that little tingle of sentimental excitement every time a sports caster, anchor or analyst says what seems to be the phrase du jour among the sports media: "Can George Mason win? Yes."

And it's true. They can. And I can be the next sweepstakes winner and I can make it to the NHL and I can get more than six hits in a day on my blog.

I'm not trying to take anything away from Mason's accomplishments -- they've had an amazing run and a lot of top 10 teams wouldn't have made it through the four game stretch they just had -- but it's time to be realistic, and a six point spread simply is not. Florida is just too good. They've won nine in a row, including a 16-point drubbing of now-popular championship pick LSU and a 13-point win that was never that close over top-seeded Villanova.

Florida isn't going to be shocked like other teams were if Mason sticks with them in the first half, they don't have a propensity for overconfidence and lackluster play like UConn, they're not an overachieving group of youngsters playing in the shadow of last year's championship like North Carolina, and they're not an entirely overrated team that tanked down the stretch like Michigan State.

Yeah, the what-if's and could-be's are fun, but when those dreams are crushed and GMU's down three times the spread by halftime, won't you be happy knowing you have ill-begotten money to numb the pain of disappointment?

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