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Big Al's Daily Angle: NBA, NHL, NCAA Basketball and EPL Previews and Odds - 03/02/2021

by Big Al Staff

Tuesday, Mar 02, 2021

The Tuesday sports card features action in NCAA basketball, the NBA, the NHL, and the English Premier League. The college basketball card begins at 1 PM ET with New Mexico State hosts UT Rio Grande Valley as an 8-point favorite with the total set at 136 (all odds from BetOnline).The nationally-televised college basketball schedule begins at 5 PM ET with a Super Tuesday triple-header on ESPN with Baylor playing at West Virginia. The Bears are ranked third in the nation by the Associated Press with an 18-1 record. They lost their first game of the season on Saturday in a 71-58 upset loss at Arkansas as a 4.5-point favorite. The Mountaineers are ranked sixth nationally by the AP with a 17-6 record. They have six of their last seven games after the 65-43 victory against Kansas State as a 16-point favorite. Baylor is a 4.5-point road favorite with an over/under of 149.Michigan hosts Illinois on ESPN at 7 PM ET. The Wolverines are ranked second in the nation with an 18-1 record. They won their seventh in a row with a 73-57 victory at Indiana as a 7-point favorite on Saturday. The Fighting Illini is ranked fourth nationally at 18-6. They won their ninth game in their last ten on Saturday with a 74-69 upset win at Wisconsin as a 4.5-point favorite. Michigan is an 8-point favorite, with the total is at 145.5.Alabama plays at home against Auburn on ESPN2 at 7 PM ET. The Crimson Tide is ranked eighth nationally with a 19-6 record. They won their fourth game in their last five with their 64-59 win at Mississippi State as a 6.5-point favorite on Saturday. The Tigers, 12-13, ended a three-game losing streak on Saturday with a 77-72 upset win against Tennessee as an 8-point underdog. Alabama is an 11-point favorite with an over/under of 157.5.Boise State is at home against Fresno State on the CBS Sports Network at 7 PM ET as a 13.5-point favorite with a total of 135. Central Florida hosts Tulsa on ESPNU as a 3-point favorite, with the total at 131. Xavier visits Georgetown on FS1 as a 1.5-point road favorite with an over/under of 147.5.Mississippi plays at home against Kentucky on ESPN at 9 PM ET. The Rebels fell to 13-10 on Saturday with their 75-70 upset loss at Vanderbilt as a 10.5-point favorite. The Wildcats, 8-14, had their three-game winning streak end with a 71-67 upset loss to Florida as a 2-point favorite on Saturday. Ole Miss is a 1.5-point favorite with the total at 130.5.Purdue hosts Wisconsin on ESP2 at 9 PM ET. The Boilermakers are ranked 23rd by the AP with a 16-8 record. They won their third in a row on Friday in a 73-52 win at Penn State as a 1-point underdog. The Badgers are ranked 25th nationally with a 16-9 mark. They have lost three of their last four games after a 74-69 loss to Illinois on Saturday. Purdue is a 1.5-point favorite with an over/under of 129.5. Marquette travels to DePaul on FS1 at 9 PM ET as a 5.5-point road favorite, with the total at 136.5. Memphis visits South Florida pm ESPNU as a 10-point road favorite with an over/under of 134.5.Seven games are on the NBA docket. A doubleheader on TNT begins at 7:35 PM ET with the Los Angeles Clippers visiting Boston. The Clippers have lost two of their last three games after their 105-100 loss at Milwaukee as a 2-point underdog on Sunday. The Celtics won their second straight game on Sunday with a 111-110 win against Washington as a 1-point favorite. The nightcap on TNT at 10 PM ET has the Los Angeles Lakers playing at home against Phoenix. The Lakers have won two in a row with a 117-91 victory against Golden State as a 2.5-point favorite on Sunday. The Suns won their fifth game in their last six in a 118-99 win at Minnesota as a 10-point favorite on Sunday. Los Angeles is a 1.5-point favorite with the total set at 211.5.Seven games are on the NHL slate. Pittsburgh hosts Philadelphia on the NBC Sports Network at 7 PM ET. The Penguins have lost two of their last three games after their 2-0 loss at New York against the Islanders on Sunday. The Flyers won their third game in a row with a 3-2 win at Buffalo on Sunday. Pittsburgh is a -110 money line favorite with an over/under of 6.Matchweek 26 in the English Premier League continues with Manchester City playing at home against Wolverhampton on the NBC Sports Network at 3 PM ET as a -2 goal line favorite with the total at 2.75. 

