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Big Al's Daily Angle: MLB, NHL, NBA and EPL Previews and Odds - 05/02/2022

by Big Al Staff

Monday, May 02, 2022

The Monday sports card features NBA, NHL, MLB and EPL action.The National Basketball Association continues the conference semifinals with two games in a doubleheader on TNT in the second round of the playoffs. Miami hosts Philadelphia at 7:30 PM ET. The Heat have won four of their last five games after beating Atlanta in five games with a 97-94 victory as a 4.5-point favorite on Tuesday. The 76ers have won six of their last eight games after beating Toronto in six games in their 132-97 victory on the road as a 1.5-point favorite on Thursday. Miami is a 7.5-point favorite with the total set at 208.5. Phoenix plays at home against Dallas at 10 PM ET. The Suns have won three of their last four games after beating New Orleans on the road, 115-109, as a 3-point favorite on Thursday. The Mavericks have won four of their last five games after a 98-96 upset victory as a 1-point underdog as a 1-point underdog on Thursday. Phoenix is a 5.5-point favorite with an over/under of 214.5. Four games are on the slate in the opening night of the playoffs in the National Hockey League. Carolina is at home against Boston on ESPN at 7:07 PM ET. The Hurricanes have won six in a row with their 6-3 win against New Jersey on Thursday. The Bruins had their four-game winning streak end with a 5-2 loss at Toronto on Friday. Carolina is a -120 money line favorite with a total of 5.5. Toronto hosts Tampa Bay on ESPN2 at 7:37 PM ET. The Maple Leafs have won eight of their last ten games with their 5-2 victory against the Bruins. The Lightning won their fifth game in their last six games with their 6-4 win in New York against the Islanders. Toronto is a -130 money line favorite with an over/under of 6.5. Minnesota plays at home against St. Louis on ESPN at 9:37 PM ET. The Wild won their seventh game in their last eight with their 4-1 victory against Colorado on Friday. The Blues were on a three-game winning streak before a 7-4 loss to Vegas on Friday. Minnesota is a -130 money line favorite with a total of 6.5. Edmonton is at home against Los Angeles on ESPN2 as a 10:07 PM ET. The Oilers have won seven of their last eight games with their 3-2 victory against Vancouver on Thursday. The Kings had their five-game winning streak end with a 3-2 loss on the road to the Canucks on Thursday. Edmonton is a -210 money line favorite with an over/under of 6.5. The Monday card in Major League Baseball includes eight games. St. Louis plays at home against Kansas City at 1:15 PM ET as a -170 money line favorite with a total of 7.5. The Chicago White Sox are at home against the Los Angeles Angels at 2:10 PM ET as a -125 money line favorite with an over/under of 7.5. Miami is at home against Arizona at 6:40 PM ET as a -155 money line favorite with a total of 6.5. Minnesota plays at Baltimore at 7:05 PM ET as a -160 money line road favorite with an over/under of 7.5. The New York Yankees are at Toronto at 7:07 PM ET as a -120 money line road favorite with a total of 8.5. Atlanta plays in New York against the Mets at 7:10 PM ET. Houston hosts Seattle at 8:10 PM ET as a -130 money line favorite with an over/under of 8.5. Tampa Bay plays at Oakland at 9:40 PM ET as a -165 money line road favorite with a total of 7. Matchweek 35 in the English Premier League concludes with one match on the USA Network at 3 PM ET. Manchester United is at home against Brentford as a -0.5 goal line favorite at PlayMGM with an over/under of 2.5.

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NBA, NHL, MLB, and EPL Previews and Odds - 05/01/22

by Big Al Staff

Sunday, May 01, 2022

The Sunday sports card features NBA, NHL, MLB and EPL action.The National Basketball Association begins the conference semifinals with two games in a doubleheader on ABC in the second round of the playoffs. Boston hosts Milwaukee in the first game of their best-of-seven series at 1 PM ET. The Celtics are on a five-game winning streak after sweeping Brooklyn in four games in the first round of the playoffs. They last played on Monday when they won on the road against the Nets, 116-112, as a 1.5-point underdog. The Bucks won their seventh game in their last nine with a 116-100 victory against Chicago as a 12.5-point favorite on Wednesday. They defeated the Bulls in five games. Boston is a 4.5-point favorite with the total set at 217.5 (all odds from DraftKings). Golden State visits Memphis at 3:30 PM ET. The Warriors won their ninth game in their last ten with a 102-98 victory against Denver as a 9-point favorite on Wednesday. They won that series in five games. The Grizzlies have won four of their last five games with their 114-106 victory at Minnesota as a 1.5-point road favorite in Game 6 of their series with the Timberwolves on Thursday. Golden State is a 2.5-point road favorite with an over/under of 220.5. One makeup game is on the slate in the National Hockey League to complete the regular season. Winnipeg plays at home against Seattle at 2:07 PM ET as a -195 money line favorite with a total of 6.5. The Sunday card in Major League Baseball has 15 games on the schedule. Boston visits Baltimore at 1:05 PM ET as a -150 money line road favorite with an over/under of 8.5. Tampa Bay is at home against Minnesota at 1:10 PM ET as a -145 money line favorite at William Hill with an over/under of 8. San Diego plays at Pittsburgh at 1:35 PM ET as a -190 money line road favorite with a total of 7.5. Toronto hosts Houston at 1:37 PM ET as a -150 money line favorite with an over/under of 7.5. Miami is at home against Seattle at 1:30 PM ET as a -120 money line favorite with a total of 7. Three MLB games throw out the first pitch at 2:10 PM ET. Milwaukee plays at home against the Chicago Cubs as a -200 money line favorite with an over/under of 7. The New York Yankees travel to Kansas City as a -190 money line road favorite with a total of 8. The Los Angeles Angels are at Chicago to play the White Sox with both teams priced as a -110 money line favorite with an over/under of 8.5. St. Louis hosts Arizona at 2:15 PM ET as a -180 money line favorite with a total of 7.5. Texas is at home against Atlanta at 2:35 PM ET. Colorado plays at home against Cincinnati at 3:10 PM ET as a -150 money line favorite with an over/under of 10.5. San Francisco is at home against Washington at 4:05 PM ET as a -180 money line favorite with a total of 7.5. Cleveland visits Oakland at 4:07 PM ET as a -125 money line road favorite with an over/under of 7.5. The Los Angeles Dodgers are at home against Detroit at 4:10 PM ET as a -260 money line favorite with a total of 7.5. The New York Mets host Philadelphia for Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN at 7:08 PM ET. The Mets are a -180 money line favorite with an over/under of 6.5.Matchweek 35 in the English Premier League continues with three matches. Two matches begin at 9 AM ET. Chelsea travels to Everton on the USA Network as a -0.5 goal line road favorite with a total of 2.5. Tottenham plays at home against Leicester City on Peacock as a -1 goal line favorite with an over/under of 3. Arsenal is at West Ham United at 11:30 AM ET on the USA Network as a -0.5 goal line road favorite with a total of 2.5.

