Ness Notes: Tuesday, Jan 5

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."

Jay Berwanger (Chicago) was the first Heisman winner in 1935 and LSU's Joe Burrow its most recent winner (2019). The 202 winner will be announced tonight at 7:00 ET (ESPN), nearly a month after its traditional ceremony date. There will also be no pomp and circumstance, just another casualty of "The Year of COVID." A trio of QBs, Mac Jones (Ala), Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Kyle Trask (Fla) are joined by WR DeVonta Smith (Ala) as the four finalists. Lawrence was the preseason favorite but if he wins it, it would be more of a lifetime achievement award, as Jones and GTrask have had more prolific seasons. The betting favorite is WR Smith, who is arguably the most-talented player in the nation (pretty much the definition of the award, right?). He would be just the SEVENTH winner not to be a QB or RB. Results and commentary in Wednesday's Notes.

CBB: The latest AP poll was released on Monday afternoon and the top-two spots remained the same for the SEVENTH consecutive poll (including the preseason poll). 10-0 Gonzaga maintained its No. 1 ranking (63 of 64 votes), while 9-0 Baylor stayed at No. 2, getting the lone remaining first-place vote. I can't confirm this but "I'm told," that Dabo Swinney voted the Bears No. 1 because after all, Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference, not a 'real' league like the Big 12. 9-1 Villanova is No. 3  but the Wildcats haven't played since Dec 23 and Monday announced it was postponing games scheduled for Jan 5, 8 and 13 due to COVID. The remaining members of the top-10 are No. 4 Texas (8-1), No. 5 Iowa (9-2), No. 6 Kansas (8-2), No. 7 Creighton (8-2), No. 8 Wisconsin (9-2), No. 9 Tennessee (7-1) and No. 10 Michigan (9-0). Dropping out of the top-25 were Big Ten schools Northwestern (19) and Ohio St (25), New to the poll are 8-1 Clemson, which is back in at No. 19 (tied with 8-1 Va Tech) and 7-1 St Louis at No. 23, making its first top-5 appearance since the 2013-14 season. Before catching up on the CBB "numbers' Y-T-D, let me add a few thoughts on the return of 'Shaka Ball' (now in Austin, Tx) and the early season success (for the second straight season) of Juwan Howard of "Fab-Five' fame at his alma mater, Michigan.

The Longhorns owned just one previous win in 17 tries at Lawrence when they routed the Jayhawks 84-59 on Saturday, ending a 17-game conference win streak by Kansas. It marked the most lopsided defeat for head coach Bill Self in his 18 seasons coaching the Jayhawks and it matched the largest margin of defeat for ANY Kansas team in the 65-year history of the Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Other than that, it was "just another loss." Texas opened the season No. 19 in the preseason poll and entered the top-10 (at No. 10) back on Dec 21, its first top-10 ranking under Shaka Smart. Texas was up to No. 8 before the win at Kansas and the Longhorns are now No. 4, the school's first top-5 ranking since Feb of the 2011 season under head coach Rick Barnes (Barnes is currently at Tennessee and his Vols are No. 9). Juwan Howard was part of Michigan's famous or infamous "Fab-5" depending on one's point of view (I'll let others argue that one). However, Howard has surely surprised  most (all?) by 'exploding' out of the blocks for the second straight season, as Michigan's head basketball coach. The Wolverines won the Battle 4 Atlantis last season and reached No. 4 in the nation after a 7-0 start. However, Michigan would go 12-12 after that, ending 19-12 when the season was shut down. Michigan opened this season No. 25 in the AP's preseason poll but fell out, despite not losing. The Wolverines finally re-entered the poll at No, 25 on Dec 21, jumped to No. 16 on Dec 28 and Monday came in at No. 10. Way to go Juwan!

Checking up on games played from last Friday through Monday night. There have been just four matchups of top-25 schools in that span, with the higher ranked team going 3-1 SU (lone loser was Kansas vs Texas) and 2-2 ATS. In games between ranked and unranked opponents, the ranked teams were 9-3 SU but just 6-6 ATS from Fri-Mon. Updating the Y-T-D numbers we find the higher ranked team going 21-9 (.700) SU and 16-14 (53.3%) ATS in meetings between ranked opponents, while ranked teams are 138-25 (.847) SU but just 86-75-2 (53.4%) ATS when taking on an unranked foe.

Tuesday's CBB: There is just one game between ranked opponents, as No. 15 Rutgers (+2) is at No. 23 Michigan St but five games between ranked and unranked foes. No. 4 Texas (-12.5) is home to Iowa St, No. 6 Kansas (-6) is at TCU, No. 13 Missouri (-2) is at Mississippi St, No. 18 Texas Tech (-16) is home to Kansas St and No. 19 Clemson (-5) is home to NC State.

NBA two-week update in Wednesday's Notes.

Good luck...Larry

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