Hey, Houston, I don't know if y'all were aware, but the next round of the most widely watched basketball tournament in the world is about to take place right here in our own backyard....
I'm being cute. I'm sure you all knew this. (I think.) You just don't appear to be all that into it. Al least, that's what ticket sales for the NCAA Regional at NRG Stadium this weekend would seem to indicate.
According to data from Seatgeak (courtesy of the Houston Chronicle):
On Friday, UCLA plays Gonzaga before Duke faces Utah. The winners play Sunday for a berth in next week's Final Four in Indianapolis. It is unlikely the South Regional games will sell out. Ticketmaster prices range from $95 to $180 for single games and from $150 to $250 for all three sessions.
"We'd anticipate prices on resale markets will fall below face value at some point - certainly within 24 to 48 hours of the games on Friday," said Will Flaherty of SeatGeek.com.
This lack of interest in tickets mirrors TV ratings for the tournament here in Houston:
The first weekend of the Tournament had its highest TV ratings in 22 years, but Houston - according to the Nielsen numbers - was tied for 54th out of 56 markets, ahead of only Miami. And only about 20,000 tickets have been sold for the games at the Texans' home stadium, which will be configured to seat 31,450 fans for the South Regional on Friday and Sunday.
Wow. Does Houston really not care? Well, this is all to say that there is one surefire way to remedy that -- GAMBLING! Bet the games, Houston, that will make you care! Here are my picks:
NC State +3 over Louisville These two teams met back in February, and the Wolfpack won the game, and that was when the Cardinals still had Chris Jones patrolling the perimeter and knocking down shots. The Cardinals caught a favorable matchup in the round of 32 with a Northern Iowa team that was a little overrated and not nearly athletic enough to hang with Rick Pitino's team. The Wolfpack tend to play to the level of their competition, as they needed to escape the LSU game with a late run, and then proceeded to destroy Villanova, a ONE seed, in the next round. I've had the Wolfpack in my Elite Eight from the beginning, so can't stop now.
Michigan State -2 over Oklahoma Immediate side bar question -- that does it say about the committee that the Sweet Sixteen has two games in which seven seeds are favored over three seeds? Kind of makes my point that the bigger criticism of this committee isn't in who they picked but how they seeded the teams they did take. Anyway, Tom Izzo is doing Tom Izzo things again. The names change on the jerseys every year, but the danger they represent remains steadfast. I think it comes down to the Spartans simply being ready for this stage, and a question as to whether the Sooners are or not. One variable in OU's favor -- Michigan State shoots free throws abysmally, although they were great late against UVA.
Duke -5.5 over Utah Utah is one of the few teams that can actually offer some resistance to Duke's man-among-boys freshman center Jahlil Okafor, with 7-foot Austrian pivotman Jakob Poeltl and 7-foot senior center Dallin Bachynski. However, the Dukies still have a lethal combination of three point shooting, led by Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, and athleticism (Justise for all!!!). The Achilles heel for Coach K's team is that I probably just rattled off the entire list of players that scare Utah. Duke's great players are truly great, but there's a big drop off from first team to second unit. Foul trouble may be a key in this game. Still, I have Duke going all the way to Monday night in Indy, so I think they take care of business here.
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Gonzaga -8.5 over UCLA When you consider that they were easily the most criticized selection into the field on Selection Sunday, that they won their first game on a referee screw job against SMU, and then caught a cupcake in UAB in the next round, this UCLA team has major (to use a pro wrestling term) "chickenshit heel" potential. They're like the Honky Tonk Man of this tournament. (For those who don't know, the Honky Tonk Man was a wily Elvis impersonator who somehow held the WWF Intercontinental Title for over a year back in the late 80's, through a series of screw jobs and clever cheats.) Well, Gonzaga is not SMU or UAB. They have size (Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis), scoring (Gary Bell and Kyle Wiltjer) and a point guard who can shoot (Kevin Pangos). So how will this go? Well, keeping the Honky Tonk Man analogy alive, this is how he eventually lost his title....
THAT'S how I think this goes.