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The Fall of Manchester United

by Hollywood Sports

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022

Manchester United has been a slow but inevitable train wreck waiting to happen ever since the club parted ways with manager Jose Mourinho in December of 2018. But it took the short-sighted signing and return of Cristiano Ronaldo this season to accelerate the collapse of this squad built on a shaky foundation. On paper, things do not appear so bad for the Red Devils. They began Matchweek 35 in sixth place in the English Premier League table. They reached the Knockout Stage of the UEFA Champions League before losing to Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16. No shame losing to that Spanish side that won La Liga last season and who have been perennial Knock State participants in the Champions League under manager Diego Simeone. But Manchester United has probably little chance of returning to the Champions League next season being five points behind the fourth-place Arsenal who holds the final qualify spot — and the Gunners have two matches in hand still relative to the Red Devils. The underlining dynamic is of a team that is moving quickly in the wrong direction. The sacking of Mourinho in the middle of the 2018-19 campaign was warranted. He was in his third year managing the team — and that is about his shelf life before his prickly personality alienates both his players and upper management. The team was underperforming on the pitch. Management brought in a former player in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to serve as the caretaker manager — and the team responded by winning 14 of 17 matches at one point the rest of the way. But they also lost seven of nine during a stretch which triggered doubts that Solskjaer lacked the tactical expertise to maneuver a club with the high expectations of Manchester United. Ownership decided to make Solskjaer the permanent manager, yet with questions remaining about his tactical acumen and his ability to command the respect of the strong personalities in the locker room, it seemed like his termination was inevitable at some point. The team did improve in the 2020-21 season from the sixth place Solskjaer steered the team in half a season to a tie for third place and qualification in the Champions League. The Red Devils then claimed second place last year with eight more points than they accumulated the previous season. Under those conditions, it was hard to get rid of Solskjaer despite it still seeming he could not bring the franchise their first English Premier League title since 2012-13. When the team started slow this season, ownership finally relieved him of his duties on November 21st. They brought in Ralf Rangnick as the caretaker manager. The ironic aspect of the Solskjaer stewardship was that management was doing a good job of bringing in talent to compliment the exciting young players that were on the roster. The winter transfer period signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon in 2020 turned out to be a brilliant move. He offered the team stability in the midfield that was not getting consistently from Paul Pogba, who was supposed to be the cornerstone of the franchise when he signed a budget-busting contract. With young scoring talents like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood, the Red Devils had legitimate attackers that could compete with Man City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. Even bringing Edinson Cavani from Paris Saint-Germain for 2020-21 offered the side a veteran attacker who could offer yet another scoring punch in the starting XI or off the bench. Man United entered the 2021 summer transfer window in desperate need of holding midfielders with vertical passing skills. Instead, this is when management went in a different direction to make a big splash by resigning Ronaldo. Perhaps the reunion with the international superstar and former player was a boon for public relations in the short term, but his addition to the roster disrupted the chemistry of the team. Ronaldo was no Cavani — if he was leaving Juventus to return to Manchester for the first time since the 2008-09 season, he was coming as the team’s talisman. But at 36-years-old, Ronaldo’s talents were on the decline — this is why he left Real Madrid for a Serie A side in Juventus three years prior. Bringing back a Prodigal Son is what a team does look to re-establish relevance. This Man United team was still on the ascent, albeit with perhaps the wrong manager. Ronaldo sucked all the air out of the room. And he replaced Fernandes as the leader on the pitch while taking over penalty kick responsibilities. His role as the number nine forward displaced the role Rashford, Martial, and Greenwood would often take. It was like the brother 15-years older than all his siblings coming back home to live at the parents' house and then expecting everything to return to the way it was when he left. Ronaldo has been about as good as expected. In 31 EPL matches, he has 17 goals. His three assists are light — and make a statement. But the productivity of his teammates — the ones that are still around — has diminished. Fernandes has scored nine goals and assisted on seven goals in the EPL after scoring 18 goals and assisting on 14 more in the English top-flight last season. Rashford is in a complete funk with only four goals and two assists after registering 11 goals and 11 assists last year and 17 goals with eight assists two years ago. Martial became disgruntled and transferred to Sevilla in January. Greenwood is unavailable after getting in trouble with the law. Cavani has played 10 minutes in the last 12 EPL matches after scoring 10 goals and added four assists in part-time work last season. And the team still lacks quality defensive midfielders. Change is afoot at Old Trafford in the offseason with the franchise finally making the big splash in leadership by hiring Erik ten Hag away from Ajax. It remains to be seen if retaining a 37-year-old Ronaldo will be in his long-term plans, but that seems unlikely. Pogba needs to go. The club needs to fix the Rashford decline and build around Jaden Sancho who they also brought in last year (a much better fit with the younger core talent if Ronaldo was not around). Fernandes should remain a solid investment. The Red Devils are desperate for world-class defensive midfielders. Things will not be easy. Manchester City and Liverpool are not just the best two teams in the EPL, they are the best two clubs in Europe. Chelsea is a step behind and has the challenge of acquiring new ownership — but they also won the Champions League last season so they are dynamite for a third-place club. Arsenal appears to be firmly in a promising rebuild. Tottenham remains solid. Man United was in a much better position a year ago at this time. Making a hard decision on Solksjaer earlier probably would have served the club better. In hindsight, the Ronaldo signing appears to be the actions of a uber-rich club still smelling the fumes from the Super League money-grab aspirations that went up in smoke. Best of luck — Frank.