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NCAA Basketball: Michigan/Illinois Preview, Odds and Prediction - 03/02/2021

by Big Al Staff

Tuesday, Mar 02, 2021

An ESPN Super Tuesday triple-header is headlined by a Big Ten heavyweight battle between teams two of the top four teams in the country.Illinois has won nine of their last ten games after they defeated Wisconsin on the road, 74-69, as a 4.5-point underdog on Saturday. Kofi Cockburn scored 19 points to lead the Fighting Illini. The 7’0 sophomore averages 17.7 points-per-game while adding 9.9 rebounds-per-game. Brad Underwood was without Ayo Dosunmu for the second-straight game in the triumph against the Badgers. The junior point guard is out indefinitely with a broken nose. He is averaging 21.0 points-per-game, 6.3 rebounds-per-game, and 5.3 assists-per-game. Dosunmu and Cockburn were two of five returning starters from the team last year that finished 21-10.Illinois ranks fourth in the nation by the Associated Press with an 18-6 record. The Illini earned an impressive non-conference victory against Duke in December. Underwood’s team is second in the Big Ten with a 14-4 mark with wins against Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana (twice). Illinois has conference losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Maryland and non-conference losses to Baylor and Missouri. The Fighting Illini are tenth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom. They rank 19th nationally with both a 38.1% shooting percentage from 3-point land and a 55.7% mark inside the arc. Illinois is sixteenth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency using the kenpom metrics. They limit their opponents to rebounding 22.4% of their missed shots, 15th nationally. Their opponents make 45.1% of their 2-point shots, ranking 22nd nationally. Michigan has won seven in a row after their 73-57 victory at Indiana on Saturday. Franz Wagner scored a season-high 21 points. The sophomore is scoring 13.3 points-per-game and grabbing 6.4 rebounds-per-game. Isaiah Livers added 16 points with 10 rebounds. The senior is averaging 14.5 points-per-game and 6.2 rebounds-per-game. He has scored at least 16 points in five of his last seven games. Hunter Dickinson contributed another 13 points and seven rebounds. The freshman is scoring 14.8 points-per-game and pulling down 7.8 rebounds-per-game.The Wolverines rank second in the nation with an 18-1 record. A victory tonight clinches them the Big Ten regular-season title. Michigan has a 13-1 conference record with wins against Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin (twice), and Maryland (twice). Their lone loss was at Minnesota in January. Michigan ranks fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency according to the metrics at kenpom. The Wolverines are 22nd with a 55.4% shooting percentage inside the arc, which helps elevate their effective field goal percentage to 56.5%, twelfth nationally. They are making 39.0% of their 3-point shots, ranking 11th nationally. Michigan registers an assist in 55.7% rate of their made field goals, 78th nationally. Only 6.4% of their shot attempts are getting blocked, 20th nationally.The Wolverines are fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. They are second in opponent’s effective field goal percentage with a 43.9% mark. Michigan is also second nationally by limiting their opponents to just 41.3% shooting inside the arc. These opponents make 32.7% of their 3-pointers, 117th nationally. This team does not foul as they rank 21st nationally in foul-rate. They block 11.6% of their opponent’s shots, 43rd nationally. They hold their opponents to just a 41.5% assist rate, 8th nationally.This showdown is the first meeting between these two teams this season. BetAnySports lists Michigan as a 7-point favorite with the total set at 144.5.Computer prediction: Michigan 75 Illinois 68

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DAME TIME - All Star Starter in our Book!

by ASA, Inc.

Monday, Mar 01, 2021

For years Steph Curry has been the best point guard in the league and single handedly changed the game with his three point barrages in front of a raucous Bay Area crowds. His record breaking number of attempts over the years have not even been the crazy part, it’s been his efficiency. Again this year he leads the league in three point attempts yet he’s shooting over 42%. There is a reason he is considered the best point guard in the league, but it is time to start including someone else in the conversation.   Damian Lillard was snubbed from the All-Star starters after leading the Blazers to fifth in the West almost single handedly. Steph getting a starting spot is understandable but we could make the case for Dame starting over Luka Doncic. Luka is shooting 33% from three point range and turning it over at a higher clip than both Steph and Dame. Doncic may have better overall raw numbers than both Curry and Lillard but his +/- differential is lower than both and the Mavs are just .500. Missing CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers have relied heavily on Lillard to carry the offensive load, and he has delivered. They own a better record than both the Warriors and Mavericks, yet Dame still seems to be underrated. Steph and Dame are in very similar situations this season and are producing very similar numbers. They are both averaging just under 30 ppg but Lillard is dishing out almost 2 more assists per game and pulls down 4.4 rebounds per game to Steph’s 5.4 rpg. He also has more game winning buzzer beaters (3) since he entered the league in 2012 according to basketball reference. Big shots at the end of games are hard to track based on the situations but there are very few players as cold blooded as Dame when it comes to winning time. Steph has three rings in his great career but zero finals MVP’s. This year will be a true test to see how far Curry can carry the Warriors. If he falls short, maybe he will then know what Dame has felt like his entire career. Either way, the two best point guards in the league both deserve to be mentioned in the same conversation moving forward. If you are looking for a betting angle with Lillard and the Blazers look no further than their road games. Portland is 12-6 ATS (67%) away from home and 8-4 ATS (67%) as a road dog as of this writing. Led by Dame Time, the Blazers have the 6th best overall 3-point shooting percentage in the league which has also helped the Over cash in 10 of eighteen road games.  Their road games have averaged 230 total points this season.  

