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Big Al's Daily Angle: MLB, NBA and NHL Previews and Odds - 04/01/2021

by Big Al Staff

Thursday, Apr 01, 2021

The Thursday sports card features action in the NBA, the NHL, and MLB.Seven games are on the NBA docket. The card tips off at 7 PM ET with two games. A doubleheader on TNT begins at 7:30 PM ET with Charlotte visiting Brooklyn. The Hornets have won four of their last five games with their 114-104 win at Washington as a 5-point favorite on Tuesday. The nightcap on TNT has Denver playing in Los Angeles against the Clippers at 10 PM ET. The Nuggets won their third in a row with their 104-95 win against Philadelphia as a 5-point favorite on Tuesday. The Clippers had their six-game winning streak end with a 103-96 upset loss at home to Orlando as an 11.5-point favorite on Tuesday.Nine games are on the NHL slate. Five games begin the card at 7 PM ET. A doubleheader on the NBC Sports Network at 8 PM ET with Carolina traveling to Chicago. The Hurricanes’ three-game winning streak ended on Tuesday in a 2-1 loss on the road against the Blackhawks. Chicago ended their two-game losing streak with the victory. Carolina is a -156 money line road favorite with the total set at 5.5 (all odds from BetOnline).The NHL card concludes with Vegas hosting Minnesota on the NBC Sports Network at 10:30 PM ET. The Golden Knights had their two-game winning streak end on Wednesday in a 4-2 loss at home to the Los Angeles Kings. Vegas registered 40 shots, yet it was only William Karlsson and Shea Theodore who scored. Marc Andre-Fleury made 26 saves. The loss ended a six-game winning streak on their home ice at T-Mobile Arena, and it was just their third loss at home in regulation this season.The Wild have lost two in a row after a 4-2 loss at San Jose on Wednesday. This defeat came on the heels of a 4-3 road loss in a shootout against the Sharks on Monday. Kirill Kaprizov and Matts Zuccarello scored for Minnesota.Opening day in Major League Baseball has 15 games. ESPN broadcasts four games. The first pitch takes place at 1 PM ET, with the New York Yankees hosting Toronto. The Yankees send out Gerrit Cole to battle against the Blue Jays' Hyun-Jin Ryu. New York is a -172 money line favorite with an over/under of 7.5. The Los Angeles Dodgers visit Colorado on ESPN at 4 PM ET. Clayton Kershaw takes the hill for the World Series champions while German Marquez pitches for the Rockies. The Dodgers are a -210 money line road favorite with a total of 11.5.The New York Mets play at Washington on ESPN at 7 PM ET. Jacob DeGrom pitches for the Mets, and Max Scherzer takes the mound for the Nationals. New York is a -147 money line road favorite with an over/under of 6.5.The MLB card concludes on ESPN at 10 PM ET with Oakland playing at home against Houston. The A’s send out Chris Bassitt to face the Astros' Zack Greinke. Oakland is a -106 money line favorite with the total at 8.5.

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Ness Notes: "And then there were Four!"