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The Early Season Value of Eric Lauer

by Team Del Genio

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022

Eric Lauer has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2022 season in Major League Baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers’ left-hander came into the last day of April with a 1-0 record that goes along with a sparkling 2.20 era and a 1.04 whip in three starts.Lauer was coming off a dominant effort where he allowed no runs in six innings while striking out 14 batters on the road in Philadelphia on April 24th. He induced seventeen swinging strikes and 36% of his 98 pitches in the effort were either a called strike or a swinging strike. Bettors looking at Lauer’s season numbers last year may have overlooked what appears to be a breakout season. He posted a 7-5 record in 118 2/3 innings with a 3.19 era and a 1.13 whip. Yet Lauer hinted at a possible breakthrough season this year after posting a 2.60 era in his 62 1/3 innings after the all-star break last season. He struck out 3.70 batters for every walk he issued during that span. The crafty 26-year-old has five different pitches at his disposal, and the 94.5 miles per hour on his fastball this season is 1.5 mph higher than last year.Lauer rewarded his backers in his start at home against the Chicago Cubs with seven innings of work where he allowed only one earned run. He struck out eleven batters and continued his impressive ability to miss bats. Twenty-one of his pitches went for swing-and-miss strikes, and 35% of his pitches overall were either called strikes or swing-and-miss strikes. Eric Lauer completes the month of April with a 2-0 record along with a 1.93 era and a 0.99 whip. He has 34 strikeouts in his 22 1/3 innings through four starts. He has walked only five batters. The Brewers were swinging cold bats, yet they have scored 20 runs in their last two games. The opportunities to buy low when Lauer is on the mound make be disappearing quickly, especially if the Milwaukee hitters continue to hit like they have against Cubs’ pitching this weekend. Yet Lauer still may offer some money line or under value as spring moves into summer. Good luck - TDG.

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Analyzing ATS and O/U Data for the NBA Play-In Tournament

by Team Del Genio

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022

We at Team Del Genio like to assess the against the spread and totals data for unique circumstances where perhaps the situation presents an inherent edge to the favorite/underdog or over/under that the oddsmakers and/or market may fail to appreciate. Last month, we looked at how NCAA tournament teams performed in their next if they won their previous tournament game in overtime. This time, we examine NBA play-in tournament games. The play-in tournament to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Eastern and Western Conference playoffs is not like any other playoff game in the NBA. While there is a single-elimination dynamic for most of the teams competing in this event (with the exception being for the initial seventh and eighth seeds who earned the opportunity to play a second play-in single-elimination game for the eighth seed if they lose their initial play-in game for the seventh seed), those games are different than elimination games in seven-game playoff series. A playoff series where teams play each other four to seven times in a row breeds familiarity and rewards adaptions and adjustments. These play-in games lack that component. These games might produce interesting data that comes from (relatively) unfamiliar opponents playing in must-win showdowns. The NBA has now had three play-in tournaments, yet for our purposes, we are going to ignore the data from its initial incarnation since those games were played on a neutral court in the bubble during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season. Last year was the first time play-in games were played on true home courts with fans. All six home teams were favored, yet only three of them covered the point spread in victory. Four of the home teams won their games, with Memphis’ 100-96 victory against San Antonio as a 4.5-point favorite being the lone game where the home team won straight-up but did not cover the point spread. The over/unders split out at 3-3, yet the final game went over only because Memphis’ upset win against Golden State went to overtime. That game was still 18 points under the number before the five-minute overtime session where 31 combined points were scored.This year, all six play-in games finished under the number. Atlanta’s initial 132-103 victory at home against Charlotte to advance to play for the eighth seed was the closest call with that final score just finishing under the common closing number of 235.5. All five remaining play-in games averaged more than 11 points below the closing total. The under holds a 9-3 edge in the twelve play-tournament games played on a true home court. All six favorites in the play-in tournament this year won their games. Five of these six favorites covered the point spread in their straight-up victory. Two of these favorites were on the road. Both of these road favorites were playing in the final play-in game, and both covered the point spread in their straight-up victory. In the last two years of play-in games not taking place on neutral courts, favorites are now 8-4 ats. Home teams are just 6-6 ats.Favorites and unders may have had past underlying value in the NBA play-in tournament. Good luck - TDG.

