This Week in Betting, A-Z
by Trevor Whenham - 3/29/2010
A - Awakening. Sidney Crosby, the second best hockey player on the planet, had a bit of a slump last week - seven games without a goal. He ended it with a bang on Sunday - two goals and the shootout winner to beat Toronto. More significant than that performance, though, is the fact that he moved into the NHL goal scoring lead. Crosby has looked for assists before goals before this year, so what we are seeing is a new, scarier version of greatness.
B - Baylor. The Bears weren't good enough to get past Duke, but at times it looked like they might, and they certainly didn't embarrass themselves in the loss. When you put their Elite Eight appearance in context it is astounding - in 2003 Dave Bliss left the program in shambles, and now Scott Drew has them back at a very real level of performance. There are a lot of teams that were almost as bad off as Baylor in 2003, and are still mostly a disaster. Yes, I'm talking to you, my beloved Michigan.
C - Chelsea. Going into their Premier League contest at Chelsea on the weekend Aston Villa had to know that they were in a tough place. Surely they didn't know, though, that they were going to lose like this. In a decidedly un-soccer-like showing, Aston Villa was blown away by a 7-1 score. That's a baseball score, not a soccer one. The performance was so irredeemably bad that Aston Villa midfielder Stiliyan Petrov publicly apologized for his team's performance.
D - Duke. The list of teams that are easier to hate than Duke isn't particularly long. I can't even put my finger on just why I hate them so much - they recruit smart kids who don't get in trouble, and they win by playing good fundamental basketball. Every time they win, though, I just get a sick feeling in my soul. That meant I felt soul sick twice this week as Duke cruised to frustratingly convincing wins over Purdue and Baylor to earn a berth in yet another Final Four. I don't particularly like West Virginia, but suddenly they are my favorite team.
E - Ernie Els. The reports of Ernie Els' demise were clearly and indisputably premature. For the second time in three weeks the 40 year old has won a tournament on American soil. This time it was a rain delayed two-stroke victory at Bay Hill. Els hadn't won since early in 2008, but his swing is as sweet and easy as ever these days. His renaissance adds another level of intrigue to a Masters that was already going to be impossible to miss.
F - Fran McCaffery. The coaching carousel is in full swing in college basketball, and McCaffery's move should really get it spinning. After taking Siena to the tournament three years in a row, and UNC-Greensboro and Lehigh to the dance before that, McCaffery has taken over at Iowa. He clearly has some serious coaching skills and looks like a near lock to succeed in the Big Ten. Of course, so did Todd Lickliter when he left Butler, and his tenure at Iowa was a disaster.
G - Georges St. Pierre. The UFC has a problem - on Saturday St. Pierre again showed how ridiculously good he is, and how dominant he is in his weight class. Dana White and company will find it harder and harder to find an appropriate opponent for St. Pierre. It will also get harder to sell his fights if they are all as dull as his win over Dan Hardy was. St. Pierre dominated from the outset, but hs style is more about control than flashy finishes, so the fight limped to a painfully inevitable unanimous decision.
H - Heavyweight. It doesn't take a skilled market analyst to know what the highest grossing fight the UFC will have this year will be. Shane Carwin was impressively dominant to beat the far more experienced Frank Mir and move to 12-0 on his career, and now he will face Brock Lesnar in a heavyweight title fight for the ages. Carwin had never made it out of the first round before this fight, and he still hasn't - he dropped Mir with a punch as heavy as an anvil less than four minutes into the fight.
I - Indianapolis. Butler is going home, and they'll face one heck of a party when they are there. For the first time since 1972 a team will be playing in a Final Four at home. The Horizon League isn't typically viewed as a powerhouse, but thinking of Butler as a Cinderella would be a massive mistake. They beat a No. 1 and a No. 2 in three days to get this far, and the plucky team and their impossibly young 33-year-old coach certainly has the ability to win two more.
J - Joey Porter. Porter has a new three-year deal with the Cardinals, but the linebacker chose an unfortunate way to celebrate it. On Saturday morning police confronted Porter with suspicions that he was driving drunk. He made a bad situation worse when rolled up his window instead of handing over his license, and then slapping the cop's hand when he reached in to open the door. The results were charges for suspicion of drunken driving, assaulting an officer, and resisting arrest.
