Ness Notes: Tuesday, Jan 26

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."

CBB; The new AP poll was released on Monday and for the 10th consecutive week, 15-0 Gonzaga was No. 1 and 14-0 Baylor No. 2. Villanova got back on the court last week for the first time since Dec 23 and remains No. 3 with a 10-1 record. Cracking the top-5 for the second time in his first two seasons as Michigan's head coach, Juwan Howard's 13-1 Wolverines are ranked No. 4. However, Michigan's rise comes on the heels of the school announcing a two-week pause in all sports activities due to concerns about a new COVID-19 variant believed to spread at a higher rate. That has led to the postponement of the Wolverines' next four games through at least Feb. 11. It remains to be seen how much their ranking will fluctuate during that time. Florida State can relate, as the Seminoles fell out of the poll from No. 25 in the midst of having three straight January games postponed. However, FSU's won FOUR straight games since returning (THREE by double-digit margins) and re-entered the poll Monday at No. 16. 

Rounding out the top-10 are 11-2 Texas (No. 5), 13-1 Houston (No. 6), 12-3 Iowa (No. 7), 10-2 Virginia (No. 8), 13-3 Alabama (No. 9) and 11-4 Texas Tech (No. 10). Let's hear it for the Tide, who have won NINE in a row and jumped from No. 18 to No. 9, the school's highest ranking since January 2007. Missouri moved up to No. 12 (from 19th), while joining FSU as new to the current poll were No. 24 Oklahoma and No. 25 Louisville. Falling out were No. 20 Clemson (see Monday's Notes regarding the Tigers' collapse), No. 21 Oregon and No. 23 UConn. Kansas remained ranked for the 230th straight week (longest-active streak by far) but the Jayhawks have lost THREE straight for the first time since 2013. Kansas checks in at No. 15 (?) but fell out of the top-10 for the first time in two years. Tennessee lost twice, falling from No. 6 to No. 18 and  Illinois (No. 8 in the preseason) is ranked 19th (??), despite its 10-5 record.

15-0 Gonzaga (just 7-7-1 ATS) and 14-0 Baylor (11-3 ATS) are joined by two 'over-looked' schools, which remain unbeaten and unranked. Winthrop (Big South) is 15-0 and owns a program-record 20 straight wins (Gonzaga has won 19 straight), while Drake (MVC) is not only 13-0 but is 11-0 ATS! FIVE schools (with 10-plus wins) have just one loss. The list includes No. 3 Villanova (10-1), No. 4 Michigan (13-1) and No. 6 Houston (13-1) but also 16-1 Belmont (OVC) and 13-1 Boise St (MWC). Note that Drake will play at 9-1 Missouri St (which is 7-1 ATS, itself) tonight. (Bulldogs are favored by  3 1/2-points).

There was just one game between ranked opponents on Monday, as No. 10 Texas Tech lost 88-87 at No. 11 West Va. Both teams held double-digit leads and lost them. West Virginia trailed 75-63 with 7:11 to go but Miles McBride drove for a leaning bank shot with 5.9 seconds to go, allowing the Mountaineers to escape with the one point wins. Higher ranked teams are now 29-17 (.630) SU but just 21-25 (45.7%) ATS on the season. There are FIVE ranked teams in action on Tuesday, with No. 5 Texas (11-2) hosting No. 24 Oklahoma (9-4). The Longhorns have not played since Jan 16, when their shorthanded squad (because of COVID-19) overwhelmed Kansas State 82-67 at home. Texas' ensuing two games, at Iowa State and at TCU, were postponed because of COVID-19 and player availability protocols among the Cyclones and Horned Frogs, respectively. Oklahoma heads to Austin with plenty of momentum after a 75-68 home win over then-No. 9 Kansas on Saturday. The Sooners have won their last three games overall but have lost their last three road games, at then-No. 6 Kansas, at No. 2 Baylor and at Xavier. Texas is favored by 4 1/2-points. No. 19 Alabama will put its nine-game winning streak on the line when it hosts 5-9 Kentucky ('Bama is favored by seven points). No. 18 Tennessee (down from No. 6) will look to break a two-game slide when it hosts 9-7 Mississippi St. The Vols are favored by  9 1/2-points and when head coach Rick Barnes was asked to explain his team's back-to-back losses by a collective 35 points, replied "We have turned the ball over 36 times, and you can't do that" The man has a point! Last but not least, No. 22 St Louis (7-1) takes the court for the first time since Dec 23 when it hosts 8-4 Dayton (Billikens are favored by nine points).