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MLB: April's Best & Worst

by Will Rogers

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022

MLB: April’s Best and WorstThe season started a week later than it was supposed to, but we’ve basically got a month’s worth of baseball to look back on.The five most profitable teams to bet on have been the Mets (+7.6 units), Padres (+7.1), Angels (+4.7), Brewers (+4.4) and Yankees (+4.3). As you can see there’s a big gap between the top two and the other three. The Mets have the best overall win percentage in either league right now. San Diego has benefited from recent series with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Angels have won six in a row as of this writing while the Yankees have won seven in a row and are the only AL team with a better run differential than the Halos. Teams that look strong but haven’t been quite as profitable are the Dodgers and Giants. You’re obviously going to have to pay a high tax to bet the Dodgers on a game by game basis. The Giants, who were the most profitable team to bet on last year, aren’t far off from the top five (+4.1 units).The five least profitable teams to bet on have been the Reds (-13.0 units), White Sox (-7.7), Rangers (-7.2), Braves (-6.3) and Tigers (-6.2). It is obviously looking like it will be a very long season in Cincinnati. They’ve scored the fewest number of runs in the National League and given up the most. The White Sox have been a huge disappointment as have the defending World Series Champion Braves. Texas is 2-9 at home. Detroit has scored the fewest runs in MLB and has dropped six in a row coming into the weekend. Two teams that have been bad and sit just outside the bottom five in net units are Baltimore and Washington. Could be an ugly season in the Beltway. Pittsburgh is also bad, but like Baltimore, will be big underdogs most games, somewhat limiting their losses in the race to the bottom of net unitsThe rash of Unders has been a big topic of discussion. Entering play on Saturday, only five teams have gone Over in more games than they’ve gone Under: Reds, Guardians, Rockies, Phillies, Cardinals. The Reds and Guardians are the only two where the Over is hitting 55% of the time. I’ve previously mentioned the Reds’ ineptitude when it come to giving up runs. The Rockies obviously play half their games at Coors Field, which always has an effect. At 9.8 runs per game, Colorado has the highest scoring games in baseball. It’s interesting to see St. Louis on the list as they are giving up only 3.3 runs per game. There are four teams that have gone Under in at least 70 percent of their games: Red Sox, Orioles, Dodgers and Diamondbacks. The Dodgers are allowing only 2.5 runs per game so far. The team whose games have been the lowest scoring on average is Minnesota at 7.2 runs per game. 

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NBA Playoffs: 2nd Round Previews

by Will Rogers

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022

NBA: Second Round Series Previews Bucks vs. Celtics - The Celtics were the only team to pull off a sweep in the first round, making it look easy against the Nets. The Bucks needed only five games to oust the Bulls. Boston is -185 to win this series. If you like Milwaukee to pull the upset, they are +150. The series outcome with the shortest odds is Boston in seven (+325), followed by Boston in five (+400), then either side in six (+450). Milwaukee in four is the most outrageous outcome at +2000. The Celtics are now only +400 to win the NBA Finals while the Bucks have gone from having the second best odds (+500) to fourth-best (+600). The season series was a 2-2 split with the home team winning all four times. The Over/Under was also a 2-2 split. Three of the four games were played by Christmas, so those results don’t mean much anymore. It is worth noting that Boston has covered nine straight times vs. Milwaukee.What definitely matters is the Celtics have Robert Williams back while the Bucks are probably going to be without second leading scorer Kris Middleton for the duration of this series. Jaylen Brown has said he’s okay for Game 1 despite an injured hamstring. Boston led the league in scoring defense (104.5 points per game) in the regular season, but Milwaukee easily had the best defensive efficiency rating in the first round of the playoffs (93.9).  Warriors vs. Grizzlies - With Memphis having only advanced last night, we’re still seeing some discrepancy in the market when it comes to series price. Golden State, even though it is the lower seed, is favored to win the series. They are as high as -275 at BetMGM but -200 at the SuperBook. The Grizzlies are +210/+175 respectively at those two shops. Memphis won the season series 3-1, including a 28-point beatdown at home in late March. But Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all did not play in that game, which was the Warriors’ worst loss of the season. These were the two highest scoring teams in the first round with Golden State also posting the highest offensive efficiency rating. However, eight of the last ten meetings have gone UnderThe Warriors haven’t played since Wednesday while the Grizz are dealing with a less than 48 hour turnaround between series. Memphis was 8-2 SU and ATS as a home underdog in the regular season. Perhaps some of the skepticism surrounding them is that they trailed Minnesota by double digits in the fourth quarter in all but one of the six games. Three times they overcame a double digit fourth quarter deficit to win.  76ers vs. Heat - This series has taken a dramatic turn before it even began with Joel Embiid being out indefinitely for the 76ers. Philadelphia still has James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, but the odds for Game 1 have shot up based on the Embiid news and the Sixers are now as high as +8.5 at most shops. For Miami, Jimmy Butler has said he’s good to go for Game 1. Butler missed the close out game in the first round vs. Atlanta. Tyler Herro, who is dealing with a cold, also said he’d be ready. Kyle Lowry did not practice on Friday after missing the last two games vs. Atlanta.The regular season was a 2-2 split. Two of the games were played after Harden was traded to Philadelphia. The teams split those, each winning on their home floor. Three of the four games went Under. The most recent went Over.Do not forget that Philadelphia led its first round series with Toronto three games to none. Three of their wins came by double digits and it was a 35-point win in the close out game.  Mavs vs. Suns - Phoenix, who has the league’s best record, is a big -350 favorite to win their second round series. A five-game series win (+280) has the shortest odds, followed by a seven-game series win (+330). It was not a dominant first round performance from the Suns by any means. They needed six games to get rid of New Orleans and posted the worst net efficiency rating of any team that advanced. However, some of that can be pinned on the fact they didn’t have Devin Booker much of the series. Booker is now back. Chris Paul averaged 22.3 points and 11.3 assists in Round 1. Luka Doncic missed the first three games of the first round, but the Mavs still were able to oust the Jazz in six games. Two of the last three games came down to the final possession. Dallas has covered five straight.The line for Game 1 is Phoenix -6. They swept the season series 3-0 and have beaten the Mavericks nine straight times going back to 2020. 

