Sports Picks For Sale - Nelly's Sports

Hot Streaks and Achievements

  • 9-3 | +$5,680 in the 2024 WNBA season (8-0 since May 25)
  • 43-37 | +5,750 in the 2024 MLB season
  • 103-87-1 | +$10,490 overall since March 15, 2024

Biography

Nelly’s Sportsline has been at the forefront of the handicapping world since the 1990 football season, Joe Nelson has been the lead handicapper since 2003.

Active since: 1990

Location: Madison, Wisconsin

Widely known for the Nelly’s Sportsline Green Sheet weekly newsletter in the football season, Nelly’s Sportsline has provided consistent returns for scores of clients nationwide for more than three decades. In the lead role for nearly two decades, Joe Nelson has earned significant acclaim for contest wins, top rankings on national leaderboards, impressive win percentages, as well as being recognized for providing outstanding content and analysis showcasing an intimate understanding of the workings and cycles of the three major American sports and the active wagering marketplace.

Some recent highlights:

2020-21 Football: In the atypical 2020-21 football season Nelly’s Sportsline delivered an impressive showing in both college and NFL football, posting an incredible closing run through the bowls and NFL Playoffs. Nelly’s finished at exactly 60.0% in the 2020-21 NFL season including a 10-1 run through the playoffs and the Super Bowl, backing Tampa Bay and turning in a perfect card on a handful of Super Bowl props. Nelly’s finished the 2020-21 college football season with a winning selection on Alabama in the championship game to complete the college season with a 62.5% winning percentage, closing the season on an epic 75.0% run from November 7 on, including a 77.8% winning percentage in bowl releases.

2020-21 Basketball: Nelly’s finished the NBA regular season winning at a 62.0% pace, for a fourth consecutive NBA regular season above a 60.0% winning percentage. Nelly’s finished the 2020-21 college basketball regular season at 62.7%.

2020 Baseball: Nelly’s turned in a profitable MLB season for the fifth time in the previous six years in the abbreviated 2020 baseball season. Totals were a standout with a 61.1% winning percentage on MLB over/under selections in the 2020 regular season.

2019-20 Basketball: Nelly’s hit 62.9% in the 2019-20 NBA regular season before the pause in March. Nelly’s added a 63.6% winning percentage in the NBA restart to complete a 63.1% regular season. Nelly’s was also profitable in college basketball before the season was cancelled at 54.5%.

2018-19 Football: Nelly’s had winning records and slightly profitable results in both the NFL and NCAA seasons.

2018-19 Basketball: Nelly’s finished at 57.7% in the 2018-19 college basketball season including a 62.5% winning percentage in the 2019 NCAA Tournament capped off by selecting Virginia for the championship. Nelly’s had a historically great NBA regular season finishing at 66.1% in 2018-19 including an 84.2% run in December 2018 that included an 11-game winning streak while also posting a 14-game winning streak late in the season.  

2018 Baseball: Nelly’s grinded out a profitable MLB regular season at 52.7% with the vast majority of those selections being underdogs or totals. Nelly’s had a 62.2% winning percentage in the 2018 MLB postseason including hitting 77.8% in postseason totals.

2017-18 Football: Nelly’s turned in an incredibly profitable 2017-18 NFL season hitting 60.7% in the regular season and 71.4% in the NFL playoffs, backing the Eagles in all three of their playoff games through the Super Bowl upset. Nelly’s also hit 63.6% in the 2017-18 college bowl season.

2017-18 Basketball: Nelly’s hit 61.1% in the 2017-18 college basketball season including a 68.8% winning percentage in the 2018 NCAA Tournament after backing Villanova in both Final Four games. That season included a 73.5% pace in February 2018 college basketball. Nelly’s hit 63.1% in the 2017-18 NBA regular season including a 66.7% mark in the first half before the All-Star break, while posting a winning record in every single month of that NBA regular season.

2017 Baseball: Nelly’s turned in a third straight profitable MLB season in 2017 including a 66.7% mark in the World Series. In that season Nelly’s posted two separate eight-game winning streaks with solely underdog selections.

2016-17 Football: Nelly’s closed the season on a strong note with a 69.4% mark in the 2016-17 college bowl season.

2016-17 Basketball: Nelly’s turned in a phenomenal March Madness run hitting 65.0% in NCAA Tournament selections and a 62.2% winning percentage from March 1 through backing North Carolina in early April for the championship. Nelly’s also turned in a 60.0% record in the NBA Playoffs in 2017.

2016 Baseball: Nelly’s hit 54.6% in the 2016 MLB regular season with almost exclusively underdogs and totals for a massive profit return, including hitting 60.5% on totals in the regular season and 66.7% on totals in the 2016 MLB postseason.

2015-16 Football: Nelly’s hit 61.9% in the 2015-16 NFL season including posting an 85.7% winning clip in the NFL playoffs, while backing the Broncos to blast the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Nelly’s hit 71.4% in the 2015-16 college bowl season including riding Clemson as an underdog in their narrow loss to Alabama for the playoff title.  

2015-16 Basketball: Nelly’s hit 61.9% in the 2015-16 college basketball regular season including three huge months with an 87.5% November 2015, a 65.8% January 2016, and a 61.9% February 2016. Nelly’s also had a profitable NBA regular season in 2015-16.

2015 Baseball: A 63.6% month of April with almost exclusively underdogs buoyed a profitable MLB season in 2015, a season finished off by backing the Royals as an underdog in each of their four World Series wins.

2014-15 Football: Nelly’s had an 85.7% winning percentage in the 2014-15 NFL playoffs for a great closing run.

May Starting Pitching NL Overachievers

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

May Starting Pitching NL Overachievers There are a few pitchers that stand out as overachievers in the month of May, posting impressive conventional numbers but with some concerns lurking deeper in the data. Here are four National League starters which you’ll likely want to likely avoid supporting moving forward after fortunate recent runs on the mound that are not likely sustainable.  Bailey Falter – Pittsburgh Pirates There has been some recent enthusiasm and improved play from the Pirates with the arrival of rookie Paul Skenes but Bailey Falter has also posted good numbers in the rotation. Falter was among MLB’s worst starters in 2023 eventually landing with the Pirates after being traded by the Phillies after being unable to match his solid 2022 results and being relegated back to AAA. Falter has a 3.55 ERA so far for Pittsburgh this season including a 2.73 ERA in the month of May. That success came with a 3.4 K/9 in the month as his FIP is 5.14. His BABIP is just .198 in his four May starts for incredible fortune. Falter has made three of his last four starts at home as well while posting a 4.73 season ERA on the road.  Andrew Abbott – Cincinnati Reds A second round pick in 2021, Andrew Abbott is a prized young left-handed starter for the Reds that delivered good numbers in his rookie season last year with a 3.87 ERA and a 9.9 K/9 in 21 starts. This season his ERA is down to 3.29 but in the month of May Abbott had a 5.06 FIP next to a 3.30 ERA. For the season his K/9 has fallen to just 6.6 and he has allowed 11 home runs in 11 starts. Abbott’s season includes road starts in several favorable pitching venues and he has stronger numbers away from home for the season. Abbott did not pitch well in his most recent start with six runs allowed and over his last four starts he has only 11 strikeouts in 25 innings of work.  Javier Assad – Chicago Cubs A surprise success story for the Cubs, Javier Assad has great numbers through his first 11 starts in 2024. He did take his first loss of the season in his last start in St. Louis put he has a 2.42 ERA in the month of May. Somehow Assad has avoided damage even with a 4.9 BB/9 in May as his BABIP is just .243 and he owns an over 88 percent strand rate. Assad has pitched well against a few contenders posting quality starts at Wrigley Field against the Brewers and Braves in May but there is little to suggest Assad can continue an All-Star caliber pace throughout the season.  Austin Gomber – Colorado Rockies Austin Gomber has brought his ERA down to 2.76 for the season with an impressive run in May, posting an 0.68 ERA in four starts. Gomber was dealt to the Rockies as part of the Nolan Arenado trade in 2021 and after a solid first season with the Rockies he has not had much success the past two seasons. The difference so far this season is a .232 BABIP compared to his career average of .293. He has also stranded nearly 88 percent of his baserunners this season compared to a career average of just over 71 percent. Gomber pitched on the road in three of his four starts and faced struggling Pittsburgh and Oakland lineups in that run as well. The run of success for Gomber is likely to be short-lived and his ERA is likely to climb closer to his current FIP of 4.60 by season’s end. 

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May Starting Pitching AL Overachievers

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

May Starting Pitching AL Overachievers There are a few pitchers that stand out as overachievers in the month of May, posting impressive conventional numbers but with some concerns lurking deeper in the data. Here are four American League starters which you’ll likely want to likely avoid supporting moving forward after fortunate recent runs on the mound that are not likely sustainable. Triston McKenzie – Cleveland Guardians Triston McKenzie broke into the big leagues with big strikeout counts in 2020 and 2021 but so far in 2024 his K/9 is 8.5, the lowest of his career. This season and last season, walks have been a huge problem for McKenzie, including allowing 34 in just over 57 innings this season. McKenzie had a few rough April starts but he has a 3.06 ERA in six starts in May as Cleveland continues to control the AL Central. McKenzie has a 5.57 FIP in that span however and only six percent of his baserunners have scored. His BABIP is May is just .205 and while McKenzie has posted a low BABIP throughout his career, that is an exceptionally low mark. McKenzie has allowed 11 home runs in 11 starts and he has already faced the White Sox twice, in addition to facing the Athletics and Rockies for several favorable early season draws.  Marcus Stroman – New York Yankees After two solid seasons with the Cubs, Stroman received a two-year deal with the Yankees and so far the move has been a success with Stroman pitching well and the Yankees leading the AL East. Stroman’s numbers are pretty similar to the past two seasons in terms of strikeouts and walks, but his ERA is just 2.76 thanks a drop in his BABIP and a big rise in his strand rate with only 15 percent of baserunners scoring against him. A strong New York bullpen has helped to leave runners on the bases, but Stroman simply has had some good luck in the first two months of the season, particularly in May with a 1.78 ERA in his last five starts even with a weak 6.2 K/9. Stroman has stranded 94 percent of his baserunners in May, a rate that will be impossible to keep up over the rest of the season.  Michael Lorenzen – Texas Rangers A useful option as a starter or reliever and with some pinch hitting potential, Lorenzen has carried his weight bouncing around the league the past few seasons. He famously threw a no-hitter with the Phillies last August but eventually landed back in the bullpen. Due to injuries elsewhere in the rotation Lorenzen has been counted on to take regular turns in the Texas rotation and the results have been good with a 3.35 ERA in eight starts. Lorenzen has a worse than 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season and his month of May includes a 2.87 ERA but a 4.34 FIP. Lorenzen has turned in three quality starts in a row, but he has rarely had sustained runs of starting success in his career, something that isn’t likely to change at age 32. He recently left his last start with knee cramping and his season could unravel further from there.  Griffin Canning – Los Angeles Angels It has been a miserable season for the Angels but in the month of May, Griffing Canning has put together a run of five solid starts, pitching at least five innings while allowing three or fewer runs in each. He struggled mightily in April and still owns a 5.08 season ERA but in May it was just 2.60. His FIP in May was 5.30, however, seventh highest among all qualified AL starters. Canning still has poor strikeout and walk rates and few pitchers have a worse HR/9 than Canning in his career at 1.56, a rate he has even topped so far this season. Canning has only had 36 percent groundballs this season and is on pace for his worst K/9 in his career at just 6.5, compared to 9.0 in his career. Canning and the Angels won’t command strong valuations, but the recent run of success is more than likely to be short positive blip on Canning’s season.  

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April Starting Pitching NL Overachievers

Sunday, Apr 28, 2024

April Starting Pitching NL Overachievers With most starters now having completed five starts in the 2024 season the data to work with is becoming a bit more meaningful. There are a few pitchers that stand out as overachievers in the first month of the season and these four National League starters may be overpriced in upcoming outings.  Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies The Phillies are 5-0 in the last five starts for Nola, who looks to regain his form as an upper level National League starter after mixed results the past three seasons. Nola has just an 8.2 K/9 this season however, his lowest since his rookie season in 2015. He is also on pace to have his highest BB/9 since 2020 and he has already allowed seven home runs this season. Nolas has had a favorable path in April facing Washington, St. Louis, Colorado, and the White Sox in four of his five starts. Nola can still compile wins with a strong Phillies lineup behind him, but his 2024 season looks more likely to resemble his mediocre 2021 and 2023 seasons than his peak season in 2018.  Michael King – San Diego Padres King made occasional spot starts for the Yankees, who he pitched for from 2019-2023 but he was primarily a reliever. San Diego has given him five starts this season and he has produced good strikeout counts and owns a 4.11 ERA. His FIP is 5.67 and he has walked 18 while allowing seven home runs in just over 30 innings, however. Most of his success came in one start where he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. He has only made one home start this season as his numbers could improve slightly with more Petco Park innings, but King doesn’t look like a long term answer in the San Diego rotation.  Andrew Abbott – Cincinnati Reds A second round pick in 2021, Abbott turned in a nice 2023 season with a 3.87 ERA and a 9.9 K/9 in 109 innings, making 21 starts last season for the Reds. He has a 2.60 ERA so far in five starts in 2024 but his FIP is 4.42 and he has continued to battle command issues with a career 3.6 BB/9. His K/9 has also slipped to 6.5 this season in his first five starts. Abbott has a groundball rate below 33 percent, yet he has allowed only three home runs. A factor has been facing the White Sox for his best start of the season while also pitching in a favorable pitching venue in Seattle for his best road start of the season. Abbott is still only 24 and may have a bright future, but he has not pitched as well as a quick glance at his numbers might suggest, and he will be a home run risk in his home starts.  Jordan Hicks – San Francisco Giants  A dynamic reliever in recent seasons, Hicks has been converted to a starter this season by the Giants. Hicks made eight starts early in the 2022 season for St. Louis before being turned back into a reliever and San Francisco may ultimately come to that conclusion as well. On the surface everything looks great as Hicks has a 1.59 ERA in six starts, but he has just a 7.1 K/9 and so far, he has benefited from a .225 BABIP while allowing only one home run in 34 innings. His career numbers feature a very low home run rate but making four of his last five starts at Oracle Park has helped his early season statistics. Hicks has also faced a favorable draw in his six starts but is likely to face the Phillies and Dodgers in early May. 

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April Starting Pitching AL Overachievers

Sunday, Apr 28, 2024

April Starting Pitching AL Overachievers With most starters now making five starts in the 2024 season the data to work with is becoming a bit more meaningful. There are a few pitchers that stand out as overachievers in the first month of the season and these four American League starters may be worth avoiding in upcoming starting efforts.   Tyler Anderson – Los Angeles Angels Anderson had a terrific 2022 season with the Dodgers but his run across town with the Angels last season was disappointing. So far in 2024 Anderson has delivered a 1.78 ERA in his five starts but he has been an incredibly fortunate starter in the first month. Anderson has a .181 BABIP, more than 100 points below his carer average. He is on pace for his worst K/9 since the abbreviated 2020 season and his FIP of 4.87 towers over his ERA. Anderson started the season with 14 straight shutout innings but he will likely see his season line continue to get worse the more he pitches.  Bryce Miller – Seattle Mariners Miller had some success as a rookie with the Mariners last season posting a 4.32 ERA with a 3.98 FIP in 25 starts. His low walk rate was very appealing but so far in 2024 his BB/9 is nearly double last season’s rate. He has been lucky on balls in play this season with a .182 BABIP and in contrast to last season his FIP is 4.57 this season against his 2.22 ERA. Miller has been a much better pitcher at home in his career and 60% of his starts in 2024 so far have been at home. Miller has still allowed five home runs in five starts despite most of his innings being in a favorable venue in Seattle.  Brady Singer – Kansas City Royals A first round pick in 2018 and a team USA pitcher in the 2023 WBC, Singer is being counted on to be a key piece of the rotation for a rising Royals team. Singer had a 5.52 ERA last season with some tough luck results. This season things have gone his way with a 2.62 ERA but he has a 3.4 BB/9 and won’t likely maintain his current .209 BABIP and 86 percent strand rate. Singer has an over 57 percent groundball rate so far this season, which is well above his career average as well. His early season numbers are also built on four of six starts coming against struggling AL Central offenses, including two strong outings vs. the lowly White Sox.  Jose Berrios – Toronto Blue Jays Berrios had a 5.23 ERA in 2022 with the Blue Jays before turning things around for a respectable campaign last season. While Berrios has enjoyed some positive moments, his career numbers aren’t much better than the league average. So far this season his statistical snapshot is at an All-Star level with a 4-1 record and a 1.23 ERA in his conventional line, but his FIP is 3.84, only a bit below his career average of 4.04. Berrios has a career 1.2 HR/9 but so far in 2024 his HR/9 is just 0.7 and he is off to a great start even with the lowest K/9 of his career, at just 6.9. Three scoreless starts in April will keep the numbers low for Berrios for the foreseeable future but he is likely to gravitate towards near average results the rest of the way. 

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Thursday Round of 64 NCAA Tournament Location Advantages

Monday, Mar 18, 2024

Thursday Round of 64 NCAA Tournament Location Advantages The NCAA Tournament field is set and while the seeds and matchups are worthy of most of the attention, the locations can have an impact as well. Most of the brackets printed don’t even list the venues but it is worth paying attention to when and where teams are playing this week. Here is a look at a few location advantages for Thursday’s Round of 64 schedule.  (6) BYU vs. (11) Duquesne – Omaha, NE Provo is nearly 1,000 miles from Omaha as Pittsburgh is slightly closer to Omaha for Duquesne. The advantage for BYU comes by forcing Duquesne to play one of the first games of the tournament early on Thursday after making a long trip west, when the Dukes were one of the very last teams to finish their season winning the A-10 Championship on Sunday. A #6 seed in generous for a BYU squad that was only 10-8 in Big XII play and only had one top 50 win out of conference way back in early November and having a full week turnaround ahead of this game where the Cougars will be well-supported in Omaha sets up a favorable draw.  (14) Akron vs. (3) Creighton – Pittsburgh, PA Akron won the MAC tournament title in dramatic fashion last week and will only have to travel just over 100 miles to Pittsburgh despite being a #14 seed. While Omaha was off the table for Creighton as its home site, preferable placements in Memphis or Indianapolis were available instead of an over 900 mile trip east to Pittsburgh, in a venue that could be dominated by Kentucky fans.  (1) North Carolina vs. (16) First Four Winner – Charlotte, NC The Tar Heels didn’t have a slam dunk case to be a #1 seed after losing to NC State last weekend. In addition to that loss the Tar Heels have three other losses to teams that didn’t make the tournament. Not only did North Carolina earn the fourth #1 seed, they landed in a comfortable venue in Charlotte. North Carolina is in the West region with Arizona as the #2 seed plus with Saint Mary’s lurking as a potential Sweet 16 foe as the location edge may shift later in the tournament for the Tar Heels.  Also in Charlotte, if (10) Virginia is able to win Tuesday’s First Four game with Colorado State, they would be in appealing location with an ACC crowd against (7) Texas.  (5) Gonzaga vs. (12) McNeese – Salt Lake City, UT Gonzaga doesn’t have the credentials of most of the Bulldogs teams of the past decade, but this year’s team wound up with a #5 seed and in the most appealing venue they could have hoped for given that the home site of Spokane was off the table. It is still 700 miles from Spokane to Salt Lake City, but it is a familiar trip for Gonzaga fans and the Bulldogs were also granted a night game. McNeese is a 30-win team but will make a long trip for a night game at altitude to perhaps quell some of the upset potential for the Cowboys.  (10) Drake vs. (7) Washington State – Omaha, NE Despite being the lesser seed, Drake landed with one of the most preferable location edges of the entire field, playing just a two-hour drive on I-80 away from campus. Omaha would have been a decent venue for teams like Texas and Dayton on the #7 line, but Drake landed Washington State who certainly would have preferred to be in Spokane or Salt Lake City. A consolation for the Cougars is that the tip will be the last one of the entire schedule on Thursday, in a normal game time for Washington State and a very late start for the Bulldogs. 

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Friday Round of 64 NCAA Tournament Location Advantages

Monday, Mar 18, 2024

Friday Round of 64 NCAA Tournament Location Advantages The NCAA Tournament field is set and while the seeds and matchups are worthy of most of the attention, the locations can have an impact as well. Most of the brackets printed don’t even list the venues but it is worth paying attention to when and where teams are playing this week. Here is a look at a few location advantages for Friday’s Round of 64 schedule.  (5) San Diego State vs. (12) UAB – Spokane, WA Six Mountain West teams made the NCAA Tournament and a San Diego State team that finished fifth in the conference standings earned by far the most attractive seeding. Last year’s Final Four run seemed to give the Aztecs a bump while head-to-head wins over both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s perhaps influenced the committee to put San Diego State on the same line as the two WCC powers. San Diego isn’t remotely close to Spokane, but the Aztecs avoid having to travel east, though last year’s great tournament run started in Orlando. Birmingham is over 2,200 miles from Spokane for the one of the greatest travel distances that any team in the field will face. UAB will also make the trip on a short turnaround playing Friday after winning the AAC Tournament title on Sunday. An early start time slot does potentially favor the Blazers however.  (15) Western Kentucky vs. (2) Marquette – Indianapolis, INIndianapolis is a choice landing spot for Marquette, but their opponent has only about an hour drive to Indianapolis compared to the four-hour trek from Milwaukee. Marquette can’t complain about this draw while also getting to play Friday instead of Thursday to allow for one more day to hopefully get Tyler Kolek back to health. Western Kentucky should have some support in Indianapolis with the short trip and the early time slot on Friday and a venue filled with Purdue fans will likely adopt the Hilltoppers should they find a way to keep the game competitive into the second half.  (1) Connecticut vs. (16) Stetson – Brooklyn, NY Being the defending champions and the overall #1 seed affords Connecticut their preferred venue and Brooklyn is a great spot to be for the Huskies. Stetson also is making a long trip from Florida up the Atlantic coast compared to some of the other #16 options that would have been much closer to Brooklyn. Should the Huskies advance to the Sweet 16 they will be in Boston. Last year’s title run also started in the state of New York for the Huskies in Albany for their first two games.  (6) Clemson vs. (11) New Mexico – Memphis, TN Clemson is a healthy 500-mile trip to Memphis but other than Charlotte, this is a solid spot for Clemson to land, getting a #6 seed and an appealing location even with losses in three of the final four games of the season, all against non-tournament teams. New Mexico earned its way into the field with four wins in four days in Las Vegas and now must make a long trip east while also facing a relatively early start time on Friday.  (13) Vermont vs. (4) Duke – Brooklyn, NY Vermont has an appealing 350-mile drive south to Brooklyn compared to a nearly 500-mile trip northeast for Duke. The popular Blue Devils will certainly be well supported in Brooklyn for a prime time game but compared to #13 seed options Samford and Charleston, this is a much more appealing venue for Vermont than some of the alternatives, though the temptation to put #13 Yale with Duke in this pairing was resisted by the committee.  (1) Purdue vs. (16) First Four Winner – Indianapolis, IN Purdue’s infamous loss in the Round of 64 last season came in Columbus and the Boilermakers will be well-supported in a home state venue looking to make amends this season, playing just 70 miles away from campus. This is also the venue where Purdue had a successful non-conference win against Arizona in December for some positive memories and familiarity.  Either Grambling or Montana State will be far from home for Friday’s evening game as Purdue should avoid last season’s humiliation. 

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NCAA Tournament Futures Consideration: San Diego State

Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

Selection Sunday is less than three weeks away and now is the time to weigh your options on futures positions, looking for teams that could improve their seeding and raise their price in the coming weeks. Making repeat trips to the Final Four is difficult but San Diego State is not being priced like a team that was the national runner-up last season, even with a similar profile through a difficult conference.  San Diego State +7500 The profile for the Aztecs this season is shaping up somewhat similarly to last season. San Diego State shook off a rather miserable recent history for the Mountain West and made it to the national championship game last season as #5 seed. There were close calls along the way, but the Mountain West looks even stronger this season. San Diego State is currently third in the Mountain West standings at 10-5 but they will be favored to win out and move past Boise State for a top two finish. The Aztecs have wins over three Pac-12 teams plus the best two teams in the WCC in Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga on its non-conference resume as this year’s team could get a better seed than last season, with many projecting San Diego State as a #4 seed right now.  Brian Dutcher’s team again has some of the very best defensive numbers in the nation and is in the top two of a deep Mountain West in just about every statistical category on defense. The offense has had marginal turnover and 3-point shooting rates but that was true of last season’s team as well.  Three starters are back from last season’s team plus the addition of USC transfer Reese Walters. Jaedon LaDee was a reserve on last season’s team, but he has emerged as one of the nation’s top players this season as the talent is there for the Aztecs to make another serious run.  Last year’s run did feature some good fortune including two one-point wins while getting to play Florida Atlantic in the Final Four, but most Final Four teams are going to survive a few close calls in March. That experience should be beneficial this season with a veteran group that is attractively priced despite that pedigree and the potential to be in a strong seeding position. If San Diego State wins out and again wins the Mountain West tournament, rising to a #3 seed is still possible. A top 10 non-conference schedule and a top 20 overall schedule will keep San Diego State in at least a #4 seed position unless they suffer a notably bad loss down the stretch.  As usual there aren’t a great deal of west coast teams in line for strong seeds in the NCAA Tournament outside of Arizona. Washington State will likely get shipped to a different region to avoid a potential Sweet 16 Pac-12 pairing while Saint Mary’s is a wounded team that would be attractive as a potential pod-mate in a potential 4/5 draw. Opening games in Spokane or Salt Lake City seem likely for San Diego State and if they reach the second weekend the West games are in Los Angeles for a very favorable location if the Aztecs are given a West region position. The Final Four is also in Phoenix should San Diego State again make a big run.           

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NCAA Tournament Futures Consideration: Kansas

Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

March Madness is just around the corner and now is the time to lock in a few futures positions, looking for teams that could see their seeding improve or that are capable of winning multiple games in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas is a team that may be underpriced due to recent inconsistency but could still land a very attractive path in the Big Dance.  Kansas Jayhawks +3500 Depending on where you look there are at least a dozen teams with lower odds of winning it all than Kansas even though many well established bracketologists have Kansas projected as a #2 seed. Kansas is only 9-5 in Big XII play but that is good enough for third place in the ultra-difficult conference, and only two teams in the Big XII have top five offensive and defensive numbers: Houston and Kansas.  The Jayhawks still must play BYU, Baylor, and Houston in addition to a rivalry game with Kansas State as winning out is unlikely, but Kansas won’t slide far on Selection Sunday as they have an impressive collection of non-conference wins, defeating Kentucky, Tennessee, and Connecticut. They also have wins over Houston and Baylor already in Big XII play and every win in the final two weeks of the regular season and in the Big XII tournament will be a quality result.  Kansas is rated as a top 10 defense nationally and while the current offensive efficiency ranking is in the 30s, that figure could improve as the season completes. Kansas has not lost a home game this season and four of five conference losses have come by six or fewer points.  Kansas has good shooting numbers at every level as the top effective field goal rate in the Big XII while also taking good care of the ball. Kansas isn’t a strong outside shooting team, but they also take the fewest 3-point shots in the Big XII. Johnny Furphy and Dejuan Harris are both 41 percent 3-point shooters as there are solid options for the team from beyond the arc despite the marginal team numbers. Hunter Dickinson is a difficult matchup even if his career ascension has stalled from his very promising early years at Michigan. Kansas is also going to get Kevin McCullar back to full strength at some point after he has missed a few recent games as the lineup could be in great form by the tournament.   Bill Self has had a few early tournament flameouts in his career, but he does have two Championships and 10 trips to at least the Elite 8 in his career. His two championship teams were better offensively than this year’s team, but this year’s team has the potential to be one of his highest rated defensive teams in the last decade.  Teams like Tennessee, Duke, Alabama, and North Carolina are going to get more attention but won’t likely be seeded above Kansas and there are numerous favorable options for locations for Kansas in the Round of 64 and Round of 32 games including Omaha, Indianapolis, and Memphis. Kansas would be well supported if they landed in the South or Midwest regions and advanced to games in Dallas or Detroit as a favorable March path could line up for the Jayhawks. This year’s team has provided some inconsistency, but the high-ceiling wins have been very impressive, and this will be one of the most experienced and tallest teams in the NCAA Tournament field and looks like a worthy risk at this price when a #2 seed with a favorable travel path is still realistic. Kansas also still has great ammunition in its schedule as making a great late season run including a second or even third win over Houston could push the Jayhawks to the #1-seed line given that they will have one of the best strengths of schedule ratings in the nation. 

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Mountain West Conference Title Contenders

Monday, Jan 29, 2024

The Mountain West had a breakthrough season last year, putting four teams in the NCAA Tournament. Three of those teams lost their first games in the bracket to add to a miserable recent history for the league in the postseason but San Diego State made it all the way to the title game as a #5 seed to put credibility on the league. The Mountain West wound up rated better than the ACC and AAC last season and this season it appears to have the potential to be a multi-bid league again with a deep group of quality teams, currently featuring seven teams that rank as top 100 squads. The conference season is rather young with most teams having played only seven games, here is a look at the top contenders in the Mountain West for the 2023-24 season:  UTAH STATE: Utah State is the leader in the conference with a 6-1 start, but they lost by 13 at New Mexico and needed overtime for the win over Boise State. Danny Sprinkle is in his first season leading the program after taking Montana State to the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and so far, he has held up the high standard Ryan Odom has left the past two seasons with the Aggies winning 26 games last season. This year’s team played a tougher non-conference schedule than it looks as while there are no top 50 wins, the Aggies consistently played decent quality teams and only played two games outside the top 250. Both meetings with San Diego State are still to come on the schedule as it is hard to see the Aggies maintaining the top position in the standings, so far facing the 8th most difficult path among the 11 teams. Utah State will only play Nevada once and has defeated UNLV in the only meeting this season in the unbalanced MWC draw.   NEW MEXICO: With five straight wins including a few convincing results, New Mexico is making noise as possibly the team to beat in the conference. The two early January losses came to middle-of-the-pack squads however and with the ultra-fast pace of play, cold shooting spells can happen. New Mexico is also surprisingly poor free throw shooting team. The current five-game winning streak includes notable wins over San Diego State, Utah State, and Nevada, but all three of those big wins were at home. New Mexico is just 2-2 S/U in conference road games, losing to Colorado State and UNLV. The two teams that New Mexico plays just once in the conference path are San Jose State and Fresno State, possibly the worst two teams in the conference, as if Richard Pitino’s squad delivers the title, they will do so through one of the most difficult paths in the league. In the early season numbers, the Lobos have the #2 offense and the #2 defense but the season’s final four road games will all be difficult tests as it won’t be a shock if this groups slips from contention by the end of the season.  SAN DIEGO STATE: After making it to the Final Four and the national title game last season, San Diego State has a tough act to follow. Brian Dutcher’s team has four losses already including two road losses in conference play and the Aztecs are yet to defeat any of the top contenders in the current MWC standings. San Diego State should be set for another NCAA Tournament bid however doing great work in a difficult non-conference campaign that including three wins vs. Pac-12 teams plus wins over Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. The Aztecs could fall short of the league title this season as they will face six of the next seven games vs. the top tier of the conference and the overall draw will be one of the toughest as they face Air Force and Wyoming just once each while doubling up on all the top teams.   BOISE STATE: Boise State’s inclusion in the NCAA Tournament last season was a bit controversial and the Broncos saw an early exit in a 7-10 game vs. Northwestern after finishing in a tie for second place in the MWC standings. This year’s team has lost six games already, but all have been top 100 results. A concern for the Broncos is that both losses in a 5-2 MWC start have come at home. Boise State does have quality league wins already defeating Colorado State, Nevada, and San Diego State, and the Broncos picked up four top 100 non-conference wins as the overall strength of schedule rates strongly for Boise State. The Broncos don’t have the most favorable draw as they have just a single match with Wyoming and lost the lone meeting with UNLV already. The next three road games are at New Mexico, at Colorado State, and at Utah State, as Boise State is more likely to slip to near .500 in league play than to climb to the top in the next two weeks. This is a squad that could climb back into contention late in the season, however. Boise State’s defense has been MWC Championship caliber this season, but this has been one of the worst shooting teams so far in conference play.   WYOMING: With a ranking in the 180s, Wyoming is out of place on this list but with recent home wins over Nevada and Colorado State, the Cowboys are 4-3 and in fifth place in the current standings. Wyoming does not have a road win this season and lost three non-conference games outside the nation’s top 200 as this is not a NCAA Tournament team without a MWC Tournament title. Wyoming has looked like a team that can make some noise as an upset threat in the conference season however, particularly at home. In early February Wyoming hosts New Mexico and Utah State and with only one meeting with San Diego State already out of the way, plus only one game with Boise State this season, Wyoming may finish with a stronger conference record than the overall ratings would predict.   COLORADO STATE: Starting 9-0 and then 12-1 put Colorado State on the map as a serious MWC contender, particularly with an impressive November run that included consecutive wins over Boston College, Creighton, Colorado, and Washington. The Rams also beat New Mexico at home to open league play but have since stumbled with losses in four of the past six games to slip to 3-4 in the standings. One of the losses came at Wyoming while this squad also barely beat Air Force and UNLV in recent home games. The Rams host San Diego State this week and still have both meetings with the Aztecs remaining. The offense has good overall numbers, but the shooting percentages have fallen considerably since conference play started. Colorado State has one of the worst schedules in the conference as they play Fresno State and San Jose State just once each and will face a gauntlet of tough games in late February as a once firm position in the NCAA Tournament field may get tested down the stretch for the Rams.   NEVADA: With losses in four of the past five games Nevada’s season is slipping away as the Wolf Pack were once 15-1. Nevada didn’t play a great non-conference schedule but did pick up meaningful wins over Washington, TCU, and Georgia Tech. The conference path so far has been difficult but a break in the schedule is only having to play Utah State once this season. The past three losses have all been road games as a home heavy stretch of games in early February could get the Wolf Pack back on the map in the conference race, though Sunday’s 89-55 loss to New Mexico was not encouraging. Nevada lost by 25 in a First Four game last season as if Steve Alford’s team winds up on the bubble again they may not get the benefit of the doubt.   UNLV: UNLV isn’t on pace to match last season’s solid 19-13 season sitting at just 10-9 but the Rebels have drawn the most difficult MWC path at this point in the season and have held their own. The Rebels have wins over New Mexico and Boise State and losses to Utah State and Colorado State came by slim margins. UNLV had a stunning home loss in late January to Air Force by 32 points, simply one of the more bizarre results of the season with UNLV a double-digit favorite in that game. UNLV’s conference path includes facing Utah State and Boise State just once each, with a split in those difficult games already out of the way. UNLV will face the lesser teams in the conference in six of the next nine games as this is a squad that is likely to wind up with a winning conference record and shouldn’t be ruled out as a sleeper to climb into contention. The offensive numbers are appealing for the Rebels with a low turnover rate and strong inside scoring results with an experienced roster for Kevin Kruger. UNLV beat Creighton in December for a prominent non-conference win, but the program has a lot of work to do to boost its postseason resume already having three losses outside the nation’s top 100.  