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NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma/Oklahoma State Preview, Odds and Prediction - 03/01/2021

by Big Al Staff

Monday, Mar 01, 2021

The Big Monday doubleheader on ESPN concludes at 9 PM ET with a rematch between two Big 12 teams tied in the conference standings jockeying for NCAA tournament seeding. Bedlam Part 1 took place on Saturday in Norman, where Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma in overtime, 94-90,  as a 6.5-point underdog. Cade Cunningham scored a career-high 40 points and added 11 rebounds. The freshman phenom leads the team with a 19.8 points-per-game average. The 6’8 point guard will likely be the number one pick in the June NBA draft. Avery Anderson III added 15 points. The sophomore guard is second on the team with a 10.2 points-per-game scoring average. Bryce Williams contributed another 15 points to improve upon his 7.7 points-per-game scoring average. Oklahoma State, 16-6, have high-profile victories against Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Texas Tech, and these Sooners. The Cowboys moved into a tie for fourth place with Oklahoma with a 9-6 record n the Big 12 with losses to Baylor, West Virginia, Texas, and Kansas. Two conference losses to TCU dog their resume. The Cowboys are 75th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom. Their 51.4% shooting mark inside the arc is 104th. They rank 20th at kenpom in adjusted defensive efficiency. Their opponent's effective field goal percentage of 46.4% ranks 29th nationally.Last year’s leading scorer, Isaac Likekely, is questionable with a hand injury after not playing over the weekend. His 33 minutes played last Monday against Texas Tech is the only time he has taken the court since February 8th. The 6’5  junior point guard has a 9.8 points-per-game scoring average. He is contributing 6.9 rebounds-per-game and 3.7 assists-per-game.Oklahoma got a career-high 23 points from De’Vian Harmon. The sophomore is second on the team with a 13.0 points-per-game scoring average. Austin Reaves added 22 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. The senior leads the team with 17.5 points-per-game, 5.6 rebounds-per-game, and 5.1 assists-per-game averages.The Sooners are ranked seventh by the Associated Press with a 14-7 record. Lon Kruger’s team has high-profile victories against Kansas, Texas, West Virginia (twice), and Alabama in non-conference play. Six of their losses are against teams ranked in the top-54 at kenpom: Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech (twice), Oklahoma State, and Xavier. A setback to Kansas State that ranks 183rd at kenpom is the lone blemish on their resume. Kruger has over 70% of the production return last year's 19-12 team. Oklahoma is 35th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 39th in defense at kenpom. The Sooners have been tough to score on inside the arc, with opponents making only 44.9% of their 2-point shots. But Oklahoma is allowing opposing shooters to convert 35.4% of their 3-pointers, 259th in the nation. The Sooners make the most of their scoring opportunities, with Reeves running the point. Oklahoma only turns the ball over in 15.5% of their possessions, ranking 16th nationally.BookMaker lists the Sooners as a 1.5-point road favorite with the total set at 142 for Bedlam Part 2 tonight.Computer prediction:  Oklahoma 73 Oklahoma State 70

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NCAA Basketball, EPL, NHL and NBA Previews and Odds - 03/01/2021

