The roller coaster of emotions that comes with betting on the underdog
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
Buzzer-beaters and upsets are the two best things about the NCAA Tournament. Getting both in the same game is the essence of March Madness.
I ran into a fellow named "Ross" late Sunday night at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. He was decked out in Sacramento Kings gear and seemed to be overly excited about UCLA’s first-half lead over Alabama.
As it turns out, Ross bet on the Bruins to pull off the upset. He wagered $5,000 on the UCLA moneyline (+260) to win $13,000. Alabama was a 7-point favorite, but UCLA led 40-29 at the half and was up seven with 11 minutes to go.
Ross rode the sports betting roller coaster from that point forward.
For the next 11 minutes, Ross celebrated and retreated. He hollered and stayed silent. He jumped up and down and buried himself in the couch. With a potential five-figure score hanging in the balance, the basketball game on the big screen blasted all of Ross’s emotions.
Alabama took the lead with 7:50 to go, and the two teams alternated the lead the rest of the way. With six seconds left, Ross’s Bruins led 63-62, but Alabama was at the foul line for two free throws. Herbert Jones missed both, so the Tide fouled David Singleton. Singleton sank a pair to put UCLA up 65-62 with four seconds left.
Ross was four seconds away from winning $13,000. He was nearly floating as he stood with his hands up to coach UCLA from his seat in the sportsbook.
"You’ve gotta foul!" he shouted. "Foul! No 3s!"
Ross’s shoulders slunk, and he stared at the screen in silence for 10 seconds. His mouth hung open. His palms turned up at his sides. He could not believe what he had just seen.
Just like that, all that cash was ripped from his talons. He went from victory to uncertainty in four seconds.
"How do you not foul?" he asked rhetorically to the heavens.
"My first thought was, 'Here we go again,'" Ross told FOX Sports. "I’m going to lose a game that I should’ve won because [UCLA doesn’t] want to foul up by three with 4.2 seconds on the clock.
"I felt like that shot could’ve taken the life out of UCLA. I was just hoping that the Bruins could score first in overtime and try to take some of the momentum back. Just tried to keep the faith.
"But overtime is not a good place for the underdog."
Somehow, UCLA kept its composure and outscored Alabama by 10 in the extra session to win 88-78 and cash Ross’s bet. His $5,000 wager made stops at elation, frustration, hesitation and deflation before finally reaching celebration.
After all that, Ross was finally a winner.
"I told my boy earlier in the week, I’m taking the UCLA moneyline," Ross said. "He laughed at me. He laughed in my face. He said there was no way they could beat Alabama. I said, 'Just wait.'
"I’m a Pac-12 guy. I’m a Cal fan for all sports. So I do tend to follow a lot of Pac-12 basketball and football. I’ve seen UCLA play this entire year and witnessed their ups and downs. So I knew what they could do at their peak. I felt that if UCLA could limit Alabama’s 3-point shooting, they would have a real shot to win the game. That’s what happened."
After a seesaw $13,000 score, Ross has his sights set on the next upset. He wants to take down the biggest fish in the entire pond: the No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga Bulldogs.
"I’m taking USC moneyline over Gonzaga," he declared. "I’m calling it right now. I think USC wins by double digits. I feel like I have the right combination. Give me size, athleticism and a hungry team, and I can fade Gonzaga. Creighton wasn’t big enough, and they don’t play any defense.
"I don’t think Gonzaga will be able to handle the Mobley brothers. USC is going to hit the Zags in the mouth, and they won’t know what to do."
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.