LAS VEGAS -- It was the late 1970s, he can’t remember exactly when, when Hank Goldberg showed up in Las Vegas from Miami to watch the NCAA Tournament.
Back then, he was a radio sports talk show host in Miami and he knew a thing or two about betting, something he never shied away from talking about on his show.
Wednesday, Goldberg was again in front of a microphone, this time co-hosting a seminar at Sunset Station Hotel and Casino on betting this year’s tournament.
“Why wouldn’t you want to be here?” Goldberg, an ESPN sports personality, asked rhetorically before he, local radio talk show host Brian Blessing and Sunset sports book manager Chuck Esposito held court in front of several dozen bettors looking for some last-second insight before making their wagers on this year’s tournament, which gets going in earnest this morning. “It’s an incredible scene. To see people yelling and screaming on every shot? There’s nothing like it anywhere.”
Goldberg remembers doing a piece a few years ago for ESPN about the betting on the tournament. He took his camera crew to the Las Vegas Hilton (now the LVH) and it was crazy then.
“People were coming to Vegas from all over the country,” he said. “But it’s not even close to what goes on here now. What Vegas has done is make this the second biggest sporting event in the country for betting after the Super Bowl.”
When Goldberg analyzes the NCAA Tournament, he’s looking at it from a Vegas perspective. He’s looking for underdogs to cover big point spreads and he’s also looking for favored teams that play like ‘dogs.
“This is as balanced as I can remember,” he said. “I think there are more teams that are going to give the better teams a tough time early. I see all the wiseguys are on North Dakota State right now (vs. Oklahoma). I think George Washington has a shot to pull an upset against Memphis. They’ve got five starters back and Memphis can’t score.”
Goldberg agrees with many college basketball experts that the NCAA selection committee screwed up in seeding both Louisville and Michigan State as No. 4 seeds while making New Mexico a No. 7.
“I think New Mexico can go a long way,” he said of the Lobos, who play Stanford on Friday in St. Louis and are 4½-point favorites. “I’ve been watching them a lot this year and I’m impressed by their big guys (Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk). They played a tough schedule and I think the top of the (Mountain West) is underrated.”
As for Louisville, which figures to be favored in every game it plays until it reaches the Final Four, Goldberg said he expects Cardinals coach Rick Pitino to play the “no respect” card to his players.
“I know Rick Pitino and he’ll definitely use that as motivation,” Goldberg said. “I think the committee did a lousy job of seeding this year.”
Blessing said it’s easy to jump on the Louisville-Michigan State bandwagon. But not because they’re traditionally good teams that happened to be under-seeded this year.
“There’s a lot of wide-open scenarios,” Blessing said. “But realistically, how many teams can win it all? It comes back to the strongest programs every year.”
Which is why Blessing advises those who are ‘dog hunting to do it today and Friday. By Saturday, it may be too late.
“There will definitely be upsets,” he said. “But it’s usually on the first couple of days that we see them.”
Goldberg said he’ll be taking the points with Wofford, Mercer, North Carolina State, North Dakota State, St. Joseph’s and George Washington. And he’ll be watching it all in Las Vegas.
“I think the networks understand how big it’s gotten and how Vegas is the place to be,” he said. “But it just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year. It’s a remarkable story.”
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