by Big Al Staff

Monday, Mar 01, 2021

The Monday sports card features action in NCAA basketball, the NBA, the NHL, and the English Premier League. The college basketball card begins at 1 PM ET with Florida International visiting Western Kentucky. The nationally-televised college basketball card begins at 5 PM ET, with St. Bonaventure hosting Dayton at ESPN. The Bonnies, 13-3, won their third straight game on Friday in an 88-41 win against George Washington as a 14-point favorite. The Flyers fell to 12-8 with a 97-84 loss a Saint Joseph’s as a 7.5-point favorite on Wednesday. St. Bonaventure is a 7.5-point favorite with the total set at 133 (all odds from BetOnline).North Carolina travels to Syracuse on ESPN at 7 PM ET. The Tar Heels improved to 15-8 with a 78-70 upset win against Florida State as a 2-point underdog on Saturday. The Orange dropped to 13-8 with their 84-77 setback at Georgia Tech as a 4.5-point underdog on Saturday. North Carolina is a 2.5-point road favorite with an over/under of 149.Oklahoma plays at Oklahoma State on ESPN at 9 PM ET. The Sooners are ranked 7th in the nation by the Associated Press with a 14-7 record. They lost their second game in a row on Saturday in a 94-90 upset loss to the Cowboys. Oklahoma State has won four in a row to improve to 16-6. Oklahoma is a 1-point road favorite, with the total at 142.5.Oregon is at home against Arizona on ESPN2 at 9 PM ET. The Ducks raised their record to 16-5 with their 74-63 win at California as a 9-point favorite on Saturday. The Wildcats, 17-8, won their third straight game in a 75-74 win against Washington as a 15-point favorite on Saturday. Oregon is a 4.5-point favorite with an over/under of 141.Colorado State hosts Air Force on the CBS Sports Network at 9 PM ET. The Rams, 15-4, won their third straight with a 72-49 win against the Falcons on Saturday. Air Force fell to 5-18 with the loss. Colorado State is a 19-point favorite with the total at 132. Seven games are on the NBA schedule. Two games tip-off the card at 7 PM ET, including Dallas playing at Orlando as a 7-point road favorite with an over/under of 224. The card concludes at 10:30 PM ET with Portland hosting Charlotte as a 6.5-point favorite with an over/under of 235.5. The NHL docket has seven games, with the puck dropping at 7 PM ET with two contests. Calgary visits Ottawa as a -161 money line road favorite with the total at 6. Carolina travels to Florida as a -115 money line road favorite with an over/under of 6. The slate ends at 10:30 PM ET with Colorado playing at San Jose as a -210 money line road favorite with the total at 6.Matchweek 26 of the English Premier League continues with Everton hosting Southampton at 3 PM ET on the NBC Sports Network as a -0.5 goal line favorite with an over/under of 2.5.

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The Hard Rock Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas is no more.

by Will Rogers

Monday, Mar 01, 2021

Shame.Michael Jordan used to go there to drag Dennis Rodman out of bed so they could go win playoff games and NBA championships. Ben Affleck was banned from the Hard Rock’s blackjack tables for counting cards. Bruno Mars was busted there for having drugs. Howard Stern, a notorious homebody, did his radio show from there once a year.So many celebrities flocked to the Hard Rock that it was hard to spend a weekend night there and NOT run into one. Simply put, anyone who was anyone who was bored with The Strip party scene hung out either at the Palms one mile north of Las Vegas Boulevard or the Hard Rock one mile south.Later this month or early in April the new owners of the property – a Houston-based private equity company – will open the doors again under the name Virgin Hotel. The mammoth guitar at the property’s entrance is long gone. Instead, Virgin will hope to retain some old customers and develop new ones with across-the-grain consumer-friendly policies such as no resort fees, free parking and free Wi-Fi – all of which have been in short supply in the city in recent years.If the old Hard Rock – which opened in 1990 and had undergone several renovations over its near 30-year run – was Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and pool parties – Virgin is promising a more refined, laid-back vibe. The dance clubs are still there, but it’s clear from those who have seen it that the new owners probably won’t have to worry about undercover police checking for drug deals. Maybe not 50 Cent and maybe not Michael Buble, but something in between.The casino business has been farmed out to Mohegan Sun, the gigantic tribe-owned hotel-casino property that made its mark in southeastern Connecticut. The Virgin gambling area will be just a fraction of the size of Mohegan’s Northeast step-father.The renovation of the hotel end of the property includes plenty of 21st-century technology – lots of outlets for charging electronic devices, keyless room entry and everything you might want to do (order food, check out etc.) from your mobile phone.Opening any business into the headwinds created by the current Covid pandemic and amid various state travel restrictions is tricky and risky business, and Virgin no doubt is no doubt rolling the dice. Some analysts predict that the travel-entertainment industry will roar back big-time as pent-up demand takes effect once the virus’s effects have abated. Others estimate that it could take years before we’re back to pre-pandemic levels. No one really knows for sure. But Virgin bossman Richard Branson got silly rich taking risks growing his empire, and this is just another for him.As for the Hard Rock name itself, we may not have seen the last of it in Vegas. Even as Virgin is putting the finishing touches for its planned March 25 opening, Hard Rock International announced that it has purchased the intellectual property rights to build a new casino in Vegas. So Virgin and Hard Rock might actually be competitors at some point.