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Big West Conference Title Contenders

Monday, Jan 29, 2024

The Big West is reaching the halfway point of the 2023-24 conference season with every team having completed at least nine of 20 conference games. UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara both finished 15-5 last season and there is a tie in the standings this season as well with UC Irvine and UC San Diego both starting 8-1 in league play. UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, and Long Beach State are the only other teams with winning records so far in league play. Here is a look at the five top contenders in the Big West conference race:  UC IRVINE: UC Irvine won the first head-to-head pairing with UC San Diego in Mid-January 76-65, rallying from an early deficit but the Anteaters will have to play at UC San Diego in late February. So far Russell Turner’s squad has played one of the weakest schedules in the conference so far to contribute to the great defensive numbers. UC Irvine has only played one of the top five teams in the current standings on the road and the result was the team’s only conference loss, falling at UC Davis. Close wins have been the norm as UC Irvin, who has not won a Big West game by more than 11 points. The offense has had turnover issues and is a mediocre shooting team as the door could open in the conference race with UC Irvine facing road games in three of the next four, including a tough game at UC Santa Barbara next week.   UC SAN DIEGO: This only the fourth season as a Division I program for UC San Diego, and this was a 10-20 team last season that went 5-13 in Big West play. Eric Olen’s squad has shown dramatic improvement, fighting through a four-game losing streak in non-conference play to turn things around with a great 8-1 start in Big West play. UC San Diego has only lost at home once all season and that was by one-point to San Diego State as the Tritons will be a threat to keep winning at home with UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, and UC Davis all still yet to visit La Jolla. UC San Diego has a very low turnover rate and strong shooting numbers all over the floor as currently the top offensive team in the Big West by a wide margin, even while playing a more difficult schedule than the other top contenders in the standings so far as the Tritons should have some staying power in this race.   UC DAVIS: UC Davis sits just behind the top two teams at 7-2. UC Davis did hand UC Irvine its only defeat, but it has been a series split as UC Davis lost in overtime at UC Irvine. The loss to UC San Diego was not competitive with a stunning 92-59 home loss last weekend to immediately erase the big win over UC Irvine. UC Davis has three conference wins by 20 or more points, and this has been a good defensive team, forcing turnovers at a high rate and featuring the best 3-point defense in Big West play allowing just below 29 percent shooting beyond the arc. UC Davis will be on the road in three of the next four including a trip to Santa Barbara and a trip to Hawaii as the Aggies may not remain a top threat in the Big West race. Six of nine games so far in the conference path have been home games so far for UC Davis, who will also close the season playing four of the final five on the road.   UC SANTA BARBARA: UC Santa Barbara may be lurking as a sleeper in the race after starting 0-3 in its bid to follow-up last season’s great 15-5 Big West campaign. The Gauchos have turned things around winning five of the past six including a win hosting Long Beach State and last week’s win at Hawaii by double-digits. This is the #1 effective field goal rate team in the conference and has appealing numbers in many areas with a major exception in turnovers, as UC Santa Barbara ranks last in turnover rate in the Big West on both sides of the ball. That is a bit of an oddity as Joe Pasternack’s offense had the lowest turnover rate in the conference last season and four of this year’s starters were on that team. UC Santa Barbara has not played a difficult conference schedule so far as they are yet to play either meeting with UC Irvine while going 0-2 vs. UC Davis and UC San Diego with the second meetings coming up in February. Three of the next four conference games are at home for the Gauchos as it will be a big first 10 days of February to determine if UC Santa Barbara will again be a threat in the conference race.   LONG BEACH STATE: Of the top five teams in the conference standings, Long Beach State has faced the toughest schedule with five of nine league games on the road including some of the more difficult tests. The Beach are 0-3 vs. the top three teams in the standings as this hasn’t looked like a group that can rise to the top of the pack. Long Beach State as usual took on a difficult non-conference schedule and did pick up notable wins over Michigan and USC as this group may have a higher ceiling than the current trajectory suggests. Long Beach State is always a difficult matchup as one of the fastest tempo teams in the nation and Dan Monson has delivered 11 winning seasons in Big West play since taking over in the 2007-08 season. If the outside shooting numbers pick up, Long Beach State has a chance to climb back into the race, particularly with a favorable February schedule that will feature only two of the next eight games against the top five in the standings.  

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CFP Player Prop Considerations – Texas vs. Washington

Saturday, Dec 30, 2023

Monday’s CFP semifinal between Texas and Washington is expected to be the much higher scoring contest of the two semifinals with a total in the 60s. Which players are likely to make the most of the opportunity? Below is a look at five player prop considerations for the Sugar Bowl to close Monday’s New Year’s Day bowl schedule.  Michael Penix, Jr. UNDER 313.5 Passing Yards Michael Penix, Jr. topped 400 yards in each of his three non-conference games to start the season but he averaged just 289 yards per game in Washington’s 10-0 run through the Pac-12. He did get to 319 in the Pac-12 Championship against Oregon but was held to 304 or fewer yards six times in Pac-12 play. Penix completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for the season but was held below 58 percent in four of his final six games despite Washington maintaining its perfect record. Texas allowed 241 passing yards per game but often playing with the lead in the Big XII contributed. Alabama had just 255 passing yards against Texas while Oklahoma had only 285 against Texas for the two best comparison games.  Quinn Ewers OVER 288.5 Passing Yards Washington ranked 121st nationally, allowing 263 passing yards per game this season as the Huskies can be described as a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Ewers posted 452 passing yards in the statement win in the Big XII Championship and averaged 287 yards per game, even with an outlier 131-yard performance against Wyoming early in the season. He had 349 yards vs. Alabama and 346 yards vs. Oklahoma as Texas was pass-heavy behind Ewers in the biggest games of the season.  Dillon Johnson OVER 73.5 Rushing Yards Sometimes overlooked in Washington’s success, the Huskies leaned on Johnson more and more late in the season. He didn’t have more than 20 carries in any of the team’s first seven games but had 21 or more in four of the final five games, including a 28 carry game for 152 rushing yards in the Pac-12 Championship. Johnson had only three runs longer than 30 yards all season as his total figures haven’t been skewed upward with a few big plays and he has reached 82 or more yards in eight of his past nine games. Texas has an elite run defense allowing just 2.9 yards per carry this season, but Washington will have opportunities to selectively run the ball in this game. Texas was outrushed in their two biggest games against Alabama and Oklahoma this season including allowing 201 rushing yards in the loss to the Sooners.  Ja’Tavion Sanders UNDER 41.5 Receiving Yards The Texas tight end had eight catches for 105 yards in the Big XII Championship win but he has been held to 37 or fewer yards in six of the past nine games. He did have a big game in the win over Alabama but after having three catches of 44 or more yards in the first three games of the season, his long reception the rest of the way was only 26 yards. Sanders has also been held to two or fewer catches in six different games this season. His blocking will be needed in this game and while a few throws will certainly go his way, big play gains have been uncommon for Sanders in recent weeks.  Rome Odunze OVER 97.5 Receiving Yards The favorite target for Penix, Odunze had had at least five catches in 12 of 13 games this season and has had a catch of at least 30 yards in eight different games. He had 16 catches for 230 yards in the two wins over Oregon and has topped 100 yards nine times this season. While he will certainly have the attention of the Texas defense, he will also be the go-to option for Penix under duress as the tallest option in the receiving corps. Odunze will be targeted down the field often, having averaged 17.6 yards per reception this season. If a game state occurs where the underdog Huskies are trailing, Odunze will be the lead option in the hurry-up and could pad his yardage total in the 4th quarter. 

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CFP Player Prop Considerations – Alabama vs. Michigan

Saturday, Dec 30, 2023

Monday’s CFP semifinal between Alabama and Michigan features a spread below a field goal and should be the one of the most watched games in college football history given the stakes and the controversy surrounding Alabama’s inclusion and Michigan’s many headlines this season. Here is a look at six player prop considerations for Monday’s Rose Bowl.   J.J. McCarthy UNDER 189.5 Passing Yards McCarthy has not topped 148 yards in any of his past four games as the competition stiffened down the stretch. In the wins over Penn State and Ohio State, McCarthy completed a combined total of only 23 passes. After McCarthy allowed two interceptions to be returned for touchdowns in last season’s 51-45 loss to TCU in the CFP semifinal, Michigan is likely going to be cautious in the passing game unless they fall behind significantly. This is also statistically Alabama’s worst run defense per game and per carry since 2019 as Michigan’s game plan will start with the ground attack.  Jalen Milroe UNDER 198.5 Passing Yards Milroe has averaged only 14 completions per game this season and only once had more than 17 completions in a game. He did top 200 passing yards seven times, but reached only 192 in the SEC Championship against Georgia and that included 57 yards on the 4th quarter touchdown drive that put Alabama up by 10 points with fewer than six minutes remaining. Michigan allowed just over 152 passing yards per game this season and allowing 271 yards to Kyle McCord in the Ohio State game was driven by the game state with Michigan up by double-digits in portions of that contest.  Blake Corum OVER 83.5 Rushing Yards  Alabama’s run defense was not quite at its typical elite level for the season, and while the Tide held Georgia to just 78 rushing yards in the SEC Championship, a 17-7 halftime lead changed Georgia’s approach. The Bulldogs also weren’t as strong in the ground game as the past two seasons. Corum barely reached 1,000 yards rushing this season compared to amassing over 1,400 rushing yards last season, but Michigan kept his carries in check early in the season. Down the stretch in his final three regular season games against quality competition Corum got the ball 76 times and posted 327 rushing yards for an average of 109 yards per game. He had only 52 yards in the Big Ten Championship game but given the shutout result, not much was needed from the offense.  Donovan Edwards UNDER 30.5 Rushing Yards Edwards has been the change-of-pace back for Michigan and he had huge performances last season filling in against Ohio State, and in the Big Ten Championship against Purdue. He also had 119 yards in the CFP semifinal against TCU with Corum injured. Edwards averaged just 29 yards per game rushing this season and posted only 3.5 yards per carry despite often getting the ball in advantageous unconventional rushing situations. Edwards could have a role in the passing game but likely won’t have many designed runs in this contest.  Jalen Milroe UNDER 33.5 Rushing Yards Milroe had two 100 yard rushing games this season in big spots against LSU and Auburn but he had just 29 rushing yards against Georgia. Since returning to the starting role Milroe was held below 30 rushing yards in six of 10 games. Sacks are likely to occur in this contest as even if Milroe has a few successful scrambles, his end-game total could be modest with this figure likely a bit elevated from where it should project as the OVER will be a popular look.  Jermaine Burton UNDER 50.5 Receiving Yards Burton had the most receiving yards on the Alabama team this season at 777, but he had only 35 catches and was a boom-or-bust option. His 9-catch 197-yard game against Texas A&M was an extreme outlier that amount shifts his season figures dramatically as he didn’t have more than four catches in any other game. Burton is a big play threat, but Michigan has allowed just 153 passing yards per game this season and just 5.8 yards per pass attempt. Burton totaled only 28 yards vs. Georgia and only 29 yards vs. LSU in recent high-stakes games. 

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Early Look at Big Ten Basketball

Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023

Early Look at Big Ten Basketball  A taste of conference season in college basketball comes in early December in the Big Ten with most teams playing two early season non-conference games before a break for finals and the holidays ahead of the resumption of conference play in early January. Here is a look at how a five of the Big Ten teams have performed and what to expect in the first Big Ten conference action of the season.  The Favorite – Purdue: The Boilermakers are on a season of redemption after last season’s early NCAA tournament exit and the start could not be more impressive, sweeping three high-profile games in Hawaii against Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Marquette over Thanksgiving week. Purdue is +150 to win the Big Ten as a clear favorite in the conference after winning the league by three games last season going 15-5. One of those losses was at Northwestern, where the Boilermakers head on December 1 for their Big Ten opener. Purdue will also host Iowa December 4 looking to start the conference season 2-0 before heavyweight non-conference games vs. Alabama and Arizona in mid-December.   Prove It Game – Wisconsin at Michigan State: After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Wisconsin and head coach Greg Gard are in line for an important season. The Badgers have had mixed results in the non-conference season, losing to Tennessee and Providence but defeating Virginia and SMU. A big home test is this weekend hosting Marquette before the Big Ten opener in East Lansing. Wisconsin plays only one December Big Ten game and will play at Arizona the following weekend for a grueling run on the schedule. The Badgers have good returning experience while St. John’s transfer AJ Storr and freshman John Blackwell have been impressive additions as Wisconsin looks capable of climbing back to the top tier of the conference, but they need to prove it with at least one big win in December.   Breakthrough Team - Nebraska: Nebraska hasn’t had a winning season since going 19-17 under Tim Miles in 2018-19 and last made the NCAA Tournament in 2014. It has been a slow climb, but Fred Hoiberg’s team has improved in record every season since he took over, going 2-18 in Big Ten play in his first season in Lincoln through turning in a competitive 9-11 conference run last season. This year’s team is already 7-0 in non-conference play and grades as a top 50 caliber team by many measures for the first time in many years. The schedule so far has been very light however as the best win came narrowly at home over Duquesne while Nebraska has only one win away form home. In the first two weeks of December Nebraska has a non-conference test vs. Creighton before a winnable Big Ten opener at Minnesota. The Cornhuskers then host Michigan State before another tough non-conference game at Kansas State as this will be a big two-week stretch for the program to deliver a few wins to help deliver a breakthrough season.  Transition Team – Penn State: Stepping into a tough situation, Micah Shrewsberry did a great job at Penn State for two seasons and the Nittany Lions made a nice run last March, making the Big Ten tournament final and then winning a NCAA Tournament game. The success led Shrewsberry to take over at Notre Dame and Penn State hired VCU head coach Mike Rhoades. A 4-0 start through a light path has soured on this year’s team, a group that has almost no returning experience from last season. Against three top 100 teams in tournament action in Florida Penn State went 0-3, allowing 89, 88, and 86 points, including bitterly losing by double-digits against the VCU team Rhoades used to coach. Penn State has a pair of tricky December games in Big Ten play, opening at Maryland and then hosting Ohio State with getting a split likely important towards a chance at a successful season.  The Sleeper – Illinois: The resume isn’t there for Illinois right now as the 5-1 start doesn’t include a top 100 win, but the Illini looked the part in a seven-point home loss to highly-ranked Marquette. The defense has brilliant numbers as one of the nation’s leaders in many important categories featuring impressive height and tremendous depth and experience. Transfers Marcus Domask (Southern Illinois) and Quincy Guerrier (Oregon) have joined Terrance Shannon, Ty Rodgers, and Luke Goode for a quality lineup and the Illini should get Coleman Hawkins and Niccolo Moretti back from injury at some point this season. Illinois has only one early season Big Ten game playing at Rutgers next weekend for a game the team likely needs to prove legitimate in this race. Illinois will then get non-conference tests vs. Florida Atlantic and Tennessee as a squad that could be a threat to make a run in the Big Ten race, while looking for a fourth straight NCAA Tournament trip for Brad Underwood. Illinois won a share of the conference title two seasons ago before finishing sixth last season but is currently listed third in the marketplace behind Purdue and Michigan State. 

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Early Look at ACC Basketball

Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023

Early Look at ACC Basketball  A preview of conference season in college basketball comes in early December in the ACC, with most teams playing one early season non-conference game before a break for finals and the holidays ahead of the resumption of conference play in early January. Here is a quick snapshot of five of the ACC teams in action and what to expect in the first conference games of the season in the ACC.  The Favorite – Duke: Replacing a legendary coach is not an easy task and John Scheyer’s first season leading Duke featured 27 wins and an ACC tournament title. Duke lost to Tennessee in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament in a difficult 4/5 game, however. The Blue Devils often cycle through NBA prospects, but this year’s team returns a great deal of last season’s production with Kyle Filipowski, Mark Mitchell, Tyrese Proctor, and Jeremy Roach all back in action alongside four talented freshmen additions. Duke split big early tests losing to Arizona and defeating Michigan State and will be favored to start 1-0 in ACC play playing at Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils have a rather favorable early season ACC schedule before what could be a challenging February and March.   Prove It Game – Pittsburgh vs. Clemson: Pittsburgh basketball was a regular force in the 2000s under Jamie Dixon, but the program hit a tough patch and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 last season. Now in his sixth season at Pittsburgh, Jeff Capel has been given time to build the program back up, delivering a 24-12 season in 2022-23 that included a 14-6 ACC record. The Panthers barely made the field as a First Four #11 seed but won that game and then beat Iowa State in the Round of 64 for a successful run. Only two starters return this season led by Blake Hinson, but transfer Ishmael Leggett (Rhode Island) has stepped into a big role while Carlton Carrington could be one of the top freshmen in the ACC. A 5-2 start has featured losses in both major conference tests vs. a pair of SEC teams and Pittsburgh needs to take care of business at home in the ACC opener vs. a good Clemson team to be taken seriously an ACC threat again this season.  Breakthrough Team – Virgina Tech: When Mike Young was hired at Virginia Tech it was considered a great pick-up for the program that had performed well under Buzz Williams. Young had been very successful at Wofford, and it seemed like his system would work well in the ACC. Young’s teams have been steady but his ACC results have been marginal, outside of going 9-4 in the abbreviated 2020-21 season. Young’s only career NCAA Tournament win was at Wofford as the Hokies lost in the Round of 64 in 2021 and 2022, with the 2022 appearance only granted by a surprise run to win the ACC Tournament. Last season’s team was a great disappointment, going just 19-15 overall and just 8-12 in ACC play despite looking like a higher quality team in an 11-1 start and picking up high-profile wins over North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia early in the ACC season. This year’s team has experience and continuity from last season and while the team ran out of gas in its third tournament game in Florida last week, losing badly to Florida Atlantic, wins over Boise State and Iowa State have provided a solid non-conference base. If the 3-point shooting numbers improve slightly towards the typical levels of Young’s teams, this could be a very competitive team in ACC play.  Transition Team – Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner was once considered one of the great up-and-coming coaches as an assistant with Arizona. His seven years at Memphis delivered a few highlights but his seven seasons at Georgia Tech were a great disappointment, only making the NCAA Tournament in the shortened 2020-21 season. The program moved on after last season and brought in a high-profile hire in former NBA star Damon Stoudamire who coached at Pacific for five seasons before returning to the NBA as an assistant with Boston the past two years. The hire did allow the Yellow Jackets to keep a few quality players from last season’s team, notably Miles Kelly and Kyle Sturdivant while a mix of transfers also gives the roster a solid group with good size and experience. So far this season the results have been mixed with an unfortunate loss to Mass-Lowell while blown out at Cincinnati, but last week Georgia Tech beat Mississippi State. The transition for the Yellow Jackets gets a major test this week hosting Duke in the ACC opener.   The Sleeper – Clemson: Brad Brownell has been at Clemson since 2010-11 for rare longevity in today’s era of college basketball. The Tigers made the Sweet 16 in 2018 but haven’t won a tournament game in any other season, only making the field two other times as the administration has been incredibly patient. In fairness, last season’s 14-6 squad had a legitimate gripe about being a bubble casualty as finishing tied for 2nd in the ACC and not making the tournament was a rare occurrence. Four of this year’s starters were on that team including PJ Hall and Chase Hunter who are all-ACC caliber players. Syracuse transfer Joseph Girard is also a great addition and all three of those players have hit over 40 percent from 3-point range so far this season. There is great size, depth, and experience on this group and the 6-0 non-conference start has been impressive, facing only one team outside the nation’s top 150 and capping off the strong November with a road win at Alabama this week. Brownell teams are usually very good defensively but have been marginal on offense in recent years. This year’s team has been a great outside shooting team and is a group that has the chance to reward Clemson’s wait for Brownell to elevate the program to a big postseason run. 

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MACtion Arrives: MAC West Report

Sunday, Oct 29, 2023

On Halloween night a great college football tradition resumes with weeknight MAC football, affectionately known as MACtion. The next several Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be filled with MAC contests to fill out the November college football schedule as the division races heat up headed towards the MAC Championship on December 2nd. Here is a breakdown of the current MAC West standings and what to expect in the division race in the next month.   Toledo: Toledo is the highest rated MAC team, and the Rockets are in great shape to again claim the MAC West title. The Rockets are 4-0 in division play and do have the head-to-head wins they need with wins over Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. The road finale at Central Michigan remains but Toledo would need to take another loss in the next three games for the Chippewas to have a shot at the division title or they would need to lose twice in the next four games to let Northern Illinois back in the race. The next two home games are favorable before two road games to close the regular season. Toledo has not been dominant in MAC play however as the past three conference wins have all been one-score results and the Rockets will get every foe’s best shot as the defending champions. Dequan Finn is a MAC player of the year candidate while Toledo is one of the nation’s best rushing teams, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The Rockets also have a sound defense allowing just 5.1 yards per play this season, but in the 4-0 MAC start Toledo has allowed nearly 22 points per game to display some vulnerability.   Northern Illinois: The Huskies won the MAC title in 2021 and have five titles since 2011 as this program should not be ruled out. NIU made a comeback charge in the head-to-head game with Toledo, rallying to get within two points but with that loss, the 3-1 Huskies will need Toledo to lose twice in the final four while winning out to take the division title. NIU beat Boston College in the season opener for a great win before losing four straight games. The Huskies have now won three in a row, allowing 14 or fewer points in each MAC win including a notable win over Ohio. The remaining schedule will feature a road test this week at Central Michigan before division home games with Ball State and Western Michigan. NIU has had a break in the schedule drawing both Akron and Kent State from the East side. Rocky Lombardi hasn’t delivered the statistical season many expected but the Huskies have a strong rushing attack and are a top 25 team nationally in yards per play allowed on defense. Currently 4-4, the Huskies should be a threat to return to a bowl game but catching Toledo is unlikely.   Central Michigan: Losing to Ball State in its last game was a costly result for Central Michigan who now needs help while also needing to go 4-0 down the stretch through a difficult remaining MAC schedule to claim the MAC West title. Central Michigan still has an opportunity to play Toledo but sweeping upcoming games with Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, and Ohio, before that finale will be a great challenge. Central Michigan’s MAC wins came against Eastern Michigan and Akron in one-score results as the Chippewas are more likely to fall to the bottom of the division than to seriously challenge Toledo. Jase Bauer has marginal numbers since taking over at quarterback and Central Michigan has some of the lesser defensive numbers in the conference. The Chippewas had a surprising non-conference win over South Alabama that keeps them in the mix for a bowl game but splitting the final four isn’t the most likely outcome as the Chippewas should be an underdog in every remaining game.  Western Michigan: The Broncos already have three MAC losses, but this is a team that could have some late season life as a spoiler in upcoming MAC contests. Western Michigan blasted Eastern Michigan last week with a 252-28 edge in rushing in a 45-21 win. The Broncos also scored 42 in a home win against Ball State earlier this season. The losses came against three of the best teams in the MAC and Western Michigan scored 31 on Toledo’s excellent defense. Two of the final three are at home for the Broncos who are 3-6 overall, facing a “need-to-win-out” to make it to 6-6 situation. The non-conference path featured three power five teams with Western Michigan losing to ACC, Big Ten, and SEC teams on the road as the numbers for Western Michigan are skewed, having played the most difficult overall schedule in the conference.   Eastern Michigan: Hopes for a late season run to contention for Eastern Michigan were extinguished last week with a lopsided home loss to Western Michigan. Four turnovers and terrible run defense were issues for the Eagles, who are now 4-5 with a trip to Toledo up next on the schedule. The final two come against Akron and on the road at Buffalo as getting to 6-6 is still realistic. Eastern Michigan has shown potential on defense allowing 5.3 yards per play this season and just 4.5 yards per play allowed in the past three games. The Eagles have had very little success running the ball this season however as they are not an appealing team in upcoming underdog situations vs. Toledo and Buffalo.  Ball State: The Cardinals are just 2-6 overall with four games to go and they close the season facing Miami, the likely MAC East champion. Winning out to reach 6-6 is a long shot but this group hasn’t looked like one of the worst teams in the conference despite the current placement in the standings. Ball State has allowed just 96 points in four MAC games for decent defensive results and the Cardinals have allowed just 4.2 yards per play the past three games despite losing two of three. Ball State recently lost just 13-6 to Toledo in a game that was tied late, and the Cardinals outgained Central Michigan 344-260 in its most recent game, winning 24-17. Ball State is 0-4 on the road this season with every loss by at least 14 points as to turn around the season the Cardinals will need to play better with road trips to Bowling Green and Northern Illinois next on the schedule. Ball State has used three different quarterbacks this season with Kiael Kelly currently in the lead role, offering a significant rushing presence that isn’t reflected in the season numbers for the Cardinals.    

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MACtion Arrives: MAC East Report

Sunday, Oct 29, 2023

On Halloween night a great college football tradition resumes with weeknight MAC football, affectionately known as MACtion. The next several Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be filled with MAC contests to fill out the November college football schedule as the division races heat up headed towards the MAC Championship on December 2nd. Here is a breakdown of the current MAC East standings and what to expect in the division race in the next month.   Miami, OH: The Redhawks lead the MAC East, looking to get back to the MAC Championship with the titles for the program in 2003, 2010, and recently in 2019. Miami is 4-1 while +70 in MAC scoring with the Redhawks already bowl eligible at 7-1 overall, including a notable win over Cincinnati. Miami competed well in its toughest MAC test, the division crossover game with Toledo, losing 21-17 for the only conference loss so far. Miami will be favored at home the next two weeks vs. Akron and Buffalo before the regular season finale at Ball State. Quarterback Brett Gabbert has the best QB Rating in the conference while the Redhawks have appealing defensive numbers, especially against the run. Miami is in a great position to win the division.   Buffalo: The Bulls won their only MAC Championship back in 2008 but did win the MAC East in 2018 and 2020. The results since Lance Leipold left for Kansas have not been as strong with Maurice Linguist currently 14-19 in his third season but the Bulls did win a bowl game last season and are currently in second place in the East standings. Buffalo went 0-4 in non-conference play and the 3-1 start in MAC play includes wins the two teams that are 0-4 in MAC play. The remaining schedule is very difficult, playing at Toledo this week while still facing Ohio and Miami, as the Bulls are not likely to seriously challenge in the division race and should be considered a long shot to return to a bowl game. Buffalo is allowing 5.4 yards per rush this for the worst per carry run defense in the MAC, though the numbers have improved in recent games.   Ohio: The Bobcats fell short vs. Miami in a critical game in the division race last week, losing 30-16 at home despite leading 9-0 after the first quarter. The Bobcats are 6-3 and should be able to confirm a bowl bid with a favorable remaining schedule, though two of the final three games are on the road. Kurtis Rourke is one of the better MAC quarterbacks and Ohio features a solid run defense, allowing only 3.5 yards per rush this season. The rushing offense for the Bobcats has not been up to past standards but Tim Albin and the Bobcats still have a chance for a second straight 10-win season, even if they are a long shot to catch Miami in the division race due to losing the head-to-head tiebreaker.   Bowling Green: The Falcons stunned Georgia Tech in early October, a win that looks even better at this point in the season. That highlight result has the Falcons still in the mix for a return to the postseason after last season’s breakthrough. Bowling Green Has won the past two weeks in MAC play as well but earlier in the season lost badly vs. Ohio and Miami, two of the better teams in the MAC. The remaining schedule includes losing teams in three of the final four as Bowling Green should have a decent opportunity to reach six wins. The toughest remaining game with Toledo is at home, as is this week’s division crossover game with Ball State, a key game in the path for the Falcons. Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak hasn’t had great numbers, and he missed the win over Buffalo which was led by Camden Orth. Bowling Green has rushed for over 200 yards in back-to-back games while also putting up 175 rushing yards in the win over the Yellow Jackets as the Falcons will have some appeal moving forward as a team that can finish strong. Having lost 27-0 to Miami makes contending in the East division unlikely, but the Falcons should be considered a threat to move up into the top three in the division by season’s end.   Akron: The Zips have clinched a losing season with six straight defeats since beating FCS Morgan State by three points. Akron did nearly beat Indiana and has four one-score losses as this has been a competitive team at times this season. Akron has not scored more than 17 points in any MAC game however but the rivalry game with Kent State this week will be at home for the team’s most favorable opportunity of the conference season. Michael Alaimo has just two touchdown passes this season for the Zips, who have also averaged just 2.5 yards per rush on offense the past three games.   Kent State: Like Akron, Kent State is 0-4 in MAC play with the Flashes -77 in conference scoring. Kent State has faced a difficult first four games in the league path however and the Flashes could still have a chance to turn in multiple wins in the final four weeks. This week’s game with Akron will be a good opportunity while the four remaining opponents for Kent State are a combined 6-10 in MAC play with only Northern Illinois featuring a winning record. A difficult transition season under new head coach Kenni Burns was not unexpected, but every MAC loss has come by at least 14 points. Kent State has averaged just 2.5 yards per rush this season, only ahead of Hawaii ranking #132 nationally.            

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American League Futures Consideration

Thursday, Sep 28, 2023

Baltimore has stunned baseball to not only make the playoffs this season but has emerged as the likely #1 seed in the American League with that position nearly clinched. The numbers certainly support the Orioles as the most complete team in the AL field, but this is also a group with minimal playoff experience and a pitching staff that lacks the elite results of most past World Series champions.  Houston won the World Series last season as the #1 seed in the American League but over time that won’t likely prove to the be the norm with this being just the second season of the current 12-team format. On the National League side, the #6 seed made the World Series last season and after a tense finish in the AL West there are viable candidates to make a run in this year’s AL field with more attractive pricing than where the Orioles currently stand, with Baltimore last winning a playoff series in 2014 and last winning the World Series in 1983. Baltimore and Texas are close to clinching the #1 and #2 spots in the AL Bracket but don’t present attractive prices at +250 and +265 respectively to win the AL Pennant. Another team may, however, be worth consideration.  CONSIDERATION: TAMPA BAY RAYS +500 TO WIN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE Tampa Bay was the driver’s seat in the American League most of the season after a historic 29-7 start to the season. The Rays had a tough month of July to allow Baltimore an opportunity to move ahead in the AL East and even while Tampa Bay has played well down the stretch, they will have to go through the Wild Card round barring a collapse for Baltimore.  A surprise early in the season was the bullpen for the Rays struggling despite the success of the team, with the offense and starting staff carrying the team. Injuries have greatly hurt the Rays potential on paper with Shane Baz, Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffrey Springs lost for the season. The bullpen for the Rays climbed into the top 10 in the season numbers late in the season and currently leads MLB with a 2.77 FIP from relievers in the past month.  Tyler Glasnow returned to the Rays in June and gives Tampa Bay a true ace to lead the rotation, while Zach Eflin, Zack Littell, and Aaron Civale have all pitched well enough to earn a postseason start. In a three-game wild card series with Glasnow starting Game 1, the Rays have plenty of options to work with to cover two other games with its mix of elite relievers and capable starting options.  Should Tampa Bay advance, they would draw the top seeded Orioles who won eight of 13 games vs. the Rays this season but with even scoring at 48-48. The Orioles will have won only a few more games than the Rays on the season as Tampa Bay will have the second best record in the American League and a stronger scoring differential than Baltimore to warrant only a minimal underdog price. The Orioles with a young team and without playoff experience will also be in the less than ideal position of having nearly a week off to potentially zap the team’s late season momentum and build pressure in Baltimore.  In the Wild Card round it isn’t confirmed who Tampa Bay will draw, but right now it would be Toronto, with the Jays 128 runs worse than the Rays in scoring differential this season. Toronto lacks formidable starting pitching with Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt inconsistent performers at the top of the rotation while the Toronto bullpen ranks 18th in the past month in WAR while posting a 4.57 ERA.  Tampa Bay is 32-18 since August 1 while the Blue Jays are 28-23, rarely rising above an average level for significant stretches all season. Toronto will also face the Rays in the final regular season series with the Jays likely needing to go all out to win those games while the Rays will be unlikely to use any meaningful pitching options in those games. That would set up a possible advantage in the Wild Card round that would be in St. Petersburg, where the Rays have a current MLB best 53-28 home record.  The Rays could also draw Houston who went 7-0 in the AL playoffs on the way to winning the World Series last season, but the Astros didn’t face the Rays last season and Tampa Bay beat Houston in the 2020 ALCS. Tampa Bay was upset by Cleveland in the Wild Card round last season with only one run scored in 24 innings, but this was a World Series team in 2020 and this year the Rays have 837 runs with a few games to go for the season after scoring only 666 runs in the 2022 regular season for a dramatic improvement. Texas is the only team that has scored more among AL teams this season as the Rays would have a sizeable edge at the plate vs. Toronto, Houston, or Baltimore.  In the current bracket, the Rays would not have to face the Twins or Mariners until the ALCS with Minnesota and Seattle (should they get in) possessing the best starting pitching among AL playoff teams as the thin depth in the rotation for Tampa Bay may not be as big of a factor as it might appear to be on paper in the playoffs. Tampa Bay is also the only team besides the Astros in the playoff field with significant playoff experience and recent playoff success, as Tampa Bay should be priced as a more serious threat in the AL Pennant chase. 

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National League Futures Consideration

Thursday, Sep 28, 2023

Atlanta is the clear favorite to win the World Series and is priced accordingly in the National League market. The Dodgers are close behind, before a big gap to reach the other teams that will or could still be involved this October. Both are worthy candidates to make a World Series run but would not be worth entering the market presently at the current prices.  This is just the second season of the current 12-team playoff format and last season provided both extremes with a #1 seed and a #6 seed reaching the World Series. In the National League this season the same two teams will be the top two seeds: Atlanta and Los Angeles. Neither made the NLCS last season which was a pairing of the #5 and #6 seeds that won in the Wild Card round, San Diego and Philadelphia. When considering the current prices, one option stands out as a worthy consideration in the NL market right now.  CONSIDERATION: MILWAUKEE BREWERS +950 TO WIN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE Avoiding Atlanta’s side of the bracket seems to be a big advantage as Milwaukee could be a in favorable position, not having to play Atlanta or last year’s NL champion Philadelphia until a potential pairing in the NLCS. Should Milwaukee advance to the Division series, they would face the Dodgers with the NL West leaders certainly still a formidable draw, thus the significant underdog price.  The Brewers would have a clear edge in starting pitching in that series however as the Dodgers don’t have their typical postseason options of the past few seasons including Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Walker Buehler, or Julio Urias. Clayton Kershaw is still pitching well but lacks an amazing postseason track record while the remaining starting options include trade deadline acquisition Lance Lynn who has been erratic this season, a trio of rookies: Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, and Emmet Sheehan, or long reliever Ryan Yarbrough.  Milwaukee’s trio of starters Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta would give the Brewers an edge in several matchups with Milwaukee also possessing elite relief options led by Devin Williams, Joel Payamps, and Abner Uribe. Milwaukee’s lineup will finish with below average numbers for the regular season and the Brewers went just 20-25 vs. left-handed starters. Kershaw will be the only left-handed starting option for the Dodgers unless Yarbrough gets a start, while the current late-inning bullpen options include only two left-handers as well that aren’t considered in the top tier of the Los Angeles bullpen.  Milwaukee has also put together a .744 team OPS in the past month heading into the final days of the regular season for a significant improvement on the season numbers as the additions of Carlos Santana, Mark Canha, and Josh Donaldson have provided some proven power in the lineup, while July call-up Sam Frelick has also provided a spark.  Anything can happen in a three-game series, but the Brewers have an excellent home record and had good numbers vs. the Cubs, Marlins, and Reds, with an Arizona team Milwaukee struggled with appearing more likely to earn the #5 position to face the Phillies in the Wild Card series.  The Brewers have never won the World Series and have never appeared in the World Series as a National League team, switching leagues in 1998, so there isn’t much history on Milwaukee’s side. The Brewers did make the NLCS back in 2018 however and this will be the team’s fifth playoff appearance in the past six seasons as there is postseason experience, while Craig Counsell is generally regarded as one of the better in-game managers.  Given the high-end pitching for Milwaukee and a postseason path that is lining up preferably, Milwaukee may have a better opportunity than the current pricing suggests, even if the matching 1-5 season records vs. the Braves and Dodgers are tough to get past. Milwaukee does have a winning record vs. the Phillies and a winning road record this season, which is a consistent theme for World Series champions.   

