Ness Notes: Wednesday, Dec 2

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."

NFL: Baltimore is in the midst of one of the biggest outbreaks in professional sports, as the Ravens have had 10 straight days of positive tests as they prepare to play the undefeated Steelers in a game that has been postponed THREE times because of the outbreak. At least a dozen Ravens have tested positive, including reigning MVP Lamar Jackson. Baltimore practiced early Tuesday and had two more positive COVID-19 tests before departing Tuesday. The Ravens arrived at their hotel in Pittsburgh later in the evening and as of now, the game is still on with the NFL looking to complete its longest Week 12 in history. Of note is that the game will kick off at 3:40 ET, as NBC wanted to keep its Prime Time schedule of The 88th Annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center intactWhen was the last time the NFL played "second-fiddle?" Pittsburgh originally opened as a 3 1/2-point favorite but as of Wednesday morning is favored by 10 points (over/under is 42 1/2).  My Week 12 recap and Week 13 preview of the NFL will be the featured topic of Friday's Notes

College hoops: Entering Tuesday there have been just THREE games between ranked opponents, No. 1 Kansas beating No. 6 Kansas 102-90, No. 3 Villanova beating No. 18 Arizona St 83-74 and No. 14 Texas Tech losing to No. 17 Houston 64-53. However, Tuesday's slate featured two such matchups, as No. 6 Duke and No. 8 Michigan St (Coach K vs Izzo) squared off, as did No. 7 Kansas and No. 20 Kentucky. The Champions Classic has been played as a doubleheader at a neutral site in the past but COVID-19 has changed all that. The game between No. 8 Michigan State and No. 6 Duke game was switched to Duke's campus, with the Blue Devils agreeing to visit Michigan State next year, while No. 7 Kansas and No. 20 Kentucky will meet in Indianapolis. 

No. 8 Michigan State (+4) came back from an early nine-point deficit to beat No. 6 Duke 75-69 in the first game of the Champions Classic. It was Duke's third non-conference home loss since 2000 but second in the last two seasons after an 85-83 defeat to Stephen F. Austin last November. There were no fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium but that won't take away from the win said Tom Izzo (don't blame him). No 20. Kentucky (+4) used a 15-0 run to lead 17-5 at the midpoint of the first half against No. 7 Kansas but the Jayhawks closed within 35-29 by halftime. Kansas opened the second half on a 10-3 run to grab a 39-38 lead and won 65-62  despite shooting 29.9 percent for the game. No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 9 Creighton, No. 12 Villanova, No. 14 North Carolina, No. 15 Virginia and No. 17 Texas all beat unranked opponents, going 5-0-1 ATS. The Y-T-D numbers have higher ranked teams going 3-2 SU in matchups with fellow ranked opponents but 2-3 ATS. In games between ranked teams and unranked opponents, ranked teams are off to an impressive 45-4 (.918) SU start, while going 29-18-2 (61.7%) ATS. 

There are THREE games on Wednesday featuring top-25 teams, including the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams playing in the Jimmy V Classic at Indianapolis. The college basketball world expects No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor to meet in Saturday's championship game but both schools have work to do to make that happen. The 2-0 Bulldogs have beaten then-No. 6 Kansas and Auburn in the season's first week and will meet No. 15 West Va tonight at 7:00 ET. Let's hear it for Bob Huggins. Upon learning that Tennessee, Gonzaga's originally scheduled foe, had to vacate its spot in the event due to program concerns over COVID-19, Huggins reached out to his connections at ESPN, which has television rights to the Classic. "I thought, ‘What the heck, let's call ESPN,'" Huggins said. "So, I called some guys that I've known for a long, long time and said, ‘Can you work this out and get us in the Jimmy V to play Gonzaga?" Huggins got his wish. The programs haven't met since Gonzaga edged West Virginia 61-58 in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, en route to a berth in the national championship game. Gonzaga is favored by nine points . Tipping at 10:00 ET will be No. 2 Baylor (2-0) against No. 5 Illinois (3-0), as this contest marks the first meeting this season of top-5 opponents. The Bears are favored by 5 1/2-points. The third meeting of ranked opponents will feature two 3-0 teams in the Maui Invitational championship game, as  No. 14 North Carolina and No. 17 Texas. The fact that the Maui Invitational is being played in Asheville, NC, is all one needs to know about just how strange the 2020-21 college season is and will be. Texas is aiming for its first Maui Invitational title in five all-time appearances in the event. The best finish for the Longhorns had been a pair of third-place finishes, while. North Carolina is going for its FIFTH Maui Invitational title with its seventh appearance in the tournament final. The Longhorns are favored by one points. Two ranked teams have had games postponed or canceled due to COVOID issues (No. 12 Villanova and No. 19 Richmond) but three other ranked teams are in action against unranked opponents. No. 21 Oregon plays its first game of the season against Missouri and No. 22 Florida  St also takes the floor for the first time against an 0-3 North Florida team. No. 23 Ohio St (2-0) is home to Morehead St.