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The Europeans Are Coming!

by Ben Burns

Monday, Mar 01, 2021

by Ben BurnsBetter late than never! Thanks to the pandemic, Euro 2020 will be played in 2021. Starting June 11th and going for a month, 24 teams will do battle across 12 host cities. How Did They Get Here?The top two teams from each of the 10 groups qualified. The four remaining positions were settled in the play-offs. Scotland beat Serbia in a penalty shootout. What Do The Groups Look Like?This year's "Group Of Death" pits Germany, France and Portugal against each other. Poor Hungary. Remember, teams play each of the other three in their group. Top two from each group. advance to the knockout stage. Complete listings below:Group A: Turkey, Italy, Wales, Switzerland Group B: Denmark, Finland, Belgium, RussiaGroup C: Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, North MacedoniaGroup D: England, Croatia, Scotland, Czech RepublicGroup E: Spain, Sweden, Poland, SlovakiaGroup F: Hungary, Portugal, France, GermanyWho's Expected To Win?Believe it, or not, England is actually the current favorite to hoist the Henri Delaunay Cup. It helps to be in a group with Scotland and the Czech Republic, two of the weaker teams in the tournament. The top 10 favorites, courtesy of Pinnacle, are below:England +394Belgium +520 France +520 Spain +623Germany +726 Netherlands +726Italy +1036 Portugal +1036Croatia +2586Ukraine +5168Any Longshots To Keep An Eye On?At +7751, Switzerland is well worth a look. They should finish ahead of Wales and Turkey in Group A and then anything is possible. I've had the pleasure of visiting Switzerland a couple of times and always remember being very impressed by their soccer program. My son played in some tournaments in Italy and Switzerland; he played on what was essentially a North American select team but they had their hands full. Anyway, if looking for a longshot, consider the Swiss. 

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Don’t Worry About the Lakers

by Team Del Genio

Sunday, Feb 28, 2021

The reigning NBA champions have hit their rock bottom earlier this week when they lost their fourth game in a row on Wednesday. Los Angeles put up little resistance in a 114-89 loss at the red-hot Utah Jazz despite being an 8.5-point underdog. That was the Lakers’ fifth loss in six games after Anthony Davis went out with an Achilles’ injury. Yet not all “rock bottoms” are the same. It is usually wise to not overreact when good teams struggle in the dog days of the NBA regular season especially when the All-Star Game is approaching. Losing Davis took away one of the Lakers’ top two players. LeBron James looks tired after playing every game averaging almost 35 minutes per contest. There is an understanding in professional sports that the defending champion always gets their opponent’s best effort. Despite losing five of six (before winning their last two games), only one of the losses would be considered “bad.” Losing at Denver as a 3-point favorite is forgivable. Losing at home to the new-look Brooklyn Nets with James Harden and Kyrie Irving (even without Kevin Durant) as a 3-point favorite is understandable. Getting beaten by Miami as a 3.5-point favorite in their first opportunity to avenge their loss in the NBA Finals might have been expected. Few observers gave the Lakers much of a chance than against the red-hot Jazz in Utah as an 8.5-point underdog. Only a loss to Washington does not look very good in the rearview mirror, yet in that game, Los Angeles took their foot off the gas pedal by blowing a 17-point lead. Sometimes that happens on a Monday night in February. Our Western Conference Game of the Month was on Friday with the Lakers hosting Portland. Help was on the way with Dennis Schroder returning from COVID quarantine. His absence in the previous four games has cost Los Angeles a reliable scorer and a second starter along with Davis. He was averaging 14.2 points-per-game before entering quarantine. Just getting Schroder back on the court made a significant difference. He scored 22 points against the Trail Blazers in helping Los Angeles win, 102-93, and cover the 5-point spread. Schroder’s efforts on defense should not be dismissed either. The Lakers held the Blazers to just 39.1% shooting. Schroder running the point on offense helped Los Angeles get to the free-throw line 28 times where they made 21 attempts. Strong defense and getting to the charity stripe was the recipe on Sunday as well in the Lakers’ 117-91 victory at home against Golden State. LA held the Warriors to 41% shooting. They got to the free-throw line 38 times resulting in 26 points. Schroder contributed 12 points while dishing out six assists. Racing out to a 73-44 lead at halftime allowed for James to only play for under 25 minutes in the game.Los Angeles may not repeat as NBA champions this spring but that is a May and perhaps June problem. Until then, don’t worry. Pick your spots when betting the Lakers in the regular season, just as they pick their spots to exert a little more effort. LeBron James is playing the long game. Good luck - TDG.