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2023 MAC Football Schedule Review

Friday, Aug 25, 2023

The stability of the MAC is a comfort given the consistent realignment around the rest of the college football circuit and the 2023 season should provide another great race in the conference. With an eight-game schedule and three division crossover games, the schedule draws can be very impactful in division races that are often decided very late in the season, frequently with tiebreakers. Here is a quick look at the MAC schedule in 2023.  Ohio is one of the teams playing this weekend in Week 0 to kick off the college season. The Bobcats had by far the best MAC record last season going 7-1 while no other team was better than 5-3 but Ohio failed to win the MAC title game. Ohio is a threat in the MAC East again with a reasonable draw from the West that avoids a title game rematch with Toledo in the regular season. Northern Illinois was just 2-6 last season as one of the MAC West pulls for Ohio, but the Huskies figure to be improved as Ohio’s crossover path may be more difficult than it looks.  While Miami has not had more than eight wins in Chuck Martin’s nine seasons, they did win the MAC title in 2019. The Redhawks have a lot of appeal as an East threat in 2023 with one of the better returning defenses in the conference. Miami does draw Toledo from the West but that will be a home game and the Redhawks also get games with Bowling Green and Buffalo at home this season.  The roster from last season’s 7-6 Buffalo squad has turned over significantly but Maurice Linguist has provided competitive results in his two seasons with the team following a great run for the program under Lance Leipold. Buffalo has one of the tougher schedules in league play however with road games at Toledo and at Miami while the big home game with Ohio will close a run of 10 straight weeks without a bye.  Bowling Green made a leap to 6-7 last season for the team’s first bowl season since 2015 and the Falcons are a threat in the East race in 2023. Bowling Green also must play Toledo, but that game is at home, as is the early season date with Ohio. The Falcons bring in Missouri transfer quarterback Connor Bazelak and could take another step forward.  Toledo remains a top contender in the West division following last season’s title season. The Rockets have a difficult draw in 2023 however as a repeat will be a challenge. All three East teams on the schedule are decent and the Rockets will play five of seven games on the road to close the season as there may not be much margin for error even if as has often been the case, Toledo appears to have the best MAC roster.  After finishing in second place in the division last season Eastern Michigan should be considered a threat to finish on top of the MAC West. The Eagles lost by only three to Toledo last season and will have a bye week before facing the Rockets this season. Eastern Michigan plays the weakest East draw by last season’s records facing teams that combined to go 10-14 and the home schedule for the Eagles is very favorable.  Northern Illinois went just 3-9 last season, but the program won the MAC title in 2021. Quarterback injuries were a great challenge last season, but the roster depth is solid for the Huskies in the fifth season of an uneven run for Thomas Hammock. NIU does draw a crossover game with Ohio at home but also faces Kent State and Akron, likely two of the weaker teams in the East. The Huskies play at Toledo in late September in a critical game for the season aims.  The MAC West is often a tight race with several teams in the mix and that may not change in 2023. Most project Western Michigan for the basement in the division as the only West team with a coaching change but the offense has a lot of potential for the Broncos. The road schedule features several hurdles, but Kalamazoo may prove to be a tough place to play this season.  A sleeper in the MAC race is Ball State as the Cardinals have provided steady results the past few years and won the MAC title in the abbreviated 2020 season. The roster has good experience and Ball State avoids Buffalo and Ohio from the East draw. Big division games with Toledo and Miami will be at home though Mike Neu lacks a great home field track record in his seven seasons.  Given the typical closeness of the MAC West race, Central Michigan needs to be mentioned. Jim McElwain owns a great career record, but things didn’t work out last season in a 4-8 season. The defense returns a lot of experience for 2023 and while the offense has a lot of new pieces, Central Michigan will get to host many of the toughest games and McElwain is 14-7 S/U in home games since taking over in Mt. Pleasant.  The spotlight on the MAC generally grows in November with the weeknight primetime TV game schedule and most of the league may still be in the division race in those final weeks. This conference has featured eight different teams participating in the MAC Championship over the past four years as anything can happen in MACtion. 

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2023 Sun Belt Conference Schedule Review

Friday, Aug 25, 2023

The Sun Belt has been growing in stature in recent years and with big changes recently or on the horizon in several conferences, the 2023 Sun Belt Conference features 14 teams mirroring last season. The conference is 26-16 in bowl games since 2015 and could produce several quality teams in 2023-24 as well.  With 14 teams split into two divisions of seven teams by East and West divisions, the schedules in the eight-game conference path are always uneven. The divisions have featured many seasons of imbalance but look reasonably balanced in 2023-24. James Madison was the big story last season as a new FBS entrant that finished first in the East division but was not eligible to advance to the SBC Championship, which was won by Troy over Coastal Carolina.  The West is likely to feature Troy and South Alabama in the mix for the title again with both teams finishing 7-1 in conference play last season. The scheduling edge in that race sides with Troy who will host South Alabama in November after winning in Mobile 10-6 last season. South Alabama plays James Madison and Marshall from East division including playing at James Madison for a tougher draw than Troy faces.  Louisiana dominated the Sun Belt from 2019-2021 with three straight double-digit win seasons going 23-3 in conference games and the Ragin’ Cajuns are a threat to rise in the standings after going just 6-7 overall last season. Louisiana draws Old Dominion and Georgia State from the East, teams that combined to go just 5-11 in SBC play last season. Louisiana will be a long shot for the West title as they play on the road at South Alabama and at Troy in key division games however.  In the East James Madison, Coastal Carolina, and Marshall were in a tight race for the lead spot with newcomer James Madison featuring by far the best scoring numbers in the conference. James Madison has several key players to replace and may not surprise anyone this season while drawing arguably the most difficult SBC path with Troy and South Alabama on the schedule from the West.  Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall is back to add to legendary career statistics, but the Chanticleers have a new coach to leave some uncertainty towards another season of contention after going 20-5 in league games the past three seasons. The West draw is favorable facing Arkansas State and Texas State, the bottom two teams from last season in the standings.  Marshall does have to play South Alabama from the West draw for a disadvantage in the race and three of four road games in the eight-game slate will be against likely top contenders. The Thundering Herd may have a difficult time seriously challenging for its first SBC title after joining the conference last season and finishing 5-3 with wins in five of the final six games.  After a down year in 2022, many expect Appalachian State to remerge as a top threat in the Sun Belt, with the program winning league titles in 2018 and 2019 and making the tile game in 2021. A new quarterback takes over, but Appalachian State does have a favorable schedule facing UL-Monroe and Southern Miss from the West and hosting Coastal Carolina and Marshall this season.  While the East provides a crowded race, a sleeper could be Georgia Southern. Clay Helton’s hiring in Statesboro felt like a head-scratcher, but he turned in a bowl season last year that also included notable wins over Nebraska, James Madison, and Appalachian State. Georgia Southern has most of its offensive contributors from last season back and brings in Tulsa transfer Davis Brin at quarterback. The schedule is appealing playing UL-Monroe and Texas State teams that were a combined 5-11 in league play last season as well. Three of four road games are difficult contests but the Eagles could stay in the mix.  Georgia State and Arkansas State are teams with less than ideal schedules that could mean marginal campaigns will be ahead. Georgia State plays Troy and Louisiana from the West and all four home games for the Panthers will be very difficult as this may be a team to fade in SBC play, especially if the Panthers win in non-conference play with a 3-0 start possible.  Former Sun Belt power Arkansas State is just 5-19 in two seasons under Butch Jones and there isn’t a lot to like about the returning roster. The Red Wolves won just once in SBC play last season so improvement is likely, but three of four home games will be vs. contenders while having to face two of the better East teams in the crossover games.  The Sun Belt should continue to provide quality play with several experienced coaches and quarterbacks in the conference and this should be a conference to look out for in bowl opportunities again at the end of the season. 

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2023 Mountain West Schedule Review

Monday, Jul 31, 2023

The Mountain West may have some major changes on the horizon but for 2023 the conference retains the same 12 teams. A change for 2023 is eliminating the Mountain and West divisions of recent years as like many conferences, the league will move to a format with no divisions. Each team will still play eight conference games, missing three opponents. There are some big disparities in the schedules due to which teams are missing on the 2023 schedule for each Mountain West team.  This appears to be a four-team race with Boise State and Fresno State considered the clear favorites in the current marketplace, even with the end of the division format making that championship pairing slightly less likely. Those teams have met four times in the 10 seasons of the MWC Championship game including last season, while at least one of those programs has been involved in the MWC Championship each of the last six seasons.  Boise State went 8-0 in the regular season last year but lost to Fresno State in the MWC Championship game. The Broncos return good experience and are the current favorites, but the schedule includes missing three teams that were a combined 5-19 last season, unable to rack up wins vs. Hawaii, Nevada, or UNLV this season. That means drawing all the top contenders as Boise State will play at San Diego State and at Fresno State before hosting Air Force in the regular season finale. The Broncos have a difficult non-conference schedule as well playing at Washington, UCF, FCS North Dakota, and at Memphis as a program that has reached 10 or more wins six times in the past nine years should be considered unlikely to reach that mark in 2023 and should not be considered a lock for the MWC title game.  Fresno State lost to Connecticut early last season without Jake Haener who is now with the Saints. UCF transfer Mikey Keene has some potential at quarterback but Fresno State’s offense is likely to take a significant step back this season. A difficult non-conference schedule with two major conference road games are also ahead for Fresno State and the Bulldogs must play Boise State, San Jose State, and San Diego State all in four weeks in November for a difficult MWC path. Back-to-back road games at Wyoming and at Utah State in October could also be a challenge, though Fresno State does avoid Air Force this season.  Not getting to play either of the 2022 0-8 MWC teams this season is a disadvantage on the schedule for Air Force though the Falcons do miss Fresno State. Air Force has an incredibly easy non-conference schedule and should be a threat to put up another strong record, but the road schedule in MWC play is difficult and the Falcons have an incredibly challenging travel path late in the season. In the final six games Air Force plays only one home game and they will be away from home in four consecutive weeks with huge mileage, going from Annapolis to Fort Collins to Dallas to Honolulu in succession. The games with San Diego State and Wyoming are at home for a small break in a difficult league path.  Brady Hoke’s return to San Diego State has been a success even with the team unable to match the great 2021 results last season. This year’s team will play Boise State and Fresno State but both games will be at home where Hoke is 14-5 S/U the past three years. San Diego State is likely to take a few early season losses with a difficult September run playing UCLA and Oregon State back-to-back and then opening the MWC hosting Boise State and playing at Air Force. After an early October bye week, the schedule looks rather favorable with only the season finale hosting Fresno State looking overly formidable as the Aztecs could climb in the standings in November.  The team getting a lot of attention to breakthrough into the top tier of the MWC this season is Wyoming. Veteran head coach Craig Bohl has provided consistently solid returns for the Cowboys and particularly on defense this year’s team has great potential. The schedule does include facing Fresno State, Air Force and Boise State in three of the first games of the MWC season, however. Wyoming does avoid San Diego State as well as decent San Jose State and Utah State teams for overall a decent draw. Wyoming should be favored in all four games in November and two of the three difficult non-conference games will be at home this season.  A deeper sleeper in the Mountain West this season is Colorado State, coming off a 3-9 season in 2022. Jay Norvell left Nevada after a strong 2021 season for what seemed like somewhat of a lateral move and last year’s team had roster challenges. This year the group should have much more stability and a second season to develop in Norvell’s offense. Colorado State has winnable games in the non-conference schedule and will face its toughest MWC tests at home hosting Boise State, Air Force, and San Diego State. Fort Collins has not been a difficult place to play, going just 12-19 S/U since Canvas Stadium opened but this looks like a team that has an upset win or two ahead to have a strong shot at bowl eligibility.  Favorable conference schedules also belong to Hawaii, UNLV, and Nevada this season. Odom steps into a decent situation at UNLV inheriting a competitive 5-7 squad from last season along with a productive quarterback but it is difficult to project improvement for the Rebels in year one of another change. Nevada went through a major coaching and roster upheaval last season and that was displayed in a 2-10 season. The schedule offers some promise as improvement is almost certain for the Wolf Pack, but it is likely not enough to warrant even extreme long shot consideration in the conference race. Hawaii is also in just the second season of a major transition and while avoiding Boise State and Fresno State is a favorable draw, the travel mileage along with a difficult non-conference path in the 13-game path will take a toll. 

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2023 AAC Conference Schedule Review

Monday, Jul 31, 2023

The American Athletic Conference has undergone a radical transformation for the 2023 season with three high-profile programs exiting and six former Conference USA teams joining the conference for a 14-team league. Adding to the uncertainty is that half of the conference is going to be in a coaching transition season in 2023. With an eight-game league schedule among the 14-team league, the schedules will feature great imbalance. Here is a quick snapshot of how things look to start the season. Willie Fritz has only been at Tulane since 2016 but he is the longest-tenured head coach in the AAC and the program is coming off an amazing season, finishing as AAC champions and Cotton Bowl champions with a memorable comeback win over USC.  Tulane is the favorite in the conference with Michael Pratt returning at quarterback though the schedule has some challenges. Tulane avoids SMU but must play at Memphis and at Florida Atlantic, before hosting UTSA in the regular season finale.  UTSA is 30-10 since Jeff Traylor took over in 2020 for an amazing run of success and quarterback Frank Harris has been there for all of it with Harris returning for his fifth season with the Roadrunners. UTSA makes the leap to the AAC after back-to-back Conference USA titles, though the program is still searching for its first bowl win. UTSA avoids Memphis and SMU but plays at FAU and at Tulane for a mixed bag in the schedule draw in 2023.  Futures prices on SMU continue to be picked at as SMU has passed UTSA as the second favorite in the conference at a few outlets. That is even with prolific quarterback Tanner Mordecai now at Wisconsin and with Rhett Lashlee’s first season with the Mustangs being an underwhelming 7-6 campaign. The 2023 conference schedule is the reason for the interest as SMU does not play Tulane, UTSA, or FAU this season. SMU faces a pair of Big XII powers in September outside of the conference but then has arguably the most favorable draw in the AAC.  Former Houston and Texas head coach Tom Herman is back in the American as the new head coach at Florida Atlantic. The Owls have won just five games in each of the past three seasons under Willie Taggart following the great success for the program from 2017-19 under Lane Kiffin. The chance for FAU to reestablish itself as a conference title contender is there this season, even in a new conference, with great returning experience even in a coaching change season. The schedule avoids SMU and Memphis, while the heavyweight tests vs. UTSA, and Tulane will both be in Boca Raton where the Owls are 29-9 S/U since 2017.  Memphis has a favorable road path this season as the Tigers could wind up favored in all five of its road games this season including the four AAC tests. That could mean Memphis is a threat to breakthrough to the upper tier of the league after back-to-back disappointing 3-5 conference seasons.  Memphis will play Tulane and SMU at home this season with Memphis 16-4 S/U in home games under Ryan Silverfield. Seth Henigan is one of the few returning veteran quarterbacks in the league as well as Memphis is a worthy candidate in the race even with a bit less returning experience overall than some of the other contenders.  The 2023 projections and the current marketplace pricing in the AAC display a massive gap between the top five and the rest of the league as one of the five above squads seems likely to win the conference title. Among the rest of the league, teams to consider being bullish on relative to last season’s results and the current valuation include Temple, Navy, and Charlotte. Teams that could slip from being bowl teams last season to struggling with losing records in 2023 could be North Texas, East Carolina, and UAB with the disparities in the 2023 schedules being a significant factor.       

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2023 MLB End of June – Real or Fake: Miami Marlins

Friday, Jun 30, 2023

Miami has turned in a terrific month of June to sit with one of the better records in the National League as the All-Star break approaches. Can the Marlins stay in the mix as a NL wild card this season? Now with three months of the MLB season nearly complete, the results must be given more weight. Several teams have provided some recent momentum to emerge in the playoff standings, including the Miami Marlins, who were priced around +430 at the beginning of the season to make the playoffs.  Through June 29, the Marlins have an exactly even scoring differential, climbing out of what has been a negative number most of the season by going 19-7 and +45 in scoring in the month of June so far. Many expected a season of improvement for Miami but in a division with the 2021 World Series champions, the 2022 NL champions, and a Mets squad that spent a lot of money in the offseason, climbing the ladder to a playoff position in the NL East looked difficult.   The division picture has changed significantly however as while the Braves may be the best team in baseball, the Mets have been a huge disappointment and could be trade deadline sellers. Philadelphia has been competitive and is six games above .500 as a threat to make another late season run, but the Phillies don’t look quite as formidable as they did late last season.  Miami has undoubtedly had great fortune to earn this record as a 19-5 record in one-run results attests. Miami is also 4-1 in extra-inning games. The recent run of success in June has not been built on narrow wins, and the offense has improved its scoring in every month this season.  Miami’s record in the division is marginal going 11-12 vs. the NL East but they have seven games with the Braves already out of the way and will face Atlanta just three times in August and September. Miami’s record is also built on going 20-7 vs. the American League but that includes series wins over decent teams, going a combined 10-2 vs. Boston, Cleveland, Minnesota, and the LA Angels. The remaining schedule for Miami does grade as the fourth most difficult in the NL as they still must face the Rays, Yankees, Orioles, and Rangers in interleague play. The Marlins will also face the Dodgers six times, but they also still have 26 games remaining vs. the Rockies, Nationals, Cardinals, Tigers, and Mets.  While Luis Arraez chasing .400 is getting the headlines, Jorge Soler has been a top power hitter for the Marlins and Miami should receive a boost with the recent return of Jazz Chisolm, Jr. Miami has a low-strikeout lineup and the scoring numbers have been climbing upward in recent weeks even while still ranking in the bottom 10 of MLB for the season. The key for Miami staying relevant is an elite pitching staff as the Marlins are a top 10 team in MLB in opposing runs allowed, OPS allowed, and batting average allowed. Miami has allowed the second fewest home runs in MLB and is third in MLB with a 9.6 K/9 for the staff. Those numbers have come even while 2022 Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara has not matched last season’s success. Jesus Luzardo and Braxton Garrett give the Marlins two high-ceiling left-handers while Eury Perez has also turned in very effective results. Edward Carbera is on the IL right now but could help the team late in the season. Bryan Hoeing has also looked like a useful option in the rotation as the depth on the staff looks excellent. The Miami bullpen has average season numbers but has been a key component to the success in close games and in the June surge.  Very few teams have the type of pitching that Miami has right now and while the Marlins are unlikely to be overly aggressive at the trade deadline, it seems unlikely that the Phillies will go all-in either, as the path to stay in wild card contention is there, even if catching the Braves in the division race will be a long shot.  Verdict on the 2023 Miami Marlins: Real Contender    

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2023 MLB End of June – Real or Fake: Arizona Diamondbacks

Friday, Jun 30, 2023

Arizona is the surprise leader in the loaded NL West, can the Diamondbacks maintain that pace to reach the playoffs? Now with three months of the MLB season nearly complete, the results must be given more weight. Several teams have provided some recent momentum to emerge in the playoff standings, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were priced around +5000 at the beginning of the season to win the NL West.  Arizona’s Pythagorean record would put them at 44-38 instead of 48-34 but Arizona has put together three consecutive winning months. The scoring differential for Arizona is modest at just +34 through June 29, but Arizona is 0-3 in extra-inning games and just 11-12 in one-run results as they have not had great close game fortune to build the current record.  The schedule so far does bring some concern to the profile for Arizona, however with a 6-1 record against Colorado and a 5-1 record vs. Washington, faring exceptionally well against two of the worst teams in the National League. Arizona has also won 60 percent of its interleague games including going a combined 7-2 vs. Detroit, Kansas City, and Oakland. The Diamondbacks are just 11-10 vs. the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres, a trio they still have 18 games remaining against.  Arizona may have some staying power thanks to its starting rotation; they have a true ace in Zac Gallen, while Merrill Kelly and Ryne Nelson have been effective enough this season. Kelly should return from the IL soon while Tommy Henry has offered promise as well. Zach Davies has pitched better than his numbers suggest and could provide acceptable returns the rest of the way if the Diamondbacks stick with him. Arizona will be a trade deadline candidate to consider upgrading the rotation as they will be a team to watch as the starting pitching market unfolds.  The Arizona offense has been the story however as quietly the Diamondbacks are the #5 scoring team in MLB while posting top six marks league-wide in batting average and OPS, while featuring the third lowest strikeout rate in MLB. Corbin Carroll, Geraldo Perdomo, Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, and Lourds Gurriel Jr., all own strikeout rates below 20 percent providing a great depth of batters that make pitchers work. Arizona is also third in MLB with 81 stolen bases while getting caught only 12 times, maximizing use of the new rules in 2023.  The challenge for Arizona comes from its division foes, however as the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants could all be buyers at the trade deadline. Los Angeles was not expected to match the 100-win level of the past few seasons, but the Dodgers still look like a contender that may make a few aggressive additions. The Giants have played extremely well in the past two months and look like a serious playoff threat. San Diego is running out of time to climb back into the race, but all the numbers suggest the Padres deserve a much better record than the current 37-44 mark as they are a threat to make a late run.  The Dodgers have the second weakest remaining schedule of all NL teams while San Francisco also has a favorable remaining path as Arizona’s days on top of the division are likely numbered. It will be a great season of improvement for Arizona, but the Diamondbacks don’t look like a team that can hold up as a playoff team in the difficult NL West despite the current strong position.   Verdict on the 2023 Arizona Diamondbacks: Fake Contender

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2023 MLB End of May - Real or Fake: Seattle Mariners

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Seattle has overcome a slow start to post solid returns in the month of May, can the Mariners return to the playoffs? Now with two months of the MLB season complete the sample size has reached a meaningful level and the standings are taking form through all the adjustments for the 2023 season. Several teams have provided some recent momentum to emerge in the playoff standings, including the Seattle Mariners, darlings of last season’s playoffs. Is it a real run to relevance or a fake short-term boost for a mediocre squad? Seattle has seemed to be an overachiever with close-game fortune the past two years, but the Mariners seemed to prove doubters correct with a 12-16 start to the season. Seattle has suddenly emerged above .500 however with a 16-10 run in May while +30 in scoring in that span. The Mariners are 3-5 in extra-inning games and 6-12 in one-run games in great contrast to the past two seasons, yet Seattle keeps closing the gap in the AL West, now just 6.5 games behind Texas.  The Mariners do have three teams ahead of them in the division including the 2022 World Series champions. The Angels have played above .500 baseball as well and Seattle is 7-0 and +24 in scoring vs. Oakland, a team on a historically bad pace. Seattle’s schedule in June is very difficult as after they close the month of May with the Yankees, they have a three-stop road trip going from Arlington to San Diego to Anaheim. Late in June the Mariners will play in New York and Baltimore vs. AL East contenders as June is likely to take a toll on the record and placement in the standings for Seattle.  Luis Castillo has lived up to his billing as the staff ace while Logan Gilbert and George Kirby have turned in solid results as well to make the Mariners a formidable rotation. Bryce Miller has also emerged as an impressive rookie to add to the pitching depth with Seattle still able to turn to Marco Gonzales as a change-of-pace starter in the rotation. Gilbert and Kirby can be questioned in their ability to be used for 200-inning seasons as starters while Miller has had some good fortune in his six starts as Seattle may not be able to maintain its elite pitching numbers all season long.  The Mariners have one of the most strikeout-prone lineups in baseball and have been in MLB’s bottom six in batting average and OPS for the season despite the winning record. Recent injuries to AJ Pollock and Dylan Moore don’t help that situation while Eugenio Suarez and Jarred Kelenic have proven to be streaky at the plate. Seattle has four players already with 60 or more strikeouts as the Mariners have the fourth most strikeouts in MLB.  The biggest red flag for the Mariners is going 7-15 vs. winning teams this season while the three other contenders in the AL West all have at least 14 wins against above .500 squads. Seattle’s lineup has had success vs. left-handers this season winning 60 percent of its games vs. left-handed starters but there are not that many lefty starters in the division and Texas, Houston, and the Angels have all had much better results vs. right-handers. Ultimately Seattle’s strong month of May would look rather ordinary without those seven wins vs. the Athletics, who they won’t face again until late August when it may be too late to make a run at the playoffs.  Verdict on the 2023 Seattle Mariners start: Fake Contender

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2023 MLB End of May - Real or Fake: San Francisco Giants

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Giants are making a surge with strong results in the month of May. Can this team compete for a playoff spot in 2023? Now with two months of the MLB season complete the sample size has reached a meaningful level and the standings are taking form through all the adjustments for the 2023 season. Several teams have provided some recent momentum to emerge in the playoff standings, including the San Francisco Giants. Is it a real run to relevance or a fake short-term boost for a mediocre squad? The Giants had the best regular season record in baseball in 2021, winning 107 games to win the NL West title. Last season San Francisco fell back to the pack, finishing 81-81. San Francisco’s prospects for 2023 brought mixed opinions as the Giants struck out on a few big-name free agent bids. As the end of May approaches the Giants have climbed just above .500 with a recent surge, is that a sustainable pace or is this squad going to finish out of the running? San Francisco is 28-26 with a +9 scoring differential, going 16-11 at home and 12-15 on the road, for a profile that fits the record. After going 11-16 in March and April the Giants are 17-10 so far in May and +37 in scoring. The Giants have fared poorly in blowout score games and are only 5-5 in one-run results while 1-2 in extra-inning games as there hasn’t been great fortune in the win/loss record.  The recent schedule creating the rise in late May has come through a quality path as well, going 5-1 on a home stand against Philadelphia and Miami, while taking five of seven on a road trip through Minnesota and Milwaukee. The upcoming schedule is a mixed bag with the Orioles visiting in early June but also manageable opportunities with the Rockies, Cubs, and Cardinals. The late June path includes facing the Dodgers, Padres, and Diamondbacks in succession for a critical run in the standings. The pitching for the Giants has average season numbers but it is a misleading picture. The starting pitching has been quite good, but the bullpen had awful early season numbers. San Francisco relievers have a 0.45 ERA with a 0.70 WHIP in the current 10-game splits as the unit has turned a corner. The starting pitching trio of Logan Webb, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Cobb has been excellent this season and the results appear to be sustainable. Ross Stripling is on the IL right now while Sean Manaea has had disastrous results as the back of the rotation hasn’t worked out as planned. Alex Wood is still there as a capable option however while Jakob Junis has settled into a long relief option that could eventually return to a starting role as the overall pitching depth looks promising for the Giants.  Much like in 2021, the offense lacks big names, but Michael Conforto is having an all-star caliber season while Thairo Estrada continues to prove he can be an everyday player. The Giants are fifth in MLB in home runs hit and while it is a high-strikeout lineup, there is little reason to think San Francisco can’t continue to be a borderline top 10 scoring and OPS squad as they are now.  Arizona has been a surprise contender in the NL West, but the Diamondbacks have a few red flags that suggest being there in September may be less likely. The Padres have been one of the biggest disappointments in baseball and while San Diego is likely to make a run at some point, there is a chance to team could fold and sell off expensive parts as well if the Dodgers look too difficult to catch. Los Angeles is 33-22 to pace the division but Los Angeles hasn’t been as dominant as in the past few seasons as this division race is still open and the Giants look like a team that will be in the mix. Verdict on the 2023 San Francisco Giants start: Real Contender

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2023 MLB Real or Fake: Chicago Cubs

Saturday, Apr 29, 2023

2023 MLB Real or Fake: Chicago Cubs As we close the first month of the season, several teams are off to surprising starts to the season. The Chicago Cubs are among the pleasant surprises with a winning record and one of the best run differentials in the National League. Is the start for Chicago a real sign of progress for the franchise or is this a fake short term upswing that will not be sustained? Heading into the final weekend in April the Cubs are a top five scoring team on offense and a top five runs allowed team on defense as the numbers are certainly real for the Cubs, leading the NL in scoring differential as of April 29. The Cubs are hitting for batting average and are also a top five home run team so far this season led by Patrick Wisdom. Justin Steele also owns some of the best numbers of any starting pitcher at this point in the season.  The Cub are just 6-8 vs. winning teams however and have produced several blowout results to inflate the scoring differential. A 3-0 interleague series in Oakland where the Cubs outscored the Athletics 26-3 is accounting for almost the entire positive ledger for the Cubs in the standings and scoring numbers as well. The Cubs have just a .500 record at home and are .500 on the road outside of Oakland as there are some flaws in the numbers.  Chicago has not been swept this season however and is just 2-3 in one-run games as the record has not benefitted from an unusual number of narrow wins. The Cubs have gone 7-2 in interleague play and have already faced the Dodgers seven times while also playing several other playoff contenders for an early season path that looked difficult at the outset of the season.  The rotation was a big question mark for Chicago entering the season and Kyle Hendricks opened the season on the IL while acquisition Jameson Taillon has joined him after making only three starts. Steele has taken some time to develop since being drafted in 2014 and while he has overachieved to some degree in the first month, he was successful last season and could be a true #1 starter.  Expecting Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly to continue strong early season paces may be a more difficult result however as Stroman has a career high K/9 and a career low BABIP so far in six starts this season. Smyly’s career has mostly been an inconsistent one and he could see his numbers slide in a larger sample size as well. The Cubs will need to use a patchwork back of the rotation in the short term and Hayden Wesneski has endured mixed results so far while the bullpen for the Cubs has been a below average performing unit so far this season.  The Cubs do have a reasonable schedule to start May but will face a difficult stretch in the second half of the month with series in Houston and Philadelphia while a home stand includes the Mets and the Rays as while the Cubs will be above .500 through April, doing so through May looks less likely. Chicago won 74 games last season and while a season of improvement is now likely, winding up significantly above .500 and competing for a playoff spot still seems unlikely even with an encouraging start to the season. Verdict on the 2023 Chicago Cubs start: Fake

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2023 MLB Real or Fake: Minnesota Twins

Saturday, Apr 29, 2023

2023 MLB Real or Fake: Minnesota Twins As we close the first month of the season, several teams are off to surprising starts to the season. The Minnesota Twins were contenders for much of the 2022 season before collapsing to 78-84 with a 11-22 run from September 1 to the end of the season, handing the division title to Cleveland. So far in April 2023 the Twins look like the top threat in the AL Central, is the start for the Twins sustainable or is or is this a fake short term upswing that will end with disappointment again? Minnesota is 16-12 so far this season but its scoring differential has been modest at just +22 and the difference in the win column is built entirely on going 5-1 vs. the struggling Royals so far this season. Minnesota has already won a series vs. the Astros however while also taking four of seven against the Yankees for a rare outcome for the franchise against a recent nemesis.  Minnesota is 3-4 in one-run games and has not played Detroit yet this season as even with the adjustments to the division schedules in 2023, the Twins should have a favorable overall draw in a weak AL Central division. The pitching staff for the Twins is second in baseball in producing strikeouts for a major change of course from recent seasons and the Twins are a top 10 performer in most pitching areas with a solid bullpen and one of the more complete rotations in the American League.  While Kenta Maeda has struggled, the pick-up of Pablo Lopez is paying dividends while Joe Ryan has pitched well. Sonny Gray has some of the best numbers in all of baseball in the first month of the season. A solid start to the season for Tyler Mahle is now in question with an elbow issue as the once solid rotation depth could look less reliable a few weeks down the road.   Minnesota’s offense has hit home runs but mostly has average to below average results in most offensive categories, offering a low batting average and a high strikeout rate. Byron Buxton hasn’t been playing in the outfield to diminish his value while Nick Gordon and Carlos Correa have struggled at the plate after making significant contributions last season. Joey Gallo has regained his home run stroke however as potentially a great pick-up and the Twins have been successful even with Jorge Polanco missing the first few weeks of the season.  Minnesota’s defensive rating has been mediocre so far this season and the Twins appear to have not received the notice on the new rule changes that are more favorable to base running with only three stolen bases, all from newcomer Michael A. Taylor who has been a bright spot in the lineup as well as filling in for Buxton in center field. Alex Kirilloff is almost up to a full workload at AAA and could join the Twins in a few weeks as well for another possible boost to the lineup.  The early May schedule for the Twins offers an opportunity with a road trip vs. division foes Chicago and Cleveland to potentially create further separation in the division race. The Twins went just 6-13 vs. Cleveland last season despite even scoring in the series as last year’s team had poor close-game results. Overall, the depth on the roster looks more capable of surviving the expected injury toll. The AL Central again looks like a division that will not require an elite record to win and Minnesota likely has more staying power as a playoff threat than even the current solid start suggests.  Verdict on the 2023 Minnesota Twins start: Real

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2023 MLB Futures: National League

Wednesday, Mar 29, 2023

2023 MLB Futures: National LeagueWritten by Nelly’s Sportsline contributor Forrest AllenLike baseball teams in spring training, hope springs eternal for bettors at the beginning of a baseball season for futures bets.  While futures can be a difficult market because there isn’t another side to offset the risk, the allure and fun of picking a team a riding with it all season is incomparable. Futures also help insulate you from the randomness associated with a single game in a 162-game season. We have highlighted 2 teams below we believe to have a bright future (yep, it was intentional, but no more) with respect to the 2023 season. Atlanta Braves:  Braves general manager, Alex Anthopolous, either knows Jedi-level mind control, has dirt on all of his players, or created a magnetic clubhouse culture. Irrespective of what superpowers he may or may not have, the core of players he’s locked up (well below market value no less) is the envy of every team. The Braves enter 2023 off the heels of a 101-win season and a 5th straight division title in the unquestioned toughest division in baseball. They accomplished this despite losing their best player and team leader in Freddie Freeman the year before, and will look to repeat the feat again after Dansby Swanson signed with the Chicago Cubs.  This success came with 2x All-Star Ozzie Albies on playing 64 games and Ronald Acuna Jr. missing over 40 games and clearly still recovering from ACL surgery performed in July 2021.  Their reemergence could realistically result in the Braves having the best offense. Austin Riley and Matt Olson finished in the top-10 in MVP voting in 2022 and 2021 respectively. Michael Harris is the reigning rookie of year, and Sean Murphy put up 5.1 WAR last year; a total good for second in baseball.   The rotation will be led by Max Fried who finished second in Cy Young voting last year and Spencer Strider who broke the rookie record for strikeouts in a single season with 202 despite just 131.2 IP. Charlie Morton will provide proven veteran leadership to go with a projected ERA under 4, and Kyle Wright looks to be fulfilling his potential as a top-5 overall draft pick after a top-10 finish in Cy Young voting. The battle for the 5th spot will likely go to another first round draft pick in Jared Shuster or Ian Anderson whose 35.2 postseason IP resulting in a 1.26 ERA and an average of more than a strikeout per inning. Proven relievers AJ Minter, Joe Jimenez, and Colin McHugh will serve as the bridge to closer Raisel Iglesais, who allowed just 2 runs in 26.1 innings after coming over from the Angels in a trade.  Lefties Dylan Lee and Lucas Luetge can get hitters from both sides of the plate out. The biggest question marks will be two former stars who’ve battled injuries, Nick Anderson and Kirby Yates.  If either can regain a fraction of their greatness from 2019 (both averaged over 15 K/9 and Yates had 41 saves and 1.19 ERA), the Braves would be thrilled.  Fangraphs gives the Braves a 15.5 % to win it all this year; the highest odds of any team and 25% higher than the next highest team (San Diego).  At +900, there’s real value here as the Fangraph’s odds suggest the number should be closer to +545.  Pick: Braves to win World Series +900, Braves to win NL East +140 San Diego Padres: The Padres will win the NL West in 2023.  I’m not sure if that is a “hot take” as the kids today say, but it’d be the first time in 17 years that has happened. It would be the first time in 9 years someone other than the Dodgers won it. Last year, the Dodgers finished 22 games ahead of the Padres.  So what has changed such to cause such a seismic shift in what will be one of baseball’s most watched division races?  The Padres have an expected payroll that that now exceeds the Dodgers for the first time in history (probably…I didn’t source 75 years’ worth of payroll data).  Peter Seidler, the Padres’ owner, has given GM AJ Preller the directive to assemble a roster than can win the World Series, and he’s done exactly that. The Padres brought in Xander Bogarts on an 11-year, $280 million deal to play shortstop and lead off for a lineup whose 1-4 may be the best in baseball with Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and Fernando Tatis Jr. when he’s eligible to return from his PED suspension on April 20th. The rest of the lineup features 2-time All-Star Jake Cronenworth, former KBO star Ha-Seong Kim, and Gold Glover Trent Grisham.  A resurgent Matt Carpenter will start out in RF and replace Nelson Cruz at DH when Tatis returns.  While not as deep as other rotations, the star power at the top is real. I can assure you no lineup would be excited to see Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell in a playoff series.  After a a few bumps in the road after being traded, Josh Hader righted the ship late in the year returning to his status as one of the most feared pitchers in baseball.  He will lead a bullpen that should be able to close out any game the Padres lead after 5 or 6 innings.  Robert Suarez, Luis Garcia and Drew Pomeranz are all strikeout artists projected to average 11 K/9; a key trait for any good bullpen. The Padres’ ascent pairs nicely with the Dodgers taking a step back. Trea Turner left for the Phillies, and his intended replacement, Gavin Lux, tore his ACL in spring training and will miss all of 2023. Despite Turners departure, the Dodgers still have star power in Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, and Will Smith. However, the team’s depth will be tested in a real way.  Roster Resource projects 4 (JD Martinez, Trayce Thompson, Miguel Rojas, and David Peralta) of the 9 batters to have a WAR less than 2, the threshold for what is considered league average. One of the players not included in this group is rookie 2B Miguel Vargas who fractured his pinky finger in early in spring and was still playing but instructed not to swing at any pitches until medically cleared.  The pitching staff will miss starter Walker Buehler who had Tommy John surgery last August and relivers JP Feyereisen and Blake Treinen who had shoulder surgery and Daniel Hudson who had knee surgery.  Pick: Padres to win NL West +120Forrest Allen has a Masters of Science in Business Analytics from NYU specializing in the development of machine learning models for sports application. 