by Larry Ness

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021

The 2021 NCAA Tournament got underway back on March 18 with 68 teams, eight of whom played in the "First Four" to cut the field of 64. The main question entering the tourney was "Could the 26-0 Gonzaga Bulldogs (the AP's No. 1 team since the preseason) win SIX straight games and match Bobby Knight's 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers and go 32-0 to finish an unbeaten season and win the national title?" Only four schools have won a national title while also going unbeaten. The list includes San Francisco (1956), North Carolina (1957), UCLA (1964, 1967, 1972, 1973) and Indiana (1976). Spoiler alert! The "little school from Spokane" has reached the Final Four for just the second time in school history and is now just TWO wins away from completing a "perfect season!" However, before looking a little closer at this season's Final Four, let me begin where I left off with my previous Ness Notes back on March 26.The NCAA defines an upset as a team seeded five spots or lower than their opponent. The 2021 tourney set a record with 12 such "upsets" BEFORE a Sweet 16 game had been played. Double digit seeds set a record by winning 14 games in the 2016 tournament (no counting First Four contests) and after four days of 1st and 2nd round games, that figure has been matched at 14. Heading into the Sweet 16 and then the Elite 8, favorites were 31-20 (.608) and 22-29 ATS (43.1%) and that's only because favorites went 7-1 SU & ATS on the final day of the Round of 32.Sweet 16 favorites went 6-2 SU and 5-3 ATS but two more double digit seeds won, No. 12 Oregon St over No. 8 Loyola-Chicago and No. 11 UCLA over No. 2 Alabama. That extended the all-time tourney record to 16 wins by double digit seeds in 2021 and UCLA's win added another "upset win" (now 13 and counting). The Elite 8 was composed of three No. 1 seeds (Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan), a No. 2 seed (Houston), a No. 6 seed (USC) plus double digit seeds UCLA (11) and Oregon St (12). When all the "dust had settled," the favorites would go 3-1 but 2-2 ATS. No. 1s Gonzaga and Baylor won and covered but No. 1 Michigan was upset by UCLA 51-49, giving the 2021 tourney its 17th win by a double digit seed and its 14th "upset win." I didn't forget about the Houston/Oregon St game which was won by the Cougars, 67-61 (OSU covered). The Beavers' season ended in the Elite 8, as this year's team failed to make the school's third-ever Final 4 appearance (most recent came back in 1963). However, Oregon St (picked to finish last in the Pac-12 standings at the start of the season) sure quieted its critics (and made its bettors VERY happy) by going 14-1 ATS over its final 15 games. Speaking of pointspreads, here's how the 2021 tourney stands entering the Final 4. Favorites are 40-23 SU (.634) but 29-34 ATS (46.0%). I guess it's somewhat ironic that the "longest shot" in the Final 4 field is UCLA (11-seed), which just happens to be the most-honored program in NCAA basketball history. This is UCLA's 50th tournament appearance and the Bruins are in their 19th Final Four. UCLA has won 11 national titles but as everyone knows, 10 of those came under the legendary John Wooden (from 1964-1975). UCLA's 11th title came in 1995. UCLA is just the FIFTH 11th seed to reach the Final 4, joining LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011 (like UCLA, advancing with FIVE wins after playing in the First Four) and Loyola-Chicago in 2018. None of the previous 11-seeds have won their semifinal matchups and with UCLA's opponent being Gonzaga, 11-seeds are staring a 0-5 record right in the face. Then again, as noted above, this HAS been a tournament of upsets and NO conference has accomplished more than the Pac 12 in 2021.UCLA scored the eighth Pac-12 upset in this year's tournament, setting a March Madness record since the tournament expanded to include 64 teams in 1985. The previous high-water mark for a conference was seven upsets, which the Big East and the SEC did in 1985 and 1986, respectively. The Big Ten may have placed NINE teams in this year's "Big Dance'' but only Michigan reached the Sweet 16, as the conference which placed FOUR teams in the AP's final top-8, went a collective 8-9 SU & ATS. Meanwhile. UCLA, Oregon St, USC and Oregon have gone 12-3 SU & 13-2 ATS. Maybe, the Bruins are not yet done.Houston is hardly a 'longshot' but the Cougars join UCLA as one of two non-No. 1 seeds in the 2021 Final Four. However, Houston is the first team to ever reach the Final Four by getting to play four double-digit seeds in a single tournament. The Cougars beat No. 15 Cleveland State, No. 10 Rutgers, No. 11 Syracuse and No. 12 Oregon State. The win over the Beavers gives Houston a 6-0 all-time record in the Elite Eight, the most wins without a loss by any program since the round began in 1951. However, NONE of the previous five Houston Final Four teams emerged with a national title. If Houston's luck were to change in 2021, the Cougars would become just the THIRD non-power 5 conference school to win the title since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985  (Houston plays in the AAC). Louisville (playing in the now-defunct Metro Conference) beat Duke 72-69 to win the 1986 title and UNLV (playing the Big West) won in 1990 by routing Duke 103-73. I'm sure Kelvin Sampson wishes Duke could be his team's opponent in the title game on Monday if the Cougars were to get past Baylor in Saturday's semifinal matchup.Speaking of Baylor, let's hear a shout out to Scott Drew. He took over a devastated Baylor program in the 2003-04 season and since 2007-08, has turned the Bears into one of the best programs in the country. Baylor won the NIT in 2013 and had made eight NCAA tourney appearances (26-4 last season would have made nine) entering this season.  Baylor won the first-ever Big 12 regular-season title this season, the first league championship since the Bears won the SWC regular season in 1950. This is Drew's ninth NCAA appearance with the Bears and Baylor reached the Sweet 16 for the FIFTH time in the last 12 years. The Elite 8 appearance was his third with Baylor and now it's his first Final Four appearance. Baylor opened the season No. 1 behind Baylor but COVID-19 nearly derailed Baylor's dream season, with the Bears being forced to pause for three weeks in February. A 17-0 record before the pause was quickly tarnished with a 13-point loss at Kansas in their second game back. Baylor then lost again in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, but here the Bears are in the Final Four for just the THIRD time in school history (1948 and 1950).The last Final Four team left to discuss is Gonzaga, which enters 30-0, having won all but ONE game this season by more than double digits. Mark Few took over at Gonzaga for the 1999-2000 season and has led the Bulldogs to 21 NCAA tourneys in his 22 seasons (exception being last year, when March Madness was canceled). At 30-0, Gonzaga became the first Division I program to win 30-plus games for FIVE straight seasons. Gonzaga was 31-2 last year, 33-4 in 2019, 32-5 in 2018 and 37-2 in 2017, when Gonzaga made its only other Final appearance, losing in the championship game to North Carolina. Gonzaga was just 12-12-2 ATS entering the "Big Dance" but is 4-0 ATS so far. The Zags beat Norfolk St by 43 points (as a 33-point favorite) and then covered its next three games with an average winning margin of 17.7 points, while laying an average of just over 12 points.Odds as of Wednesday night have Baylor favored by five points over Houston and Gonzaga favored by 14 points over UCLA (note: largest Final 4 favorite since 1985). Enjoy the final three games of this year's 'Dance!'Good luck...Larry