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The Limitations of Season-Long Analytics: A Look at North Carolina's Championship Game Run

by Hollywood Sports

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022

Before the college basketball season started, I vowed to try to pay attention to teams that made significant advances during the season and into March. I had three reasons why the 2021-22 season would be unique in this regard.(1) The first full season of normality after the COVID-impacted 2020-21 campaign. The previous season was chaotic for all college basketball teams. Practice sessions were different with coaches and players navigating the rules of the road regarding what was safe and appropriate during a pandemic. Players were frequently unavailable to practice and/or play in games if they tested positive for COVID. These necessary disruptions impacted player and team development. While things were not back to pre-COVID levels of normalcy, the easing of COVID regulations provided coaches the opportunity to better develop individual skills and team cohesion. (2) The NCAA’s decision to grant everyone an extra year of eligibility would create some intriguing teams with veteran experience. The NCAA did not deem any collegiate player who competed during the COVID-impacted 2020-21 season to lose that year of college eligibility. This allowed many teams to bring back fifth-year seniors and even six-year “super seniors” who had already been granted an extra year of eligibility earlier in their collegiate careers. These teams who may lack the elite talent of the blue-chip programs could make up the divide with older groups with depth — and their experience may help them peak once March hit with single-elimination tournaments. Miami, Florida was a great example of this phenomenon as they were led by Kameron McCusty and Charlie Moore as super sixth-year seniors who led a starting five consisting of four seniors. Despite being a #10 seed, the Hurricanes reached the Elite Eight before losing to the eventual National Champion Kansas Jayhawks. (3) The opening up of the transfer portal is changing college basketball, irrespective of the after-effects of the pandemic. Most coaches say that the new transfer window rules have had the biggest impact on how college basketball operates. Good for the players (and boo-hoo for the well-paid head coaches whose jobs became more challenging). How transfers will fit into new rosters and systems is not something that is known in the early games in November. Coaches are building a team identity for March and the single-elimination tournaments at the end of the season. College basketball teams have always improved or regressed as the season goes on. Evaluating season-long team data and analytics should always be taken with a grain of salt. But, now more than ever, even the fantastic data provided by folks like Ken Pomeroy needed to be treated with additional scrutiny simply because it might include statistics that changed as qualitative adjustments were made to the individual teams in question. Frankly, I missed it on Miami (FL) this season. I did not appreciate how good they would be in the NCAA Tournament (and too quickly dismissed their results as a result of a favorable road to the Elite Eight). Fortunately, I finally figured out North Carolina — but it took their victory against a very good UCLA team for me to finally appreciate what rookie head coach Hubert Davis has done with this Tar Heels team. I thought that Bruins' team that went to the Final Four last year was really good — but North Carolina rallied from a 56-51 deficit with under nine minutes to go to cleanly win by a 73-66 score. A 22-10 run to close out that game was impressive. A mistake the analytics community in all-sports can make is not knowing when to pivot away from season-long stats to privilege recent data — ask those bettors who did not figure out the Cincinnati Bengals. One of the power rankings systems I use considered the Tar Heels the best team in the nation going into the Final Four weekend in terms of Net Adjusted Efficiency over their last ten games. Those numbers also ranked North Carolina with the fifth-best defense in terms of Adjusted Efficiency since February 17th (before the Final Four). What made an impression on me was the team balance Davis had fostered. Davis’ decision to have R.J. Davis take over more of the ball-handling duties to let Caleb Love play more off the ball as a wing made a significant difference. Four different players led them in scoring in each of their first four NCAA Tournament games. Brady Manek scored 28 points in their opening win against Marquette. R.J. Davis poured in 30 points in their dethroning of the reigning champion Baylor. Caleb Love scored 30 points in the win against UCLA. And then Armando Bacot scored 22 points and added 20 rebounds in their 20-point win against St. Peter’s. It was then Love on in the Final Four showdown with Duke who took charge for this team by scoring 28 points against the Blue Devils. What these Tar Heels could do that too many of the teams under Roy Williams could not is make their 3s. North Carolina saw at least one player nail at least three 3s in each of their games in the Big Dance. And while them taking 38.0% of their shots from behind the mark is just above the 37.7% national average, there were many years under Williams where they were not taking more than 30% of their shots from 3-point range. The Tar Heels were rolling — and I expected the momentum to continue after the continued confidence they have after beating a Duke team loaded with future NBA talent. North Carolina was our 25* College Basketball Game of the Year in the National Championship Game against Kansas. After taking a 38-22 lead late in the first half, the Tar Heels blew the lead in the second half but, fortunately, held on to cover the point spread getting +3.5 to +4 points in most spots. The oddsmakers and the market evaluated North Carolina for their season-long efforts — and the winning difference (by just a point!) was appreciating the improvements the Tar Heels made along the way that made a different and better team. A good lesson moving forward. Best of luck — Frank.

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Ness Notes: NBA's Second Season