NBA: The Lakers improved to 10-0 on the road this season with a 115-108 win at Cleveland on Monday night. The East's top record still belongs to the 12-6 Philadelphia 76ers but they lost 119-104 at Detroit. The Celtics got Jayson Tatum back (hadn't played since Jan 8, missing four games) at Chicago and he scored 24 points in a 119-103 Boston win (Celtics are 10-6). The Nets improved to 11-8 by beating Miami 98-85, for a second time in three days. The Heat made the NBA Finals last season but currently are 6-10. The season tipped off back on Dec 22 and Monday's games concluded FIVE full weeks of play. Here's a five-week "look-back!"

The Lakers' 14-4 record is a league-best, although they are a more modest 10-8 ATS. That said, their plus-9.8 point differential is also an NBA-best. The Lakers' Staples Center co-tenants, the Clippers, have won SEVEN straight and check in at 13-4 (10-7 ATS). The Clippers will play tonight in Atlanta against the 8-8 Hawks but Kawhi Leonard and Paul George did not join the team on its flight to Atlanta, as both were ruled out on Monday due to the NBA's health and safety protocols. With no Kawhi or PG, the Hawks are favored by five points. The Utah Jazz own the NBA's longest active winning streak at EIGHT in a row (also 8-0 ATS) and will host the 8-10 NY Knicks on Tuesday at 12-4. In this 'Year of COVID,' the Jazz have started the same five players in each of their 16 games (amazing!). Utah is favored by 11 1/2-points. In the early going, the Lakers, Clippers and Jazz have seemed to establish themselves as the West's top-echelon. At the other end of the spectrum, the 6-10 Kings, the 5-10 Pelicans and the 4-12 Timberwolves are all playing sub-.400 basketball. Is it notable that the Pelicans, led by 'Zion the Magnificent,' are winning one-third of their games? 

Over in the East, I noted above that 12-6 Philadelphia owns the best record but very little separates the conference's top-five (just 1 1/2-games between No. 5 and No. 1), as Boston and Milwaukee are 10-6, Indiana is 10-7 and Brooklyn is 11-8. The Bucks have sure NOT looked like the team that's owned the NBA's best regular season record in each of the last two years but they can't be dismissed after just 16 games. I guess the 76ers and Celtics will be near the top of the East standings for most of the season, health permitting. The 'wild card' is the Nets, after Harden forced a trade from Houston. Harden produced  a triple-double in his Brooklyn debut (32-12-14) and through six games (Nets are 4-2), is playing 40.2 minutes, averaging 23.0-7.3-11.3. KD is averaging 30.4 PPG on the season and since Harden's arrival, has averaged 32.2 PPG (missed one  of the six games to 'rest'). Everyone's favorite teammate, Kyrie Irving, has graced the Nets by returning these last four games. He averaged 37.5 PPG in back-to-back losses to the Cavs but 22.0 PPG and 5.5 APG in two wins over Miami (see anything in those numbers?). Speaking of Miami, the Heat made the NBA Finals against the Lakers in the Orlando 'bubble,' ending their postseason by going 14-7 SU and with a playoff-best 16-7 ATS record. However, the current edition of Miami looks nothing like last summer's team, going just 6-10 SU and 6-9-1 ATS. In fact, just two teams in the East own a worse record than the Heat, the Pistons and Wizards. Detroit is a NBA-worst 4-13 but a respectable 9-7-1 ATS. 

Then there is 3-9 Washington. The Wizards got back on the court Sunday night for the first time since beating the visiting Phoenix Suns 128-107 back on Jan 11. Head coach Scott Brooks and the Wizards were simply happy to be back on the court but the San Antonio Spurs used their depth to beat Washington 121-101. The Wizards are back in action tonight, when they visit the 6-9 Rockets. Houston is favored by 3 1/2-points. Russell Westbrook returned to the court on Sunday, for the first time in more than two weeks due to a left quadriceps injury. He finished with nine points, eight rebounds and six assists in 25 minutes. That got me thinking (always a frightening proposition). Remember the 2011-12 season when KD, Westbrook and super-sub Harden made the NBA Finals with OKC? 

I'll make it part of my Wednesday Notes, along with some "thoughtful commentary" on Aaron Rodgers.

Good luck...Larry

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