Ness Notes: Thursday, Dec 24

by Larry Ness

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."

Bowl season continues: The "no drama" bowl season continued on Wednesday, as Georgia Southern took a 21-3 lead at the half over La Tech in the New Orleans Bowl, on its way to a 38-3 win. Eagles QB Shai Werts, who missed the final two regular-season games with a shoulder injury, ran for three TDs and threw for another. Louisiana Tech's bowl winning streak of six games was the longest active mark in the country but it came to a crashing halt! In the Montgomery Bowl, Memphis took an 18-0 halftime lead over FAU and went on to post a 25-10 victory. Brady White, a sixth-year senior who is the most productive passer in Memphis history, completed 22 of 34 for 284 yards and three TDs. The win was the first for Memphis since a double-overtime victory over BYU in the 2014 Miami Beach Bowl. Memphis had been on a 1-7 SU and 0-8 ATS run in its last eight conference championship or bowl games, so the win was 'sweet.' For FAU,  the result was 'sour,' as the Owls entered on a 6-0 SU & ATS run in conference championship or bowl games. Favorites are now 4-1 SU & ATS to open the bowl season. The first three bowl games averaged 73.7 PPG but the UCF/BYU total closed at 79 1/2, so the overs were 2-1, not an expected 3-0. However, Wednesday's two bowl games combined for just 76 points, as both stayed under (two overs and three unders through five bowls).

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day bowls: The 2020 New Mexico Bowl will be played Christmas Eve (3:30 ET on ESPN) in Frisco, Tx (near Dallas). The game is normally played in Albuquerque, NM but was relocated from New Mexico due to that state's health guidelines regarding intercollegiate athletics and travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Heard that before? The Rainbow Warriors know all about appearing in bowl games the last two decades, with 11 appearances in that stretch. However, only ONE bowl appearance came in the 48 contiguous states, when a 12-0 Hawaii team played in and lost the 2008 Sugar Bowl (2007 season) 41-10 to Georgia (remember Colt Brennan?). Todd Graham is in his first season at Hawaii but has the Rainbow Warriors in their FOURTH bowl in the last five seasons. It's been a bumpy ride for teams all across college football but the Houston program is right up among the schools the virus has affected most. The Cougars had EIGHT games postponed, canceled or rescheduled due to COVID-19 issues. Between Nov 14 and this bowl game, Houston has played just one game, a 30-27 loss to Memphis on Dec 12. The Cougars, who despite an overall 3-4 record (3-3 American Athletic Conference), are headed to their SEVENTH bowl in the last eight seasons but the first under second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen. Houston is favored by 8 1/2-points and the over/under is 59 1/2.

7-2 Marshall and 6-1 Buffalo have experienced similar football seasons. Marshall opened 7-0 and was ranked 15th in the AP poll when it lost 20-0 at home to Rice on Dec 5 as a 24 1/2-point favorite. The Thundering Herd then lost at home again in the C-USA championship game on Dec 18, 22-13 to UAB. Buffalo entered the AP top-25 for the first time in school history (at No. 23) on Dec 13 with a 6-0 record. However, the Bulls (-12.5) were upset in the MAC championship at Ford Field on Dec 18, 38-28. Both schools will be looking to amends when they meet in the Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Al) at 2:30 ET on ESPN. Individually, Marshall's freshman QB Grant Wells and Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson, each have something to prove as well. Wells threw FIVE interceptions in the shutout loss against Rice and then completed just 8 of 24 pass attempts in the Dec 18 loss to UAB. As for Patterson, after 301- and 409-yard games in consecutive weeks against Bowling Green and Kent State put him on the periphery of the Heisman Trophy race, he was held to 47 yards on 18 carries against Ball State. He injured his right knee and was limited during the second half but is expected to play. Buffalo is favored by five points and the over/under is 54.

The NBA season opened Tuesday with a doubleheader and last night, the remaining 26 teams played 13 games. TNT could NOT have asked for a better contest, as the Celtics beat the Bucks 122-121. Boston dominated the first three quarters and entered the fourth quarter with a 101-84 lead. However, the Bucks led 120-119 in the game's final second when Jayson Tatum banked-in a three-pointer with .4 seconds left for 122-120 Boston lead. Giannis was fouled on an alley-oop try on the inbounds pass but after making the first free-throw, he short-armed the second, allowing the Celtics to win 122-121. ESPN televised a late game in which the Suns, who were a league-best 8-0 SU & ATS in the Orlando "bubble," beat Doncic and Mavs 106-102. A few other notable items were the Heat, who lost to the Lakers in six games in last season's Finals, losing their season-opener 113-107 at Orlando. Russell Westbrook served up a triple-double (21-11-15) in his Wizards debut but Washington lost 113-107 at Philly. The WORST news came out of Houston, where the Thunder/Rockets game was postponed. More troubling was the news that James Harden has been fined $50,000 by the NBA and ruled "unavailable" for Wednesday's game due to a violation of the league's COVID-19 protocols after the league reviewed video of him socializing mask-less at a club earlier this week. The season is only two days old!! No games on Thursday but the NBA (on ESPN/ABC) has a Christmas Day Extravaganza with FIVE games, beginning at 12 noon ET with New Orleans at Miami and concludes with the Clippers visiting Denver at 10:30 ET to play the Nuggets, who they blew a 3-1 lead to in last season's playoffs.

Catching up with college hoops: Wednesday featured two games between ranked teams, No. 11 Rutgers (6-0) at No. 23 Ohio State (6-1) and No. 13 Creighton (6-2) at home vs No. 22 Xavier (8-0). Ohio State rallied from a 16-point, second-half deficit and finally took the lead at 63-61, with 4:25 remaining. The Buckeyes pulled away for an 80-68 win, as THREE players had career highs in points; Duane Washington Jr. (22), E.J. Liddell (21) and Kyle Young (17). It was Rutgers' first loss. Although Creighton was the higher ranked team, Xavier invaded Omaha as the unbeaten one. Xavier took an early 17-5 lead but the Musketeers didn't score over the final 5:05 of the first half, as the Bluejays took a 36-34 edge into halftime. Creighton moved to 7-2 with the 66-61 win but didn't cover. Higher ranked teams are now 13-7 SU but just 9-11 ATS against lower-ranked teams.

Three ranked teams, No. 5 Villanova, No. 8 Tennessee and No. 18 Illinois faced unranked opponents and all three won, although Tennessee didn't cover as a HUGE favorite. Most notable among the three was the Fighting Illini falling behind the Nittany Lions at Penn St 19-4 in the first five minutes but recovering to enter the half tied at 43-all. With the score 54-54 at the 13:38 mark, Illinois took complete control of the game to win, 98-81. Illinois recorded its highest point total in a Big Ten game since knocking off Northwestern 99-57 on March 8, 1995. Ranked teams checked in at 101-16 (.863) SU and 63-52-2 (54.8%) vs unranked teams at the start of the week. They have gone an impressive 15-1 SU from Monday-Wednesday but just 8-8 ATS. Doing the math, ranked teams are 116-17 (.872) SU but a more modest 71-60-2 (54.2%) ATS vs unranked opponents. No games in college hoops on Thursday but the Big Ten serves up a four-game 'Grand Slam' of contests on Christmas Day (see Friday's Notes). 

Good luck...Larry

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