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UCLA's Defense Spearheads its Final Four Run

by Team Del Genio

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021

UCLA reached the Final Four on Tuesday in a 51-49 victory against Michigan. The Bruins only shot 38.9% from the field but they stymied the Wolverines to just a 39.2% field goal percentage to hold them off and grind out a low-scoring victory that only had 100 combined points scored. Probably just like their head coach Mick Cronin likes it.In our write-up for UCLA in their upset victory against Alabama on Sunday, we wrote: “(Mick Cronin) may have made a breakthrough with his team after they gave up 44 points in the first half to Michigan State in the play-in game. The Bruins allowed only 36 points in the next 25 minutes which included an overtime session with UCLA rallying from a double-digit deficit to win and advance. The Bruins defense has been suffocating ever since. In their 67-47 victory against Abilene Christian on Monday, UCLA held them to just 29.8% shooting including 15 misses of their 19 shots from the 3-point line. Since halftime against the Spartans, the Bruins have played their next 105 minutes in the NCAA tournament at a defensive rate that would translate into 55.2 points-per-game on 42.4% shooting. This is the formula for success for Cronin.” UCLA’s 88-78 final score victory against the Crimson Tide was misleading since the score was tied at 65 at the end of regulation. That was 9.5 points below the closing over/under number. The Bruins scored a surprising 23 points in the five-minute overtime period to cruise to the victory. They held Alabama to just a 43.5% field goal percentage. Even after the Tide scored 78 points on Sunday, the UCLA defensive numbers continued to look impressive. Since the start of the second half against Michigan State through their game against Alabama, the Bruins were holding their opponents to 42.3% shooting from the field and limiting their opponents to a scoring rate that would see just 59.4 points-per-game. Cronin goes into the Final Four with defensive numbers that translate into holding their opponents to 57.3 points-per-game on 42.1% shooting since that opening first half against the Spartans. This includes UCLA playing three teams that ranked in the top thirty in the nation in offensive efficiency in those 190 minutes of play including a Michigan team that was ranked seventh nationally at the time. Now the Bruins face the nation’s top offensive team in Gonzaga who are putting up historic numbers. It remains to be seen if UCLA can stay competitive in this game. If they can, it will likely be because they turn the game into a rock-fight like they successfully did against the Wolverines. Good luck - TDG.

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Finding Hidden Value: CBB Maryland’s Home/Road Splits