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Friday NCAA Tournament Location Edges

Wednesday, Mar 15, 2023

Friday NCAA Tournament Location Edges It can be difficult to keep track of all the different venues this week but there are a few noteworthy advantages in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Here is a look at a few pairings with a clear location and/or timing edge that may not be fully reflected in the marketplace for Friday’s Round of 64 games.  (12) Virginia Commonwealth vs. (5) Saint Mary’s 2:00 PM ET in Albany, New York The Gaels did not wind up with a great logistical draw having to fly clear across the country to play in Albany. The timing also works out well for VCU, who claimed this spot in a tense game Sunday but gets to stay on the east coast and gets the extra day with a Friday spot, while a well-rested Saint Mary’s that last played March 7 doesn’t need another day. The early Noon PT start is also far less than ideal for the California squad. If Saint Mary’s wins they will then face a Connecticut or Iona team from an even closer proximity.  (13) Iona vs. (4) Connecticut 4:30 PM ET in Albany, New York Neither squad can complain about this placement geographically but as the #4 seed Connecticut will be facing an Iona team that gets to play in its home state of New York, even if both campuses are about the same distance from Albany.  The victor of this game will have a great location edge in the Round of 32, particularly if Saint Mary’s advances.  (7) Michigan State vs. (10) USC 12:15 PM ET in Columbus, Ohio Michigan State has made numerous trips to Columbus including playing in this city in mid-February, albeit in a different building. Playing in Big Ten country about a four-hour drive away from East Lansing will be a significant advantage against USC’s lengthy trip, providing a taste of what the travel in the Big Ten will be like for the Trojans.  (11) Pittsburgh vs. (6) Iowa State 3:10 PM ET in Greensboro, North Carolina Not only is Pittsburgh less than half the distance to Greensboro compared with Ames, but the Panthers also played in the Greensboro Coliseum for two games last week in the ACC Tournament. Pittsburgh faces a hectic week after the tense win in Dayton on Tuesday but heading to a venue with some familiarity in ACC country should be favorable, though surprisingly the Panthers are the only ACC team in the building this week.  (14) Kennesaw State vs. (3) Xavier 12:40 PM ET in Greensboro, North Carolina Kennesaw isn’t dramatically closer to Greensboro than Cincinnati, but it is a reasonable trip and a slight edge for the significantly worse seed in this pairing.  (3) Kansas State vs. (14) Montana State 9:40 PM ET in Greensboro, North Carolina This contest is a mixed bag in judging the advantage as while Montana State getting shipped to the southeast makes for a long trip, Montana State will likely prefer the very late start time as the second to last game to tip off on Friday’s schedule, as the Friday grouping includes three eastern time venues alongside Denver.   (6) Creighton vs. (11) NC State 4:00 PM ET in Denver, Colorado It is a nearly eight-hour drive from Omaha to Denver but given the options, this is a decent landing spot for Creighton this week. NC State seemed destined to be right on the NCAA Tournament cut line but wound up not only in the field but inside of the first four games as well, as a Clemson squad that beat NC State for a third time last week was left out. Raleigh is nearly 1,700 miles from Denver and an up-tempo Wolfpack squad will be tested at altitude.  (3) Baylor vs. (14) Cal Santa Barbara 1:30 PM ET in Denver, Colorado Denver isn’t an overly appealing draw for Baylor though there are not any Texas venues until the Final Four in this year’s tournament. Denver is the second closest option for Santa Barbara behind Sacramento. While Santa Barbara did not get shipped to the east coast, the start time might work against the Gauchos however with this game opening the action in Denver at 10:30 AM PT.  (11) Arizona State/Nevada vs. (6) TCU 10:05 PM ET in Denver, Colorado Denver isn’t terribly close to Tempe or Reno for the winner of the game in Dayton Wednesday night, but the victor will be in a late nighttime slot, like the start time Wednesday, for a possible edge vs. a rather late start by TCU standards. 

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Thursday NCAA Tournament Location Edges

Wednesday, Mar 15, 2023

  Thursday NCAA Tournament Location Edges It can be difficult to keep track of all the different venues this week but there are a few noteworthy advantages in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Here is a look at a few pairings with a clear location and/or timing edge that may not be fully reflected in the marketplace for Thursday's Round of 64 games.  (12) Charleston vs. (5) San Diego State 3:10 PM ET in Orlando, Florida It is a six hour drive south from Charleston to Orlando while San Diego State must fly across the country for their opening pairing as the leader of a Mountain West Conference that went winless in the NCAA Tournament last season. This game is also a relatively early start time in which San Diego State hasn’t often faced this season while the pod in Orlando will feature a ACC and SEC powers that will likely offer temporary support to the Cougars. (1) Alabama vs. (16) Texas A&M Corpus Christi 2:45 PM ET in Birmingham, Alabama As the #1 overall seed in the field the Crimson Tide warrant a favorable path and they will play just 57 miles away in their home state for the opener. Texas A&M Corpus Christi won narrowly in Dayton Tuesday night before making the trip to the Magic City as the Tide should have a clear edge as they have earned.  (9) Auburn vs. (8) Iowa 6:50 PM ET in Birmingham, Alabama Both SEC schools from the state of Alabama will be in Birmingham, though in separate sessions. Tide fans won’t be supporting Auburn but the Tigers should have good representation playing just over two hours away from campus compared to a much longer trip for a well-traveling Iowa fanbase. Should Auburn win they would have a somewhat unprecedented location edge vs. the Midwest #1 seed Houston in the Round of 32.  (1) Kansas vs. (16) Howard 2:00 PM ET in Des Moines, Iowa The Jayhawks landed a #1 seed but were sent to the West region which will feature Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in Las Vegas, instead of a path through Kansas City in the Midwest for the defending national champions. Kansas does have a geographic edge in the first two rounds however as Des Moines is only 230 miles from Lawrence as the Jayhawks will be well supported as usual. Illinois as a potential Round of 32 foe is nearby as well, however. (10) Utah State vs. (7) Missouri 1:40 PM ET in Sacramento, California Sacramento is not close to Logan as you must travel across the very large width of Nevada and then some, but considering how many west coast teams were shipped to the east coast in the bracket, this is a preferable landing spot for the Aggies, with likely only Denver as a preferable option. The edge is offset with the early time slot however as the first game to tip in this pod.  (2) Arizona vs. (15) Princeton 4:10 PM ET in Sacramento, California This is the best of the options available for Arizona with no early round venues in Southern California or greater Phoenix this season. While Sacramento isn’t close to Tucson, the benefit will be with Princeton forced to make a lengthy trip west, particularly with the Tigers being one of the 10 teams still playing on Selection Sunday for a tough turnaround for a Thursday daytime game.  (10) Boise State vs. (7) Northwestern 7:35 PM ET in Sacramento, California Northwestern should get some support in Sacramento for its rare NCAA Tournament appearance, but this is an ideal landing spot given the options for #10 seed Boise State. While still over 500 miles away, this will be a venue with west coast powers present and a night time start should also be preferable for the Broncos. (2) UCLA vs. (15) UNC Asheville 10:05 PM ET in Sacramento, California Despite UCLA losing to Arizona in the Pac-12 final, they snag the late game in Sacramento, getting to play in the home state for the Bruins, though nearly 400 miles up state. Asheville is more than 2,500 miles away from Sacramento and this game will tip after 10 PM in North Carolina, and possibly even later if a closely matched Northwestern/Boise State game goes long. 

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2023 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview

Monday, Feb 27, 2023

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview Arch Madness is set and while a few high-profile programs have left the Missouri Valley in recent years, this tournament has provided plenty of exciting games over the years. This tournament traditionally sets the tone for March Madness as one of the earliest conference tournaments to complete.  The Missouri Valley has had multiple NCAA Tournament teams in five of the past 10 NCAA Tournaments and had a Sweet 16 team two years ago with Loyola-Chicago, who also made the Final Four as a #11 seed in 2018. Loyola-Chicago won the past two MVC Championships, both against Drake, but the program departed for the Atlantic 10 this season.  Loyola-Chicago was the #4 seed last season and in the past four seasons the tournament champion has been a #4 seed or worse three times. In the past four MVC Championships there is only one appearance each from a #1, #2, and #3 seed as this has been a chaotic tournament in recent years following a 12-year run from 2007 to 2018 in which no team seeded outside the top four ever made the MVC final and the #1 and #2 seeds took 10 of 12 titles.  In a tight race Bradley has emerged as the regular season champions this season and the #1 seed, taking a 10-game winning streak into the postseason including beating Drake for the outright conference title on Sunday in the regular season finale. Bradley last made the NCAA Tournament in 2019, emerging with a MVC title as the #5 seed. The Braves also won the MVC Tournament in 2020 as the #4 seed but the NCAA Tournament was cancelled.  There won’t be room for an at-large bid out of the MVC this season with Bradley or Drake likely topping out on the #12 seed line should either team take the automatic bid. Drake is 13-2 in the past 15 games though did wind up with three overtime wins in league play. Drake beat Bradley 86-61 at home in January before losing the rematch in Peoria last weekend.  Southern Illinois closed the season on a 5-4 run to fall to 14-6 and the #3 seed, going 0-2 vs. Bradley late in the season. The Salukis are the most experienced team in the conference. In its first season in the MVC, Belmont also reached 14-6 for the #4 spot, going 2-0 vs. Bradley in the regular season. The top four seeds receive byes to the quarterfinals, but it is a fixed bracket with no reseeding if there are upsets. Unlike some of other tournaments this week, this tournament spans only four days as the victor will need to win three or four games in as many days.  #5 seed Indiana State rates as the second best offensive team in the MVC and the up-tempo Sycamores have the nation’s best 2-point field goal percentage at over 59 percent. Indiana State lost its final two games of the regular season to halt a seven-game winning streak and played the weakest schedule in the MVC however, drawing Bradley only once for a big advantage.  Missouri State was a mild disappointment to fall to 12-8 and the #6 seed as most preseason projections had this group pegged as a top four team. The Bears went 2-0 vs. Drake and had late season wins over Belmont and Indiana State as this is a team that could make a run. A slow tempo team with solid defensive numbers, this squad has sleeper potential though very poor free throw shooting is concern.  There is a meaningful drop off from the top six in the bracket to the bottom six, though #7 Murray State has wins over Texas A&M and Bradley in an uneven first season in the conference. Ultimately this is a season where the #1 and #2 seeds should be at an advantage as the quarterfinal draws for Southern Illinois and Belmont should be much more difficult barring an upset. 

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2023 Horizon League Tournament Preview

Monday, Feb 27, 2023

Horizon League Tournament Preview The Horizon League has undergone plenty of changes in recent years and this year features 11 teams in an adjustable bracket with the top five teams already placed in the quarterfinals. Those games will take place Thursday, March 2 in home venues for the stronger seeds, with the 6-11 seeds facing off Tuesday night on campus venues before being reseeded into the final eight. The semifinals and final will be in Indianapolis March 6-7.   Last season Wright State won the Horizon League tournament as a #4 seed and the #1 seed has won the conference tournament title just once in the past seven seasons. Three #4 seeds and three #2 seeds have taken the title in that span.  The Horizon League can claim past NCAA Tournament success as former member Butler was the national runner-up in both the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Tournaments. Cleveland State and Milwaukee also turned in NCAA Tournament wins in the 2000s as technically five Horizon League teams have made the Sweet 16 since 2003.  The Horizon League has not reached the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament since Butler’s Final Four run in 2011 but last season Wright State won in a 16/16 First Four pairing before losing to Arizona in the Round of 64. This year the Horizon League will likely be looking at a #16 seed and the possibility of a First Four appearance again unless the #1 seed Youngstown State captures the title as they would likely be at least a #15 seed in most scenarios.   While the Horizon League lacks probable NCAA Tournament sleepers, it is a conference with a few high-profile players. Detroit’s Antoine Davis is the #2 scoring player in Division I men’s basketball history averaging nearly 25 points per game over 111 contests as he heads towards his final game(s). Dayton transfer Dwayne Cohill had a terrific season leading top seed Youngstown State while Marques Warrick (Northern Kentucky) and Jarred Godfrey (Purdue Fort Wayne) also were top performers as there are several standout guards in the conference.  #1 seed Youngstown State grades as the top team in the conference and is the only top 150 caliber team nationally in this group. The Penguins went only 15-5 in conference play however as the occasional upset defeat occurred. The offense posted 82.2 points per game in league play, but the defense has been vulnerable for this veteran team and an upset loss to continue to recent challenges for the #1 seeds in this conference tournament is possible.  Three teams wound up 14-6 in Horizon play and Milwaukee takes the #2 seed via tiebreaker though most power ratings don’t have Milwaukee in the top five in this conference. After a disappointing season last year with minimal contributions from lottery pick Patrick Baldwin, Milwaukee with a coaching change to Bart Lundy, doubled its win count this season. Milwaukee looks overseeded by the season composite numbers but they went 5-1 vs. the other top three teams in the conference with an up-tempo pace and good numbers beyond the arc on both sides of the ball.  Cleveland State winds up as the #3 seed after losing the season finale with Milwaukee. The Vikings have won five of the final six including home wins over Youngstown State, Wright State, and Northern Kentucky. Cleveland State has arguably the most balanced team in the conference as the only team in the top three of the offensive and defensive rankings in the league. Northern Kentucky is the #4 seed and the top defensive team in the conference. The Norse lost by one-point in the conference championship game last season, and this is a group that allowed just 62.3 points per game with a deliberate pace of play. Northern Kentucky is one of the top teams in the nation at creating turnovers and is an offense that lives and dies by the 3-point shot. Northern Kentucky has one of the better non-conference wins out of the Horizon beating Cincinnati in November and the Norse did win the home meeting with Youngstown State in December in a double-overtime game.  Oakland is just 13-18 overall this season but climbed to 11-9 in Horizon play to earn the #5 seed and a ticket to the quarterfinals though they will play at Northern Kentucky in that game. Oakland hosted Northern Kentucky in the season finale and lost by nine but did win 64-63 in January on the road in that pairing. Oakland took on an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule filled with power five foes which could pay dividends in a tournament setting.  While playing an extra game is a clear disadvantage, the Horizon League has IUPUI and Green Bay at the bottom of the standings and those are two of the worst teams in the nation this season. That means Wright State and Robert Morris should have favorable paths to advance to the quarterfinals while Detroit and Purdue Fort Wayne will face off in a difficult 8-9 draw to make their long term chances in this tournament dramatically more difficult.  #6 Robert Morris looks like the team with the most potential to make a sleeper run. They will face #3 seed Cleveland State if they win over IUPUI to start the tournament and while they lost both meetings in the regular season, they were both close games. Robert Morris is 7-4 in the past 11 games and beat Youngstown State by 19 last week, while for the conference season owns better average scoring differential than #2 seed Milwaukee. The Colonels were the #2 defensive team in the conference making a big jump this season after two tough seasons since making the move to the Horizon for the 2020-21 season. 

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Early Look at 2023-24 AFC Surprise Threats

Monday, Jan 30, 2023

Kansas City has hosted the AFC Championship in five straight seasons and every AFC Championship game since 2011-12 head featured either the Chiefs or Patriots (or both). In that span 10 of 16 AFC teams have made at least one AFC Championship game appearance however and while a third straight pairing of Bengals/Chiefs is possible, here are three candidates that could make a surprise climb in 2023-24 as we wait for Super Bowl 57.  Baltimore Ravens (10-7, 2nd Place AFC North):  At full strength with Lamar Jackson the Ravens have looked like one of the best teams in the AFC and in his career, Jackson is 49-21 as a starter. The Ravens nearly won a playoff game this last season with Tyler Huntley at quarterback however and the off-season could provide a messy split for the Ravens and Jackson. If they keep Jackson the Ravens are immediately a top tier AFC contender but without him Baltimore will have significant cap space to bring in a quality option at quarterback and this franchise has proven it can still compete with average quarterback play.  The AFC North will remain a difficult division with Cincinnati coming off back-to-back AFC Championship appearances, Cleveland poised to be a threat with Deshaun Watson for a full season, and Pittsburgh seemingly always competitive even with low expectations. John Harbaugh’s track record is excellent however and Baltimore could be a team to buy-low in the off-season if Jackson talks are not going particularly well.  Baltimore and the rest of the AFC North will play all four AFC South teams, generally a favorable draw in recent years, and in 2023-24 that quartet features two teams in coaching transitions. The NFC division draw is the West which looks much less formidable heading into 2023-24 than it did in most of the past few seasons. The second place path for Baltimore is a difficult one and will put the Ravens at a slight disadvantage with its division peers, facing the Lions, Chargers, and Dolphins.  Baltimore has major decisions to make this offseason but has cap space to do so and will likely enter 2023-24 with less momentum in the marketplace than the other teams in the division. This franchise has been to the playoff four of the past five seasons however and Harbaugh is 147-95 in his career in the regular season and owns a Super Bowl title, as this is a team that should remain a threat no matter how an interesting off-season sorts out.  New England Patriots (8-9, 3rd Place AFC East):  The Patriots had a positive scoring differential that was sixth best in the AFC last season. New England had an uneven season that included several close and a few puzzling losses but it is not a significant leap to think this group can climb back into the postseason in 2023-24. New England will get a third place schedule which means games with Saints, Colts, and Steelers for a decent path though drawing the AFC West and NFC East will make the schedules for all the teams in the AFC East grade difficultly next season.  The key for New England will be Mac Jones, who had a significantly worse second season in the NFL compared to his solid rookie season. Jones missed three games and battled health issues as a rebound season is reasonable to expect. His backup Bailey Zappe did show some promise if things would suddenly turn poorly for Jones or if he would suffer a major injury setback as New England should remain competitive again after just missing the playoffs last season.  New England is in a good salary cap situation for next season and has decent draft capital picking 14th in the first round while having an extra fourth round pick. The AFC East will remain a difficult division as the Bills don’t expect to go anywhere as one of the AFC favorites while Miami and New York showed plenty of promise last season. New England won only four home games for a rare outcome as there is good reason to expect the Patriots will have slightly better results in 2023-24 and get back on the playoff map.  Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8, 1st Place AFC South):  The Jaguars went from 3-14 in 2021-22 to 9-8 and a division title in 2022-23. A coaching change from a disastrous season with Urban Meyer improved the team dramatically under Doug Pederson and a stunning comeback playoff win should provide this team with some momentum into next season in a favorable AFC South division.  Many thought the Colts would be AFC contenders last season, but Indianapolis had a terrible season and is now in a coaching transition with quarterback questions. Tennessee also failed to back up its recent success and will have quarterback questions as well. Houston is in another coaching change season as well and will start from the bottom as few teams will be bigger favorites in their own divisions next season than the Jaguars.  Jacksonville has extra fourth and sixth round draft picks this spring to add depth and while the Jaguars are stretched for cap space, they have a potentially elite quarterback on a rookie contract which has been the key to making a Super Bowl run in recent years. Trevor Lawrence made a dramatic leap of improvement from his rookie season and should be considered a candidate in the MVP race for next season.  Jacksonville’s schedule is going to be incredibly favorable simply due to the six AFC South games even if the 1st place draw means facing Bills, Chiefs, and 49ers teams that the rest of the division avoids. The AFC South plays the NFC South teams with all four of those teams being losing teams in 2022-23 as overall the schedule for the Jaguars will still rate favorably. Jacksonville won six of seven games late in the season to finish strong in a major transition season and rising to being a serious AFC and Super Bowl threat is in the realm of possibility in 2023-24.   

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Early Look at 2023-24 NFC Surprise Threats

Monday, Jan 30, 2023

The Eagles went from being a 9-8 squad that was blown out in the NFC Wild Card round to being NFC Champions a year later. The team has good talent and depth and the rise was not unexpected. A big factor in the climb was a favorable schedule which Philadelphia made the most of to go 14-3 and landing in a very favorable playoff path. While we await the Super Bowl, now is a good time to take an early look at teams that could make a similar leap next season in the NFC picture.  Atlanta Falcons (7-10, 4th Place NFC South):  The Falcons are a significant threat to make a rise next season. While Desmond Ridder is still short on experience playing in only four games last season, the Falcons played better than expected last season with decent young talent reaching a 7-10 record even while projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFC in the preseason.  While the complete schedule won’t be released for a few months, Atlanta will have an appealing path next season with crossover games with the AFC South. Atlanta will play all four NFC North teams for a manageable path while getting the fourth place schedule among the three NFC South teams that finished 7-10. That means games with the Cardinals, Jets, and Commanders as well.  Add that the NFC South doesn’t look like formidable division with the Panthers in a major transition and Tampa Bay likely looking for a new quarterback. The Saints are also in one of the worst salary cap situations for next season as climbing to the top of the division after finishing just a game out of the lead last season is not unreasonable. Atlanta has the #8 pick in the draft and currently has the second most cap space in the league if they opt to be aggressive in free agency.  Arthur Smith will be in this third season with the team and have hired Ryan Nielsen to replace Dean Pees as defensive coordinator, with Nielsen doing impressive work with the Saints the past few seasons. Ridder will remain a question mark, but this should again be an impressive rushing team that has the potential to exceed expectations next season.  Seattle Seahawks (9-8, 2nd Place NFC West):  The Seahawks surprised last season reaching 9-8 and making the playoffs as Pete Carroll has still never had a worse season than seven wins despite the dire projections ahead of last season. Geno Smith finished #5 and QB Rating and #7 in QBR as a surprise pro bowl performer that provided the biggest reason for the solid results. Seattle also had an excellent 2022 draft and received strong contributions from rookies last season. The NFC West has quickly gone from being one of the toughest divisions in the league producing three playoff teams in 2021-22 to looking like one of the worst divisions in the NFL. San Francisco still has a formidable roster but in going all-in last season lost significant draft assets in the Christian McCaffrey trade. The Rams remain in a dire salary cap situation after its expenditures in the 2021-22 Super Bowl run and both the 49ers and Rams will have major off-season quarterback questions. Arizona will be an interesting team that has a chance to bounce back but it will be a team in a coaching transition.  Seattle will be a threat to compete for the division title in 2023-24 and Seattle has significant salary cap space to work with in the offseason to address a few key needs. Seattle also has two first round picks including the #5 pick from Denver for the Russell Wilson trade as the Seahawks will be able to improve its roster significantly with another strong draft class. Smith will need to prove he was not a one-season-wonder as teams will have a full off-season to prepare for him after he entered last season not even being the clear starter for Seattle but the NFC West looks like a winnable division. After facing all four AFC West teams last season the NFC West will still have a tough AFC path playing the four AFC North teams but Seattle’s 2nd place draw of Carolina, Detroit, and Tennessee is reasonably favorable as Seattle should be a threat for another playoff season in 2023-24.  Detroit Lions (9-8, 2nd Place NFC North):  The Lions will be a popular team in the futures market this summer as Detroit was by many measures the best team in the NFC North last season finishing as the only team in the division with a positive scoring differential. Detroit missed the playoffs but went 8-2 in the season’s final 10 games including beating the Packers in the season finale to eliminate Green Bay from the playoff picture.  Minnesota has an obvious regression case for 2023-24 after the incredible 11-0 record in one-score games to rise to the top of the division last season. Green Bay seems headed for a quarterback change while the Bears have young talent and draft capital, Chicago looks like a project at least a year away from materializing as a serious NFC threat. That leaves the door open for the Lions to be a significant threat in the NFC North and beyond. Detroit has some cap space to work with and got by last season with a winning record even with brutal injury luck particularly in its skill position groups. The offensive line for Detroit should be one of the better units in the league and after a tough 2021-22 season with the Lions, Jared Goff performed well last season as the Lions should have a great deal of potential as a top tier offense in 2023-24.  The NFC North teams do play the AFC West teams for a potentially difficult crossover quartet, though the AFC West did not live up to expectations overall last season. The Lions will also play all four NFC South teams which was a bad division in 2022-23 with all four teams posting losing records. The 2nd place draw includes Dallas, Seattle, and Baltimore for a difficult trio, but Detroit still looks like a candidate to take another step forward in 2023-24. 

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Big Ten Conference Schedule Paths

Saturday, Dec 31, 2022

The Big Ten has not won a national title since Michigan State in 2000 even as the conference has ascended in recent years to at or near the top of the conference ratings. Purdue is the current #1 team in the polls with an undefeated start while the rest of the conference pecking order is a little unclear this early in the season. Indiana and Wisconsin have had good starts while Ohio State, Rutgers, and Maryland grade as possible threats. Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, and Illinois are also big basketball brands that could make a run even while off to marginal starts to the season.  The Big Ten has 14 teams playing a 20-game conference schedule as there are some big disparities in the draws. Here is a quick look at who may benefit from a favorable Big Ten path to finish higher in the standings than they might otherwise as this deep conference could be a threat to again put a big group of teams in the NCAA Tournament after placing nine in the field last season but getting no one past the Sweet 16 for a second consecutive disappointing March Madness run for the conference. Purdue is 13-0 and the #1 team in the nation. While most advanced ratings don’t place Purdue as the #1 team in the nation, the Boilers are clearly the top rated team in the conference right now with a decent gap to #2. Purdue has non-conference wins over Duke and Gonzaga, plus wins over Marquette and West Virginia as the Boilermakers are the team to beat. The 2-0 Big Ten start came vs. the two likely worst teams in the Big Ten but measuring the various Big Ten schedules has to start with who has to play Purdue twice, as that will be a major disadvantage. Favoring Purdue is that after already beating Minnesota and Nebraska in Big Ten games in December, the Boilermakers get to play those teams again in January. The other five teams which Purdue plays twice are: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland, and Indiana. That is a rather formidable quintet and teams like Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Rutgers could climb in the Big Ten race thanks to only playing the Boilermakers once. Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin are the teams that will play Purdue at home in the only meeting.  Minnesota is a borderline top 200 team nationally right now, as the only Big Ten team outside the top 100. Playing Minnesota twice will be a significant advantage in the Big Ten schedule. The Gophers have already started 0-2 with double-digit losses to Purdue and Michigan, teams that both will play Minnesota again. The other five teams facing Minnesota twice this season are: Wisconsin, Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, and Nebraska.  Nebraska appears to be the second worst team in the Big Ten, even with a notable win over Iowa in late December. As previously mentioned, Purdue and Minnesota will play Nebraska twice. The other five teams that get to play Nebraska twice in this year’s Big Ten schedule are: Michigan State, Maryland, Penn State, Illinois, and Iowa will also play Nebraska again at the end the season.  Given that the teams currently in the 2-12 positions are minimally separated with a range from #14 Ohio State to #66 Michigan in the current KenPom rankings the schedule disparities vs. Purdue, Minnesota, and Nebraska should be meaningful. The Boilermakers do have a decent draw to maintain the top spot but keep an eye on Wisconsin, Maryland, and Rutgers to have a chance to climb to the top of the standings as well with some breaks in the uneven Big Ten scheduling. Illinois is already 0-2 in Big Ten play but non-conference wins over Texas and UCLA are present as the Illini may be worth a long shot look to climb upward in the coming weeks with favorable current pricing in Big Ten futures and one of the better overall paths in the Big Ten.        

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SEC Conference Schedule Paths

Saturday, Dec 31, 2022

The SEC made a lot of noise in the regular season last year, proving it is more than just a football conference. Six teams ultimately made the NCAA Tournament from the SEC but only Arkansas made the Elite Eight as the SEC has not had a Final Four team since Auburn made it in 2019. The 2022 tournament from the SEC perspective will be remembered for the Round of 64 exit from Kentucky as a #2 seed as one of the tournament favorites.  Conference play opened in the SEC this week with the SEC holding six spots in the AP top 25 including top 10 placements for Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas. In a league with 14 teams but only 18 conference games there are unbalanced paths in the SEC scheduling. Five teams appear to have elite potential this season in the SEC, here is a breakdown of which teams have a benefitted most from the draw in the 2022-23 SEC Basketball season. TENNESSEE: The Volunteers appear to have the most favorable path of the SEC contenders. They will face six games vs. the top four other contenders but four of those games are at home. Tennessee is also the only team among the five top teams that will get to play South Carolina twice with the Gamecocks gradings as the worst team in the SEC by a significant margin at this point. Tennessee will also play Missouri and Florida just once each as Tennessee is a threat to back up last season’s SEC Tournament title with a regular season title.  AUBURN: The Tigers went 15-3 to win the SEC regular season title last season, earning a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament but getting bounced by Miami in the Round of 32. Auburn did not lose a home game last season and will get four of the six toughest games this season at home, doubling up with Tennessee and Alabama but playing lone meetings with Arkansas and Kentucky at home for a favorable path. Auburn won its SEC opener vs. Florida and the Tigers won’t play the Gators again while playing Missouri and Mississippi State just once each. Auburn will play Georgia twice but has just one meeting with Vanderbilt and South Carolina on the other end of the conference ratings.  KENTUCKY: The Wildcats losing to Missouri to open the SEC season will make winning the regular season title more difficult. Kentucky has just one SEC regular season title in the past five seasons despite being the most prominent team in the conference. This year’s path features a pair of games with both Tennessee and Arkansas while playing Alabama on the road and hosting Auburn. Kentucky will have to play Florida twice in the SEC schedule and gets South Carolina just once. Kentucky does double up with four games with Georgia and Vanderbilt for a reasonable draw even with the early 0-1 start.  ALABAMA: The Tide closed last season with four straight losses as the big non-conference wins early in the season wound up being the season highlight. Alabama was only 9-9 in SEC play last season and this year’s path will have some difficulty. Alabama plays Auburn and Arkansas twice each while the only meeting with Tennessee will be on the road. Alabama beat Mississippi State on the road in the conference opener for a nice result and will play Florida and Missouri just once each this season. Alabama also only plays South Carolina and Georgia once each however and several of the toughest games are line up in back-to-back situations.  ARKANSAS: The last team standing from the SEC last March was Arkansas, but the Razorbacks have the most difficult conference draw this season. Four of the six games against the other four top five teams are on the road with Arkansas playing its only meetings with Tennessee and Auburn on the road. Arkansas lost its opener with LSU and will play the Tigers again while also having to play surging Missouri twice this season. Arkansas will only have single meetings with Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina as the Razorbacks have the most difficult conference path of the current projected contenders.  SLEEPER: Missouri doesn’t rate as a top threat and the 11-1 non-conference schedule featured a favorable draw with a blowout loss in the toughest game hosting Kansas. Missouri did get some attention with mid-December wins over UCF and Illinois before stunning Kentucky in the SEC opener however as this team can’t be ignored. Missouri has two meetings with Arkansas this season but won’t have to play Kentucky again while has just one meeting each with Tennessee, Auburn, and Alabama as it is a relatively favorable draw for Missouri to stay in the mix despite the modest expectations ahead of the season. 

