RTC correspondent Sean Moran spent the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend in Las Vegas taking in all of the action on the Strip.
Memphis’ Michael Dixon Jr. steps to the line for two shots with 0.3 seconds on the clock for the Memphis Tigers. The crowd rises in unison. Screams of “MISS IT” are yelled out by one half of the crowd. The other half mutters and prays “please, please just hit the first one.” As the first of two free throws rips through the net, a loud roar erupts, dancing and hugging ensue. At the same time a look of despair appears from the fans hoping for a miss. A game-winner, you might ask? No, just a meaningless free throw that actually meant a whole lot to the fans gathered in Vegas.
The beauty of March Madness in Las Vegas is that the games are always interesting. Sure, the first four days were absolutely insane for the general fan too, with upsets, buzzer-beaters, and overtimes, but add in some gambling and you have March Madness on steroids. The casinos on the Strip open their betting windows early for the rush of college basketball fans streaming in from all over the country. Along with the standing room only sportsbooks, the casinos also offer stadium seating in their oversized auditoriums with big screen projectors to show every game. Fans are cheering, yelling, screaming, cursing, and pleading from 9:00 AM through the final buzzer 12 hours later that night. With overpriced light beers and food galore, everyone tends to get more rowdy as the day wears on.
Thursday started with an upset of Dayton over Ohio State and ended with a bang. Despite the early tip times on the West Coast it was almost impossible to find a seat in the Treasure Island auditorium. The day culminated with three scintillating overtime games in successive fashion along with a Cameron Ridley buzzer-beater for Texas. On day 2 the crowd turned quickly for the underdog right off the bat. Just like Florida Gulf Coast a year ago, the Atlantic Sun conference champion was not backing down against a high-level opponent. Mercer came in as a juicy 13-point underdog, and despite a three-point barrage from Duke, the Bears never backed down. Bold bettors were rewarded with an 8:1 payout on their bet as a few lucky winners cashed a sweet MoneyLine ticket. Even blowouts that the average fan turned away from turned into nail-biting affairs. If you took the “over” in the Baylor-Nebraska game you looked pretty much dead in the water with a 29-16 halftime score. Thanks to 18 fouls from Nebraska and a combined 99 points in the second half, the “over” backers were left shaking their heads in disbelief as the 74-60 final somehow made it past the 130.5 total.