by Hollywood Sports

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021

Maryland’s head coach Mark Turgeon seemed to shift his tactics a bit after his team lost at Michigan, 87-63, on January 19th. There were 70 possessions in that game. The Terrapins did not see 70 possessions for the next 12 games lasting through the rest of the regular season. Turgeon slowed the pace of the games down particularly on the road. This change in approach helped to create some great betting opportunities later in the season. Let’s look at Maryland's first-round game in the NCAA Tournament against UConn.The Terrapins’ defensive prowess was underappreciated entering that game against the Huskies. While Maryland ranked just 95th in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency when playing at home at the time, they jumped to ninth-best in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency when playing on the road either on a neutral court or in true road games. But Turgeon was also seeing a decline in the offensive effectiveness of his team when playing on the road. At home, the Terrapins were 20th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency — but they fell to 96th in the nation in that metric on the road. They were scoring 62.1 PPG on the road on 42.1% shooting which was -6.7 PPG below their season average. Maryland seemed to be clearly improving their play on defense as the season moved on. They had held their last five opponents to just 63.4 PPG on 39.5% shooting even after Michigan made 51.7% of their shots against them on a neutral court in the Quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. They ranked 14th best in the nation in their last ten games in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency overall which is an improvement over their 25th ranking in that metric for the season going into the NCAA Tournament. Playing away from home where their offense declines but their defense improves offered an intriguing Under opportunity. But I do not handicap if I do not see complementary evidence from the other team involved in the game. In this instance, there was strong evidence from UConn that supported a play on the Under. The Huskies led the Big East by allowing only 64.6 PPG — and they held ten opponents to under 60 points. They have held their last five opponents to 39.9% shooting. And while they ranked 90th in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency when playing at home at the time, they improved to fifth-best in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency when playing on the road! And to put the icing on the cake, UConn was only making 40% of their shots on the road which resulted in 67.7 PPG which was -4.8 PPG below their season average. The Maryland/UConn Under was our 25* CBB NCAA Tournament First Round Total of the Year — and we were rewarded with a winning ticket after the Terrapins held the Huskies to just 54 points in their 63-54 victory that fell comfortably below the total that closed in the high 120s.This discovery about Maryland’s distinct play when playing away from College Park also played a significant role in the winning of our 25* CBB Big Ten Total of Year with the Under in the Terrapins’ 60-55 win at Northwestern on March 3rd. The Terrapins’ strong defensive play on the road also played a role in our backing them in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament against a Michigan State team that played significantly better at home at the Breslin Center than they did on the road. Finding the hidden value in Maryland’s home/road defensive splits made the winning difference on several occasions.Best of luck for us — Frank. 

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Finding Hidden Value: CBB Arkansas’ Home/Road Defensive Splits

by Hollywood Sports

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021

The NCAA Tournament Elite 8 matchup between Arkansas and Baylor presented great value on the Bears. The Razorbacks had once again skirted danger for the third straight game in the 2021 Big Dance by falling behind by double-digits against Oral Roberts before rallying for the win. I argued at the time that the Razorbacks cannot afford to do that for the fourth straight time against this Baylor team — the Bears will start hitting more 3s and the lead will be 20. Baylor did not win by 20 points — but they built a 29-11 cushion in the first half which helped them cover the 7.5-point spread with their 81-72 victory. It was not just the inconsistent play that worried me about Arkansas — it was their particular vulnerabilities they demonstrated that generated their lapses in play. The Razorbacks entered that game ranked 18th in the nation in Adjusted Net Efficiency when playing at home. However, they fell to 39th nationally in Adjusted Net Efficiency when on the road. Handicappers that only looked at overall Net Efficiency may have overlooked this discrepancy. Let’s put a microscope on this. Arkansas had the eighth-best Adjusted Defensive Efficiency at home, but they fell to 43rd in that metric on the road. Looking even closer, while the Razorbacks held their opponents to just 27.9% shooting from behind the arc at home, ranking 31st in the nation, their opponents make 39.1% of their 3-pointers on the road, ranking 317th nationally. I argued that Baylor was the wrong opponent for them playing outside Fayetteville. And while Arkansas wanted to force turnovers with their full-court press, the Bears’ four-guard lineup only turns the ball over in 16.2% of their possessions away from Waco, ranking 42nd nationally. The Razorbacks only made 32.6% of their 3-pointers away from home at the time, ranking 187th in the nation. Baylor made only 3 of 19 (15.8%) of their shots from behind the arc in their Sweet 16 game against Villanova despite leading the nation with a 41.5% clip from 3-point land at the time. Against this Arkansas team that had such disparate home/road splits regarding opponent 3-point shooting, the Bears converted 8 of their 15 (53.2%) of their 3-pointers to make the difference in their win and point spread cover. And we won our 25* CBB Elite 8 Game of the Year on Baylor! Finding the hidden value in Arkansas’ home/road defensive splits made the winning difference. Best of luck for us — Frank.

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Short-Term Value with Portland Trail Blazers' Overs?

by Team Del Genio

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021

Portland concluded March with four straight overs amidst some recent changes in the players that Terry Stotts has been able to send on the court. C.J. McCollum and Josef Nurcic are healthy again after missing time with injuries. Nurcic is still on a minutes restriction but McCollum seems at full strength again as he was averaging 20.3 points-per-game and 4.1 assists-per-game since his return before scoring 24 points and adding six assists in the Blazers’ 124-101 to end the month on Wednesday. The Trail Blazers added Norman Powell last week in a trade deadline deal with Toronto. The guard is averaging 16.3 points-per-game in his first three games with his new team. Stotts is often playing Powell alongside McCollum and Damian Lillard in a super-charged three-guard lineup. However, what that combination offers Stotts in scoring could come at a cost on the other end of the court. Small-ball lineups can suffer on defense. Portland has won four in a row, and seven of their last nine, after their win in Detroit on Wednesday. Playing a Pistons’ team was averaging only 103.6 points-per-game may not have offered much of a challenge to their play on defense. However, their previous game against Toronto may have been a canary in the coal mine regarding the play of their defense in the coming weeks. The Blazers allowed 74 points in the first half of that game on Sunday to the Raptors. Portland went on to win by a 122-117 score. Going into their game with the Pistons on Wednesday, the Blazers had allowed their last five opponents to make 49.9% of their shots which resulted in 118.4 points-per-game. Portland’s 124-101 victory against Detroit finished above a total that closed in the 219 range. Some bettors may see the Blazers’ holding the Pistons to only 101 points as a sign of improving defense. The value on Portland overs may continue for another few weeks before the market catches up.Good luck - TDG.