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World Cup Futures Look: Group F

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2022

World Cup Futures Look: GROUP F The 2022 World Cup kicks off Sunday, Nov. 20 in Qatar with 32 teams in eight groups with daily matches round-robin group play through Dec. 2. Group F starts play Wednesday, November 22 and features Belgium, Canada, Croatia, and Morocco.   Written by Nelly’s Sportsline contributor Forrest Allen ODDS TO QUALIFY FROM GROUP F (TOP 2 TEAMS ADVANCE)  Belgium -450 Canada +300 Croatia -175 Morocco +200 If your politics, patriotism, or purse does not suit an underdog like Iran to advance to the knockout round, allow me to suggest a “chalkier” pick that does not carry the downside risk of tournament favorite such as Argentina or England at -1200 and -2000, respectively. Croatia, the darlings of the last World Cup who came oh so close to hoisting the trophy, are back to prove that 2018 was no fluke. After dropping their initial match to Slovenia, Croatia went undefeated in its next 9 fixtures with 7 wins on their way to winning its group filled with respectable competition to qualify for this year’s World Cup. Similarly, Croatia won its group in the UEFA Nations League highlighted by two wins over Denmark, a team ranked 10th in the world, and taking four points from France, winners of the most recent World Cup and one of the favorites to win in Qatar. The team’s only loss in the group stage was to Austria, which it later avenged with a 3-1 win.  On offense, Croatia features a balanced attack which prevents the defense from focusing on a single player. Luka Modrić will likely be the centerpiece of Croatia’s attack. A bonified international superstar for Real Madrid, the midfielder can do it all, leading the team in goals and second on the team in assists in aforementioned international competitions. His experience and successes are similar to those often cited as the best in the world; champion multiple times over in La Liga, SuperCopa de Espana, Champions League, and UEFA Super Cup. While certainly not as decorated, but every bit as capable will be fellow midfielders Ivan Perisci of Tottenham Hotspur and Mateo Kovacic of Chelsea. Perisic has been masterful at creating opportunities for Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son as evidenced by his 7 assists in the EPL, good for 7th in the league. Named Player of the Year for a Chelsea club that finished 4th in the EPL for the 2019-20 season, Kovacic or “The Professor”, is a master technician who can advance the ball up the pitch to create chances for his teammates. Defensively, Croatia is stout as evidenced by a +17 goal differential and 4 goals allowed in the 10 matches of World Cup Qualifying. Primary goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic’s 0.27 post shot expected goals minus goals against (PSxG-GA) puts him in the 98th percentile of goalkeepers.  For the 1 percent of readers who know what that means, hopefully you’re impressed and feel as though your money was well spent. For the 99 percent of people who have no idea what I just said, I’ll put it more plainly. This metric attempts to convey a goalkeeper’s ability to stop shots that would be expected to be goals. Positive numbers suggest an ability to do exactly that, while a negative number indicates a keeper is allowing goals others keep out of the back of the net.  If you’re still lost, Livakovic saves over 78% of the shots on target, which is better than 94% of other goalkeepers.   In front of Livakovic, two plucky center backs have enabled, arguably, the best trio of midfielders in the world to remain on the attack. The Athletic calls Josko Gvardiol “one of the best young defenders in the world” and “admired by a number of clubs across Europe.”  Josip Suatlo is a teammate of Livakovic on Dinamo Zagreb, the winner of the Croatian HNL, Croatia’s top league.  He excels in all of the areas you would hope a defender would, tackles, interceptions, and blocks, ranking in the 84th, 94th, and 96th percentiles respectively.  Selection: Croatia -175 Forrest Allen has a Masters of Science in Business Analytics from NYU specializing in the development of machine learning models for sports application. 

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World Cup Futures Look: Group B

Saturday, Nov 19, 2022

World Cup Futures Look: GROUP B The 2022 World Cup kicks off Sunday, Nov. 20 in Qatar with 32 teams in eight groups with daily matches round-robin group play through Dec. 2. Group B will be a group of great interest to a Western audience featuring England, USA, Wales, and Iran.  Written by Nelly’s Sportsline contributor Forrest Allen ODDS TO QUALIFY FROM GROUP B (TOP 2 TEAMS ADVANCE)  England -1000 Iran +450 USA +100 Wales +150  If you’re willing to hold your nose and take two showers to make some money, Iran advancing to the group stage is the ultimate contrarian play. For you to profit, they’ll do it against teams and players most familiar to US fans. It begins with England and all the players we’ve grown to love at 7AM on Saturdays. Next is a Welsh team whose highest profile player starred in the MLS final, and concludes against the US national team.  It won’t be a pretty start for our anti-heroes (there’s a Taylor Swift reference here I just can’t bring myself to make much to my daughter’s chagrin) as England, one of the favorites to win the tournament. They will likely have their way with Iran in what will likely be an easy trip through the group stage.  It is the next two games is where it gets interesting. My model gives Iran a 74% chance to win or draw against the US and Wales. Wales will be led by MLS-Final hero Gareth Bale. However, an MLS hero, an international hero does not make. Besides, this team selected exactly 0 players from Wrexham; perhaps a smart tactical decision, but a poor marketing one. Super Paul Mullin and Phil Parkinson’s “enthusiasm” would certainly attract some extra eyeballs, but I digress.  While there is certainly excitement around the United States team led by Captain America, Christian Pulisic, there are real questions about whether he can shoulder the load for one of the youngest, least experienced teams in the tournament. With all the hoopla surrounding Pulisic’s record-breaking transfer to Chelsea, the results have been disappointing to the point he’s been relegated to a part time player for a team currently outside the top 6. If Pulisic maintains the same form he’s had since his arrival in Chelsea, taking all 3 points from this match wouldn’t be a surprising result.   Now that we’ve covered everything not about the team in the headline, let’s actually turn our attention to the team in question; Iran. They got to Qatar by going 14-3-1 in the World Cup Qualifying round and finishing first in their group. These results were built on an exceptionally strong defense producing clean sheets in 80% of these games. Perhaps equally impressive was the 49 goals the team scored in those 18 matches. The offense is led by Sardar Azmoun who netted 10 of those goals in only 14 games. More familiar to fans of the Champions League will be Medhi Taremi who plays for perennial Champions League participant, Porto, and leads the team in both goals and assists.   The combination of a rock-solid defense and capable strikers have resulted in Iran being ranked as a top 20 team in the world rankings. Carlos Queiroz manages this team and is a known commodity for both his players and fans. He brings a wealth of experience coaching at the highest levels of international soccer including stints as the head man with Real Madrid, an assistant with legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and Team Melli, the country's nickname for their team, in the previous two World Cups. In looking back at how Queiroz’s Iranian teams played, I’d expect the opposition to possess the ball the overwhelming majority of the time and in favor of staying very compact and prioritizing goal prevention. In the 2018 World Cup, Iran never possessed the ball more than 34% of the time and looked very comfortable doing so. This approach should facilitate quick strikes on the counterattack with Azmoun and Taremi.  Forrest Allen has a Masters of Science in Business Analytics from NYU specializing in the development of machine learning models for sports application. 

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MAC West Race November Outlook

Sunday, Oct 30, 2022

MAC West Race November Outlook  With the turn of the calendar to November, MACtion returns with Tuesday and Wednesday night college football and the MAC suddenly in the spotlight. Here is a look at the current MAC West standings and what to expect in the division race in the final month of the regular season. Toledo Rockets 4-1 – Remaining schedule: Ball State, Bowling Green, At Western Michigan Toledo has routinely been among the MAC favorites in the Jason Candle era, with Candle the head coach since 2006 but with the program in some capacity since 2009. Toledo has just one MAC title win in 2017 however despite a 34-17 MAC record under Candle, and that is the only year he has won the division title as the head coach. At 4-1 in league play Toledo is a heavy favorite to take the division this season as every other team in the MAC West has at least two losses and three of those five teams have three losses.  Toledo played without star quarterback Dequan Finn last week but got just enough from backup Tucker Gleason for a win at Eastern Michigan. The only MAC loss for Toledo came at East leader Buffalo but the Rockets still must play the two 2-2 teams in MAC play as Toledo is one upset loss away from inviting another team back in the division race. Toledo has the #1 total defense in the MAC and is one of the top rushing teams, but a prolonged absence of Finn would change that equation. Western Michigan 2-2 – Remaining schedule: At Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, At Central Michigan, Toledo  Western Michigan gets to host Toledo in the season finale as the Broncos have the best chance to catch the Rockets. Western Michigan won at Ball State early in the season for a key potential tiebreaker and snapped a two-game slide in the last game with a win at Miami, OH to reach 2-2.  Jack Salopek has been the wort rated quarterback in the MAC completing just 51 percent of his passes with 10 interceptions, but last week’s win was led by freshman Treyson Bourguet. His numbers did not impress with 123 yards on 16 completions, but he did avoid big mistakes and the Broncos have one of the better defenses in the MAC. Three toss-up games are ahead for Western Michigan before the finale with Toledo as this group can’t be ruled out yet and is the team with the best chance to catch Toledo.  Ball State 2-2 – Remaining schedule: At Kent State, At Toledo, Ohio, At Miami OH The Cardinals blew a fourth quarter lead in the last game hosting Eastern Michigan, a devastating result that likely ends MAC West hopes for Ball State. The Cardinals have wins over Northern Illinois and Central Michigan but the head-to-head loss against Western Michigan bumps Ball State to third place. The remaining schedule is daunting as well, facing four of the better teams in the conference in November with three of four games on the road.  Ball State is the second worst rushing team in the conference but the second best passing team, but this is a below average defense even with a favorable conference schedule so far. Quarterback John Paddock has thrown nine interceptions and has the lowest yards per attempt rate of any qualified MAC quarterback. Close games have ben the norm with four one-score results in MAC play for the Cardinals but having the next four games all land in favor of Ball State seems rather unlikely.  Northern Illinois 1-3 – Remaining schedule: Central Michigan, At Western Michigan, Miami OH, Akron  Northern Illinois got Rocky Lombardi back for the win over Eastern Michigan, but he returned to the sidelines in a loss to Ohio that dropped the Huskies to 1-3 in MAC play. Northern Illinois is better than its record but with losses to Toledo and Ball State there will need to be a lot of help with those teams getting upset down the stretch. The Huskies play at Western Michigan and the rest of the schedule is at home as it is a favorable closing run and a run to 5-3 can’t be ruled out.  The Huskies are the #2 MAC rushing team and the #2 MAC run defense for appealing traits and after making a run to the MAC title last season this is the long shot in the West that should climb upward. Toledo would need to lose twice, and the Huskies would need to win out including beating Western Michigan to force a multi-team tie scenario as it is quite an unlikely scenario, but this is a team that may pick up a few wins down the stretch despite sitting in last place at the moment.   Eastern Michigan had a three-point loss to Toledo last week that takes the Eagles out of the race in almost all scenarios. This group has lost by blowout margins twice in conference play and has been outscored by 25 points in five MAC games.  Central Michigan has been one of the biggest disappointments in the MAC, scoring fewer than 20 points per game in a 1-3 start to league play. Central Michigan still has Buffalo on the schedule plus two road games and the only MAC win came vs. 0-5 Akron as this squad has not looked like a threat.

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MAC East Race November Outlook

Sunday, Oct 30, 2022

MAC East Race November Outlook  With the turn of the calendar to November, MACtion returns with Tuesday and Wednesday night college football and the MAC suddenly in the spotlight. Here is a look at the current MAC East standings and what to expect in the division race in the final month of the regular season. Buffalo Bulls 4-0 – Remaining schedule: At Ohio, At Central Michigan, Akron, Kent State Buffalo has been the top scoring team in the MAC East in a 4-0 conference start and the Bulls are a win away from bowl eligibility. Buffalo has been in the MAC Championship two of the past four seasons but has not won the title since 2008. After slipping to 4-8 in the first season under Maurice Linguist, the Bulls are the top contender in the East thanks to a big late October win over Toledo in one of the season’s toughest games on the schedule. A 6-1 edge in turnovers was a huge factor in that game as Buffalo rallied from a 27-10 deficit in the fourth quarter for an incredible comeback.  Sophomore Cole Snyder has solid numbers leading the offense and the Bulls are a top five MAC offense in both rushing and passing, the only team in the MAC that can say that. Road game the next two weeks in weeknight MAC play will determine the fate of the Bulls with this week’s game at Ohio likely the biggest game of the season in the MAC East race.  Ohio Bobcats 3-1 – Remaining schedule: Buffalo, At Miami OH, At Ball State, Bowling Green Tim Albin took over for longtime head coach Frank Solich just before the 2021-22 season and the Bobcats had a challenging 3-9 campaign. This year Ohio is in better position, climbing to 5-3 following a 2-3 start to the season. Ohio took an overtime loss in the MAC opener to Kent State, last season’s East champion, as this week’s game with Buffalo will be critical in the division race.  Kurtis Rourke is the MAC’s top rated quarterback with 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions with Ohio the top passing team in the conference, averaging more than 308 passing yards per game. That has been a departure from the typical Ohio offense under Solich and Ohio surprisingly has the worst total defense in MAC play, allowing nearly 510 yards per game. Ohio benefitted from facing a backup quarterback in the win over Northern Illinois while still having a road game at Ball State makes the remaining path difficult for the Bobcats.  Bowling Green Falcons 3-1 – Remaining schedule: Western Michigan, Kent State, At Toledo, At Ohio  The Falcons have not topped four wins since 2015 as the 4-4 start has been encouraging for Bowling Green. Climbing to bowl eligibility in Scot Loeffler’s fourth season might be a stretch however though it appears to likely be a second straight season of improvement. Two of three MAC wins came by slim margins and the Falcons still must face Toledo on the road as well as two of the other MAC East contenders.  Against Buffalo, Bowling Green lost 38-7 at home as the gap between the Falcons and being a serious division contender remains steep despite sitting in a tie for second place in the division right now. The Falcons are 9th in total defense in the MAC and 10th in total offense but quarterback Matt McDonald has good numbers, and he missed the team’s ugly non-conference loss to Mississippi State. A few upsets and a chaos scenario could remain a long shot for Bowling Green in this race, but more likely the Falcons slide in the final month with this week’s game with Western Michigan critical in bowl hopes for the program.  Kent State Golden Flashes 2-2 – Remaining schedule: Ball State, At Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, At Buffalo The Flashes took back-to-back losses on the road in October MAC games as it will be an uphill battle for Kent State to repeat as East division champions. Kent State is 0-5 on the road this season but the Flashes took on an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule facing Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia, results which have had an impact on the numbers. Kent State did win head-to-head with Ohio and will get to face Buffalo in the regular season finale as they will have a potential path in the division race, particularly if Ohio beats Buffalo this week.  Kent State has the #1 total offense in the MAC but has the second worst total defense as higher-scoring games are the norm for this group that plays at an up-tempo pace under Sean Lewis in his fifth season with the program. Marquez Cooper is one of the top running backs in the MAC and this would be the group to support in long shot futures options as the Flashes should be favored in the next three games before the finale at Buffalo that could be for the division title if Kent State gets some help with a Buffalo loss along the way.  Miami, OH did beat Kent State and played Buffalo tough as this is a better team than the fifth place 2-3 record indicates, especially now with Brett Gabbert back. Ultimately the Redhawks are effectively relegated to playing spoiler at this point facing Ohio in November and then drawing two MAC West teams. At 0-5 Akron has been eliminated from the MAC race, though three conference losses have been one-score results as the Zips have made a measure of progress. Two of the final three conference games will be on the road with the home finale in early November against Eastern Michigan. 

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MLB Postseason Futures Outlook

Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

MLB Postseason Futures Outlook  The MLB Playoffs have a new format this season and there may be some inefficiency in the futures market as four teams will have a bye in the first round for a dramatic change to the mechanics of the tournament. The eight teams playing immediately in the playoffs will play a best of three series to bring higher variance to the picture and potentially help the case for a possible series upset.  The division series games will start on October 11 as the four teams not playing in the wild card round will have six days off after the regular season, perhaps a less than ideal situation for lineups to maintain their peak form. The ALDS and NLDS pairings will remain best of five games before the standard seven-game series format goes in place for the League Championship Series.  With a week to go in the regular season the wild card teams are still jostling for positions. While Baltimore has not yet been eliminated in the AL, the three likely wild card teams Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Seattle are separated by only two games as the positions are still in flux. In the National League Milwaukee is just a half-game out of the final playoff position as they will compete with San Diego and Philadelphia in the final week with only two of those three teams making the field.  The NL East race is the most critical piece of the futures picture as the Mets lead Atlanta by one game in the standings with those teams entering the NL field as the #2 and #4 seeds. This distinction will be severe as the #4 seed will not only have to face a do-or-die three-game series in the wild card round, but they will also be paired with the Dodgers in the NLDS should they survive that round.  In the American League the case can be made that the #6 seed may be the preferable wild card position, drawing the AL Central champion Cleveland Guardians, a team that might wind up with a lesser record than some of the wild card teams. The victor of the 3/6 pairing will be matched with a Yankees team that slumped in the final two months of the season rather than the AL leading Astros.  Likewise the case can be made that it may be preferable to be the #2 seed compared to being the #1 seed in this format as the top wild card team if often a stronger team than the #3 division winner, as would likely be the case in both leagues this season.  Worthy Long Shots: Atlanta Braves: +950 to win the World Series (9/29 at FanDuel)  The Braves are catching nearly double the price that the Mets have while just one game out of the NL East lead heading into the final week of the regular season. Atlanta has the better scoring differential on the season and is on a 74-32 run since June 1. Atlanta will host New York for three games this week before finishing the season in Miami as the Braves have a great opportunity to win the series this week to move into at least a tie for the division lead. The Mets close the season hosting Washington, a team that has been playing well down the stretch as Atlanta has a realistic chance to climb to the #2 seed.  Even if the Braves do wind up in the wild card route, the Padres, Phillies, and Brewers don’t offer an overly intimidating draw in the 4/5 pairing. The Braves also are the biggest threat to the Dodgers as Atlanta is 36-16 vs. left-handed starters while posting some of MLB’s best offensive splits vs. left-handed pitching. All four starters in the Los Angeles rotation right now are left-handed until Tony Gonsolin comes off the IL and it is unlikely Gonsolin would get a start in the NLDS anyhow. Atlanta took the Dodgers to seven games in the 2020 NLCS and won the NLCS 4-2 against the Dodgers last season as the Braves are a serious NL threat in whatever path they wind up in.  Tampa Bay Rays: +1000 to win the American League (9/29 at DraftKings)  The Rays could wind up in any of the three wild card positions. The #6 spot opposite Cleveland is a favorable place to be but even if they match up with Toronto, the Rays won the season series with the Blue Jays and the pricing gap between those teams in this market is difficult to justify. Toronto’s offense has been streaky and the starting pitching for the Blue Jays is marginal. Shane McClanahan has been one of the top pitchers in MLB this season to give the Rays a true ace while Tyler Glasnow’s recent return provides a boost to the pitching staff even if he is only used in relief or as an opener as he works his way back to full strength. Corey Kluber and Drew Rasmussen have had fine seasons and the pitching staff for Tampa Bay can carry it to a series win, particularly in a three-game set where McClanahan can start Game 1.  The Rays play at Houston in the final week of the regular season to provide some familiarity and comfort level should they advance and match up with Houston in the ALDS. Tampa Bay went just 8-11 vs. the Yankees but with near-even scoring and the Rays went 5-4 vs. New York in the final three series between those teams. The Rays beat the Yankees in the 2020 ALDS and New York’s starting pitching has left plenty of question marks down the stretch as they could be a vulnerable group.  Seattle Mariners: +1400 to win the American League (9/29 at BetMGM) The Mariners have not made the playoffs since their 116-win 2001 season and after narrowly missing the postseason last year Seattle is in a good position to not only get in but to emerge as a threat to win several games. Seattle closes the season on a long home stand to avoid hectic late season travel and this team is well-suited for a three-game series with Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray as elite starting pitchers from each side. Seattle has not played its best ball in September and the recent injury to star rookie Julio Rodriguez is a setback, but he is expected to be cleared to return in early October in time for the playoffs. Cleveland has been a great story this season but right now the Mariners have a stronger scoring differential than Cleveland and own 15 more wins vs. winning teams than the Guardians. Seattle also went 6-1 head-to-head with Cleveland this season with a 29-11 edge in scoring. Seattle won four of six with the Yankees this season as the Mariners would be a threat to get in a position for a competitive ALDS series to provide profitable opportunities for those holding a piece of a long shot ticket with Seattle.  Milwaukee Brewers: +5000 to win the National League (9/29 at PointsBet)  The Brewers are not even in the playoffs right now as this is a serious long shot proposition. The closing schedule is dramatically favorable for Milwaukee compared to Philadelphia however, playing at home vs. Miami and Arizona for the final two series. A Phillies team with a 10-13 record in September while -16 in scoring will be on the road for the final two series, playing Washington and Houston. The Astros may not have anything to play for in that final series, but Washington is on pace to have its best month of the season in September even if the Nationals have played poorly head-to-head with the Phillies. If Milwaukee finds a way into the playoffs as the #6 seed they would have a familiar draw in the Cardinals, who they went 9-10 against. Milwaukee’s starting pitching with Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes would be formidable in a three-game series and while St. Louis added left-handers Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana mid-season in part to match up with Milwaukee, the Cardinals would almost certainly start right-hander Adam Wainwright in Game 1 for a possible advantage in the huge swing game for a Brewers team that excels vs. right-handers. Holding this ticket comes with no serious expectation that Milwaukee will make it to the World Series but even entering the playoffs or providing a Game 1 win in the wild card round would provide a profitable hedging situation.  If you are looking to play on one of the favorites in the postseason futures market, truthfully, you’re too late. At the current prices you are better off waiting to see how the bracket plays out to see if one of the top contenders would lose an opening game of the division series to provide a window to jump back in at a more favorable price. In the division series round last season, three of the four teams that advanced lost Game 1 in the ALDS or NLDS. The MLB playoffs rarely go according to seeding form and with the new format the advantage for the #1 seeds has been reduced with a case to be made the #2 seeds could have a more favorable position.  Remember, playing the futures market is not about guessing who will win it all, it is about consistently adjusting your positions to ensure that you profit no matter what team wins. 

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FBS Coaching Change ATS Results since 2018

Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

FBS Coaching Change ATS Results since 2018 The calendar has not even turned to October yet and three major conference FBS head coaches have already been fired. In most recent seasons there are only a handful of mid-season changes at FBS schools, but last season 15 head coaches were fired or resigned before the end of the regular season as there seems to be a quickening pace for programs to get in front of the line for the next hiring cycle.  Nebraska was a popular play-on team after Scott Frost was fired and there is a general perception that a coaching change might provide a spark for a program and could be a catalyst to saving the season if the move is made early. Nebraska and Arizona State both lost badly in their first games after making September coaching changes this season and the track record the past few years has a negative correlation in the games following a move, albeit with a small sample size and many circumstantial differences in each case.  An argument can be made that administrators don’t necessarily want interim coaches to succeed, potentially thwarting their preferred coaching choice for the future, and in the case of the three firings this season, the move came preceding one of the most difficult games of the season rather than ahead of a more favorable stretch of the schedule. Nebraska fired Frost ahead of hosting Oklahoma, Arizona State fired Herm Edwards ahead of hosting Utah. Geoff Collins was just fired ahead of playing at Pittsburgh for a tough pairing in the transition.  Below is a list of the mid-season FBS coaching changes since 2018 and the result immediately following the move. In the next game after a coaching change, those teams have gone 7-24 S/U and 10-21 ATS. Only eight teams out 29 mid-season coaching changes from 2018 and 2021 finished the season with a winning ATS record the rest of the way following making a move.  Most schools making a mid-season coaching change are having a difficult season, so it is not a surprise that losing results continue. There is however not much support in the recent instances to suggest there is any sort of coaching change spark provided to teams, nor a valuation decrease significant enough to warrant playing on teams in this situation. It is likely best to avoid Georgia Tech this week even with an elevated underdog price and it is likely worth steering clear of backing most teams that have made a coaching change during the season.  10/14/2018 Bowling Green 1-6 S/U, 2-5 ATS Mike Jinks firedNext Game: At Ohio (+16) S/U and ATS Loss 14-49Record after coaching change: 2-3 S/U, 2-3 ATS 10/31/2018 Maryland 5-3 S/U, 5-3 ATS DJ Durkin firedNext Game: At Michigan State (+3.5) S/U and ATS Loss 3-24Record after coaching change: 0-4 S/U, 1-3 ATS  11/4/2018 Kansas 3-6 S/U, 4-5 ATS David Beaty firedNext Game: At Kansas State (+8.5) S/U Loss and ATS Win 17-21Record after coaching change: 0-3 S/U, 3-0 ATS  11/11/2018 Louisville 2-8 S/U, 1-9 ATS Bobby Petrino fired Next Game: Hosting NC State (+16) S/U and ATS loss 10-52Record after coaching change: 0-2 S/U, 0-2 ATS 11/18/2018 Colorado 5-6 S/U, 5-6 ATS Mike MacIntyre firedNext Game: At California (+11.5) S/U and ATS Loss 21-33Record after coaching change: 0-1 S/U, 0-1 ATS 11/18/2018 Texas State 3-8 S/U, 6-4-1 ATS Everett Withers firedNext Game: Hosting Arkansas state (+14) S/U and ATS Loss 7-33Record after coaching change: 0-2 S/U, 0-2 ATS 11/18/2018 Charlotte 4-7 S/U, 6-5 ATS Brad Lambert firedNext Game: AT Florida Atlantic (+16.5) S/U and ATS Win 27-24Record after coaching change: 1-0 S/U, 1-0 ATS 9/30/2019 Rutgers 1-3 S/U, 1-3 ATS Chris Ash firedNext Game: Hosting Maryland (+14) S/U and ATS Loss 7-48Record after coaching change: 1-7 S/U, 3-5 ATS  11/3/2019 Florida State 4-5 S/U, 3-5-1 ATS Willie Taggart firedNext Game: At Boston College (+1) S/U and ATS Win 38-31Record after coaching change: 2-2 S/U, 1-3 ATS (lost bowl game)  11/10/2019 Arkansas 2-8 S/U, 2-8 ATS Chad Morris firedNext Game: At LSU (+41) S/U Loss and ATS Win 20-56Record after coaching change: 0-2 S/U, 2-0 ATS  11/22/2019 UNLV 2-8 S/U 4-6 ATS Tony Sanchez was fired but remained to coach the final two games – which were both S/U and ATS wins  9/7/2020 Southern Miss 0-1 S/U, 0-1 ATS - Jay Hopson resignedNext Game: Hosting Louisiana Tech (-7) S/U and ATS Loss 30-31Record after coaching change: 2-6 S/U, 4-5 ATS  11/7/2020 Utah State 0-3 S/U, 0-3 ATS - Gary Andersen firedNext Game: Hosting Fresno State (+11) S/U and ATS Loss 16-35Record after coaching change: 1-2 S/U, 1-2 ATS 11/16/2020 South Carolina 2-5 S/U, 4-3 ATS - Will Muschamp firedNext Game: Hosting Missouri (+5.5) S/U and ATS Loss 10-17Record after coaching change: 0-3 S/U, 0-3 ATS  11/29/2020 Vanderbilt 0-8 S/U, 4-4 ATS - Derek Mason firedNext Game: Hosting Tennessee (+15.5) S/U and ATS Loss 17-42Record after coaching change: 0-1 S/U, 0-1 ATS 9/6/2021 Connecticut 0-2 S/U, 0-2 ATS - Randy Edsall resignedNext Game: Hosting Purdue (+35) S/U and ATS Loss 0-49Record after coaching change: 1-9 S/U, 6-4 ATS  9/14/2021 USC 1-1 S/U, 1-1 ATS - Clay Helton firedNext Game: At Washington State (-3.5) S/U and ATS Win 45-14 Record after coaching change: 3-7 S/U, 3-7 ATS  9/26/2021 Georgia Southern 1-3 S/U, 1-3 ATS - Chad Lunsford firedNext Game: Hosting Arkansas State (-2) S/U and ATS Win 59-33Record after coaching change: 2-6 S/U, 5-3 ATS 10/19/2021 LSU 4-3 S/U, 3-4 ATS - Ed Orgeron resignedNext Game: At Mississippi (+9.5) S/U and ATS Loss 17-31 Record after coaching change: 2-3 S/U, 2-2-1 ATS  10/20/2021 Washington State 4-3 S/U, 4-3 ATS - Nick Rolovich firedNext Game: Hosting BYU (+3.5) S/U Loss and ATS Win 19-21 Record after coaching change: 3-3 S/U, 4-2 ATS  10/25/2021 Texas Tech 5-3 S/U, 4-4 ATS - Matt Wells firedNext Game: At Oklahoma (+19) S/U and ATS Loss 21-52 Record after coaching change: 2-3 S/U, 3-2 ATS 10/31/2021 TCU 3-5 S/U,1-7 ATS - Gary Patterson resignedNext Game: Hosting Baylor (+7.5) S/U and ATS Win 30-28Record after coaching change: 2-2 S/U, 1-3 ATS 11/4/2021 Akron 2-7 S/U, 4-5 ATS - Tom Arth firedNext Game: At Western Michigan (+25) S/U Loss and ATS Win 40-45Record after coaching change: 0-3 S/U, 1-2 ATS  11/8/2021 Massachusetts 1-8 S/U, 3-6 ATS - Walt Bell firedNext Game: Hosting Maine (+4.5) S/U and ATS Loss 10-35Record after coaching change: 0-3 S/U, 1-2 ATS  11/14/2021 Washington 4-6 S/U, 3-7 ATS Jimmy Lake – fired – had been suspended for final game Next Game: At Colorado (-6.5) S/U and ATS Loss 17-20 Record after coaching change: 0-2 S/U, 0-2 ATS  11/15/2021 Florida International 1-9 S/U, 2-8 ATS Butch Davis firedNext Game: Hosting North Texas (+10.5) S/U and ATS Loss 7-49Record after coaching change: 0-2 S/U, 0-2 ATS 11/16/2021 Virginia Tech 5-5 S/U, 4-6 ATS Justin Fuente firedNext Game: At Miami, FL (+7) S/U and ATS Loss 26-38 Record after coaching change: 1-2 S/U, 1-2 ATS (lost bowl game)  11/21/2021 Florida 5-6 S/U, 3-8 ATS Dan Mullen firedNext Game: Hosting Florida State (-3.5) S/U Win and ATS Loss 24-21Record after coaching change: 1-1 S/U, 0-2 ATS (lost bowl game)  11/23/2021 New Mexico State 1-10 S/U, 6-5 ATS Doug Martin firedNext Game: Hosting Massachusetts (-7) S/U and ATS Win 44-27Record after coaching change: 1-0 S/U, 1-0 ATS 11/21/2021 Troy 5-6 S/U, 4-7 ATS Chip Lindsey firedNext Game: At Georgia State (+6.5) S/U and ATS Loss 10-37Record after coaching change: 0-1 S/U, 0-1 ATS 9/11/2022 Nebraska 1-2 S/U, 0-3 ATS Scott Frost firedNext Game: Hosting Oklahoma (+10.5) S/U and ATS Loss 14-49 9/18/2022 Arizona State 1-2 S/U, 1-2 ATS Herm Edwards firedNext Game: Hosting Utah (+16.5) S/U and ATS Loss 13-34 9/25/2022 Georgia Tech 1-3 S/U, 1-3 ATS Geoff Collins firedNext Game: At Pittsburgh (+22) October 1 

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July National League Overachievers

Saturday, Jul 30, 2022

July National League Overachievers   Four months through the Major League Baseball season it is clear there are some overachievers on the mound. Some pitchers may be having career seasons, but others may be worth fading in August and September at favorable prices. Here is a look at a few National League starters to avoid playing on down the stretch.   Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins: Alcantara is about even-money in NL Cy Young futures, and he deserves the attention with nearly 150 innings under his belt in 21 starts to boost his WAR. He ultimately has a nearly identical xFIP to last season when he finished 9-14 and his K/9 and BB/9 rates are slightly worse this season compared to his 2021 line. The difference has been cutting his HR/9 nearly in half this season along with a career low .245 BABIP. The huge innings count in the first half of the season may be adding up as he has had a pair of marginal starts out of the break with six runs allowed and six walks allowed in just 11 innings. The Marlins also have a tough August schedule ahead including facing the Dodgers seven times while also facing Philadelphia, Atlanta, and San Diego. Alcantara is going to command pricing he doesn’t deserve the rest of the season while he is still pitching for a losing team.   Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers: An All-Star with an 11-1 record through 18 starts it has been a career year for Gonsolin, who wasn’t even expected to be in the rotation to start the season. He has been a huge overachiever with a .202 BABIP and an over 84 percent strand rate, currently the most favorable rates in both of those categories among all qualified NL starters this season. Gonsolin took the loss in the All-Star game and has turned in marginal starts on both sides of the break, his first two starts in which he allowed more than two earned runs all season. Pitching for the Dodgers with a glowing record and a 2.26 ERA, Gonsolin is commanding prices like the elite starters for the Dodgers the past few seasons like Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. He isn’t in that category and currently owns an xFIP that is nearly twice as high as his ERA. Gonsolin has made two thirds of his starts this season vs. losing teams and he is already over his career high in MLB innings in a season as the late-season returns could suffer.  Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres: In his first 11 starts of the season Musgrove had a 1.50 ERA while going 7-0 for a simply incredible run. In six starts since he has a 4.82 ERA, even with little change in his strikeout and walk rates. The difference has been home runs, with six allowed in his last six starts. He did pitch in Colorado in a recent start and has faced road starts vs. the Mets and the Dodgers as ultimately his path the final two months will likely land in the middle of those two stretches. Musgrove has seen his strikeout rate shrink significantly in consecutive seasons and he is still getting away with a career low HR/9 at this point in the season. Musgrove is still listed as a top three Cy Young threat in the NL odds, but the Padres still have 12 games remaining with the Dodgers and a very difficult September schedule overall as a late season slide for Padres and Musgrove’s numbers seems very possible.  Merrill Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona has been playing rather competitive ball of late and Kelly has been a big part of that, going 4-0 in his last five starts with a 1.57 ERA. His xFIP in that span is 4.05 and he has just a 6.6 K/9 in that span, catching some big breaks with a .204 BABIP. Kelly is 10-5 this season in 20 starts and he has been a pitcher that often beats his ERA estimators since joining Arizona after four years in the KBO. Kelly has a career low K/9 this season and a career low HR/9 by a wide margin at 0.53 compared to a career average of 1.14. Not surprisingly his recent run of success has come with three starts against the sinking Giants while he has been hit hard against quality teams this season including allowing 14 runs over three starts vs. the Dodgers. Kelly has been a streaky starter in his career and ultimately the current run is not likely sustainable. Arizona has two upcoming trips to Denver plus several more series vs. NL playoff threats as Kelly won’t be able to match his July pace the rest of the way.