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Watch Out for Kansas during March Madness

by Team Del Genio

Sunday, Feb 28, 2021

Kansas upset the number two ranked team in the nation, Baylor, on Saturday, 71-58, as a 5-point favorite. Hopefully, TDG regulars were not surprised by that result since that was our ESPN Game of the Year on the Jayhawks. We had observed at the time that Kansas was going into the month of March a much-improved team on defense. We wrote in the game report:“After a schematic change by Bill Self to play more aggressively against ball-screens, Kansas has held their last five opponents to 38.4% shooting which is resulting in 58.2 points-per-game in the rugged Big 12. Bettors need to keep their eyes on the lookout for late-season improvements from teams that get elite coaching especially in a pandemic-ridden season where practice schedules earlier in the year have been out of the ordinary. This Jayhawks’ team is evolving into a scrappy defense-first juggernaut.”Kansas came to play on defense by holding the Bears to 34.8% shooting while coaxing them to miss 17 of their 23 shots from the 3-point land for a 23.1% clip. Baylor entered that game shooting 50.3% from the field and making 43.2% of their 3-pointers. As Bears’ Scott Drew claimed that a layoff from COVID was his team’s “kryptonite,” head coaches often reach for excuses in the face of frustrating defensive play. The plight of the blue blood programs in college basketball has been of the storylines this season. Duke, Kentucky, and Michigan State are all at risk of not making the NCAA Tournament. We wrote about the trials and tribulations for these traditional powers in college football and college basketball during this year where COVID has impacted every program. As we observed in December about Duke and Kentucky:  “These are two programs that need practice and coaching.” As the calendar turns to March, both of those basketball teams along with the Spartans have seen significant improvement in play over the last few weeks.Keep your eye out for freshman taking their games to the next level in March. The Jayhawks have a talented redshirt freshman in Jalen Wilson. The four-star recruit did not see the court much last year but has stepped up this season to average 12.6 points-per-game with 8.4 rebounds-per-game. In his nine games in February, Wilson improved his scoring average to a 13.3 points-per-game clip while pulling down 11.0 rebounds-per-game. First-year players improve especially when they are getting great coaching. Kansas temporarily fell out of the top-25 in early February after losing five of seven games. All five of those losses were on the road to nationally-ranked teams. The inclusion of the Jayhawks in the plight of the blue-bloods narrative has always been a stretch. Perhaps Kansas is not a top-five team this season as they were last year when their 28-3 record had them destined to take one of the four top seeds in the NCAA tournament. Yet it would be foolhardy to dismiss Self’s ability to navigate this team to another final four appearance in the first weekend in April. Good luck - TDG.

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The Curious Case of Brighton’s xG

by Hollywood Sports

Sunday, Feb 28, 2021

I wrote about the strengths and weaknesses of using expected goals (xG) analytics in handicapping soccer last summer. Since that time, Brighton and Hove Albion have become the poster child expressing the limitations of relying too heavily on these metrics. Bettors banking on the Regression Gods to finally help the Seagulls see more of their shots reach the back of the net likely find themselves in trouble now.As I wrote last summer: “Expected goals is a metric that determines a statistical probability on every scoring chance a team generates in a match. In this adventure of quantitative analysis, similar scoring situations are logged to determine a scoring probability from a deep data set in a way similar to measurements that predict the accuracy of an NBA shooter attempting a 22-foot corner 3-pointer. Shot attempts that have an empirical success rate of 35% or higher have been categorized as Big Chances. By reassessing a soccer match from the expected goals (xG) and expected goals allowed (xGA) given the activity and nature of all the shot attempts in a match. If xG analysis offers a better evaluation regarding how a team is playing, then it could provide a more precise way to measure subsequent action.”Brighton played at West Bromwich Albion yesterday (February 27th) as a -0.5 goal-line road favorite. For handicappers relying almost exclusively on xG, that match may have looked rather tasty. The Seagulls may have been only 4 points above relegation land 16th place in the EPL table, but their expected points generated from a dissection of their xG and xGA for the season projects them as the fifth-best team in the English Premier League. West Brom, on the other hand, was in 19th place in points and dead-last 20th place in xPTs. Easy win for Brighton, right? If those bettors then looked at the xG results after that match, they might have started shopping for their new beachfront property. The Seagulls generated 3.28 xG against the Baggies while surrendering just 0.73 xG. The most likely score given that activity is a comfortable 3-1 win for Brighton. The actual score? West Brom 1, Brighton 0. Perhaps that was yet another statistical aberration. Just like last week, when Brighton dominated Crystal Palace by a 3.03-0.27 mark in xG but lost, 2-1. Just like two matchweeks ago when the Seagulls outclasses Aston Villa by a 2.44-0.44 mark in xG but settled for a 0-0 draw. I like to refer to the gambler’s expectation of outlier numbers returning back to a normal a call to the Regression Gods. The Miami Dolphins’ defense was not going to continue to bail out Tua Tagovailoa’s meager passing days in his rookie season by forcing multiple turnovers week-after-week-after week. When called, the Regression Gods eventually arrive. But these Gods never promised to show up promptly — and we need to keep our bankroll for when they finally make their triumphant return in the pursuit of justice. Sometimes these underlying numbers are not simply outliers due for regression. Sometimes these numbers are descriptive. To paraphrase former NFL head coach Dennis Green, sometimes the numbers “are we thought they were!” (“and we let ‘em off the hook!”). Perhaps Brighton has scored only 27 goals despite their xG projecting that the typical team typical players would score 37.85 goals precisely because the Seagulls are a roster consisting of below-average players! As I wrote in the summer: “Expected goals attempt to determine the most likely outcomes. But not all outcomes are created equal. Lionel Messi is going to score more goals than Glenn Murray dribbling up the left-wing and talking a shot from 30 yards out.” Well, Aaron Maupay may have replaced Murray as the Brighton striker this season — but he is still no Messi. Don’t get me wrong, I love xG — and incorporating expected goals analysis has improved by handicapping in soccer and hockey (where similar principles apply). We just should not become zombies to these numbers — it will drive us to bankruptcy. You wanna be an analytics fundamentalist and exclusively following the betting advice at Football Outsiders when betting the NFL? Kiss your bankroll goodbye in about a month. The most successful handicapping incorporates a variety of tools in the proverbial toolbox. A final tip regarding xG: use these numbers to illustrate the prospective floor and ceiling regarding a team’s potential. Brighton’s xG promise did pay off on February 3rd of this month when they upset Liverpool by a 1-0 score. They won the xG battle by a 1.32-0.97 margin — so this was not a fluky victory. Perhaps one lesson regarding the handicapping application of xG is this: underperforming teams in xG make dangerous underdogs but unreliability favorites. Best of luck — Frank.