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2021 MLB Betting Preview

by AAA Sports

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021

As we get ready to bid adieu to College Basketball this weekend, a new season will begin. Major League Baseball’s 2021 campaign begins Thursday and we are ready with outlooks on some of the clubs we think will perform well and others not so much.We like the Angels and the Braves to do well this season. Look for both to win their respective divisions. The Angels’ season win total is only 83.5, so bet that Over. The number opened at 83, so there’s already been some movement. The Halos are +375 to win the AL West (opened +425) and are +175 to make the playoffs. Lots of value there. Not as much value with Atlanta, who has a win total of 91.5 and is -260 to make the playoffs. But we like the Braves +140 to win the NL East (opened +155). The reason there’s value with the divisional odds is because the Mets made such a splash in the offseason. But we think the Braves are still better.We see long years for the Royals and Mariners. So do the oddsmakers. Kansas City should finish last in the AL Central and we like the Under 71.0 wins. Over in the AL West, can’t see the Mariners hitting their 73.5 win total. Perhaps they could finish above the Rangers. That win total opened 71.0, so somebody likes the M’s. But in all due respect, we do not.To win the World Series, we of course like the Dodgers to repeat, just like everybody else does. They are +350 to do so, which is not a bad value at all. Going Over 104.5 wins (opened 103.5) is probably worth it as well.If you are looking for a sleeper to make a playoff run, look no further than Toronto in the American League. The Blue Jays are -120 to make the postseason, which we like as they should finish second in the East behind the Yankees. Anything can happen once a team is in the playoffs and right now the Jays are 9/1 to win the American League.  As a reminder, new baseballs are being introduced for this season. For what it’s worth, there has been a reduction in scoring during Spring Training compared to last year. 

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NHL and NBA Previews and Odds - 03/31/2021

by Big Al Staff

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021

The Wednesday sports card features action in the NBA and the NHL.Ten games are on the NBA docket. The card tips off at 7 PM ET with two games. Miami visits Indiana as a 1.5-point road favorite with the total set at 216 (all odds from BetOnline). Portland travels to Detroit as a 6.5-point favorite with an over/under of 221.5. Brooklyn hosts Houston at 7:30 PM ET.An ESPN doubleheader starts at 7:30 PM ET with Dallas playing at Boston. The Mavericks ended their two-game losing streak with their 127-106 win at Oklahoma City as an 11.5-point favorite on Monday. Boston had their two-game winning streak end in a 115-109 upset loss at home to New Orleans as a 2.5-point favorite on Monday. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown is questionable with a hip injury. Three games start at 8 PM ET, including Utah playing at Memphis. New York visits Memphis as a 3.5-point road favorite with a total of 219.5. Toronto travels to Oklahoma City as a 7.5-point road favorite with an over/under of 219.5. San Antonio hosts Sacramento as a 2-point favorite with a total of 230.5 at 8:30 PM ET. Phoenix plays at home against Chicago at 10 PM ET. The nightcap on ESPN has Milwaukee playing in Los Angeles against the Lakers at 10 PM ET. The Bucks have lost three straight after a 129-105 upset loss in Los Angeles against the Clippers as a 2-point favorite on Monday. The Lakers won their second game in a row with their 96-93 win against Orlando as a 7-point favorite on Sunday. LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain out for the defending champions. Milwaukee is an 8.5-point road favorite with a total of 221.5.The NHL schedule features six games. The slate begins at 7:30 PM ET with two games. Toronto plays at Winnipeg as a -140 money line road favorite with an over/under of 6.5.A doubleheader on the NBC Sports Network begins at 7:30 PM ET with Philadelphia visiting Buffalo. The Flyers were on a four-game losing streak before winning their last two games after a 4-3 win on the road against the Sabres on Monday. Buffalo has lost 18 games in a row. Philadelphia is a -191 money line favorite with a total of 6.Colorado plays at home against Arizona at 9:30 PM ET as a -275 money line favorite with an over/under of 5.5. The second game on the NBC Sports Network has Vegas hosting Los Angeles at 10 PM ET. The Golden Knights won their third game in four contests with their 4-1 against the Kings on Monday. Los Angeles has lost three in a row and six of their last eight. Vegas is a -200 money line favorite with a total of 6. The NHL card concludes at 10:30 PM ET with two games. Minnesota visits San Jose as a -152 money line road favorite with an over/under of 5.5. Calgary travels to Vancouver as a -120 money line road favorite with a total of 5.5.