by Larry Ness

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022

After a second consecutive year of a 'Play-In' round, the NBA's 16-team field opened the 2022 postseason back on April 16th.This year's field was missing five playoff teams from the previous postseason. The NY Knicks were a No. 4 seed in the East last season (ending a seven-year playoff drought) but were never really a playoff contender this season. Washington was able to garner a No. 8 seed last year despite a 34-38 record but the Wizards' 35-47 record this year left them EIGHT games 'south' of the final 'Play-In' spot. Toronto saw its run of seven consecutive postseason appearances end last year (Raptors won the NBA title in 2019) but earned a No. 5 seed with a 48-34 record. Chicago ended a four-year playoff drought this season with a 46-36 record, earning the East's No. 6 seed.Over in the West, the LA Clippers failed to make it out of the 'Play-In' round, ending a run of having played in NINE of the previous 10 postseasons. Portland, which had made the last EIGHT postseasons, finished 27-55, SEVEN games shy of the last 'Play-In' seed (No. 10). The most notable absence from this year's playoff field were the Lakers (the 2020 champs), whose 33-49 record left them one game behind the Spurs (No. 10 seed). Taking those three open spots were the Warriors, T-wolves and Pelicans. Golden St had been to FIVE straight NBA finals (2015-19) but after a nightmare 2019-20 season, didn't make it out of the 'Play-In' round last season. The Warriors challenged the Suns for the West's record early on but ended 53-29, giving them the No. 3 seed. 46-36 Minnesota finished with the No. 7 but earned its way into the playoff field by beating the No. 8 Clippers. It marked just Minnesota's second playoff berth over the previous 17 years (the other came in 2018). The West's final playoff spot went to New Orleans, which played the entire season without 'King' Zion. The Pels were just 36-46 in the regular season but won a home game over the Spurs and then won at the Clippers, to snag the West's No. 8 seed.It's important to note at this time of year that the NBA playoffs do not typically serve up “unlikely” champs. After all, the NBA consists of 30 teams but just 16 have won championships since the 1976-77 merger. Only EIGHT teams have won multiple titles, with the Lakers leading the way with 11. The Lakers are followed by the Bulls (six), Spurs (five), Celtics (four), Warriors, (three), Heat (three), Pistons (three) and Rockets (two). Taking a closer look, let me return to the start of the 1979-80 season, when Bird and Magic entered the NBA, rejuvenating what was a 'dying' league. Here's what a check of the history books tells us. Of the 42 championship teams since that 1979-80 season, 19 have been teams which finished the regular season with the best regular season record (or tied for the best record). Ten champs have been teams which finished with its second-best mark and seven others with its third-best record. That said, the 2021 champion Milwaukee Bucks were the East's No. 3 seed and at 46-26, owned just the NBA's 7th-best record.The NBA expanded its playoff field to 16 teams for the 1983-84 season but first round series were best-of-five with all remaining series being the best-of-seven. The first round was extended to a best-of-seven series for the 2002-03 season (and has remained in place) with the change arguably benefitting the higher seeded teams by reducing the likelihood of an upset by a lower seed. The lowest seed to reach the NBA Finals was the No. 8 NY Knicks in the 50-game strike season of 1998-99, who would lose 4-1 to the Spurs (the first of Pop's five championship teams). The lowest seed to win an NBA title was the No. 6 Houston Rockets (West) in the 1994-95 season. Houston had won the NBA title the year before, but the team's second consecutive title was an unforgettable one. The Rockets finished that season 47-35, tied for the NBA's 10th-best record. However, Houston won all FOUR series without the home court edge and its 'victims' that postseason had a combined record of 238-90 (.726) during the regular season. No championship team, before or since, has beaten a more impressive group of challengers on its way to an NBA title.First Round recap: The higher seed won all EIGHT of the first round series. There was just one 4-0 sweep (Boston over Brooklyn), three series went five games and four more went six games. Boston's sweep of Brooklyn was notable, as the Nets were preseason favorites to win the East. Throw in the fact that the Lakers were preseason favorites in the West and didn't even make the playoffs, the league's two preseason favorites did not win a SINGLE postseason game. Three of the four six-game series came in the West. Philly went up 3-0 on Toronto but didn't close out the Raptors until Game 6 in Toronto. How about this factoid? Philadelphia / Toronto was the first Eastern Conference first-round series to go beyond five games in four years! Golden St used a 'small ball" lineup to eliminate Denver in five games, but the other three Western Conference series went six games. The 68-14 Suns were the NBA's best team (EIGHT games better than Memphis) but lost leading scorer Devin Booker in Game 2 of their series with the eight-seeded Pelicans. The Pelicans opened the season 1-12 and finished 36-46 (28 games worse than Phoenix) but found themselves tied at two-all after a game 4 win. The Suns won Games 5 and 6 with Chris Paul playing a "game for the ages" in Game 6, scoring 33 points on 14 of 14 FG shooting. It's the most made field goals without a miss in NBA playoff history. Memphis owned the NBA's second-best overall record and its best ATS mark (52-29-1) but not only needed six games to eliminate 7th-seeded Minnesota (playing in just its second postseason since 2014), but also needed dramatic 4th-quarter comebacks to do so. The Grizzlies are the first team in NBA history to have multiple wins in a single playoff series in which they trailed by double-digits entering the fourth quarter. Memphis overcame double-digit deficits to win Games 3, 5 and 6. The third Western Conference series to go six games was No. 4 Dallas over No. 5 Utah. The series win is the first for superstar Luka Doncic (Mavs had lost in the first round in each of the previous two years) but I'd be remiss to not give a shout out to Jalen Brunson. The four-year vet from Villanova owns a career regular season line of 11.9-3.0-3.7 but averaged 27.8-4.8-4.2 against Utah. Brunson scored 20-plus points in all six games, despite NEVER having had 20-plus points in more than TWO straight regular-season games. Want more? He averaged 38 minutes per game and committed just FOUR turnovers. Just the facts (numbers). There were 43 games in Round 1, with home teams going 25-18 (.581) but just 19-24 ATS (44.2%). Over/Under players have seen 27 of the 43 games stay "under the closing number," for a win percentage of 62.8%. Those following the "Zig-Zag" Theory are again finding that it has long ago become a useful (winning) tool. The ATS record is 16-19 or minus-4.6 net games. The second round begins Sunday and, in the East, Miami (Butler), Milwaukee (Middleton) and Philadelphia (Embiid) are all dealing with key injuries. Meanwhile, Boston is healthy and since sitting at 25-25 back on the morning of January 29th, has won 30 of its last 36 games! Over in the West, Booker was back for the Suns in their Game 6 series-clinching win against the Pelicans plus Memphis, Golden St and Dallas have no serious injury issues.Good luck...Larry