CFP rankings: The top-seven teams remained unchanged in the second CFP standings of the 2020 season on Tuesday. Alabama remained No. 1 (20th No. 1 ranking which matches the total of all other schools).Notre Dame, owners of CFB's longest active winning streak (15) is No. 2 and Clemson, with Trevor Lawrence back on the field, remained No. 3. Ohio State held on to the No. 4 spot, even though the Buckeyes have played only four games. Ohio St canceled last Saturday's game at Illinois following an increase in COVID-19 cases within the program (including head coach Ryan Day) but remained ahead of one-loss Texas A&M (No. 5) and one-loss Florida (6-1).

Ohio State remains the biggest "X factor" in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Buckeyes resumed team activities on Tuesday and are expected to play on Saturday at Michigan State. Here's the rub. Ohio St most likely will have play this week and next week (home to Michigan) to qualify for the Big Ten championship game. However, the College Football Playoff has set no minimum number of games played to be eligible for the playoff. It's just going to be up to the selection committee to figure out how many is too few. "There is a discrepancy sometimes between a team that plays eight or nine games and a team that's played three or four games and frankly that's a problem [in ranking teams],'' said Gary Barta, who is the committee chairman, as well as Iowa's athletic director.

Cincinnati stayed at No. 7, Georgia is No. 8, Iowa St jumped into the top-10 at No. 9 and Miami took the top-10's final spot. 9-0 BYU (ranked No. 8 in the AP poll) remains on the "outside, looking in" at No. 13. The ESPN commentators all seem to think that BYU is being shafted but I just don't get it. No one can seriously believe BYU is anywhere near one of the nation's top-six teams, so what difference would it make if the Cougars were ranked say 9th or 10th? Riddle me this. Why did North Carolina move up two spots to No. 17, after getting shut in the second in a home loss to Notre Dame? Remember, the Tar heels have THREE losses. Anyone curious as to why USC, from the sad-sack Pac 12, is ranked No. 20? The Trojans needed back-to-back 'miracles' to win their first two games and is just 3-0. Anyone on the committee look at the Pac 12 standings and notice that USC's 3-0 start has come over three opponents that have yet to win a SINGLE game this season? How about Oregon at No. 23, despite losing at Oregon St? The CFP selection committee will release rankings Dec 8 and Dec 15, before unveiling its final list Dec 20.

I'll close with a look at the highs (still unbeaten CFB teams) and lows (still winless teams) of CFB 2020. Three schools are at 9-0. Notre Dame (5-4-1 ATS) owns the longest active winning streak at 15, going 10-5 ATS. Coastal Carolina is 7-1-1 ATS in its 9-0 start, extending its winning streak to 10 in a row (7-2-1 ATS). BYU ended last season with back-to-back losses and rounds out this season's 9-0 teams (6-2-1 ATS). No. 1 Alabama is 8-0 (6-2 ATS) and along with 8-0 Cincy (5-3 ATS) has won nine in a row. Marshall is 7-0 (5-2 ATS) is the only other unbeaten team with more than five games played in 2020. Throw in four, 4-0 teams (Ohio St, Buffalo, San Jose St and Western Michigan) and we have 10 schools still unbeaten among ones having played at least four games. Checking in with the Pac 12, USC, Washington (moved into the CFP rankings Tuesday at No. 22) and unranked Colorado are all 3-0.

Checking in our list of 'loveable losers,' there are 11 schools still winless among ones having played at least four games. UL-Monroe 'leads' the pack at 0-9 (3-6 ATS), giving the Warhawks 10 straight losses (4-6 ATS). Kansas is 0-8 SU and ATS (way to go Jayhawks!) and has lost 12 in a row (1-11 ATS). Vandy, 'the brains of the SEC,' is also 0-8 ((4-4 ATS) and has lost nine straight (5-4 ATS). Three schools are 0-5, New Mexico, FIU and UNLV. I listed New Mexico first because the Lobos have lost 14 in a row (5-9 ATS). That leaves five schools at 0-4, UMass (playing as an Independent) plus four schools from the MAC.

UMass has been outscored in its four losses this season 161-12 but is somehow 2-2 ATS. The Minutemen are on an 11-game overall losing streak, going 3-7-1 ATS. I'll leave out THREE of the MAC schools which are 0-4, because Akron stand heads and shoulders over its fellow bottom-dwellers. The Zips own CFB's longest active losing streak, having lost 21 in a row, including going a money-burning' 4-17 ATS. Thursday Notes will preview the upcoming weekend.

Good luck...Larry

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