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July American League Overachievers

Saturday, Jul 30, 2022

July American League Overachievers   Four months through the Major League Baseball season it is clear there are some overachievers on the mound. Some pitchers may be having career seasons, but others may be worth fading in August and September at favorable prices. Here is a look at a few American League starters to avoid playing on in most situations down the stretch.   Justin Verlander, Houston Astros: As one of the most recognizable pitchers in baseball and a two-time Cy Young winner, Verlander’s pricing has already gotten a bit out of hand. His win count is at 14 in 19 starts for incredible results while his ERA is just 1.81. By many measures Verlander isn’t having one of his better seasons in a Hall of Fame career however as his K/9 of 8.8 is his worst since 2015 and he is on pace to have his worst xFIP since 2017. Home runs have always been part of the equation for Verlander, but he currently has his lowest HR/9 since 2014 for some great fortune while his BABIP of .233 is well below his career average of .279. A pitcher of Verlander’s ability and experience can continue to succeed, but his current six-start run with a 0.86 ERA has been one of great fortune, including a strand rate of nearly 94 percent. The Astros have an 18-8 record in one-run games and have kept winning even with a decline in the offensive production for the team in recent weeks. Houston is cruising to the AL West title and is going to face steep pricing with Verlander on the mound, even though he hasn’t been nearly as dominant as his best seasons.   Jameson Taillon, New York Yankees: The Yankees have received incredible starting pitching this season, but the numbers are the most suspicious for Taillon, who entered this season with a rather average career path through five seasons. Taillon had a much better K/9 and a lower xERA last season when he went just 8-6 but with a great Yankees team this year, he has a 10-2 record in 20 starts. Taillon has one of the lowest groundball rates of his career going despite his success but after a charmed first two months, his profile is eroding. His ERA Is 5.36 over his last 10 starts even while only picking up one loss and he has a 1.79 HR/9 in that span while his groundball rate fell to just 35 percent. He has had some breaks in the schedule facing a lot of the weaker lineups in the AL this season and he has not pitched well on the road where far fewer of his innings have taken place. Taillon is the pitcher in the New York rotation to target to fade in most series as he is still drawing pricing equivalent to starters with much more proven potential.   Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Guardians: McKenzie has a 3.24 ERA for Cleveland but with a 4.15 xFIP. He has a modest K/9 at just 8.4 and he has allowed 17 home runs in 18 starts. McKenzie had a big month of July that included three scoreless outings, but he faced Kansas City and Detroit in two of those games. He has very poor numbers against Minnesota this season and he is likely to see the Twins again in September while Cleveland has a difficult August schedule ahead facing several playoff threats. McKenzie is just 24-years-old with a thin frame as a career high in innings is approaching and so far in 52 career MLB appearances, he owns a .226 BABIP, an average really no starter has ever maintained. McKenzie will likely face teams that now have some experience against him the rest of the way and he could prove to be the more erratic starter Cleveland saw early this season in August and September.   Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays: 20-7 in 40 career starts and an All-Star this season at age 24, Manoah is on the fast track to stardom. His ERA is 2.43 this season but nothing else in his numbers suggests that he is an elite AL starter. His xFIP is 3.84 and his K/9 just 8.1 He has been fortunate with a low BABIP while stranding over 81 percent of his baserunners. He has already surpassed a career high in innings and Manoah did not pitch in 2020 as a minor leaguer at the time. He has shown signs of trouble ahead with three recent starts allowing four or more runs. He has allowed elevated hit counts in several recent outings with July so far being his worst month in most categories by a significant margin. Manoah was a 2019 1st round pick and still has great potential but with the elevated pricing Toronto’s offense commands, he isn’t worth the cost right now as really a slightly above average starter disguised as an ace thanks to his 11 wins and low ERA. Toronto has a lot of games remaining with Tampa Bay and New York and will play 16 of 22 on the road in the heart of August as the current grip on a wild card spot could loosen for the Blue Jays with Manoah numbers also likely to deteriorate. 

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May National League Overachievers

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

May National League Overachievers With two months of the Major League Baseball season underway there is sufficient pitching data to draw some early conclusions and offer some predictive analysis for the duration of the season. The marketplace has adjusted to the current season numbers more than history and reputation at this point even though most starters have made only eight-to-ten starts. There will be opportunities to fade some of these National League Overachievers in the coming weeks at favorable prices.   Miles Mikolas – St. Louis Cardinals: Among qualified NL starters Miles Mikolas has the third worst CSW% at just 25.8 percent. Mikolas did not pitch in 2020 and made only nine starts last season and his revival as a solid starter for the Cardinals has been a nice story. He had had some great fortune in the early going however, allowing only five home runs in more than 60 innings, well below his career HR/9 rate. Mikolas isn’t a great strikeout threat with a K/9 below 7.0 and he has had good fortune with a .263 BABIP and an 80 percent strand rate through 10 starts in 2022.  Zac Gallen – Arizona Diamondbacks: After three seasons of inconsistency, many are seeing this as the breakthrough season for Gallen, a third-round draft pick in 2016. Gallen is 4-0 in decisions with a 2.32 ERA for a terrific start as Arizona’s de facto ace. He has his lowest K/9 of his career so far and has gone from a 1.41 HR/9 last season to a 0.54 HR/9 rate so far through nine starts. His BABIP of .237 is also way below his career average as a lot has gone right in the first two months for Gallen. Gallen had three scoreless outings in his first five starts which will water down his numbers all season. Over his past three starts he has allowed nine runs while walking seven and his numbers are likely to worsen as the season goes on.  Carlos Carrasco – New York Mets: The 35-year-old Carrasco has been through a lot in his career and has been a great story so far in 2022 after it appeared his career might be over with disastrous results for the Mets last season. He has reversed last season’s 1-5 record at 5-1 already through nine starts this season but he has HR/9 that is a fourth of his rate last season and less than half of his career average. Carrasco is on pace to have his worst K/9 since 2013 and his success has come almost exclusively at Citi Field this season as his road ERA is 5.06. Carrasco has faced only two games this season vs. winning teams as the schedule will stiffen in the weeks ahead.  Walker Buehler – Los Angeles Dodgers: Considered one of the best pitchers in baseball Buehler will command significant pricing pitching for the Dodgers. He had a charmed 2021 season going 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA, next to a 3.57 xFIP and this season he is getting results that look truer to his averages. Buehler has just a 7.5 K/9 this season through 10 starts and his CSW% is just 26.3 percent, by far the worst of his career. In in past four starts heading into June Buehler has allowed 28 hits and 14 runs for a 5.32 ERA while his K/9 keeps dropping. Buehler remains a good starter on a great team, but it will be difficult to justify his upcoming valuations. 

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May American League Overachievers

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

May American League OverachieversWith two months of the Major League Baseball season underway there is sufficient pitching data to draw some early conclusions and offer some predictive analysis for the duration of the season. The marketplace has adjusted to the current season numbers more than history and reputation at this point even though most starters have made only eight-to-ten starts. There will be opportunities to fade some of these American League Overachievers in the coming weeks at favorable prices.   Cal Quantrill – Cleveland Guardians: Cleveland has not received the caliber of starting pitching it expected so far through two months but Quantrill has done his part with a 3.42 ERA through eight starts. He has a 4.96 xFIP however for a huge gap between his ERA and most of his ERA estimators. His 5.3 K/9 is among the worst of any AL starter and he has had great luck with a low BABIP of .255 and a HR/9 of just 0.57. Quantrill beat some of his metrics last season in a nice 2021 campaign but he is doing so by a more severe margin this season and it is not likely to be sustained.   Justin Verlander – Houston Astros: The Astros again appear to be a serious AL contender and Verlander is 6-2 in nine starts even after pitching minimally the past two seasons. Verlander is not close to his previous numbers in his K/9 and CSW% figures however as he should not be valued like a perennial Cy Young contender of the past. Verlander has a .213 BABIP and an over 95 percent strand rate as even for a pitcher with his experience and past success, those are outrageous numbers that won’t hold up over time.  Logan Gilbert – Seattle Mariners: A 2018 1st round draft pick, Gilbert has always had great potential. He put together a strong rookie season in 2021, mostly skipping over AAA entirely. This season he looks like Seattle’s top starter on the surface. He had had some big breaks in the early season numbers compared to last season’s line however and it seems unlikely he’ll go through the 2022 season having halved his 2021 ERA of 4.68, currently with a 2.29 ERA through 10 starts. His K/9, BB/9, and CSW% are all worse this season compared with last season despite having more success in his conventional numbers so far.  Jameson Taillon – New York Yankees: From 2016 and 2021 Taillon was the epitome of a slightly above league-average starter, going 37-30 with a 3.82 ERA. His 8.2 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 are also right in line with that assessment as well. In the great two-month start for the Yankees, Taillon has a 5-1 record and a 2.49 ERA, even while his K/9 has fallen to just 6.9 while his CSW% is 25.8 percent, among the worst of any regular AL starter. Taillon has faced Baltimore in a third of his starts this season to help the cause and he has stranded over 83 percent of his base runners. Taillon didn’t suddenly develop into an elite starter as he remains a rather average option and should be considered a fade option given New York’s elevated pricing as the AL leader.   

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April National League Overachievers

Friday, Apr 29, 2022

April National 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 NL starters that could see adjustments in their upcoming outings.   Drew Smyly – Chicago Cubs:  The Cubs have competed reasonably well in the first month this season with a positive scoring differential and the pitching has been capable with Smyly off to a solid start to the 2022 season. Smyly has bounced around significantly in recent years without sustained success but wound up in the right spot last season as a contributor for the World Series champion Braves. That led to a one-year deal with the Cubs that so far has paid off with a 2.79 ERA in four starts.  Smyly has a K/9 of only 6.1 this season while he has had unusual ground ball success this season at nearly 55 percent compared with a career average of around 37 percent for a huge difference. Smyly has the best strand rate in the NL at this point in the season as more than 97 percent of his base runners have failed to score and his CSW% below 27 percent that is the lowest of his career at this point in 2022 despite his solid conventional line through four starts. Smyly has allowed four home runs in last two starts as things are likely going to head in the wrong direction moving forward.  Julio Urias – Los Angeles Dodgers: Urias was a slight overachiever last season going 20-3 in 32 starts with a 2.96 ERA despite a 3.73 xFIP. His career xFIP is 4.10, more than run higher than his career ERA but the gap in those numbers is more than two runs at this point in 2022, with a 2.50 ERA compared to a 4.51 xFIP. Fading the Dodgers will always be difficult, but compared to the other options in the rotation, Urias looks beatable for several opposing lineups.  Urias faced struggling Cincinnati and Arizona in his two most successful starts this season and he has a 7.5 K/9 and a 4.0 BB/9 so far in the 2022 season, hardly elite figures that would suggest a front-line starter that Urias will often be valued as. Urias is only 25 and has a bright future but he has managed a .170 BABIP so far this season as a lot of things have gone right in the first month.  Dakota Hudson – St. Louis Cardinals:  Hudson has been lucky so far in 2022 with a 2.75 ERA built on a .180 BABIP through four starts. His xFIP is 4.48, right in-line with his career average but he has managed to get away with a high walk count and a low strikeout rate this season. Hudson has always been an effective ground ball pitcher but so far this season his ground ball rate would be the lowest of his career. Hudson has topped 40 innings in an MLB season just once in his career back in 2019 and he is likely to be an erratic option as the season moves on. Hudson has a CSW% of below 25 percent, a rate that will be among the worst of NL starters by season’s end and right near 25% has been the career norm for Hudson whether as a starter or a reliever. St. Louis looks like a playoff threat in the NL with a solid first month from the offense, but Hudson is not in the same class as the rest of the rotation even if the early season numbers are right there at first glance. Sandy Alcantara – Miami Marlins:  Alcantara has been deserving of a breakthrough season, 22-34 in his career despite elite potential pitching for typically lousy Marlins teams. This year Miami looks like a group that can compete and so far, Alcantara has a 1.78 ERA. He is going to face steep pricing moving forward even through the current clip is not likely sustainable. Alcantara was a dramatically worse pitcher in his road starts last season and in 2022 his two road starts have been favorable pairings.  Alcantara has stranded nearly 85 percent of his baserunners this season and has only allowed one home run after allowing 21 last season and only stranding 72 percent of baserunners in 2021. Alcantara’s xFIP is 3.94 in 2022, with a career xFIP of 4.31. His strikeout rate so far in 2022 is down from the past two seasons while his BB/9 is as high as it has been since 2019. Alcantara is one of the better NL starters, but he may start to be valued as one of the very best, which just hasn’t been the case this season or in his career. 

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April American League Overachievers

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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Early Look at the Final Eight Teams in the Sweet 16

Monday, Mar 21, 2022

Early Look at the Final eight teams in the Sweet 16  Eight teams moved on Sunday to complete the Sweet 16 field in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Here is an early look at those eight teams heading on to new venues for the next contests Thursday and Friday.  South #5 Houston – defeated UAB (-9) 82-68, defeated Illinois (-3.5) 68-53 After making the Final Four last season Houston in back in the Sweet 16, pulling away from Illinois in the early game on Sunday. After early season non-conference wins over Virginia, Oregon, and Oklahoma State wound up carrying little weight, Houston has picked up two of its best wins in postseason action beating Memphis in its third try in the AAC Championship and beating Illinois.  Only Fabian White was a significant contributor on last season’s Final Four team as it is completely different starting five for Kelvin Sampson due to two key injuries early in the season (Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark). Houston also had one of the weakest paths to the Final Four last season beating a #11 seed and a #12 seed in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, after an incredible comeback escape against Rutgers in the Round of 32.  Houston’s efficiency numbers are incredible if you respect the schedule the Cougars have faced, now climbing into the national top 10 on offense and defense. Forcing 17 turnovers against a veteran Illinois team was a stunning result and the free throw woes that have hurt Houston this season have not come into play so far in the tournament. This is not a great 3-point shooting team, but the addition of Josh Carlton gives the Cougars the size they lacked last season and this team should be considered a serious Final Four threat.  South #2 Villanova – defeated Delaware (-14.5) 80-60, defeated Ohio State (-5) 81-71 Villanova lost to Baylor in the Sweet 16 last season, competing better with the eventual champion Bears than any other team on the six-game title run for the Bears. Four of five starters are back from that team this season as the Wildcats finished second in the Big East regular season (playing three more games than Providence) while winning the Big East tournament to land a #2 seed. Villanova plays at a very deliberate pace and is the best free throw shooting team in the nation. The Wildcats also played a formidable non-conference schedule despite losing three of four big games, losing close games with UCLA and Purdue, and losing badly in a rematch with Baylor in Waco. The Wildcats did beat Tennessee in November by 18 for a strong result.  Villanova is not an elite shooting team with average scoring numbers from 2-point range on both sides of the ball and slightly above average numbers from 3-point range on both sides of the ball. Turnovers are rare on offense, but the Wildcats don’t have elite height in the paint for the some potential problematic pairings moving forward in the bracket.  Next Up is #11 seed Michigan in San Antonio on Thursday.  West #2 Duke – defeated Cal-State Fullerton (-18.5) 78-61, defeated Michigan State (-6.5) 85-76 Some questioned Duke’s seeding on the 2-line in Coach K’s final run but the Blue Devils have avoided an early upset to reach the Sweet 16, after escaping a very tough game with Michigan State. Early season wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga are on the resume for Duke and so far the ACC has surpassed its regular season ratings with three Sweet 16 teams. Duke has elite talent with four potential 1st round NBA draft picks, but the defense has not been at a championship level. Duke rarely forces turnover including getting only seven against Michigan State while five of Duke’s last six opponents have scored at least 76 points Duke has excellent shooting numbers all over the floor but the ACC schedule did not feature a single top 40 defensive efficiency team and Duke’s path to the final four includes three top 15 defenses still remaining in the region. Duke scored at a 63% clip on 2-point shots in the Round of 32 and that will be tough to match in any upcoming game.  Next Up is #3 seed Texas Tech Thursday in San Francisco.  West #3 Texas Tech – defeated Montana State (-15) 97-62, defeated Notre Dame (-8) 59-53 Mark Adams has done a terrific job in taking over for Chris Beard at Texas Tech and the Red Raiders survived a tight Sunday contest with Notre Dame to reach the Sweet 16 after also delivering a blowout win in the Round of 64. Only one of five starters for the Red Raiders was with the team last and this group went 3-1 vs. Kansas and Baylor in the regular season.  This is the best defense in the nation in many measures and so far the Red Raiders have kept their turnover counts in check after having issues with turnovers in the season numbers. The offense is a below average 3-point shooting team but has tremendous size and scores inside at a very successful rate.  The non-conference schedule was one of the weakest paths in the nation however as the case that the defensive numbers could be overstated is valid for this team. Texas Tech was still the top defense in the top-rated conference this season however.  Next Up is #2 seed Duke Thursday in San Francisco. Midwest #11 Iowa State – defeated LSU (+3.5) 59-54, defeated Wisconsin (+4) 54-49 Iowa State is one of two #11 seeds to make the Sweet 16, relying on it defense to defeat LSU and Wisconsin in tight low-scoring games. The Cyclones are an amazing story as this was a 2-win team last season before T.J. Otzelberger transformed the roster, riding a 12-0 start as one of the great early season surprises.  In Big XII play the Cyclones were less successful and the offensive numbers were among the worst in the conference in many areas. Iowa State scored 59 and 54 points in its wins with marginal shooting rates. With a trapping defense Iowa State is a difficult team to prepare for, particularly on a short turnaround and the Cyclones caught a huge break in the Round of 32 as Wisconsin lost its point guard to injury early in the game.  Iowa State’s edge on defense may be less pronounced moving forward against a Miami squad with good quickness and elusive ball handlers, featuring on the lowest turnover rates in the nation. Kansas would be a potential draw in the Elite 8 and Iowa State lost both games in the regular season to the Jayhawks even with key players absent for Kansas.  Next Up is #10 seed Miami, FL Friday in Chicago.   Midwest #10 Miami, FL – defeated USC (+2) 68-66, defeated Auburn (+6.5) 79-61 Miami is a surprise third team in the Sweet 16 for the ACC after blasting #2 seed Auburn on Sunday following a Round of 64 escape against USC. The Hurricanes started 5-0 and wound up 14-6 in the ACC with a win at Duke likely critical in staying on the right side of the bubble.  Miami has a top 20 offensive efficiency rate with one of the lowest turnover rates in the nation and this was the second-best team in the ACC in 2-point success rate at over 55 percent. Miami only had three wins vs. tournament teams this season and went 0-4 vs. Virginia and Florida State, two of the better defensive teams in the ACC as this group can have off games, including suffering five home losses.  Miami’s defense was near the bottom in the ACC in effective field goal rate allowed and the Hurricanes faced a rather light ACC path this season. Jim Larranaga’s teams have not gone past the sweet 16 since he took over the program in 2011-12.  Next Up is #11 seed Iowa State Friday in Chicago.  East #4 Purdue – defeated Yale (-16.5) 78-56, defeated Texas (-3.5) 81-71 The Boilermakers were able to hold off Texas in a game with big swings Sunday to reach the Sweet 16, avoiding what could have been an 0-5 Sunday for the Big Ten. This is the sixth Sweet 16 appearance for Matt Painter, only advancing to the Elite 8 once in 2019.  Purdue as some of the top-rated offensive numbers in the nation led by future NBA draft pick Jaden Ivey while also possessing rare size with 7’4” Zach Edey. The Boilermakers have avenged a round of 64 loss last season with this run, though in the Round of 32 a lot went right for Purdue, handed a 46-12 edge in free throw attempts. Purdue did dominate the defensive glass in that game and will draw what would conventionally be considered the most favorable matchup in the Sweet 16.  Purdue’s defense is vulnerable, ranking ninth in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency while turnovers are a weak spot for the Boilermakers on both sides of the ball. Purdue was the worst free throw shooting team in the Big Ten at just 68 percent but delivered a slightly better success rate Sunday in the huge volume of opportunities.  Next Up is #15 seed Saint Peter’s Friday in Philadelphia.  South #1 Arizona – defeated Wright State (-22) 87-70, defeated TCU (-9.5) 85-80 Arizona is one of the Championship favorites after a brilliant first season under Tommy Lloyd. The Wildcats have been tested so far including needing an overtime escape Sunday night against TCU, surviving despite shooting below 20 percent on 3-point shots. Arizona’s talent is immense with size and length few teams can compete with. Benedict Mathurin is a star and a strong shooter all over the floor and this team is now 33-3, dominating a Pac-12 conference that made a lot of noise in last season’s tournament.  Arizona is one of the least experienced teams in the nation however with a first-year coach and no NCAA Tournament experience for the starting five with only a few reserves having token postseason minutes at other schools. The 3-point shooting and turnover numbers are not at an elite level for Arizona and the strength of the Pac-12 can be questioned with several teams declining from last season. Arizona will face a shorter turnaround than most this week going from the last game Sunday to playing Thursday with the move from San Diego to San Antonio, playing in the home state of its Sweet 16 opponent. This is a team with all the pieces to continue winning in March, but the group is a bit less proven than some of the other remaining contenders.  Next Up is #5 seed in Houston in San Antonio Thursday. 

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Early Look at the first Eight Sweet 16 Entrants

Sunday, Mar 20, 2022

Early Look at the first Eight Sweet 16 Entrants  Eight teams moved on to the Sweet 16 on Saturday with Round of 32 wins in another exciting day of the NCAA Tournament. Here is an early look at those eight teams heading on to new venues for the next contests Thursday and Friday.   East #8 North Carolina – defeated Marquette (-4) 95-63, defeated Baylor (+5.5) 93-86 OT The Tar Heels went 15-5 in an ACC conference that appears to have been undervalued. North Carolina took on four heavyweight non-conference games going 1-3 but saw the bar they needed to reach in a transition season under Hubert Davis. The Round of 32 win over Baylor was one of the wildest games in tournament history, filled with controversial calls as North Carolina needed overtime to win despite leading by 25 points with about 10 minutes to go.  For a team known for its size and rebounding under Roy Williams, this year’s team is an excellent 3-point and free throw shooting team, that takes good care of the ball. This was one of the fastest paced teams in the ACC and forcing turnovers and allowing 3-point success has been a weak spot.  Next up is UCLA in a pairing of prominent college basketball royalty on Friday in Philadelphia.  Midwest #1 Kansas – defeated Texas Southern (-21.5) 83-56, defeated Creighton (-13) 79-72 The Jayhawks tied for the Big XII title at 14-4 and won the Big XII tournament to land #1 seed in what many feel looked like the weakest of the four regions. The Jayhawks did not dominate in the Round of 32 however with Creighton within a point in the final two minutes as Kansas was tested even with good numbers across the board on Saturday. Kansas has all the components to be a serious championship contender, and this was the Big XII’s #1 3-point shooting team and #1 3-point defense, despite surrendering 12 3-point makes to Creighton. The Big XII graded as the #1 conference this season and Ocahi Agbaju was one of the top scorers in the nation to lead the team.  Kansas only had one major non-conference test and they lost badly at home to Kentucky. Kansas also lost a non-conference game to Dayton, and this has not been one of Bill Self’s best defensive teams. Self has a championship from 2008 and a Final Four in 2018 but there have been many more March disappointments for the program that is routinely a top seed.  Next up is Providence in a 1/4 pairing in Chicago on Friday.  South #11 Michigan – defeated Colorado State (-1.5) 75-63, defeated Tennessee (+7) 76-68 A team many felt didn’t deserve to be in the tournament, Michigan landed a favorable spot in the bracket and has made the most of it with a redemptive run to the Sweet 16 as a #11 seed. An inconsistent disappointment much of the season Michigan is one win away from matching last season’s Elite 8 run as a #1 seed.  7’1” Hunter Dickson proved to be a significant matchup advantage in the first two games for the Wolverines, backing up the Big Ten’s best 2-point scoring rate with 48 points so far in the tournament. Michigan is an excellent free throw shooting team and rebounding team as well. This is one of the lesser defensive teams remaining in the field as Michigan ranked 11th in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency. Point guard DeVante’ Jones did not play in the Round of 64 win but did return for 12 minutes on Saturday and should see a bigger role in the Sweet 16.  Next Up is the winner of the Ohio State/Villanova game in San Antonio.  East #4 UCLA – defeated Akron (-13.5) 57-53, defeated Saint Mary’s (-3) 72-56 After making a First Four to Final Four run last season UCLA lived up to elevated expectations with a strong season but the Round of 64 victory was a very close call. The Bruins had an excellent game on both sides of the ball Saturday to beat a dangerous Saint Mary’s team to return to the Sweet 16 and the path in the East region no longer includes the #1 or #2 seeds.  The Bruins had the #1 defense in the Pac-12 and the lowest turnover rate on offense. Five upperclassmen lead a tight rotation and the Bruins picked up wins over Villanova and Arizona this season despite having a few surprising losses in Pac-12 play.  UCLA does not have great depth and Jaime Jaquez left the Round of 32 game with an ankle injury to cast a shadow on the prospects for the Bruins. UCLA is not an elite shooting team as the offense can go through droughts, but this is a team that has a favorable opportunity ahead.   Next Up is North Carolina in a 4/8 pairing in Philadelphia Friday. Midwest #4 Providence – defeated South Dakota State (-2.5) 66-57, defeated Richmond (-3.5) 79-51 The Big East regular season champions had more than their share of narrow wins this season but despite being a popular fade in the opening round, the Friars moved on and wound up not having to face the Iowa team many penciled in for a deep tournament run.  Providence was the #1 3-point shooting team in the Big East and has made 20 3-point shots in its two tournament wins so far. Allowing 57 and 51 points in those wins has been an impressive showing for the Friars on defense after an uneven year defensively in Big East play, finishing seventh in the conference in defensive efficiency despite the best regular season record.  Providence rarely creates turnovers and can struggle to score inside, hitting just 48 percent in 2-point looks in the conference season. Wins over Wisconsin and Texas Tech early in the season grew in stature as the season went on and this is a 27-5 team, though three losses came by blowout margins. Next Up is the Midwest #1 seed Kansas in Chicago on Friday.  East #15 St. Peter’s – defeated Kentucky (+18) 85-79 OT, defeated Murray State (+8) 70-60.  The story of the tournament has been St. Peter’s who knocked off one of the tournament favorites on in the Round of 64 and like two of the previous three #15 seeds to win the opener, also won in the Round of 32. The Metro Atlantic tournament champions have now nine in a row with great defensive performances.  The season numbers for St. Peter’s offered little indication of this potential as while the defense has been solid, the offense has a very poor turnover rate and greatly struggled with interior scoring this season. St. Peter’s won against Kentucky despite a turnover and free throw deficit thanks to hitting 50 percent on 2-point shots and 53% on 3-point shots while holding its own in rebounding. The Peacocks did not shoot as well against Murray State but flipped the turnover and free throw advantages.  The ability to maintain that scoring clip will be very difficult for the Peacocks and now as one of the central stories of the tournament, the attention on the long layoff in-between games may not be helpful. It also seems likely that head coach Shaheen Holloway could return to his alma mater Seton Hall after this run, though heading to Philadelphia should provide a favorable atmosphere.  Next Up is the winner of the Purdue/Texas game in the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia.  West #4 Arkansas – defeated Vermont (-5) 75-71, defeated New Mexico State (-6.5) 53-48 Arkansas has provided tight games in almost every NCAA Tournament game under Eric Musselman, rallying back from big deficits in all three wins last season before running into Baylor in the Elite 8. This season Arkansas has been caught in tight finishes in defensive grinds but emerging with a pair of wins to reach the Sweet 16 while other top SEC teams have disappointed.  Arkansas has elite defensive numbers finishing with the top ranking on defense in the SEC. The Razorbacks force turnovers and are very difficult to score on inside even without presenting top tier size. The Razorbacks play at a relatively fast tempo and take good care of the ball while usually creating high percentage shots and getting to the free throw line frequently, where they were one of the better teams in the SEC. Arkansas can run into big stretches of offensive futility however and this is a very poor 3-point shooting team hitting below 31 percent. JD Notae brings great energy to the floor on both sides of the ball but routinely takes low percentage shots while only Stanley Umude presents a quality 3-point success rate. Umude is the second biggest player on the roster for Arkansas as he often needs to take on a challenging defensive responsibility. Arkansas is facing a bit more significant travel than most teams after playing in Buffalo last week.  Next Up is #1 seed Gonzaga in San Diego on Thursday.  West #1 Gonzaga – defeated Georgia State (-22.5) 93-72, defeated Memphis (-9.5) 82-78 Gonzaga is back in the Sweet 16 but it has not been easy for the #1 overall seed. Georgia State pushed the Bulldogs for 30 minutes in a tight opening game and Gonzaga barely got by Memphis, delivering a narrow comeback win after being down 10 at halftime.  Gonzaga did not have any close calls until the Final Four in last season’s run and the early tests could prove beneficial for the Bulldogs as few teams are likely to be as physically imposing as Memphis on the remaining path. Gonzaga will take some criticism for the shaky performances in Portland, but they also faced a pair of grossly under seeded teams. This team still has elite offensive numbers and still won despite shooting well below average from 3-point range in the first two games and having disastrous results at the free throw line.  Gonzaga has missed 25 free throws in the first two games of the tournament despite connecting at nearly 77% in the WCC season for an alarming decline. Gonzaga has also not come close to its 41 percent 3-point rate in the conference season while the defense has forced only 12 combined turnovers in two games. Gonzaga has a lot of room to play better but there have been enough red flags to question whether this team should still be considered a Final Four favorite.  Next Up is #4 seed Arkansas in San Diego on Thursday. 

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NCAA Tournament Bubble Prospects: Big Ten

Friday, Feb 25, 2022

Coming off a very disappointing NCAA Tournament last season the Big Ten will be in the spotlight again this season, projecting to lead the nation with as many as nine bids in the Big Dance depending on how the bubble lands.  Last season the Big Ten produced two #1 seeds and two #2 seeds, in effect holding four of the top eight spots in the nation at the start of the NCAA Tournament. Only one of those teams made it out of the opening weekend and the conference failed to produce a final four team. The Big Ten did display some depth as Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Maryland all won Round of 64 games from #9 or #10 seeds. Michigan State was a #11 seed in the First Four and lost a very close game to UCLA before the Bruins made an incredible run to the Final Four.  This year five Big Ten teams look certain to have spots in the NCAA Tournament at this point in the season (Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Iowa) while four more are likely to be on the right side of the bubble for the moment. The Big Ten will not likely have a #1 seed however and may not even earn a #2 seed depending on how the season shakes out as the overall strength of the conference is considerably lower than last season. The conference rating is the worst for the Big Ten since 2017-18, a season where the Big Ten produced only four NCAA Tournament teams. That season Michigan made it to the national championship game as a #3 seed however and there are teams in the Big Ten this year capable of making a similar run.  Here is a look at the four teams sitting on the edge of the bubble and the remaining paths they will face, as each has work to do the next two weeks and could face a high-pressure game(s) in Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament.  Michigan State: 18-9 overall, 9-7 Big Ten Best Wins: (N) Loyola-Chicago, (N) Connecticut, (A) Wisconsin, (H) Michigan Michigan State is in the field right now, projecting as high as a #7 seed but the Spartans are on a 1-5 slide in the past six games to fall from 8-2 in conference play to 9-7. The remaining schedule is very difficult facing three of the top teams in the conference in the next three games with two of those games on the road. A realistic scenario is the Spartans falling to 10-10 in conference play with a closing run of 2-8 in the final 10 games.  Michigan State’s inclusion in the field was a bit controversial last season but that group put together a 5-2 run to close the season including beating two teams that earned #1 seeds and a team that earned a #2 seed before losing its first Big Ten Tournament game. This year’s team doesn’t have that caliber of wins to fall back on unless they pick them up in the next two weeks. The best win of the Big Ten season came at Wisconsin and that was a bit of a fluke as Tyler Wahl didn’t play for the Badgers and the Spartans had a huge shooting and free throw edge.  Michigan State gets credit for playing Kansas and Baylor, but they lost those games by double-digits with uncompetitive second halves. Non-conference wins over Loyola-Chicago and Connecticut are helping the profile but the Big Ten path has bene favorable and losses to Northwestern and Penn State are blemishes. This year’s team has Tom Izzo’s worst defensive efficiency ranking since 2005-06 and this is the worst team in the Big Ten in turnovers on both sides of the ball as this has not been a typical year for the Spartans.  Rutgers: 16-11 overall, 10-7 Big Ten Best Wins: (H) Purdue, (H) Michigan, (H) Iowa, (H) Michigan State, (H) Ohio State, (A) Wisconsin, (H) Illinois Rutgers has some bad losses from November to work through and has had mixed results in the Big Ten season, losing to non-tournament contenders Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Maryland. The Scarlet Knights have put together several quality wins however to offset some of those misses and still a great shot to reach 12-8 in Big Ten play, a record that would make it tough to exclude them.  Five Big Ten teams are certain to make the field and Rutgers has defeated all five of those teams. Most of the wins came at home but Rutgers did win at Wisconsin to match Michigan State’s best current Big Ten win. Holding home court this weekend to sweep the Badgers would provide a big boost to the resume. After that game, Rutgers is at Indiana in a big bubble comparison game before a finale hosting Penn State. Winning two of the final three should be enough for Rutgers to stay on the right side of the bubble in most scenarios.  Early season losses to DePaul and Massachusetts on the road are damaging but the home loss to Lafayette just before Thanksgiving is the real sore spot for Rutgers. Rutgers did beat Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and has some of the best defensive numbers in the conference while also being a top three 3-point shooting team. Rutgers won its Round of 64 game as a #10 seed last March and had #2 seed and eventual Final Four team Houston on the ropes before a late collapse as this is a group that has shown it can play with anyone.  Michigan: 15-11 overall, 9-7 Big Ten Best Wins: (H) San Diego State, (A) Indiana, (H) Purdue, (A) Iowa  Michigan has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons after the incident in Madison last week, leading to Juwan Howard’s suspension for the rest of the regular season. Michigan picked up a big win hosting Rutgers on Wednesday in a key battle of likely bubble teams, offsetting a loss at Rutgers from earlier in the Big Ten season. The Wolverines are still trending upward late in the season going 8-4 in the past 12 games including wins over Purdue and Iowa, but the remaining schedule is difficult. Michigan is at home for three of the final four regular season games, but they draw Illinois, Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State in those games as finishing 10-10 in the Big Ten might be a realistic outcome. Michigan doesn’t have any terrible losses with defats against Minnesota and UCF being the worst, but the only non-conference wins of note came against UNLV and San Diego State. Michigan also doesn’t have the depth of quality wins in conference play of some of the other Big Ten teams, getting two wins against Nebraska among the current nine in the win column.  Head-to-head wins in the only meetings with Indiana and Rutgers could be critical for the Wolverines but they also may need to even the series with rival Michigan State next week. Michigan is going to need a strong finish to the season to stay on the right side of the bubble, likely needing to win at least two of four in a very difficult closing two weeks before the Big Ten tournament, even while dealing with the recent drama while now being led by Phil Martelli.  Indiana: 17-10 overall, 8-9 Big Ten Best Wins: (N) Notre Dame, (H) Ohio State, (H) Purdue  Indiana broke a five-game slide this week beating Maryland at home and the Hoosiers may need to win out to hold a NCAA Tournament spot, barring a great Big Ten tournament run. Indiana has only two wins against Big Ten teams that will make the tournament and while Notre Dame is one of the ACC contenders, the Irish don’t even qualify as a top 50 team in the win column as the best win from a very weak non-conference schedule.  Indiana has lost several close games and has a well-regarded defense but even through one of the weakest paths in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers are still below .500. Upcoming games against Minnesota and Rutgers will be critical for Indiana unless they can upset Purdue for a second time this season in the regular season finale.  Six of eight Big Ten wins for Indiana came against Maryland, Nebraska, Penn State, and Minnesota as there is not much quality depth in the win column but they did defeat both Ohio State and Purdue in Bloomington for two high-end results that are currently stronger than the top two Big Ten wins for either Michigan State or Michigan.  Indiana last made the NCAA Tournament in 2015-16, delivering a Sweet 16 run as it has been a long absence for the storied program. With the top-rated defense in the Big Ten the Hoosiers are capable of a March run. Mike Woodson’s team has rarely looked out of place in tough games but having double-digits losses may be difficult to overcome. Getting a head-to-head win vs. Rutgers next week in the home finale will be critically important to keeping hopes alive for a bid. 