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NCAA Final Four Preview

by Power Sports

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021

So we’re down to the Final Four. For as much chaos as we’ve seen in this bracket, three of the four teams that are still remaining were in the top four of my own power personal power ratings before the NCAA Tournament started. The obvious exception is UCLA. I thought Gonzaga, Baylor and Houston would all get here. I was far from alone in that assessment, but wanted to mention it anyway! Last month I wrote about how defensive efficiency is key this time of year. Sure enough, both Gonzaga and Houston rank in the top eight nationally in that regard. Baylor is 28th and UCLA is 45th (per KenPom). Several teams ousted in the Elite Eight, like Michigan (4th), USC (7th) and Arkansas (11th) were all pretty high in the defensive efficiency ratings. Personally, I was a little surprised that both Loyola Chicago (2nd) and Alabama (3rd) didn’t make it to the Elite Eight. Interestingly enough, the team that will likely finish #1 in the defensive efficiency ratings at KenPom is Memphis and they just won the NIT.  But you didn’t come here to read about the NIT.Gonzaga is -250 to cut the nets down and given how they’ve looked so far those odds seem LOW. The 30-0 Zags have won all but one of their games by double digits this season. The exception was 87-82 against West Virginia on December 2nd, the third game of the season. Not surprisingly, Gonzaga opened as a 13.5-point favorite over UCLA and that number has already jumped to -14 as of press time. It’s the single largest spread we’ve seen in a Final Four game since the 1996 National Title Game between Kentucky and Syracuse (UK won but did not cover). For the record, the largest spread in semifinal history occurred in 1972. Ironically, it was UCLA over Louisville and the Bill Walton-led Bruins covered the 17-point number in a 96-77 victory. This weekend’s number will not get that high, even though Gonzaga is just the sixth team since 1985 to win its first four Tournament games by 15+ points. As you (probably) already know, two more straight up wins and Mark Few’s team becomes the first team to go unbeaten since Indiana in 1976. The semifinal with more intrigue will be Baylor (-5) vs. Houston. Like the Gonzaga-UCLA game, the total has ticked down a half-point from the opener so far. If you are wondering, in a hypothetical National Title Game matchup vs. Gonzaga, Baylor would be a 5-point underdog. Houston would be +9.5.  But these teams should only worry about each other for right now, not Gonzaga. Baylor is 3-1 ATS in its four Tourney wins. The lone game they did not cover was the 1st round vs. Hartford, a 79-55 win where they were laying 25.5.  Houston is 2-2 at the betting window in its four games, the worst ATS mark among the Final Four teams.  Gonzaga is 4-0 ATS. UCLA is 5-0 ATS (they were in the “First Four.”)  Two of UCLA’s five wins required overtime. The win over Michigan was by two points. Houston and Gonzaga are both 3-1 Under in Tourney action. UCLA is 3-2 Under. Baylor is 2-2. Another intriguing aspect of the Gonzaga-UCLA matchup is tempo. Gonzaga plays at the 6th fastest adjusted tempo in the nation. UCLA is among the 20 SLOWEST. Houston plays slow as well (328th) while Baylor (186th) is middle of the pack in that regard.  Gonzaga is #1 in the country (by a lot) in points per game scored at 91.6. Baylor is 6th (83.7 PPG). Houston (55th) and UCLA (126th) are much further down the list in points per game, but both are in the top 13 in offensive efficiency (as are Gonzaga and Baylor).Houston is #2 in the country in points allowed at 57.6 per game. None of the other three are close to that as Baylor is next highest at 62nd while UCLA and Gonzaga are outside the top 100. But all three still allow fewer than 69 PPG. It should be an exciting finish to the NCAA Tournament! I’m looking forward to it. 

