Ness Notes: Wednesday, Jan 6

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."

As a freshman, DeVonta Smith caught the game-winning pass in overtime of the 2018 College Football Playoff title game against Georgia (note: it was the 2017 season), as the iconic play was coined, "2nd-and-26!" Smith captured college football's most prestigious award last night, becoming the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991. Smith beat out three other finalists, all of whom were QBs; Alabama's Mac Jones, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Florida's Kyle Trask. Smith won the award with 477 first-place votes to finish with 1,856 points. Lawrence was second with 222 first-place votes and 1,187 points. Smith was CFB's best wide receiver and its most accomplished overall player, leading the FBS in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,641) and receiving TDs (20). Some may be surprised to learn that he's just the THIRD player in Alabama's storied football history to capture the Heisman. For all his wins (323) and national championships (six), Bear Bryant never coached a Heisman winner. Nick Saban has coached all three of 'Bama's Heisman winners, as Mark Ingram won in 2009 and Derrick Henry in 2015. Saban has already matched Bear's six national titles and is it a 'sign of things to come' to note that Alabama won national titles in each of the previous two seasons in which one of its players won the Heisman? 

CBB: There was just one game between ranked opponents, as No. 15 Rutgers visited No. 23 Michigan St. Rutgers forced 18 turnovers (had 13 steals) but shot 30.5% overall (including 3 of 12 on threes) plus made just 6 of 17 FTs. MSU ended the game on a 17-5 run and won 68-45. Is Izzo's team back on track? The Spartans opened 0-3 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 2001-02 season. FIVE ranked teams met unranked opponents and went 4-1 SU but just 1-4 ATS. The lone SU loser was No. 13 Missouri getting beat badly 78-63 at Mississippi St. Updating the Y-T-D numbers we find the higher ranked team going 21-10 (.677) SU but just 16-15 (51.6%) ATS in meetings between ranked opponents, while ranked teams are 142-26 (.845) SU but only 87-79-2 (52.4%) ATS when taking on an unranked foe.

Wednesday's CBB: The lone game between ranked opponents is No. 10 Michigan hosting No. 16 Minnesota. Michigan is 9-0 and the only other teams from major conferences without a loss, Gonzaga and Baylor, hold the top-two spots in the AP rankings. Also note that two other Big Ten schools, Iowa and Wisconsin (both 9-2), are still ranked above Michigan in the AP poll (Iowa is No. 5 and Wisconsin is No. 8). The Wolverines are favored by 7 1/2-points. SEVEN ranked teams are in action tonight against unranked opponents, including three top-10 teams. No. 2 Baylor (-12) is home to Oklahoma, No. 7 Creighton (-5) hosts Seton Hall and No. 9 Tennessee (-8.5) is home to Arkansas. Note that both the Vols and Razorbacks lost for the first time this season last Saturday but while 7-1 Tennessee is ranked in the AP's top-10, 9-1 Arkansas is unranked. One last thing. No. 21 Duke has played just five games (3-2) and will take the court for the first time Duke since a 75-65 victory at Notre Dame back on Dec. 16. The Blue Devils canceled all non-conference games after the ND contest but then also saw ACC games vs Pittsburgh and at Florida State postponed. Duke will host Boston College tonight (hopefully) and is listed as a 12-point favorite.

NBA Update: The season just passed its two-week mark yesterday (season tipped Dec 22). The defending champion Lakers have won FOUR in a row and are atop the West with a 6-2 record (just 4-4 ATS). LA also owns the West's best point-differential (plus-10.0), always a great indicator of the strength of a team. Sitting at 5-2 are the Phoenix Suns, who are off to the team's best seven-game start since the Suns opened 6-1 in 2009-10, the last time the franchise made the postseason. Remember the Suns' 8-0 SU & ATS performance in last season's Orlando 'bubble?' It may just have been a sign of things to come. FIVE teams which made last season's Western Conference postseason are currently sub-.500. Portland, Dallas and Denver have all opened 3-4, while Houston is 2-3 and OKC 2-4. Note: Portland currently owns the No. 8 seeded in the West.

Moving to the East, the Philadelphia 76ers are an NBA-best 6-1 (5-2 ATS). Orlando and Indiana check in at 5-2. Where's Milwaukee, the team with the NBA's best record in each of the previous two seasons? The Bucks have opened just 4-3 but beware, Milwaukee owns an NBA-best plus-13.5 point-differential. Recent 'dead beats' like the Knicks, Cavs and Hawks have all opened 4-3. I'll close with the Toronto Raptors, who were the 2019 NBA champions and last season, entered the postseason as the East's No. 2 seed with a 53-19 record, despite losing Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers as a free agent. Note that the Raptors' record last season put them just 2 1/2-games back of the Bucks and was a half-game BETTER than the West's No. 1 seed, and eventual NBA champion Lakers! How QUICKLY things can change. The Raptors lost Monday night to the Celtics at their temporary home in Tampa 126-114, falling to 1-5 SU & ATS.

NFL Wild Card weekend previewed Thursday (Saturday games) and Friday (Sunday games).

Good luck...Larry

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