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Ya Think Iowa Plays Bad Defense? Check Out Ohio State!

by Hollywood Sports

Sunday, Feb 28, 2021

Iowa may have the National Player of the Year in college basketball this season in Luka Garza with the senior All-American going into the last day of February leading the nation with a 24.3 Points-Per-Game scoring average. He leads a Hawkeyes’ attack that makes 40.4% of their 3-pointers, good for fourth-best in the nation. Fran McCaffrey’s team also assists on 63.5% of their made baskets with this exquisite ball movement ranking seventh-best nationally. For a team that scores 85.2 Points-Per-Game while ranking second in the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, perhaps it is these elite numbers that draw attention to their meager numbers on the other end of the court. Iowa is just 59th in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Their opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 48.3% against them, ranking 104th nationally. The Hawkeyes do not attempt to force turnovers with their opponents only losing possession 16.2% of the time before a shot, 318th lowest nationally. And Iowa’s opponents nail 34.9% of their shots from behind the arc, 239th in the nation. These opponents are also taking 40.0% of their shots from downtown, with that mark being the 260th highest in the country. Perhaps the elite shooting Iowa brings to games is compelling their opponents to take more 3s to keep up? Maybe. But Iowa is clearly much better on offense with their liabilities on defense a red flag regarding their NCAA Tournament potential to make a deep run. The above seems to be fair criticism and assessment of the 2020-21 college basketball team entering March. But why have fellow Big Ten and nationally-ranked peers in Ohio State escaped similar scrutiny? The Buckeyes began the week as the number four ranked team in the nation and the de-facto fourth number one season in the NCAA Tournament — even after losing to third-ranked Michigan on February 21st. Sure, there is no shame in losing to this Wolverines team that is tearing up the Big Ten while only losing once all season even after a three-week COVID pause in the middle of the Big Ten season. Michigan scored 92 points against them while generating 1.37 Points-Per-Possession. Yet, the Wolverines got the credit and the Buckeyes got a pass since it was considered by many to be the best basketball game of the season. However, Ohio State entered their February 28th showdown with Iowa with worse defensive numbers across-the-board. The Buckeyes rank 81st in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency along with eighth in the Big Ten in that metric (just behind Iowa in the conference). Opponents have an opponent’s effective field goal percentage of 49.1%, ranking 136th nationally. Like the Hawkeyes, Ohio State does not attempt to force many turnovers with their opponents only coughing it up in 15.6% of their possessions, 328th nationally. The Buckeyes do perform a bit better than Iowa in a 3-point defense. Their opponents make 34.4% of their 3-pointers, 215th nationally, while taking 38.6% of their shots from downtown, the 215th lowest rate. Generally, the analytics folks consider 3-point percentage defense to be a function of luck but limiting 3-point attempts more a function of skill. Maybe … the Milwaukee Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer would likely quarrel with that diagnosis since his system tries to lull opponents into taking bad 3-point shots. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense at Syracuse attempts to accomplish the same task. Needless to say, Ohio State’s defense appears on paper to be performing worse than the Iowa defense. And at least the Hawkeyes thrive in one area: they do a good job of defending inside the arc. Their opponents are along only 45.6 % of their 2-point shots, 38th best in the nation. The Buckeyes’ opponents are making 47.5% of their shots inside the arc which ranks a respectable 97th in the nation. But that number declines to a 50.1% clip in Big Ten play, good for 9th best, while Iowa still holds their conference foes to 46.2% shooting of their 2s in conference play, ranking third best.These numbers helped to set the stage for their clash earlier today where Iowa upset Ohio State in Columbus, 73-57, as a 3-point underdog. The Buckeyes did little to stop the Hawkeyes scoring attack. Iowa shot 47% from the field while nailing 10 of 24 (42%) of their 3-pointers. Iowa scored at a healthy 1.11 Points-Per-Possession clip which was not far below their Adjusted Offensive Efficiency projected rate of 1.249. However, Ohio State made only 5 of their 17 (29%) 3-point attempts en route to a 45% shooting performance. The Buckeyes scored at just a 0.86 Points-Per-Possession clip which was well below their projected Adjusted Offensive Efficiency of 1.226 per possession. Perhaps Ohio State just had a cold night shooting? Or perhaps the Iowa defense is steadily improving while the Buckeyes’ defense gets a pass due to their top-four ranking? During the Hawkeyes’ recent four-game winning streak, before losing at Michigan on Thursday, they had not allowed more than 68 points and 1.02 Points-Per-Possession during that stretch before the Wolverines scored 79 points at a 1.18 PPP rate. Now after their performance against the third-most efficient offense in the nation in the Buckeyes, Iowa has held five of their last six opponents below 69 points and 1.02 PPG. The Hawkeyes’ defense may be their Achilles’ heel in the Big Dance later this month. But the concerns they have on defense pale in comparison to the issues Chris Holtmann has with his Ohio State team right now.Best of luck — Frank.