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Big Al's Daily Angle: MLB and EPL Previews and Odds - 04/30/2022

by Big Al Staff

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022

The Saturday sports card features MLB and EPL action.The Major League Baseball schedule has 15 games. St. Louis hosts Arizona at 2:15 PM ET. The Cardinals send Miles Mikolas to the mound to pitch against Merrill Kelly of the Diamondbacks. St. Louis is a -160 money line favorite with the total set at 7.5 (all odds from DraftKings unless indicated otherwise). Toronto plays at home against Houston at 3:07 PM ET. Jose Berrios is the starting pitcher for the Blue Jays against the Astros’ Luis Garcia. Toronto is a -130 money line favorite with an over/under of 8.5. Two games throw out the first pitch at 4:05 PM ET. San Francisco is at home against Washington. The Giants pitch Logan Webb against Joan Adon of the Nationals. San Francisco is a -250 money line favorite with a total of 7.5. The Chicago White Sox host the Los Angeles Angels in the opening game of a doubleheader on FS1. The White Sox won their second game in their last three with a 5-1 victory against the Angels on Friday. They improved their record to 8-11 with the win. Los Angeles was on a five-game winning streak before the loss. Their record drops to 13-8 with the loss. Chicago pitches Vincent Velasquez against the Angels Jose Suarez. The White Sox are a -115 money line favorite with an over/under of 9. Cleveland visits Oakland at 4:07 PM ET. The Indians send out Shane Bieber to pitch against the A’s Cole Irvin. Cleveland is a -115 money line road favorite with a total of 6.5. Tampa Bay plays at home against Minnesota at 4:10 PM ET. Shane McClaughlin pitches for the Rays against the Twins’ Chris Archer. Tampa Bay is a -155 money line favorite at William Hill with an over/under of 8.Seattle travels to Miami at 6:10 PM ET. The Mariners pitch Robbie Ray against Jesus Luzardo of the Marlins. Seattle is a -115 money line road favorite with a total of 7. San Diego plays at Pittsburgh at 6:35 PM ET. Sean Manaea is the starting pitcher for the Padres. He faces J.T. Brubaker of the Pirates. San Diego is a -165 money line road favorite with an over/under of 7. Two MLB games start at 7:05 PM ET. Boston plays at Baltimore. The Red Sox pitch Nathan Eovaldi against the Orioles’ Spenser Watkins. Both teams are priced as -110 money line favorites, with William Hill listing the total at 9. Atlanta is at Texas. Bryce Elder pitches for the Braves against Dane Dunning of the Rangers. Both teams are priced as a -110 money line favorites with an over/under of 9. Three MLB games begin at 7:10 PM ET. Milwaukee hosts the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers send out Eric Lauer to pitch against the Cubs’ Justin Steele. Milwaukee is a -150 money line with a total of 8. The New York Yankees play at Kansas City. Gerrit Cole pitches for the Yankees against Carlos Hernandez of the Royals. New York is a -200 money line road favorite with an over/under of 7.5. The New York Mets host Philadelphia in the nightcap on FS1. The Mets tool the first game of this series on Friday when five pitchers combined for a no-hitter in a 3-0 victory. They raised their record to 15-6. The Phillies had their four-game winning streak end with the loss. Taijuan Walker pitches for New York against Kyle Gibson for Philadelphia. The Mets are a -125 money line favorite with a total of 7.5. Colorado plays at home against Cincinnati at 8:10 PM ET. The Rockies send out Chad Kuhl to pitch against Conner Overton. Colorado is a -170 money line favorite at William Hill with an over/under of 11. The Los Angeles Dodgers are at home against Detroit at 10:10 PM ET. Clayton Kershaw pitches for the Dodgers against Beau Briske for the Tigers. Los Angeles is a -320 money line favorite with a total of 8.Matchweek 35 in the English Premier League begins with six matches. Liverpool travels to Newcastle United on the USA Network at 7:30 AM ET as a -1.5 goal line road favorite with an over/under of 3 (all soccer odds from PlayMGM). Four matches start at 10 AM ET. Aston Villa hosts Norwich City on CNBC as a -1.5 goal line favorite with a total of 2.5. Crystal Palace plays at Southampton in a pick ‘em match on Peacock with an over/under of 2.5. Burnley visits Watford on the USA Network in a pick ‘em match with a total of 2.5. Brighton and Hove Albion is at Wolverhampton on Peacock in a pick ‘em match with an over/under of 2. Manchester City plays at Leeds United on NBC at 12:30 PM ET as a -1.5 goal line favorite with a total of 3.

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Draft Report: D-e-f-e-n-s-e!