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NCAA Tournament Bubble Prospects: ACC

Monday, Feb 21, 2022

The ACC has sent seven teams to each of the past two NCAA Tournaments and had nine in the field in both 2017 and 2018. The conference has fallen in stature in a big way this season as many projections call for five or fewer teams making the bracket this year. Here is a look at the remaining path and prospects for the ACC squads that are likely to land near the bubble on Selection Sunday.  Duke is really the only ACC team firmly in the NCAA Tournament field right now, projecting as a likely #2 seed at 23-4. While three of the final four are on the road for Duke to close the regular season, it is a reasonable path as the Blue Devils look likely to hold that line. It would take quite a lot for Duke to climb to the #1 line in the current projection as the Blue Devils are currently much closer to a #3 spot than a #1.  Beyond Duke there are only five other teams with winning records in ACC play (as of Feb. 21) as the powerhouse basketball conference may have another quiet March. Last season only two of seven ACC teams in the field won their first games with Florida State and Syracuse reaching the Sweet 16 for the best performances. No ACC team was seeded better than a #4 last season however as Duke is capable of being in a better position and would likely land a favorable Greenville placement for its opening game(s). Here are seven ACC teams on a generous consideration of the current NCAA Tournament bubble.  Notre Dame: Second place in the ACC belongs to Notre Dame for the moment, even after last week’s loss to Wake Forest. Mike Brey’s team has delivered a great turnaround from starting the season 4-5 but there is not a great margin for error for the Irish. The home win over Kentucky in December continues to provide a huge boost to the profile but that is one of only two top 50 caliber wins all season. The ACC schedule for Notre Dame has been favorable and will continue to be favorable as the Irish should be in a safe position projecting to finish with at least 14 wins, which would clearly warrant inclusion in the field.  Miami, FL: The Hurricanes have been a surprise performer in the ACC reaching 11-5 with four games to go. With games against Pittsburgh and Boston College remaining, a 13-win ACC campaign should be enough to keep the Hurricanes on the right side of the cut line. Miami did not accomplish many noteworthy wins in the non-conference schedule, but this team has quality wins in ACC play at Duke and at Virginia Tech, home against North Carolina, and sweeping Wake Forest. They were swept by both Florida State and Virginia but ultimately winning at Duke is likely to carry enough weight for the Hurricanes barring a major collapse.  Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have one of the weakest non-conference profiles in the nation as this is a squad that could be more at risk of falling out of the field than some of the others on this list. Wake Forest went 11-1 in non-conference play but lost by 14 against LSU in the most meaningful contest. Overtime wins over Oregon State and Northwestern don’t carry as much weight as they did earlier in the season and the 11-6 ACC record is a bit empty, with the only notable results being home wins over North Carolina and Notre Dame plus a road win at Virginia Tech in the December ACC opener. The win over the Irish last weekend was a huge result that likely keeps Wake Forest in the field but avoiding multiple losses in a favorable three-game stretch to close the season would be advised.  North Carolina: The Tar Heels took on a heavyweight schedule but the only win in an early season quartet facing Purdue, Tennessee, Michigan, and Kentucky, came against the Wolverines team that is also bound for the bubble as one of the nation’s biggest disappointments. A sweep of Virginia Tech is really all the success the Tar Heels can point to in an 11-5 ACC path through a favorable conference schedule. North Carolina is 0-4 against the teams above them on this list but they will get a rematch opportunity against Duke in the regular season finale. Getting to 14-6 in ACC play without beating Duke would be enough for the Tar Heels in most scenarios but a slip-up in an upcoming game against Louisville, NC State, or Syracuse could be damaging.  Virginia Tech: The metrics like the Hokies better than a casual glance at the resume would as the Hokies get credit for a solid non-conference path even without winning any of the important games while producing a few lopsided wins vs. similar caliber teams has helped the cause. The current form with a 6-1 run in the past seven games has Mike Young’s team trending upward but three of the final four in the regular season are on the road including toss-up games with Miami and Clemson. The offensive efficiency for the Hokies is impressive but only one win has come against a team that would earn an at-large tournament spot, beating Notre Dame at home in January. With the possible exception of losing at Boston College, there aren’t bad losses for the Hokies, but there are 11 and counting as this squad feels like a group that will have plenty of reasons for exclusion unless they put together a very strong finish.  Virginia: The Cavaliers are not a NCAA Tournament team right now, but the case could get there if they are able to beat Duke for a second time this week. Virginia has a solid 11-6 record in ACC play including the road win at Duke plus four other ACC road wins. Sweeping Miami is also a positive boost on the resume depending on where the Hurricanes wind up in the final standings. Virginia also won at Syracuse for a head-to-head trump card against another potential bubble team. The ACC record includes going 4-0 vs. Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Georgia Tech and Virginia will have a hard time overcoming multiple bad losses, falling in the season opener vs. Navy and at James Madison, in addition to dropping an ACC game at NC State.  Syracuse: The Orange under Jim Boeheim routinely weasel their way on to the bubble with enough quality wins to offset a high loss count. The path is there for a similar outcome for Syracuse this season, and last year after barely being included the Orange were able to win two games. 5-1 in the past six, Syracuse is trending upward and while the final four games on the schedule are all difficult, it will provide the quality Syracuse may need. The big fish will be the home game with Duke next weekend before closing with games against North Carolina and Miami, as getting to 12-8 through remaining path would make a compelling case. Syracuse has three losses to teams outside the top 100 right now and while the non-conference schedule was challenging, the only notable win over Indiana has diminished in value of late.  The ACC is having a rough season overall and hopes for a swan song campaign for Coach K’s final run may be the conference’s best path to having a team make a deep March run. There are a few teams trending upward down the stretch that could have a chance to climb into the field, however. Meaningful action with the season on the line could provide good experience to propel one of those teams to be tournament-ready, hoping to deliver an upset or two from a #9-#10 seed line where several ACC teams currently project to land. 

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BIG XII Hoops Risers and Fallers

Saturday, Jan 29, 2022

BIG XII HOOPS RISERS AND FALLERS The Big XII has been one of the toughest and deepest conferences in college basketball in recent years and contains the defending national champion. The Big XII has had a final four team in four of the past five tournaments and several teams have the credentials to make a big run this season. As February approaches, here are three teams likely to climb and three teams that could fall from its current placement in the standings.  BIG XII RISERS OKLAHOMA (3-5): The Sooners have had a difficult start to conference play and three of the team’s five losses have come against Baylor and Kansas. Oklahoma didn’t look out of place in any of those games and while it has been an expected transition season for Porter Moser, the shooting numbers are excellent, and this is a top 20 defense nationally. The sooners will face highly ranked Auburn this weekend before a pair of winnable games in league play. There are still several difficult games remaining for Oklahoma, but this group is likely better than its current record, sitting with two overtime losses and with numbers that could improve down the stretch.  IOWA STATE (3-5): T. J. Otzelberger is a prime Coach of the Year candidate with Iowa State 15-5 after he inherited a team that finished 2-22 last season under Steve Prohm. There were several high-quality wins in the non-conference season but in Big XII play Iowa State has struggled with five losses already. The wins have been quality results however and they have already lost to the top two teams in the conference with a five-point loss to Baylor and a one-point loss to Kansas. Two games each with Kansas State and West Virginia remain in the Big XII path and this has been a top 10 defense nationally as the Cyclones will be tough to pull away from.  OKLAHOMA STATE (3-5): The Cowboys have a win at Baylor this season for a result that commands a lot of respect and the past two Big XII losses came by five on the road while allowing only 56 points, and by three in overtime. They still have three games remaining against the bottom two teams in the conference and this is an elite defensive team for Mike Boynton with some of the best numbers in the conference. Bryce Williams has missed the past two losses for Oklahoma State with ankle injury and his eventual return should provide a boost for the Cowboys to climb to at least a .500 finish in league play.  BIG XII FALLERS BAYLOR (6-2): Casual fans will assume Baylor is on a similar trajectory to last season but this group lacks the great backcourt play of last season and the current injury for James Akinjo could lead to some inconsistency in the coming weeks. Baylor’s two conference losses both came at home and there are several high-quality defensive teams in the conference that can stall the Baylor offense. While Baylor has a top seven grade in efficiency on both sides of the ball nationally, they are not #1 in the Big XII in either, while currently #4 on defense. The non-conference schedule proved to be incredibly weak for the Bears overall and the 6-2 Big XII start has already included half of the wins coming against TCU, West Virginia, and Kansas State. Baylor is a serious threat to win the conference again but a few more losses are likely on the way.  TEXAS (5-3): Chris Beard has taken Texas to 15-5 in his first season since moving up from Texas Tech. The defensive numbers are excellent, but Texas played the nation’s 354th ranked non-conference schedule to pad the numbers. The 5-3 start has not featured a win against any of the top three teams in the Big XII yet as Texas has not played Baylor, Kansas, or Texas Tech yet, meaning six of the team’s final ten conference games will be against that elite trio. Needless to say, several losses for the Longhorns are ahead and this group could possibly fall to the middle of the pack in the conference standings.  TCU (3-3): Most power ratings call TCU the worst team in the conference, yet TCU is in fifth place in the current standings with a .500 record through an abbreviated early-season schedule. TCU has some of its best remaining opportunities in the next two weeks, but the late season schedule is brutally difficult as they will play Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech, and Kansas five times in six games starting in late February. Six Big XII road games remain for TCU and seven games vs. top 20 caliber teams are still ahead with TCU posting zero such wins on its current 13-4 resume. In Big XII play TCU is last in offensive efficiency, turnovers, and free throws as the Horned Frogs could crash to the bottom of the league by early March. 

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SEC Hoops Risers and Fallers

Tuesday, Jan 25, 2022

SEC HOOPS RISERS AND FALLERS The SEC is a deep quality conference this college basketball season with several teams that have the potential make a big run in March. After Auburn on top of the standings, 11 teams have between two and four losses for a tightly packed group in the early season standings. Here is a look at teams likely to rise and fall in the SEC over the next few weeks.  SEC RISERS TENNESSEE (4-3): The Volunteers have elite defensive numbers and only have losses vs. top SEC teams on the road in a 4-3 start. The remaining five SEC road games are all against weaker teams than the three teams that have defeated Tennessee in SEC play so far. The Vols also draw top ranked Auburn only once this season and that game is in Knoxville at the end of February, as are most of the remaining difficult games on Tennessee’s schedule. Currently tied for fifth place in the SEC standings, this looks like a team that will finish in the top four.  LSU (3-4): The Tigers have lost three consecutive games, but two of those three games have been road games vs. top tier squads. LSU still has the #1 defensive efficiency in the nation and the Tigers have battled through a truly difficult SEC schedule so far this season. Incredibly, each team that LSU will face in the next seven SEC games is a weaker team than every team LSU has faced so far in its 3-4 conference start. It would not be a shock if LSU went from 3-4 to 10-4 or 9-5 before facing Kentucky in late February in a big late season rematch.  MISSOURI (2-4): At 8-10 overall the Tigers aren’t even in the NCAA Tournament conversation right now, but this is a team that could climb closer to that picture in the coming weeks while holding one of the toughest strength of schedule ratings in the nation. Missouri has a notable SEC win over Alabama and had faced elite SEC teams in its three road losses in league play. Losing badly at Kentucky and at Arkansas early in the SEC weighs on the numbers but after facing Auburn this week, the Tigers have a nice path in early February with winnable games for three weeks straight. The past nine losses for Missouri have been vs. top 100 teams including non-conference losses to Kansas and Illinois as the numbers, particularly in 3-point shooting, should improve in the coming weeks.  SEC FALLERS KENTUCKY (5-2): The Wildcats didn’t hold up in last week’s big showdown at Auburn and while Kentucky will be favored to get to 7-2 in the next two SEC games, it is likely going to be a difficult February in Lexington. The defensive numbers remain mediocre for this team and this season’s non-conference schedule was much weaker than usual for the program with only one notable win over North Carolina. Only one of the first five wins in SEC play for Kentucky has come against a likely contender while the gauntlet of consecutive quality games on the schedule in the middle of February is likely to take a toll on this group. Kentucky won’t have to play Auburn again but the schedule features two meetings each with Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and LSU this season.  MISSISSIPPI STATE (4-2): The Bulldogs have a nice 4-2 record in SEC play, but they have already faced rival Ole Miss twice and lost one of those games. They do have home wins over Arkansas and Alabama but four of six games in SEC play have been in Starkville and they have already played the only meeting with last place Georgia. Mississippi State will be in an underdog in five of the next six SEC games as it will be a shock if the Bulldogs reach mid-February above .500. This squad has played one of the weakest schedules of any team in the conference as there are no quality non-conference wins to suggest that this group can maintain a position as a SEC contender.  TEXAS A&M (4-2): The Aggies may be having a breakthrough season for Buzz Williams, or more likely they have made the most of a favorable early path in conference play. Texas A&M started 4-0 in SEC play but a narrow home win over Arkansas is the only high-quality result and three of four SEC wins have been by five or fewer points. The Aggies have terrible free throw shooting numbers and will face top tier SEC teams in four of the next six games as going from 4-2 to 6-6 is likely for the Aggies. 

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AFC Futures Snapshot

Friday, Dec 31, 2021

AFC FUTURES SNAPSHOT With two weeks left in the NFL regular season the playoff picture still has plenty of question marks. Here is a look at the futures market in the AFC with a few possible opportunities to consider this week.  OVERVALUED: BUFFALO BILLS +350 Few teams have seen as large of swings in the futures market this season as Buffalo has spent time as the Super Bowl favorite but also not long ago was on the edge of the AFC playoff picture. Buffalo is back in front of the AFC East but this team has not resembled the team that had a huge run last season to make the AFC Championship. While Buffalo beat Kansas City earlier this season they are unlikely to catch the Chiefs in the race for the #1 spot and will need to go through a formidable foe in the AFC playoffs to get another shot at Kansas City, with the Chiefs looking like a much better team than in October. Buffalo has great scoring numbers but that figure was inflated with shutout wins over Miami and Houston vs. backup quarterbacks, accounting for a 75-point swing.  UNDERVALUED: TENNESSEE TITANS +900 The Titans look likely to finish as the #2 seed in the AFC but this team has the best record in the NFL vs. quality teams, going 7-2 vs. the top half of the league while 6-1 vs. the league’s top 10. The return of A.J. Brown is incredibly impactful for the potential of the offense and this team was in the AFC Championship just two years ago as there is strong playoff experience for the Titans coaching staff and several key players. The Titans have featured a strong home field edge at 6-2 and while they would certainly be an underdog in Kansas City if these teams met in the AFC Championship, the Titans turned in a dominant 27-3 win vs. the Chiefs earlier this season and are a squad that continues to beat its suspect season statistics to lurk as a complete squad that can win against more conventionally impressive teams.  LONG SHOT – Los Angeles Chargers +2200 The Week 16 loss to Houston was a devastating result for the Chargers that for the moment knocked the team out of the AFC field. The AFC North teams are going to knock each other out in some fashion however while Miami has a very difficult closing path as there is still a good opportunity for Los Angeles to make the playoffs, closing the season with winnable division games against Denver and Las Vegas. The Chargers have played the league’s #5 schedule, a tougher path than likely any team that will make the playoffs this season. In his second season Justin Herbert has been one of the top rated quarterbacks in the NFL and with a win and a tough overtime loss vs. Kansas City, the Chargers are likely the team best suited to knock off the defending AFC champions if they get the opportunity.  

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NFC Futures Snapshot

Friday, Dec 31, 2021

NFC FUTURES SNAPSHOT With two weeks left in the NFL regular season the playoff picture still has plenty of question marks. Here is a look at the futures market in the NFC with a few possible opportunities to consider this week.  OVERVALUED: GREEN BAY PACKERS +200 The Packers are in line to be the #1 seed in the NFC but that is the role they were in last season. While this team is a serious threat for a third straight NFC Championship trip, Green Bay has been blown out in that game the past two seasons. While Aaron Rodgers is likely to win another MVP this season, last season he led the #1 scoring offense and #2 total offense in the NFL. This year’s team is #13 in scoring and #15 in total offense and the defense for Green Bay has been among the very worst in the NFL in recent weeks even while facing the likes of Justin Fields, Tyler Huntley, and Baker Mayfield.  UNDERVALUED: DALLAS COWBOYS +500 If Dallas wins out and Green Bay loses one game, Dallas will be the #1 seed in the NFC, a not so improbable scenario given that Minnesota is playing for its postseason life this week and has won back-to-back meetings with the Packers. Dallas is the NFL’s #1 scoring offense and #1 total offense this season for a profile much more consistent with a potential championship team than Green Bay, or even last year’s Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, currently priced at +300. Dallas has faced a weaker schedule than the other NFC contenders but is 5-2 vs. the top half of the league, the best record of any NFC team (Green Bay 4-3, Tampa Bay 5-3, LA Rams 4-4).  LONG SHOT: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS +1600 Only Tampa Bay has more wins vs. the top 10 in the league than San Francisco and this is a great pricing window on the 49ers with the current injury news on Jimmy Garoppolo while the 49ers are coming off a loss to still sit without a playoff spot confirmed. The 49ers play Houston this week as this is going to be a wild card team and the finale with the Rams may not be a meaningful game for Los Angeles depending on how things shake out this week. San Francisco’s scoring differential is only 13 points worse than Green Bay’s and the 49ers have a 5-3 record on the road this season. With two NFC West teams already in the playoffs the 49ers would have a good chance of facing a familiar foe in the postseason and this team has battled injuries all season as its full potential has not been reached yet. 

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NCAA Basketball Rankings: Overrated/Underrated

Monday, Nov 29, 2021

NCAA Basketball Rankings: Overrated/Underrated While the college football rankings will provide endless debate in the next week, it is time to start dissecting the college basketball rankings now that most teams have a few meaningful games under their belts. Here is a look at a few teams checking in a bit too high and a few teams that may be underrated at the end November in the current AP Poll.  POSSIBLY OVERRATED: #2 Purdue: The Boilermakers have wins over North Carolina and Villanova but those results may not be quite what those program’s reputations suggest at least at this point in the season. North Carolina is in a major transition season and lost by 17 to Tennessee the day after giving Purdue a good test. That game was very tight late despite the nine-point final, even with the Tar Heels missing one of their top players. Purdue’s win over Villanova featured an epic comeback in the final nine minutes with hot 3-point shooting while Villanova uncharacteristically shot 53 percent on free throws. Purdue will be a good team this year but a loss or two in December looks possible with five top 100 games upcoming as this is not a team that is going to create separation in a tough top tier of the Big Ten.  #10 Arkansas: The Razorbacks are 6-0 but without a top 50 win and they struggled vs. Cincinnati in their most difficult game so far this season, winning by six but trailing in the final minutes. Arkansas was handed a 32-13 edge in free throws in that game for a fortunate result in Kansas City. Arkansas could wind up 12-0 before the SEC season as the schedule is incredibly weak outside of a game with Oklahoma in early December. Eric Musselman’s team made the Elite 8 last season but wasn’t far from being eliminated in each of the first three games last March as some of his game management has been questionable. The starting five is very small by major conference standards with the addition of Miami transfer Chris Lykes and this team has shot below 30 percent on 3-point shots this season.  #17 Connecticut: The Huskies finished 15-8 last season before being bounced in the Round of 64 as a #7 seed. This year’s team is 6-1 but the only meaningful wins were both overtime results, beating Auburn in double-OT and VCU in OT while going 2-1 in the Bahamas. So far this season Connecticut has shot more than five percent better from 3-point range compared to last season and has been a big beneficiary of turnovers, something that isn’t typical of Dan Hurley defense. The Huskies could climb further with two light games this week but tests vs. West Virginia and St. Bonaventure lurk as difficult games ahead of the Big East season.  #19 Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up two double-digit wins in Brooklyn last week surprising Xavier and Memphis to reach 6-0. Iowa State also beat Oregon State early in the season for a promising start for T.J. Otzelberger in his first season with the program, coming from UNLV. Two wins have been against teams outside the top 300 however and the offensive numbers have been marginal for this group. Iowa State had 33 free throw attempts for a big edge vs. Memphis and shot 50 percent from 3-point range vs. Xavier, things that are not likely to be repeated often for this group that is still in a significant transition season.  POSSIBLY UNDERRATED:  #15 Houston: One loss has bumped the Cougars down in the rankings despite five top 150 caliber wins including likely top 50 results against Virginia and Oregon. Houston has endured a tough non-conference path and simply got caught in Las Vegas with a red-hot shooting game from Wisconsin, who won the Maui Invitational. Houston shot 53 percent from the line in that game and was out of sync on offense but still nearly rallied for an epic comeback, losing by just two despite trailing by 20 at halftime. This squad has the makings of a team capable of another Final Four run and they will have a prominent opportunity to show it playing at Alabama next week.  #20 USC: Evan Mobley is impossible to replace but Isaiah Mobley has done his part while Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis joins a veteran roster with great size. Free throw shooting has been an adventure this season, but the Trojans are 6-0 with only two home games. The only high-quality win was a 15-point win over San Diego State with a dominant defensive performance. USC may be overshadowed in Los Angeles with UCLA’s Final Four run and early season win over Villanova, but it won’t be a surprise if USC is ahead of UCLA in the Pac-12 standings by the end of the season. The Trojans have a favorable pair of games to open the conference season and should be in good form before the tougher games on the schedule hit in late December and early January.  Unranked Illinois: The Illini have started just 4-2 but this team should not be discounted as a Big Ten and national contender again this season. Kofi Cockburn’s three-game suspension was well publicized but four other regular contributors have missed time as Brad Underwood has had six different starting lineups in six games. The ACC Challenge, two Big Ten games, and a big game with Arizona are the next four games on the schedule as Illinois will have an opportunity to deliver a few quality wins and once the roster issues are sorted out this team still has a very high ceiling.  Unranked Louisville: The Cardinals are getting penalized for a loss at home to Furman in early November. That game was an overtime game where Furman had a big edge at the line and made 12 3-point shots. Furman has been an elite Southern Conference team for the past four years under Bob Richey and the Paladins nearly beat Cincinnati and Alabama in early season action last year, while beating Villanova in November 2018. Louisville has two top 50 wins away from home with decisive results in the Bahamas and they should provide Michigan State a test this week. Overall, the non-conference path is quite tough for the Cardinals relative to their ACC peers as this group may be underrated ahead of the conference season. 

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Big Ten Draw in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Friday, Nov 26, 2021

Big Ten Draw in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge  After the chaos of the Thanksgiving week tournaments, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge provides compelling matchups next week in this year’s 14-game draw. A reliable event of interest that often signals the start of the college basketball season in earnest, here is a quick look at this season’s pairings from the Big Ten perspective for games Monday, Nov. 29 to Wednesday, Dec. 1.  Monday Iowa at Virginia: Iowa has quietly started the season 5-0 after being in the headlines a lot last season in an uneven 22-9 season that ended abruptly with a Round of 32 blowout loss to Oregon as a #2 seed. Sophomore Keegan Murray leads this year’s team and Iowa remains one of the highest scoring teams in the nation. This will be a big test however as the Hawkeyes have had a very light early-season schedule and are yet to play a road game. The line on this game will likely be near-even as Iowa’s offense will face the usually elite Virginia defense.  CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 50% Notre Dame at Illinois: Illinois has already lost twice this season while the roster has been in flux in several games with a few injuries and the suspension for the first three games for Kofi Cockburn. The Illini entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the overall favorites last March but lost in the Round of 32 for a disappointing finish. Ayo Dosunmu is in the NBA now but there is still a strong roster in place for Brad Underwood. Turnovers and free throw shooting have been problem spots for Illinois so far this season as the defense has held up its end but the offense has been hard to count on. Losses away from home to Marquette and Cincinnati are not overly damaging but the Illini are a risk to continue to be overvalued: CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 75% Tuesday Clemson at Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were a Round of 32 NCAA Tournament team last year just like Iowa and Illinois but Rutgers will have a hard time living down the collapse against Houston, the team that eventually made the Final Four after delivering a great comeback to beat the Knights. Rob Harper and Geo Baker are familiar leaders for Rutgers this season but the 3-2 start has offered plenty of concern, with losses to DePaul and Lafayette. Rutgers has shot below 25 percent from 3-point range so far this season as the offense has really struggled. Clemson has had some up-and-downs as well but the losses came in close games to much better teams than Rutgers lost to. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 45% Duke at Ohio State: Ohio State may have a bit of a break in this scheduling as Duke will be coming off Friday’s huge national game with Gonzaga in Las Vegas before traveling to Columbus. Ohio State was upset in the Round of 64 as a #2 seed in one of many failures for the conference last March. The Buckeyes have EJ Liddell back and he has been among the most productive players in the nation so far. Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler also joins the starting five along with freshman Malaki Branham as the Buckeyes have some questions to answer still this season. Ohio State is 4-2 with a nice win over Seton Hall but two narrow losses away from home to top 40 caliber teams. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 45% Florida State at Purdue: Purdue has started the season 5-0 with notable wins over North Carolina and Villanova in close games in Connecticut in the Hall of Fame Classic. The offense has tremendous numbers this season including scoring at least 80 points in every game and all five wins have been top 200 foes. The depth and size for Purdue will attract some attention for the Boilermakers to be among the Big Ten favorites this season. Purdue won’t draw a top ACC contender in this pairing but Florida State beat Purdue two years ago in non-conference play and the Boilermakers lost to Miami in this event last season. Florida State will be one of the few teams with a size edge against Purdue and the 5-1 start has featured good defensive numbers so far. RayQuan Evans missed the last game for Florida State and will impact the number on this game. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 80% Minnesota at Pittsburgh: The Gophers are quietly 5-0 under new head coach Ben Johnson. The schedule has not been difficult with no top 100 results but that won’t change this week drawing a Pitt squad sitting towards the bottom of the ACC. This is almost a completely different team from last season as Eric Curry is the long holdover in the starting lineup as Johnson has filled the roster with transfers from all over the country. The offensive efficiency has not been as strong as last season’s team so far but the defense has made some noise with most strong performances. 5-0 could swing the other quickly for this group with Mississippi State next weekend plus starting the Big Ten season with Michigan State and Michigan in the first two games. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 55% Indiana at Syracuse: In what was a great season for the Big Ten last year outside of the NCAA Tournament results, Indiana struggled falling far from its typical place as one of the prominent programs in the conference. Archie Miller’s fifth season in Bloomington should draw elevated expectations and this was a competitive game that had three overtime losses last season, including losing to Florida State on the road in this event. ACC transfer Xavier Johnson is now the leader of this team as this is a rather inexperienced group but the Hoosiers have started the season 5-0 including a win over St. John’s. This game is going to be the first road game of the season however. Syracuse has drawn a tough path and has two losses already but this has been an excellent shooting team and is always a challenge to play. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 50% Northwestern at Wake Forest: The Wildcats were 9-15 last season for Chris Collins and only returns two starters with a couple of transfers out of Evanston. So far so good for the Wildcats however with a 5-1 start and the only loss coming in a close game with Providence away from home. Heading to Wake Forest is a manageable draw for the Wildcats as Wake Forest has started 5-0 but through an incredibly weak schedule under Steve Forbes. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 55% Wednesday Wisconsin at Georgia Tech: The Badgers had a huge Thanksgiving week, delivering three excellent wins to win the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas, including the notable upset over Houston. Johnny Davis had a star-making tournament and he missed the only loss for Wisconsin, a five-point home defeat to Providence. As usual the defense has been excellent and Wisconsin takes good care of the ball, while being an exceptional free throw shooting team so far this season. Georgia Tech has won five straight since losing the season opener but none of the wins offer great substance with the only top 200 win coming against Georgia. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 55% Louisville at Michigan State: The Spartans have had five top 100 games already as while the 5-2 record has been a slight disappointment, the defeats have come against Kansas and Baylor, elite national title contenders. Wins over Loyola-Chicago and Connecticut are quality results and the Spartans have featured a top tier defense so far this season. 3-point shooting has been a problem as have turnovers for this veteran roster joined by freshman Max Christie. Louisville had a nice win over Mississippi State on Thanksgiving and this will be a second straight Big Ten foe after facing Maryland over the weekend.  CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 75% Miami at Penn State: Penn State has its first big test coming up facing LSU before this game as the Nittany Lions lost to Massachusetts in its only noteworthy early season game. Micah Shrewsberry is the team’s new coach coming from Purdue and with NBA experience as an assistant with the Celtics for several years. The roster from last season mostly was retained as Penn State is one of the most experienced teams in the nation filled with upperclassmen. Miami has had mixed results and is a bit of a wild card at this point and 3-point shooting has been a problem sot on both sides of the ball. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 65% Michigan at North Carolina: The Wolverines have two losses already and only one top 100 win as it has been a shaky start for the Wolverines against very high expectations. Michigan has top 15 efficiency numbers on both sides of the ball as the losses were puzzling. 3-point shooting and free throw shooting have been poor so far for Michigan and turnovers have been an issue as newcomers Caleb Houstan and DeVante’ Jones try to fit into the lineup. North Carolina lacks any win of substance but the Tar Heels played Purdue very tough in a non-conference loss. Hubert Davis leads the Tar Heels now and his players are finding good looks with strong shooting rates so far. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 65% Nebraska at NC State: Fred Hoiberg’s first two seasons in Lincoln have not been successful but this year’s team is already halfway to last season’s win count. None of those wins were top 200 results and Nebraska has a loss outside the top 200. 3-point shooting has been very poor for the Huskers so far but the rest of the offensive numbers offer some promise with three newcomers joining the starting five this season. There is good size on this team but it is a young group without much experience playing together. NC State didn’t make the NCAA Tournament last season but should be a threat this season. The only loss came in a close game vs. Oklahoma State as this could be an overlooked team in the ACC for Kevin Keatts. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 30% Virginia Tech at Maryland: Mark Turgeon’s team has back-to-back ACC draws as this game comes after facing Louisville in the Bahamas. Maryland has struggled with its outside shooting through a rather easy non-conference path but this is a top 50 team nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency. The loss came at home against George Mason and this will be a difficult draw even with home court advantage. Mike Young’s Virginia Tech team is a tough matchup and the 3-point shooting numbers on both sides of the ball sharply favor the Hokies. The Hokies are coming off tournament play in Brooklyn for a taxing week on the road to help Maryland’s cause. CHANCE OF BIG TEN WIN: 50% The Big Ten should be favored in eight of 14 games in this event and with a few other toss-up games the chances for the conference to win the series is high. The Big Ten has won the even the past two seasons going 7-5 last year and 8-6 in 2019 but the ACC has had the overall edge since the event started in 1999. The Big Ten has seen a few of its high profile teams disappoint so far but the matchups appear to favor the Big Ten this week.     

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November Paths for Five NFC Contenders

Friday, Oct 29, 2021

Week 8 of the NFL season started with a huge Thursday night clash in the NFC as the Packers narrowly held off the Cardinals in a battle of top NFC contenders. Five teams have created separation in the NFC as top conference title threats, here is a look at the November paths for those teams as the potential playoff bracket is starting to come into form.  These teams are listed in the current standings as of 10/29/2021 Green Bay Packers (+450 to win the NFC as of 10/29/21) Green Bay is 7-1 and on top of the NFC standings after knocking off the league’s final undefeated team on Thursday night in Week 8. The Packers also earned the head-to-head tiebreaker with Arizona in pursuit of earning the top seed in the NFC for a second consecutive season. Winning while short-handed was a great result for Green Bay, now winners of seven straight games since the opening loss to the Saints but Green Bay has the weakest scoring differential of the top threats in the NFC and will have a difficult November path.  The Packers will have an extended turnaround ahead of Week 9 after the early game in Week 8, but they will head to Kansas City next for a difficult game, even if the Chiefs have been vulnerable this season. Green Bay catches a break in Week 10 as a potentially difficult home game with Seattle seems likely to be without Russell Wilson, although some are suggesting his timetable could be moved up. A huge division game at Minnesota is ahead in Week 11 while on Thanksgiving weekend the Packers host the Rams before a Week 13 bye week. A 2-2 November might be considered an acceptable result for Green Bay with some of the season’s most difficult games ahead in the next few weeks.  Arizona Cardinals (+550 to win the NFC as of 10/29/21) Falling from the ranks of the unbeaten was a tough result for Arizona last week, particularly given the golden opportunity to escape with a win that was there in the final minute last week vs. Green Bay. Given how difficult the NFC West was projected to be this season, any Cardinals fan must still be thrilled that the team is 7-1, a year after finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs entirely last season. The Cardinals have the top scoring differential in the NFC and while there are wins over Houston and Jacksonville included to boost the numbers, Arizona has road wins over Tennessee, the LA Rams, and Cleveland as this is not an empty 7-1 resume.  The Cardinals have two difficult division games remaining in November but playing at San Francisco and at Seattle no longer looks quite as difficult as expected. Russell Wilson could be back for the Seahawks in time for that Week 11 game but with a home game with Carolina in Week 10, the next three weeks are a very manageable path for the Cardinals as moving back ahead of the Packers is certainly a possible outcome by the end of the month. Getting a long layoff ahead of the Week 9 game with San Francisco could be greatly beneficial given the lingering injury issues for a few key players but it is clear that Arizona isn’t going anywhere as a serious NFC threat even after taking its first loss.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+250 to win the NFC as of 10/29/21) The Buccaneers haven’t necessarily looked like the defending Super Bowl champions in a 6-1 start but a big reason the Buccaneers were the prohibitive favorite in the NFC while having a great chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions is a favorable schedule. Tampa Bay’s best win so far this season was the narrow opening week win over Dallas as they lost their big road test to the Rams. Tampa Bay won’t play the other three NFC contenders on this list and the most formidable remaining game is a December home game with Buffalo as the path to the best record in the NFC remains clear for Tampa Bay. October closes with a big division game in New Orleans and a win in that game would give Tampa Bay a significant cushion in the division race. Tampa Bay has a bye week in Week 9 before a playoff rematch at Washington in Week 10. The Buccaneers will complete its series with the four NFC East teams hosting the Giants in Week 11 before a potentially dangerous game in Indianapolis in Week 12. With only three November games, the bye week may be the most important factor for Tampa Bay this month and it is hard to see this group having more than two losses heading into December.  Los Angeles Rams (+400 to win the NFC as of 10/29/21) The Rams have started 6-1 but they are behind in the NFC West race by virtue of the head-to-head loss hosting Arizona in Week 4. Los Angeles does have a big potential tiebreaker under its belt from beating Tampa Bay in Week 3 and five of six wins for Los Angeles have been against the NFC as Los Angeles will be facing AFC teams in three of the next five games. The Week 14 game at Arizona will loom large in the division race and the chances for the Rams to be the top NFC seed are hurt by a late season schedule closing with Minnesota, Baltimore, and San Francisco, all teams that seem likely to need late season wins in the wild card race.  In the short term the Rams have a serious shot to move up to being the #1 seed in the NFC in November as they close the month at Green Bay after a bye week for a great opportunity to earn a key tiebreaker. After playing as a big favorite in Houston this week, a big AFC test is ahead Sunday night in Week 9 with the Titans before a Monday night game in San Francisco in Week 10 as the Rams will be in the spotlight in November with a chance to move up in the NFC pecking order.  Dallas Cowboys (+600 to win the NFC as of 10/29/21) As strange as it sounds Dallas may be the overlooked and undervalued team in the NFC race. There is not much of a case for Dallas being the most complete nor the best team in the NFC, and the current Dak Prescott injury situation is a big shadow over that prospect. The NFC East will provide Dallas with a better opportunity than the rest of the conference however. The only noteworthy wins for Dallas so far are narrow road escapes vs. the Chargers and Patriots but Dallas has an incredibly favorable remaining schedule and still has a realistic chance to end up with the top record in the NFC. Dallas was off in Week 7 and Prescott’s status remains up in the air for Week 8 at Minnesota in one of the most difficult remaining games of the season. If Dallas can win that game, they have home dates with Denver and Atlanta the next two weeks before a big Week 11 game in Kansas City that should be a highly anticipated game. Dallas closes November with the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day and while four of the final six games will be road games for the Cowboys, four of those final six games will be division games. Dallas has a substantial lead in the NFC East and may not face much pressure to go for the #1 seed in the NFC, but at full strength the Cowboys are only likely to be an underdog in two of three remaining games from November to January.  Last season there was much talk of how much more valuable being the #1 seed was in the NFL playoff field with the switch to a 14-team field and only two teams getting playoff bye weeks, but the Super Bowl champion wound up being the #5 seed in the NFC team as a wild card that won three road games before catching a big advantage with a home Super Bowl. The #1 seed did win the NFC in 2019 and 2017 with the Eagles winning the Super Bowl as the #1 seed in 2017 as the last NFC team to do so and over time it should play out to be a significant advantage in the new playoff format. The standings are likely to shuffle significantly in the upcoming weeks and while Green Bay has the current momentum as the top spot, they appear to have the most difficult path in the coming weeks to hold as they try to repeat as the #1 seed in the NFC again this season. 