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MLB 2021: NL East Division Preview

by Scott Rickenbach

Sunday, Feb 28, 2021

NL East Division Preview for MLB 2021Atlanta Braves – The Braves are projected by most to land at around 90 wins this season and battle it out with the Mets for top spot in this division. Atlanta has had 3 straight solid seasons as they are returning to the year over year consistency they had displayed for so many years before slipping a few years back. Now the Braves again look like the Braves of old with a solid rotation, including now Charlie Morton too, and they have great young arms too. Then you look at the lineup and this team has a great mix of young up and coming stars as well as veteran talent. It is hard to find a weakness with this team but the bullpen might be one area to watch. Mark Melancon is now with the Padres and so the Braves will have a different closer now and overall the pen could take some time to jell this season. Miami Marlins – The Marlins surprised some in a short season last year but now I look for them to return to a range of, at most, 70 wins. They are still in a rebuild mode which was simply a bit masked by the covid-shortened season last year. Manager Don Mattingly has been pushing the right buttons here but Miami’s bullpen was a weakness last year and their lineup produced a rather low slugging percentage. This team was fortunate to finish above .500 last season, still has some unproven starting pitchers that are still growing into their role in the rotation, and also finished toward the bottom of the league for team fielding. New York Mets – The new owner has opened up the pocketbook for sure and went on a spending spree. That is why a team that finished with a losing record last season is likely to get to around 90 wins this season. They added Lindor to bolster the lineup, McCann who is a solid veteran catcher, and Carrasco to the rotation. He’ll fit in well behind deGrom who is phenomenal. Also, the lineup looks even stronger as Dominic Smith continues to look stronger and stronger in terms of his potential. This lineup looks really strong with a lot of power potential plus the bullpen is strong in terms of closer and set-up men. Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies could surprise this season. Hard to peg them ending up much better than .500 on the season especially when you consider the strength of the Braves and Mets. Also, the Nationals are similar in overall team strength to the Nationals. However, the reason Philadelphia could surprise is because they have Nola and Wheeler at the top of the rotation plus catcher JT Realmuto, a key piece, came back and they have Bryce Harper and other big bats like Hoskins, Bohm, Gregorius and Segura. The top guys in the bullpen can be strong for the Phils but that is their overall weakness. A horrible pen that was dead last in the majors last season! Keep an eye on this as a key to Phillies season.Washington Nationals – Projected to be in the mid-80s for their win total this season. The Nats finished below .500 last season but they have to be back. They have a powerful line-up especially with the phenomenal hitting of Juan Soto plus Trea Turner and plus perhaps Josh Bell bounces back too. But when you have a solid pitching rotation led by Max Scherzer and you have Stephen Strasburg, if healthy, that is a tough 1-2 combo. Also, a very solid closer for the Nationals but their bullpen was overall a weak link last year and that could again be an issue as well. That is what could prevent Washington from competing with the Mets and Braves for the top spot in the division. 

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