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Basketball Bedlam

For many hard-core college basketball fans, March Madness is a sure bet
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Andy Garcia, Mar/April 2004

(continued from page 2)

One of his strengths is dissecting what he calls the “component character” of a team. “It defines where the team is going and how they’ll do in the future,” says Appleman, sipping decaf tea at a Chinese restaurant near his home in northern New Jersey. “It could be how they handle adversity when they’re stuck 11 or 12 points. If they dig deep and come back, then their component character is very high and it can transcend the line. Sometimes, though, you have a team that was so well coached that they overachieved all year”—and will not be able to maintain that level of play during March Madness.

After emphasizing the importance of knowing which theory to apply to a particular game—he refers to “the internal octopus of knowledge” that successful handicappers must possess—Appleman acknowledges that even top handicappers who have all the angles covered can make errors.

Such was the case last year when Syracuse University squared off against Oklahoma State in a second-round contest in the East Region. “Oklahoma’s coach is famous for his defense, and I thought his team would win easily,” recounts Appleman, explaining that his belief was further bolstered by Syracuse’s lopsided defeat in the Big East tournament. “But as the game played on I could see Syracuse’s zone [defense] flustering Oklahoma. I thought the opposite would happen, that Oklahoma’s defense would break Syracuse.” Appleman knew he’d lose his bet, but he also recognized something that would prove to be valuable in future games: “I realized that Syracuse would do better [in the tournament] than a lot of people thought. I saw a component confidence that was infectious. They made the comeback and went on this tremendous run”—which concluded with the Orangemen winning the NCAA championship for the first time and Appleman capitalizing on their strength.

But even he acknowledges that operating with those kinds of instincts and insights—he’s a handicapper who can literally envision the way in which a game will unfold—is impossible to do without complete devotion. Or, as Appleman puts it, “There’ve been times when I never left my apartment for days on end.”

OK, so what about the rest of us? What advice is there for a reasonably knowledgeable sports bettor who wants to hang in Vegas for March Madness without enduring maddening losses at the hands of flinty-eyed bookies and hard-edged wiseguys? “The endgame in college basketball gives you information about how a team is playing,” says Appleman. “If they consistently shut down the other team with seven minutes to go, you have a legitimate contender for the title.”

There’s a lot to be said for smart money management. The Stardust’s Scucci has seen more than his share of gamblers bottom out early. He suggests coming to the casino with a level head and advance knowledge of the wagers you want to make. “You can empty your pockets trying to catch up with losers,” he says. “Do your research, know who you want to bet ahead of time, and stick with it.” He smiles, shrugs, and says something that would surely draw gleeful nods from bookies around the world. “But people make all kinds of bets they hadn’t counted on. They just can’t help themselves.”


Michael Kaplan is Cigar Aficionado’s gambling columnist.

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