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Four 2021-22 NBA Win Total Projections

Thursday, Oct 14, 2021

The NBA season will officially start on Tuesday night and for the first time in two years the league will have an 82-game schedule as traditional win total assessments are back in order. Here are a handful of win total selections worthy of consideration ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season.  Toronto Raptors OVER 35.5 Toronto failed to make the playoffs last season going just 27-45 but the Raptors had a -0.4 average scoring differential, a figure that was better than three teams that did reach the play-in games. After going 53-19 in 2019-20 with one of the best home courts edges in the league, Toronto was only 16-20 at home last season but remember all those games were played in Florida, not in Toronto. The Raptors have clearance to play north of the border this season and stricter protocols and penalties in Canada could lead to some opponents being shorthanded when visiting.  While Kyle Lowry being traded this summer signals a rebuild, Nick Nurse is still regarded as one of the best coaches in the league in terms of adjustments and personnel management and the roster looks strong enough to compete in an Eastern Conference that has a few great teams but looks wide open after that. Pascal Siakam will miss several weeks to start the season, but Toronto played through multiple different rosters last season. OG Anunoby had a breakthrough season while midseason acquisition Gary Trent proved to be a nice fit. Malachi Flynn had a nice rookie season while Goran Dragic adds stability to an excellent backcourt alongside Fred VanVleet as this looks like a .500 caliber team that can climb back into the playoff race.  Chicago Bulls OVER 42.5 Not unlike Toronto, Chicago had a 31-41 record last season despite a -0.9 average scoring differential as this was a competitive team that likely deserved a slightly stronger record. The opportunity to move up in the Eastern Conference is there with Washington and Charlotte much worse scoring teams than the Bulls last season while the Knicks, Hawks, and Heat have metrics that suggest a regression is ahead this season after being solid playoff teams in the top six last year.  Not too much stock should be put on the NBA preseason, but the Bulls have been one of the more impressive teams this October. The pairing of Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine in the backcourt has a lot of potential while having Nikola Vucevic for the entire season should pay dividends. Patrick Williams had a solid rookie season and acquiring DeMar DeRozan does add some experience to this team even if his impact may be overstated. The Bulls were a winning team from mid-April to the end of the season last year despite falling short of the play-in field. Billy Donovan’s only losing season as an NBA head coach was last year as his track record does deserve some respect as well.  Portland Trailblazers UNDER 44.5 The Western Conference is stacked with quality teams and the expectations from most expect that the Warriors and Lakers are going to jump back to being top tier contenders this season. Those wins will have to be taken from someone else in the West as a few of the teams that were in the middle of the playoff pack last season seem likely to tumble in the standings in 2021-22. Portland is a prime candidate for a slide after going 42-30 last season but with just a +1.8 average scoring differential. Portland was only 32-28 before a 10-2 run to close the regular season last year, passing up the Lakers for the #6 spot in the West and this team does not project to be much better than a .500 squad over 82 games.  Portland had a minimal home court edge last season at just 20-16 and this is a team with a first-time head coach in Chauncey Billups after Terry Stotts was let go despite eight straight playoff appearances and a trip to the conference finals in the last full season. It isn’t clear what Billups will offer in that role but the preseason returns for Portland have been poor so far. To what extent the rumblings about Damian Lillard seeking a trade in the offseason are true remain unknown but this does seem like a situation with more volatility than most. The Blazers are opening the season with a lengthy injury report right now and eight of the first 14 will be road games as a slow start in the transition seems likely.  Dallas Mavericks UNDER 48.5 With a matching 42-30 record to Portland last season and an average scoring differential of just +2.2 Dallas was a clear step below the top four in the Western Conference last season. Add improvement to the Lakers and Warriors this season and Dallas could lose some ground after being the only top six playoff team in the West last season that didn’t have a winning record in the Western Conference. Luka Doncic is a serious MVP threat that will post big numbers, but the roster does not look much different than last season with Reggie Bullock and Frank Ntilikina the only notable additions.  Josh Richardson and JJ Redick are notable departures from last season and Richardson was the team’s fifth leading scorer last season. While Dallas has plenty of quality outside shooters on the roster, the team looks thin up front and Kristaps Porzingas and Maxi Kleber both battled injuries much of last season. Dwight Powell is moving into a starting role despite mostly being a reserve in his career. A bigger issue may be the coaching change with Rick Carlisle owning a tremendous track record as the head coach of the Mavericks. Jason Kidd is a below .500 NBA coach in 373 games with two teams and his personal baggage will add extra pressure to question the hire if things don’t start smoothly. 

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NFL Review: 5 Undefeated Teams

Wednesday, Sep 29, 2021

NFL REVIEW: FIVE 3-0 TEAMS Five teams have made it to 3-0 in the NFL and only one of those teams were among the top dozen or so favorites to win the Super Bowl before the season started. There is good reason to be skeptical of all five of those teams and being 3-0 this season is not quite as valuable as in past seasons with the move to a 17-game schedule. This is a breakdown of the chances to remain on a playoff path in the 2021-22 NFL season for the five 3-0 teams through Week 3.  3-0 DENVER BRONCOS (76-26 scoring) The Broncos are tied with the Bills for the top scoring differential in the NFL and with just 26 points allowed no defense has had a better start through three weeks. Denver had quite a buzz in the off-season as one of the few logical fits for Aaron Rodgers as the discussion of his possible departure from Green Bay was a common focus in the NFL media for several months. Once Rodgers reunited with the Packers, Denver was mostly a forgotten squad in a difficult AFC West with several high-profile teams.  Many did peg Denver for the playoffs however and a big factor in that logic was a rather favorable schedule which the Broncos have made good use of so far. The three wins for Denver have come against a trio of 0-3 teams and arguably the three worst teams in the NFL right now. Two of Denver’s opponents have featured rookie quarterbacks, but Denver has had convincing results in all three games while picking up two road wins as plenty of teams do not take care of business in favorable opportunities.  Teddy Bridgewater was picked up in the off-season after an uneven and mostly mediocre season for the Panthers in 2020 and he won the job over Drew Lock in August. Bridgewater has played exceptionally well through three weeks, featuring a top five QB Rating and QBR and still without an interception. He has taken seven sacks but has terrific numbers against the blitz and is averaging over 275 yards per game as he hasn’t simply been a game manager. Known for his accuracy, Bridgewater has completed nearly 77 percent of his passes and the Broncos have had adequate balance in the running game as well.  FUTURE OUTLOOK: Denver has been favored in all three games as they have not done anything noteworthy yet and the schedule in October is very difficult as four of five foes made the playoffs last season while the other is their fellow 3-0 division leader Las Vegas.  The Broncos have six difficult AFC West games remaining while also drawing all four teams in a deep AFC North. Denver does have enough winnable games remaining on the schedule for this team to stay in the playoff race all season, but this squad has been hit hard with injuries of late. KJ Hamler joined Jerry Jeudy on injured reserve last week to take two receivers out of the equation while the offensive line and linebacker group also has been thinned out. Denver should not be dismissed completely due to the early schedule, but this is not a team that should be confused for a serious AFC championship contender.  3-0 CAROLINA PANTHERS (69-30 scoring) The Panthers may be the biggest surprise to be 3-0 as this was a 5-win team last season now in the second season under Matt Rhule and Sam Darnold’s NFL track record was about the worst of any regular starter in recent years. Darnold is producing in the passing game and has only one interception so far as the Panthers have won even with limited production on the ground. Christian McCaffrey has 201 rushing yards but left the Week 3 win over Houston and will be out for several weeks for a Panthers team that is gaining just 3.4 yards per rush.  In wins over New York and Houston the Panthers faced rookie quarterbacks including facing Davis Mills on a short week Thursday night game, meaning that two of three wins have been in the first NFL start for a pair of rookie quarterbacks. The win over New Orleans deserves praise however as it was a dominant defensive performance. It was perhaps a poor scheduling spot for the Saints, but the Panthers have been very impressive defensively through three weeks, leading the NFL in yards per play allowed while second in scoring defense.  FUTURE OUTLOOK: Carolina’s schedule should remain rather favorable in the coming weeks. They will face three NFC East teams in October while also drawing Minnesota and Atlanta teams that have losing records this season after having losing records last season. Two games with Tampa Bay are not until late in the season as the Panthers have a good chance to produce a playoff caliber record this season. The final four weeks are a beast however with three of four games on the road playing at Buffalo, home vs. Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, and then at Tampa Bay. A collapse in the final month to lose out on a postseason spot might be the most likely scenario for this group depending on how important those late season games are for the expected contenders.  3-0 ARIZONA CARDINALS (103-65 scoring) Arizona has risen in stature significantly with a 3-0 start as the Week 1 performance against Tennessee was a dominant outing that may wind up as one of the more impressive game scores of the season. The Cardinals managed to survive the home opener against Minnesota as the Vikings missed a 37-yard-field goal at the end, while the team took care of business in Week 3 vs. Jacksonville. Arizona is tied with Tampa Bay for the most points scored in the NFL through three weeks and Kyler Murray is now the betting favorite for MVP.  The Cardinals were 8-8 last season as it is not a surprise that this team is already in the NFC mix as the off-season brought the team a few notable additions. Murray has already thrown for over 1,000 yards but he does have four interceptions and is not close to last season’s rushing pace with only 70 yards so far, although he has rushed for three touchdowns already. Arizona does have an excellent group of wide receivers and star players on both sides of the ball as this is a team that can stay in the spotlight. Arizona allowed 7.0 yards per play vs. Minnesota and last week the Cardinals allowed 361 yards against Jacksonville while falling behind 19-10 late in the third quarter vs. the winless Jaguars. A pick-six late in the fourth quarter helped keep Arizona in the win column in a game they were +3 in turnovers in, as this group hasn’t looked like a serious NFC contender outside of the opening week.  FUTURE OUTLOOK: Tennessee and Minnesota could wind up as quality wins for Arizona as the team deserves a great deal of credit, but it is hard to envision this team staying undefeated much longer. Difficult division games are up the next two weeks while games with Cleveland and Green Bay also lurk in October as this group is much more likely to be 4-4 by the end of the month than 8-0. Playoff hopes will hinge on winning games in the very difficult NFC West as the Cardinals might still wind up right near the cut, just like last season. 3-0 LOS ANGELES RAMS (95-62 scoring)  The Rams are the one team in this quintet that most expected to have a good chance to be 3-0 as one of the highest regarded teams in the NFC. The Rams are 3-0 through a difficult schedule facing three 2020 playoff teams including last week’s big win over Tampa Bay for the current notion of NFC supremacy. The opening week win over the Bears may not be that valuable while the Colts are 0-3 as those two teams could be headed for seasons of decline. The Bears moved the ball fairly well against the Rams while the Colts were in a position to win vs the Rams even while having to play a backup quarterback at the end of the game.  Overall there is a lot to like about the pairing of Matthew Stafford with the Rams so far as he has nine touchdowns and one interception and the top QBR in the league at this point. The Rams have allowed just over 20 points per game this season but the defense did allow a great deal of yardage last week and has rather average defensive numbers overall, even with Andy Dalton and Carson Wentz accounting for two thirds of the statistics. Last season’s elite defensive numbers were likely a bit overstated with a few scheduling breaks as this squad risks being overvalued.  FUTURE OUTLOOK: The Rams don’t look likely to go anywhere as a top NFC threat as while they could certainly take a loss in division games the next two weeks facing Arizona and Seattle, they also have upcoming games with the Giants, Lions, and Texans. The late season schedule is quite difficult however as this is a group that might hit the Week 11 bye week at around 8-2 but then could take several losses in the final seven. That closing stretch includes three division games plus games on the road vs. Green Bay and Baltimore in potential late-season conditions for the southern California squad. Things look good so far for the Rams, but this team should not be the favorite for the #1 seed in the NFC just yet.  3-0 LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (scoring 90-72) The Raiders have had a lot go right to reach 3-0 as both home wins have required overtime. It has been a quality schedule however beating Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Miami, three winning teams in the AFC from last season and expected AFC playoff threats. Pittsburgh may be in a great decline however and Miami played with a backup quarterback as there are some potential reasons for caution with the start for Las Vegas.  The Raiders have continued to win with Josh Jacobs injured however and Derek Carr has the most passing yards in the NFL by a significant margin. While the Raiders have allowed decent scoring, they are actually a top 10 team in yards per play allowed and the suspect offensive line has played better than expected so far. Las Vegas is not allowing many big plays in the passing game and while the run defense has been poor on a per carry basis, the Raiders have pushed the scoring pace in most games to make the running game less important.  FUTURE OUTLOOK: The 3-0 start is certainly unexpected for the Raiders as it came through what looked like a rather difficult stretch of the schedule. The path before a Week 8 bye week to close October is reasonable as the Raiders should pick up a few more wins and ultimately the schedule is well-balanced as Las Vegas rarely has consecutive games against top teams outside of facing the Chiefs and Browns in back-to-back road games in December. The Raiders have likely boosted their season projection the most of these five 3-0 teams and Las Vegas should now be considered a very realistic playoff threat in the AFC even in a loaded AFC West.  3-0 teams have done quite well in Game #4 in the NFL historically, going 116-80 S/U and 101-90-5 ATS since 1980. Last season seven teams reached 3-0 and six of those teams made it to 4-0, going 6-1 S/U and 6-1 ATS in the fourth games. 3-0 teams fare best at home with an over 62 percent ATS rate historically though that edge has lessened since 2000. When 3-0 teams face 3-0 teams, the host has gone 12-4 S/U and 13-3 ATS since 1986 as the Rams may have a favorable opportunity this week to reach 4-0. 

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The Best of the 0-3 NCAA Teams

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021

The Best of the 0-3 NCAA Teams  Ahead of the final weekend of September there are nine winless teams in college football. Some of those squads are going to be tough to back in any circumstance this season even with elevated underdog spreads. There are three 0-3 squads that look worthy of consideration in upcoming weeks however and the poor starts in the win column may lead to attractive pricing in the conference season.  TULSA  (17-19 loss to UC-Davis, 23-28 loss at Oklahoma State, 20-41 loss at Ohio State)  Tulsa went 6-0 in American play in the regular season last season before falling by three points vs. Cincinnati in the AAC championship game. The other two losses in a 6-3 season came on the road at Oklahoma State and in bowl action vs. Mississippi State in close games. A similar path of success in conference play is possible again this season for the Golden Hurricane.  The past two weeks Tulsa has not looked out of place on the road against high-quality major conference teams. Two weeks ago, Tulsa lost 28-23 at Oklahoma State in a game they led 14-7 through three quarters and 17-14 later in the final quarter. Tulsa had more yardage in the game and missed on several opportunities as they reached Oklahoma State territory in each of the first four drives of the game without scoring.  Last week Tulsa lost by 21 in Columbus, but it was a seven-point game in the fourth quarter until Ohio State scored twice in the final four minutes. Tulsa put up 501 yards of offense on the road against the Buckeyes while producing several big plays in the passing game.  Tulsa’s overall profile will be downgraded from the two-point loss to UC-Davis at home in the opening week, but Tulsa had 448 yards in that game but lost the turnover battle 3-0. Davis is an FCS team but one of the top-rated FCS teams, and a team that would be favored over about half of the power five teams according to recent power ratings.  Close losses have been common in now the seventh season under Philip Montgomery, as the former Houston and Baylor offensive coordinator has been given more time than most coaches these days even with his record now at 31-43. Tulsa should pick up its first win this week vs. Arkansas State but 1-4 seems like a possibility with a difficult AAC opener against Houston.  From there Tulsa could find some momentum with a winnable home game vs. Memphis and two favorable opportunities to close out October. The team may still be underrated in the final month when they could see underdog spreads with road games in November at Cincinnati, at Tulane, and at SMU. A winning season may be a long shot with the tough start, but Tulsa should be considered a much stronger team than its record.  FLORIDA STATE (38-41 loss vs. Notre Dame, 17-20 loss vs. Jacksonville State, 14-35 loss at Wake Forest) The Seminoles have been an easy team to ridicule and Jay Norvell may have a tough time surviving a 3-9 start to his career in Tallahassee. The valuation of Florida State may be at rock bottom in the coming weeks however and this is a group that could surprise in the ACC season with a few upsets or competitive results as a significant underdog. Last season Florida State won only three times but one of those wins was against an undefeated North Carolina team that had climbed to #5 in the polls.  There was a great build-up for the opening game vs. Notre Dame and Florida State competed well, staging a great comeback bid before losing in overtime against a highly regarded team that remains undefeated and was in the CFP last season. Florida State’s loss to Jacksonville State was inexcusable but it was on a short week following the Sunday night primetime opener and the Seminoles did enough to win that game with a 17-7 lead with five minutes to go before the miracle finish.  The 21-point loss to Wake Forest in the ACC opener can be pinned on six turnovers as Florida State did move the ball effectively in the passing game. The quarterback situation is a concern as Jordan Travis played most of the Notre Dame game, but McKenzie Milton provided a spark in the comeback. Milton has been given the lead role the past two games even though Travis has performed better and adds depth to the playbook with his rushing ability.  Florida State will face several suspect defenses in the next few weeks as the offense has the potential to keep pace in contests with Louisville, Syracuse, and North Carolina. The final five games are all difficult and Florida State will likely take a losing record into games with Clemson, NC State, Miami, Boston College, and Florida to close the season. The points may be alluring for a Seminoles team that has the potential to be the team that competed well in the opener on the national stage, yet this will be a team that may get minimal marketplace support with all the negative headlines.  RICE (17-38 loss at Arkansas, 7-44 loss vs. Houston, 0-58 loss at Texas)  The numbers are terrible for Rice, but the Owls have faced one of the most difficult schedules in the nation facing three high-quality teams. Rice finished just 2-3 last season in five Conference USA games, but they delivered a stunning 20-0 shutout at Marshall and played within five points against UAB in two impressive December performances. Coming into the season the defense graded very well relative to its conference peers and the offense appeared to have the potential for improvement with a few playmakers added to the roster, notably Nebraska transfer Luke McCaffrey.  Rice should find the win column this week hosting an FCS squad Texas Southern but could remain an underrated group in difficult future conference road games vs. UTSA, UAB, and Charlotte in the coming weeks. The home schedule for Rice is quite favorable this season as the Owls have the potential to turn into a winning team by season’s end even with the terrible start through a path in which most teams in the nation would have also gone 0-3 through.  The opener vs. Arkansas was also one of the more misleading scores of the season so far as Rice had a 17-7 lead in the third quarter in Fayetteville and was tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter. Arkansas added two late scores to push the final margin to 21 points, but Rice held a formidable Razorbacks offense to just 373 yards and the Owls stayed in the game despite being -2 in turnovers. The blowout losses the past two weeks came in tough situations with the opposing team entering the game off a humiliating loss in each instance. Houston had blown a 14-point lead with a four-interception game in a loss to Texas Tech in the opening week and was very sharp against Rice in a critical game. Texas meanwhile played Rice after being embarrassed in a 40-21 defeat against Arkansas the previous week as Rice saw the best from both of those teams.  At -116 in scoring so far this season the statistics are not going to look favorable for Rice in the coming weeks but the opportunities on the schedule will improve dramatically. Most may still look at Rice as a similar team to the squad that posted a combined 8-34 record from 2017 to 2020 but Mike Bloomgren’s turnaround plan is still on schedule now in his fourth season with the program. This is a team that should compete well and produce several wins in the Conference USA season yet may rarely be favored.  Considering the other winless teams Connecticut, Ohio, UNLV, and Arizona will be difficult to support as they appear to be a long way off and are battling through recent coaching changes, though the prices may hit a tipping point in some matchups. Massachusetts has been scoring the past two weeks since a quarterback change and may have some potential for underdog covers as the Minutemen may provide some opportunities against the spread even if S/U wins are not going to be common on the horizon. Navy has looked horrible in two games, but Ken Niumatalolo’s solid past track record may leave the Midshipmen with some potential for support later this season. 

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National League MVP Odds and Arguments

Tuesday, Aug 17, 2021

National League MVP Odds and Arguments  The return of Fernando Tatis has caused his MVP odds to jump from around -110 early in August to -300 currently. He is the overwhelming favorite, but the current price shift has greatly increased the plus-money figures on everyone else to create a window of opportunity for those looking for a sizable score. In-and-out of the lineup much of the season, Tatis has a great risk to miss more time down the stretch to leave the door open in this vote, while the Padres now also look like they will be in danger of missing the playoffs. Here are the top candidates in the MVP race including a few that may be worth considering for a long shot wager in case Tatis falls back out of the lineup.  Fernando Tatis, San Diego, -300 Tatis remains the clear favorite in the NL MVP race as the NL home run leader. He has missed 31 games however and while he returned with two home runs last Sunday after sitting for two weeks, his shoulder issue is a lingering concern that could open the door for another candidate in the final seven weeks of the regular season. Tatis isn’t even a qualified hitter right and he is playing for a 3rd place team that may be losing its grip on a playoff position that was assumed most of the season. Those are things that could matter to some of the older block of BBWAA voters who may already begrudge Tatis for the flair he plays with. Priced at around -300 it is his award to lose but there a few candidates that could warrant a look, banking on Tatis missing time and the Padres continuing to slide in the coming weeks.  Bryce Harper, Philadelphia, +475 A past MVP and one of the most recognized players in the game Harper is fourth in the NL in wRC+ thanks to his high walk rate. His rather pedestrian home run and RBI counts will need to grow substantially in September and most importantly his candidacy will hinge entirely on the narrative that he carries the Phillies to the NL East title. While Atlanta leads the division currently and has looked like the much better team overall, the race is close and a rise to the top fueled by Harper is still in the realm of possibility. Unlike the other candidates on this list Harper won’t face a threat of losing votes to his teammates as he has been the clear top performer on the Phillies.  Max Muncy, Los Angeles, +900 Perhaps the best candidate to catch Tatis in home runs is Muncy who has 26 but also has the potential for a big closing run to reach close to 40 home runs as he often has been a streaky performer. Muncy also is a threat to hit conventional benchmarks of 100 runs and/or 100 RBI to bolster his case. His WAR is also currently the highest in the NL among qualified candidates. He doesn’t play a premium defensive position however and he has plenty of competition within his own locker room as emerging as the clear choice among several standouts for the Dodgers will be a challenge.  Trea Turner, Washington/Los Angeles, +1700 The best value on the board might be Turner, who like Muncy will face the challenge of splitting votes with his teammates. Turner also has not hit quite as well since joining the Dodgers as his season line over 96 games in Washington puts him on this list. Turner has been a valuable defender at an important position, and he has a chance to win a batting title while also a possibly a NL stolen base title with Starling Marte now in the AL. A 30/30 performance is not out of the question for Turner but the problem in that argument is that Tatis has a chance to do that as well. It would take quite a finish but hitting leadoff in a highly productive Los Angeles lineup will afford Turner an opportunity to compile great statistics down the stretch.  Freddie Freeman, Atlanta, +1700 The case for Freeman to take a second straight MVP crown does not currently have much traction but a big final month that clinches an NL East title for Atlanta in the absence of the early season MVP frontrunner Ronald Acuna does offer a compelling argument that could resonate with voters. In contrast to Tatis and Harper, Freeman is beloved by the press and his numbers are not too far off what will be the required pace. A subpar defensive performance is hurting his WAR while he also offers little on the basepaths. If he can match the September that he delivered in 2020, hitting .375 with 32 RBI in the final month, it is not an impossible outcome.  Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati, +5000 Joey Votto, Cincinnati, +5000 These Reds stars have matching odds as both continue to push Cincinnati closer to a playoff spot that seemed highly improbable just a few weeks ago. Jesse Winker is not much further down the list as well as Cincinnati has received great production from the lineup. Castellanos is a serious threat to win the NL batting title while Votto is charging in the home run leaderboard. Both have high strikeout counts with not enough walks to support their case, but both are still in the NL’s top seven in wRC+, while top 10 OPS performers, though neither is close enough on the WAR leaderboard for serious candidacy. If one stands head-and-shoulder over the other to carry the Reds past the Padres for the second NL wild card spot there is a chance, but it is not overly realistic as the pricing suggests.  Manny Machado, San Diego, +6000 While much of this article centers on the possibility of the Padres losing Tatis and crashing out of the playoffs, what if they lose Tatis and still finish strong? That scenario would boost Manny Machado’s case and he has rather quietly produced a great season line in the shadow of his teammate. He could reach the 100 run and 100 RBI benchmarks, and a big final month could get him to 30 home runs and close to a .300 batting average. Climbing into the top 10 for WAR and wRC+ would not take a herculean performance down the stretch and Machado has one of the stronger defensive ratings on this list at a valuable position. Winning the comparison case with his teammate will however require Tatis effectively shutting down for the rest of the season.  Juan Soto, Washington, +7000 Given that Washington has faded out of playoff contention Soto’s case will need to overcome a significant hurdle, but he has taken the most walks in all off baseball even in just 107 games and he could hit over .300 with 30 home runs while getting close to 100 runs and RBI for an MVP caliber traditional line. He is certainly one of the best players in baseball even if he is not a serious threat in this discussion barring significant setbacks for most of the other players on this list. Giancarlo Stanton won the 2017 NL MVP and Harper unanimously won the 2015 NL MVP on non-playoff teams as the playoffs may not be as much of a requirement as it is presumed. In 2017 Stanton only received 10 first place votes in a year where six different players received 1st place votes, a scenario that is possible this year.  Brandon Crawford, San Francisco, +7000 15th in the NL in wRC+ and 5th in WAR, Crawford’s case might be better than this pricing represents. The Giants after all have baseball’s best record and Crawford is a good story as a veteran having a career season. He is only two home runs away from a career high and has a chance to reach 100 RBI for the first time in his career. Crawford could also make a charge to the batting title currently only sitting about a dozen points back. His excellent defensive rating at a premium position adds to the intrigue of his candidacy but Crawford has missed 21 games to keep his counting statistics a notch below where they likely need to be. San Francisco has been the surprise story of the season and voters will be looking for someone to reward as he has a chance to garner some votes, though 1st place votes do not currently seem likely.  Justin Turner, Los Angeles, +9000 Turner’s season line could wind up looking somewhat like the lines of his two teammates on this list with a big final month. He hit .394 in September 2020 before the Dodgers went on to win the World Series and for his career, September has been his best hitting month in terms of batting average. Missing significant time in August has bumped his case down on this list but if he surpasses his teammates in the coming weeks as the Dodgers pass up the Giants for the top spot in the NL, the argument would be clear. Turner is a long shot, but the gap in his odds compared to Muncy and Trea Turner should perhaps not be quite so large as he is the face of the team in Clayton Kershaw’s absence. 

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2021 NCAA Impact Transfer Quarterbacks

Saturday, Aug 14, 2021

2021 NCAA Impact Transfer Quarterbacks  After uninspiring results in three years at NC State, Russell Wilson transferred to Wisconsin for the 2011 season and delivered tremendous results. His success set the tone for a new era of college football with transfer acquisitions being a critical component in recruiting. Coming off the abbreviated 2020 season and with relaxed transfer rules in place, there are several proven quarterbacks that changed schools this off-season. Here are a handful of quarterback transfers for the 2021 college football season that could have a big impact in the 2021 season.   Charlie Brewer (From Baylor to Utah) Brewer is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation having been the starter for the better part of four seasons at Baylor. He should eclipse 10,000 career passing yards in September and has a career completion rate of 63.5%. His numbers dropped last season in a chaotic season for the Bears with a major Covid pause and a coaching transition, but he should step into a good situation to be successful at Utah. Kyle Whittingham’s program has won consistently riding seven consecutive seasons above .500 and the roster has a significant amount of returning experience. Given his size Brewer isn’t much of an NFL prospect, but he has a chance to end his college career on a high note with a potential Pac-12 contender.  Jack Coan (From Wisconsin to Notre Dame) A steady presence for the Badgers in 2018 and 2019, Coan was named the starter in 2020 ahead of super prospect Graham Mertz before suffering an injury ahead of the season. Coan has good size and is quicker than he appears, though he is not in the mold of Ian Book, the long-time Notre Dame quarterback that was a serious rushing threat. Brian Kelly has not officially named Coan the starter for an Irish team coming off a College Football Playoff appearance, but it would be a surprise if sophomore Drew Pyne beat out Coan. It will be difficult to replicate last season’s success but being Notre Dame’s quarterback is still a high-profile gig and Coan has the potential to have good numbers on a nationally relevant team and will also get a chance to face his former team in Chicago as well.  Grant Gunnell (From Arizona to Memphis)  Gunnell isn’t a household name after being an off-and-on starter for marginal Arizona teams the past two seasons, but he could be by season’s end. He has 15 career touchdowns against only three interceptions however and at 6’6” he will stand out now playing in the American. Ryan Silverfield’s offense should remain a high-scoring unit and Gunnell can go from relative anonymity to being an NFL draft pick like Paxton Lynch was out of Memphis in 2016. Defense has not often been a strength for the Memphis program as Gunnell could produce big numbers in many high-scoring shootout style games with last year’s Memphis quarterback Brady White posting the sixth most passing yards in the nation in 2020.  McKenzie Milton (From UCF to Florida State) A star for UCF from 2016 to 2018 including the undefeated 2017 season, Milton suffered a terrible injury late in the 2018 season. There were questions on whether he would ever play again given the nature of the injury and the subsequent surgeries, but his knee has been rebuilt and he has been cleared to play. He ultimately has won the last 23 games he has started but there are major questions to whether he can return to being the dynamic playmaker he was for the Knights and he will face significantly upgraded opposition in the ACC. Florida State has been a mess in recent years now led by Mike Norvell with the Seminoles going just 3-6 last year. A storybook finish for Milton doesn’t seem likely but it is certainly worth rooting for.  Tyler Shough (From Oregon to Texas Tech)  While Texas Tech has changed coaches and isn’t quite the Air Raid squad of the past, being the Red Raiders quarterback remains a coveted position, especially when the face of the NFL is an alum. Shough was one of the most sought-after recruits after a stellar high school campaign as he has an NFL build and great athleticism. After redshirting behind Justin Herbert, Shough carried high expectations into 2020 at Oregon but ultimately did not have a great statistical season despite a Pac-12 Championship. Texas Tech is not expected to be a Big XII contender but the opportunity to post big numbers in high-profile games will be there.     Terry Wilson (From Kentucky to New Mexico)  An electric playmaker for the 2018 Wildcats team that beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl, Wilson suffered a season-ending injury early in the 2019 season. He didn’t capture the same level of success last season and with Kentucky having several promising young options at quarterback Wilson found a new opportunity leaving the SEC. His mobility should play well in the Mountain West and while he is heading to a program that has 10 wins combined the past four seasons, he could immediately be among the conference’s top quarterbacks as well as a formidable rusher.  Logan Bonner (From Arkansas State to Utah State)  A two-year starter and quarterback that has played in each of the past four seasons at Arkansas State, Bonner followed coach Blake Anderson to Utah State. That should allow him to have much more comfort and the potential for more immediate success than most transfer quarterbacks. Utah State went just 1-5 last season, but the season had all sorts of challenges with internal Covid issues forcing the cancellation of a game while another game was cancelled due to a player protest. Head coach Gary Andersen left the team after three games as well as not much went right and it showed in the results. Anderson has a 51-37 career record and with Bonner in tow the Aggies could be a mild surprise, as this was an 11-2 team in 2018 and has generally been an above average Mountain West team in the last decade.  Bailey Zappe (From Houston Baptist to Western Kentucky)  Zappe has generated a big buzz now leading Tyson Helton’s offense at Western Kentucky. Zappe set all sorts of records at Houston Baptist, averaging 458 passing yards per game in an Air Raid style offense. The Hilltoppers had a slow start last season but won their final three Conference USA games and they line up as a possible team on the rise in the conference for 2021. Zappe could quickly emerge on the national passing leaderboards if he lives up to the hype and the Hilltoppers have a pair of Big Ten non-conference tests early in the year for showcase opportunities. In Conference USA the Hilltoppers are also a serious contender in the East division and the schedule is favorable for a strong bowl season.  Here are a few other transfer quarterbacks that are worth watching, all of which have a likely path to a starting role at their new school:  Ryan Hilinski (From South Carolina to Northwestern) Tanner Mordecai (From Oklahoma to SMU)  N’Kosi Perry (From Miami, FL to Florida Atlantic)  Chase Brice (From Duke to Appalachian State)  Jacob Sirmon (From Washington to Central Michigan)  D’Wan Mathis (From Georgia to Temple)  Bailey Hockman (From NC State to Middle Tennessee State)  Also worth mentioning is that notable transfers will be fighting for starting roles at several major conference programs including Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, and Arizona. It is too soon to say whether those jobs will be won however. 

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