by Ben Burns

Friday, Apr 29, 2022

You often hear that "defense wins championships" but when was the last time you can remember the first five picks in the NFL Draft all going on the defensive side of the ball? That's what happened last night. We have to all the way back to 1991 to find the last time that the top five picks were all defensive players. Let's take a closer look at some of this year's top stories. #1 OVERALLThe Jaguars got things started by selecting Travon Walker with the first overall pick. While he wasn't orignally expected to go this high, the 272 pound defensive end from Georgia has excellent athleticism and he moved up on the draft boards late.  Recall that the Jags elected to go with QB Trevor Lawrence with the #1 overall pick last year. ROUNDING OUT THE TOP FIVEThe Lions got Aidan Hutchinson with the #2 pick. The defensive lineman from Michigan had previously been projected #1. He led the Big Ten in sacks. Houston's #3 pick was used to secure the first defensive back selected in the draft; Derek Stingley Jr. While he had six interceptions in his freshman season, the LSU cornerback only played three games last year. The Jets had a strong draft and it began with getting Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner with the fourth overall pick. The AAC Defensive Player Of The Year in 2021, Gardner didn't allow a receiving TD in his three years of college. Kayvon Thibodeaux out of Oregon, the fifth straight defensive player chosen, bolsters the Giants' pass rushing skills. TOP QBThe Steelers needed a QB and they grabbed the first one in the Draft with the #21 pick overall. Local product Kenny Pickett had 49 starts for Pittsburgh. He holds all kinds of Pittsburgh (and ACC) records and is expected to be ready to challenge for the starting job sooner, rather than later. Mike Tomlin commented: "We circled the globe -- or at least the United States -- here the last several months, man, just exploring and researching. And it's funny, we ended up with a guy from next door." Pickett, for his part, added: "I'm pretty familiar with the area code. I had a pretty good idea of who it was. I was speechless. It's a lifelong dream, 23 years of hard work to get to this point. That all came in a phone call. It was probably one of the best feelings of my life. I'm so excited to get started and get to work with the guys who are next door to me my whole career in Pittsburgh."BIG DEALThe Titans and Eagles pulled off the big trade of the night. Philadelphia picked up receiver A.J. Brown in exchange for the #18 overall pick.SURPRISE We've learned not to question Belichick. He's certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. Still, many were surprised to see the Patriots pick Cole Strange with their first pick. The guard out of Chattanooga may well turn out to be a decent player. However, most felt he could have been picked up later on. Sean McVay laughed out loud at the selection. REMEMBERING 1991The first six picks of the 1991 Draft were all on the defensive side of the ball. The first overall pick was Russel Maryland, who went to Dallas. While some had very solid careers, arguably, none of those six ended up being a "superstar." Seven of the first nine picks were defensive players and the other two were offensive tackles. Time will tell how this year's draft picks turn out. All I know, is that I'm already itching for some football. 

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April American League Overachievers

by Nelly's Sports

Friday, Apr 29, 2022

April American League Overachievers With a month of the season underway there is enough pitching data to draw some early conclusions and the marketplace will start to adjust to the current season numbers more than history and reputation. In a four-start sample, several starters have had fortunate results however and here are four AL starters that could see adjustments in their upcoming outings.  Michael Wacha – Boston Red Sox: An instant star early in his career with the Cardinals, postingseveral great starts in the 2013 postseason before St. Louis lost to Boston inthe World Series, Wacha was an upper tier NL starter for several seasons.Things have fallen apart for Wacha now with his fourth team in four seasons.Wacha graded as one of the least successful starters in MLB from 2019-2021including posting just three wins over 23 starts with a 5.05 ERA with Tampa Baylast year. Wacha is only 30 years old as it makes sense for teams to continueto take a chance on him as Boston did with a one-year contract. So far, theresults have been promising with a 1.77 ERA in four starts and a 2-0 record indecisions. Wacha has just a 7.5 K/9 however and a 4.0 BB/9 that would be thehighest of his career. He has stranded nearly 93 percent of his base runnersand has a .154 BABIP so far this season compared to a .300 career average. Ashis 4.00 FIP suggests, the current pace for Wacha is unsustainable. Jordan Montgomery – New York Yankees: The Yankees lead the AL East with a 13-6 start and the pitchingstaff has excelled with some of the better numbers in MLB through the firstmonth of the season. Montgomery has been an important piece of that successwith a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings of work, even though he is winless. Montgomeryhas benefitted from facing Baltimore in two of his starts while also posting astrong outing vs. a light hitting Tigers lineup. Montgomery had average results last season for New York in over157 innings and a season line like last season is likely the ceiling for theleft-hander at age 29. The April success for Montgomery has come with the worstK/9 of his career at 6.8 while his xFIP of 4.16 looks much more realistic thanhis current 2.70 ERA. The Yankees should not count on Montgomery being amainstay in the rotation all season if they want to stay on top of the AL Eastand the opportunity to fade New York at an elevated price may be there whenMontgomery’s takes his turns in the rotation in May. New York has a pair of serieseach with Toronto and Chicago in May, both teams that hit left-handersextremely well. Zack Greinke - Kansas City Royals: A closing stop in Kansas City should be a nice way to end aremarkable career for Greinke; a storybook 2022 season is however not likely tocontinue for Greinke who has had some great early season fortune. Greinke hasnever been reliant on elite strikeout rates, but his current K/9 is 2.5compared to his career average of 8.1. Greinke has pitched exclusively in theAL Central in his four starts this season as there will be tougher matchupswaiting as the schedule moves on for the Royals. Greinke has a 4.75 xFIP next to his 2.86 ERA and he has so farallowed only one home run in 22 innings, after he allowed 30 home runs in 171innings last season pitching for Houston. Greinke has had his lowest groundball rate this season since 2007 as more home runs are likely to happen in hisfuture starts and unless Greinke can start to generate a few more strikeouts,it will be difficult for the Royals to count on Greinke to be a leader in therotation. The pricing to fade the Royals won’t often be appealing but Greinkestarts may be worth an ‘over’ look, particularly in a May schedule for KansasCity that features several formidable offenses. Cal Quantrill – Cleveland Guardians: Quantrill pitched well over his head last season in nearly 150innings for Cleveland going 8-3 with a 2.89 ERA. That was with a mediocre K/9of 7.3 and his xFIP of 4.43 was almost exactly his career average despite thebig improvement over his career ERA. This season Quantrill has a 5.15 xFIPagainst a 3.27 ERA as he again is overachieving. His groundball rate has beenjust 37 percent so far this season for by far a career low and his CSW% is justover 23 percent, among the worst of any AL starter at this point in the season. Quantrillwas a 1st round pick in 2016 but he doesn’t have a first-round secondary pitchesand his current BABIP of .221 will be hard to sustain. Quantrill has only 10strikeouts this season in 22 innings while also walking 10 batters. Despite astrong 3.27 ERA at this point in the season Quantrill has allowed at least tworuns in all four of his starts as he has not had a dominant outing and he hashad great fortune to only surrender one home run at this point in the season.With the Cleveland offense off to a decent start, the ‘over’ may be worth alook in upcoming Quantrill outings. 

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