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MLB 2021: NL West Division Preview

by Scott Rickenbach

Tuesday, Mar 30, 2021

NL West Division Preview for MLB 2021Arizona Diamondbacks – Better than the Giants in my opinion but that is not saying much either. At least San Francisco and the Diamondbacks can rest easier know thing that the Rockies should be the ones that land in the cellar in this division. However, Arizona definitely has issues and I have them pegged to only reach mid-70s in wins. The Dbacks have a mediocre lineup and then the rotation is a real concern because Bumgarner not the same pitcher (not even close) he once was. Also, Weaver got crushed last season and Gallen is missing time with a hairline fracture in forearm to begin this season. Solid bullpen but can this team get enough hitting and enough quality starts from its rotation? Big question marks. Colorado Rockies – This team is a mess and could lose 100 games and only the Pirates likely to be worse than the Rockies in the National League this season. The Rockies strength, especially with Arenado now a member of the Cardinals, is with their pitching rotation. However, having a great rotation is not such a big plus when you play your home games at hitter-friendly Coors Field. Respectable bullpen too but this lineup could use more big sticks to outslug teams and they just do not have that. Bit of a rebuild here for 2022 in my opinion. Los Angeles Dodgers – The World Series Champions are expected by many to rule the roost again in 2021 but they may not even win their own division. LA will certainly be great again but San Diego could give them a run for their money. Dodgers should get to upper 90s in wins. Is hard to find much fault with this team but here is the one key component: hunger factor. It is a long season in baseball and hard to stay fully motivated and is not often you see World Series champs repeating. So it will be another great season in LA but the Padres are nipping at their heels. San Diego Padres – This team could challenge Los Angeles for top spot in the division and should finish in the upper 90s for a win total this season which could put them neck and neck with the Dodgers down the stretch run. This team plays with a lot of energy and emotion and that is great to see. I like their lineup and they have plenty of pop. A key to their season will be how well the new starting rotation meshes. They are relying not only on newcomers Darvish and Snell but also Musgrove. None of those guys were Padres last season. Can they fit in well and get comfortable here? Probably yes but that is something to watch early. The bullpen is also stacked. I mean these guys “won the off-season” but will it translate to success on the field? I do believe so and also believe this team will get stronger as season goes on. San Francisco Giants – Long-time followers know I am not a fan of manager Gabe Kapler. The Giants finished a little better than expected last season as the shortened season helped them. San Francisco still had a losing record though and I expect them to lose at least 90 games in what is now projected to be a full 162-game season. This team has some aging veterans so they haven’t fully begun their youth movement and yet they need to. Their lineup surprised last season but it was a short season and I am not so sure they do that again. This is a concern because the pitching just is not there. The Giants bullpen lost a decent arm when Watson ended up with the Phillies. Also, the rotation only has Gausman in terms of guys who produced a respectable ERA last season but his track record in his career shows he has most always struggled to put together back to back solid seasons. That said, behind him is Cueto, DeSclafani, and Webb and all 4 of those guys had ERAs north of 5.00 last season. Tough year expected by the bay!

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NCAA Basketball: USC/Gonzaga Preview, Odds and Prediction - 03/30/2021

by Big Al Staff

Tuesday, Mar 30, 2021

USC plays Gonzaga in an Elite 8 matchup in the East region on TBS at 7:15 PM ET.USC reached the West regional final with their 82-68 victory against Oregon as a 2-point favorite on Sunday. The Trojans have won six of their last seven games. Isaiah White paved the way with 22 points. The senior guard is fifth on the team with a 7.7 points-per-game scoring average. Evan Mobley scored 10 points on four of six shooting. The 7’0 freshman leads the team with 16.3 points-per-game and 8.8 rebounds-per-game.Andy Enfield has led the program to their first Elite 8 in twenty years. They rank sixth in the nation at kenpom with a 25-7 record. They lost in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals to Colorado, which led them to get a six seed in the East region. USC ranks 14th in the adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom. They rebound 35.4% of their missed shots, ranking 12th in the nation. The Trojans are fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. They are sixth in opponent’s effective field goal percentage with a 43.6% clip due to their stout defense inside the arc as they hold their opponents to 41.5% shooting of their 2-point shots, which is the lowest mark in the nation. Free throw shooting can be frustrating with this team. They only make 64.6% of their shots at the charity stripe, the 327th lowest mark in the nation.Gonzaga advanced to the Elite 8 with their 83-65 win against Creighton as a 12.5-point favorite on Sunday. Drew Timme scored 22 points while assisting on another four baskets. The sophomore scores 18.9 points-per-game and averages 7.2 rebounds-per-game. Andrew Nembhard had 17 points with eight assists. The junior is fifth on the team with a 9.2 points-per-game scoring average. The Bulldogs are the last remaining undefeated team in the nation with a 29-0 record to accompany their number one ranking and top-rating at kenpom. They have rattled off 33 straight victories going back to last season, and they have won 26 in a row by double-digits. Gonzaga played a rigorous non-conference schedule that included powerhouses in Kansas, West Virginia, Virginia, and Iowa. The Bulldogs have the country's top adjusted offensive efficiency number according to metrics at kenpom. Their effective field goal percentage of 61.2% is tops nationally. The Zags are seventh nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. They limit their opponents to rebound 23.0% of their missed shots, 18th best in the nation. If there is a crack in the armor, it might start with their half-court defense. Their opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 47.2%, which is only 45th nationally. Mark Few returned three players from his seven-man rotation that finished 31-2 last season and looked poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament as a number one seed. Senior Corey Kispert leads the team this year with a 19.0 points-per-game after contributing 13.9 points-per-game last season. Kispert is also averaging 4.9 rebounds-per-game and 1.7 assists-per-game. Jalen Suggs is a five-star freshman who is averaging 13.9 points-per-game, 5.3 rebounds-per-game, and 4.4 assists-per-game. This group may be Few’s most talented roster in his 22 seasons as the Gonzaga head coach. Lucas Oil Stadium is the site. BookMaker lists Gonzaga as an 8.5-point favorite with the total set at 153.Computer prediction:  Gonzaga 81 USC 72

