This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."
Just two ranked teams were in action on Thursday, No. 4 Iowa home to 8-6 Indiana and No. 24 UCLA at Cal. Iowa took a 37-31 halftime lead but with Iowa still ahead 53-44 midway through the second half, Indiana rallied to tie the score at 53 with a 9-0 run, then took control of the game by limiting the Hawkeyes to just three FGs over the game's last 12 minutes. Luka Garza led Iowa with 28 points plus Joe Wieskamp added 16 & 12 but the Hawkeyes, who came in averaging 92.2 PPG, were held to 69 points while shooting just 38.1 percent from the floor, including 21.7 percent from the three-point line in a 12-point loss. UCLA opened the season as the AP's 22nd-ranked team but lost its season-opener 73-58 at San Diego St. However, the Bruins moved back into the top-25 last Monday (at No. 24). The Bruins were able to push back on Cal's bid for an upset by edging the Golden Bears 61-57 in Berkeley. UCLA was held to 17 points under its average points per game but beat Cal for the EIGHTH straight time and remained undefeated in the conference at 8-0 while improving to 12-2 overall with a 61-57 win.
The only Friday game involving a ranked team is No. 7 Michigan (12-1) at 11-5 Purdue. Michigan started the season with 11 consecutive victories before falling 75-57 at Minnesota last Saturday but routed Maryland 87-63 in a game they never trailed on Tuesday. The win came even though Michigan's leading scorer Hunter Dickinson (15.7 PPG) only took three shots and scored three points. The Boilermakers welcome Michigan to Mackey Arena on a current four-game winning streak that began when they rallied from 17 points down against Michigan State back on Jan 8. The Boilermakers have outscored opponents by a combined 39 points in the second half over the last four games. Purdue's 6-10 Trevion Williams (15.4 & 9.5) has scored in double figures in 11 consecutive games, averaging 19.3 PPG in that stretch. Michigan is favored by 4 1/2-points.
Looking ahead to the weekend, there will be three games between ranked opponents, all being contested on Saturday. No. 6 Tennessee (10-2) is home to No. 19 Missouri (9-2), No. 10 Wisconsin (12-3) is home to No. 15 Ohio St (11-4) and No. 11 Creighton (10-4) is home to No.23 UConn (7-2). The nation's top-two teams will also play on Saturday. No. 1 Gonzaga (14-0 / 6-7-1 ATS) is home to 5-2 Pacific and No. 2 Baylor (13-0 / 10-3 ATS) will play at 9-3 Oklahoma St. Higher ranked teams are 27-15 (.643) SU but just 21-21 (50.0%) ATS on the season. I'll check back on CBB in Monday's Notes.
NBA: LeBron James scored a season-high 34 points to help keep the Los Angeles Lakers undefeated on the road this season with a 113-106 win against Milwaukee. The Lakers made 19 of 37 (51.4 percent) on threes, extending their franchise-best road start to 8-0 (Lakers are an NBA-best 12-4). In the TNT nightcap, Donovan Mitchell scored a season-high 36 points to lead the Utah Jazz to a 129-118 win over the New Orleans Pelicans in Salt Lake City. The Jazz have now won SEVEN in a row (longest active streak) using a 19-2 run over a 4 1/2-minute 3rd-quarter surge that gave Utah a 96-80 lead.
ESPN features a Friday doubleheader, opening with 8-5 Boston at 10-5 Philadelphia at 7:35 ET. These teams met Wednesday in Philly, with Embiid's 42 points leading the way to a 117-109 win (Sixers outscored the Celtics 31-17 in the 4th quarter). Boston has lost two straight after a five-game winning streak and the 76ers are 8-1 at home. Boston's Tatum has been out due to COVID-19 protocols but head coach Brad Stevens said Tatum has a "50-50 chance" of playing Friday. Philly is favored by 4 1/2-points. The second game features the 7-7 Nuggets at the 8-5 Suns at 10:05 ET. Denver center Nikola Jokic is averaging a triple-double 14 games into a 72-game schedule (25.1-11.4-10.0), as the Nuggets play the Suns both tonight and Saturday in Phoenix. Friday will be the third game for Phoenix after having three postponed due to contract-tracing concerns after playing the Washington Wizards on Jan 11. It will also be the second game against the Nuggets this season, as the Suns won 106-103 in Denver on New Year's Day. Suns are favored by one point.
The 11-4 Clippers can match the Lakers at 12-4 with a home win over the 6-7 Thunder (Clippers are favored by 13 points). The Bulls may be just 6-8 but they own the NBA's best pointspread record (10-4 ATS), as they play at the 6-8 Charlotte Hornets (Hornets are favored by 3 1/2-points). The 5-9 Raptors own the league's worst ATS record (4-10) and are home to the 6-7 Heat (Raptors are favored by 2 1/2-points). The league's two-worst teams are also in action tonight, as the 3-11 Pistons are home to the 4-9 Rockets (Pistons are favored by 3 1/2-points) and the 3-10 Timberwolves are home to the 7-7 Hawks (Hawks are favored by six points).
NFL: I'll do a special NFL-only Ness Notes on Saturday (preview of AFC and NFC champions games), with the latest update on Patrick Mahomes.
Philip Rivers 'obit:' The San Diego Chargers coveted Eli Manning and wanted to select him with their first round pick of the 2004 NFL Draft. However, after Manning indicated before the draft that he would not sign with them, the Chargers agreed to a draft day deal with the NY Giants. San Diego selected Manning first, then traded him to New York for Rivers, taken by the Giants fourth, plus draft picks. Rivers was one of 17 QBs taken in the 2004 draft, along with Manning and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger Rivers announced his retirement on Wednesday, ending a 17-year career with the Chargers 16) and Colts (one). Eli and "Big Ben" each own two Super Bowl rings but while Rivers has had a prolific career, he leaves without a Super Bowl title (more later).
Rivers walks away as an eight-time Pro Bowler. His 63,440 passing yards ranks fifth behind Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, plus his 421 passing TDs ranks fifth behind the same foursome. One HAS to admire his 240-game streak of regular season starts, as it ranks second to only Favre's 297 among QBs. He made the playoffs in a modest SEVEN of his 17 seasons but never advanced past the Conference Championship and his lone trip there was in the 2007 season at New England (lost). That said, it's hard to argue his impact with the Chargers' franchise. The Chargers were 35-77 in the seven years prior to his arrival but 76-36 in the seven years after, while winning the division in each of his first FOUR seasons as the starter. Is he a Hall-of-Famer? Consider this. Just two QBs in the Super Bowl era have made the Hall of Fame without playing in a Super Bowl, Warren Moon and fellow Charger Dan Fouts. Then again, Joe Namath is in the Hall of Fame because he won a single Super Bowl, albeit one of the most famous of all-time. However, Namath made just 129 starts in his 13-year career, going 62-63-4 as starter. His career completion percentage is a pathetic 50.1% and he threw 173 TD passes against 220 INTs. Beauty is ALWAYS in the eye of the beholder.