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The NBA’s Best & Worst ATS

by AAA Sports

Tuesday, Mar 30, 2021

The NBA’s Best & Worst ATSFour teams have covered more than 60% of their games this NBA season. This quartet includes both conference leaders (as of Tuesday, March 30th), one team that’s in second place in its conference and perhaps the biggest surprise team of all. Let’s look at the four and what they’ve done right (so far).Phoenix is 30-15 ATS through 45 games. Going back to last season’s “bubble,” the Suns are 38-15 ATS their last 53 games. That’s pretty remarkable. They are 19-6 ATS since Feb 5.  No team has fewer double digit losses this season than the Suns’ three. They are 8th in offensive efficiency and 5th in defensive efficiency. Being the least “public team” among the top four in the West, the second place Suns should continue to cover games at a fairly high rate.The team ahead of Phoenix in the West is Utah, who is 30-16 ATS. At one point, from mid-January to mid-February, they covered 19 of 21 games. Outside that one incredible stretch, the Jazz have a losing ATS record. They are third in both offensive and defensive efficiency. No team has more double digit victories than Utah’s 28. To be honest, it is not even close as the team with the next most is the Clippers (21). The Jazz have been underdogs in only two games all season. They are 17-5 ATS and +14.7 PPG at home. Philadelphia leads the East (for now), though it’s fair to say most expect Brooklyn and/or Milwaukee to catch up to them. But the 76ers have a much better ATS record than those teams. They are 27-17-2 at the betting window entering March 30th, including 9-2-1 so far this month. This team has not lost a game all season when playing with two or more days rest (7-0 SU/6-1 ATS). They are 4-0 ATS as home dogs, a situation that probably won’t arise too many more times. The Sixers are not top 10 in offensive efficiency, but are second in defensive efficiency.New York is 27-18-2 ATS and no one expected them to be challenging for a top four spot in the Eastern Conference. But by virtue of leading the NBA in points allowed, the Knicks are doing just that! Surprisingly, it’s when they are favored that they are a better bet. The chalk record is 12-4 SU/11-5 ATS. A word of caution: injuries have really begun to pile up and threaten to derail this surprising season. Mitchell Robinson just broke his right foot.Our condolences if you’ve been betting the following teams this season …Cleveland is 19-28 ATS. They aren’t good (17-30 SU) but should probably be worse off in the standings. The Cavs have the single worst point differential in the NBA, so expect high spreads and the losses to pile up. They are near the bottom of the Vegas power rankings, but oddsmakers have struggled to make the spreads large enough. Letting Andre Drummond walk certainly won’t help. Against the West, the Cavs are 5-17 ATS (-13.7 PPG).  Indiana is 18-26-1 ATS and an obvious disappointment. They have a losing SU record at home where they are 6-14 ATS. Things would be even worse if not for a league-high four overtime wins. Miami is another disappointment and they are 18-27-2 ATS. There have been six games this season where the Heat have been held to 85 points or less, which is the most in the NBA. They are 8-15-1 ATS at home, but just snapped a six-game losing streak (overall) with a win in New York on Monday night. There’s been some bad luck on South Beach as the Heat are 0-4 SU in overtime games.By far, the worst ATS team in the league is Houston (14-32 ATS). There are no words to describe the depths they have fallen to after the James Harden trade. The Rockets have lost 23 of their last 25 games and last Friday saw them become just the fourth team in NBA history to not score a single point over the final 7:30 of a game. 

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