K - Kentucky. This is not how this story was supposed to turn out. John Calipari assembled a stunning band of mercenaries for one year, and was supposed to get much further than the Elite Eight. There's one number that entirely explains what happened - 12.5 percent. The Wildcats hit just four of 32 three-point attempts. They were lousy from the free throw line as well. No team is going to win anything shooting like that. Given their pathetic showing it's a miracle the game was as close as it was.
L - Louisiana Derby. The Louisiana Derby has been notable the last few years because it has produced impressive horses that have disappointed in Kentucky - Friesan Fire, Pyro, and Circular Quay. The connections of Mission Impazible hope their horse is better under pressure. The 7/1 shot received a perfect trip to take the wire. He's trained by Todd Pletcher. The super trainer has a ridiculously powerful stable of three year olds this year - he could conceivably have as many as eight Kentucky Derby starters.
M - Milton Bradley. Bradley is a real handful, but his talent keeps shining through to earn him new, big opportunities. After bombing out badly in Chicago, Bradley landed in Seattle, and his play in the spring has landed him the cleanup slot to start the season. Bradley was an all-star when he hit cleanup for the Rangers in 2008, so if he can capture that form then he'll be a very important part of an overhauled Seattle lineup that should be the class of the AL West.
N - Northern Iowa. It was an amazing story for the first week of the tournament, and no one will forget their win over Kansas, but ultimately the Panthers ran into a team that was deeper, more talented, and better coached when they lost to Michigan State. The Panthers didn't do anything wrong in the game, but the Spartans had more time to prepare for them than Kansas did, and Northern Iowa didn't get the breaks in this game, or enjoy the other-worldly shooting, that they did over the first weekend.
O - Oilers. Edmonton found itself without a backup goalie last week, and it happened without enough time to spare to call one up from its minor league affiliate. The Oilers scrambled to find a warm body to fill the spot, but none of the local options were available. Ultimately, they were forced to call on Nathan Deobald, the third stringer from the University of Calgary Dinos. Deobald had only played in two games over the last two seasons, and is as far from an NHL prospect as you can get, but he was in the right place at the right time, and got to watch the game from the best seat in the house.
P - Purdue. There wasn't a gutsier team in the tournament than the Boilermakers, and their loss to Duke made that clear. They played with heart and determination throughout, but they just weren't quite good enough to come out on top without Robbie Hummel, and everyone in the building knew it. It would have been one heck of a story to have two teams from Indiana in the Final Four, but it wasn't meant to be.
Q - Quite ridiculous. The UConn women are making a total mockery of women's college basketball. It seems like they haven't lost since Reagan was President, and in the tournament this year they aren't even making it interesting. They moved to 36-0 on Sunday, and into the Elite Eight, with a 38-point win over 16th ranked Iowa State. That was a nail-biter compared to their first two games - they beat Southern by 56, and Temple by 54.
R - Renaissance. Mike Danton's story is one of the strangest in all of sports. In 2004, after playing in the NHL for parts of three years, Danton was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. He had hired a hitman. The target was initially reported to be his agent, David Frost, though both Frost and Danton now say it was Danton's father. He was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, and released on parole last September. Despite his past, Danton was eligible to play Canadian university hockey. This weekend, he and his St. Mary's Huskies won the Canadian championship. Strange, strange tale.
S - Spartans. Michigan State is an unlikely Final Four squad, and that's putting it mildly. They underperformed all year, and then lost their best player in their second tournament game, but the magic of Tom Izzo was enough to get this team back to their second straight final, and sixth in the last 12 years. Michigan State didn't overwhelm Tennessee - they only won by one - but they seemed strangely in control and destined to win even as the lead went back and forth.
T - Ten million. The Dubai World Cup was already the richest race in the world, but with the move to a shiny new track in Dubai the purse was bumped to a staggering $10 million. Despite the massive prize, the field was largely unfamiliar to American race fans, and only Gio Ponti, the fourth-place finisher, was an American star. The winner, Brazilian-bred seven-year-old Gloria de Campeao, wired the field and won a three-horse photo finish by a nose.
U - Unbelievable. The Ben Roethlisberger situation just gets worse and worse. The Steelers' players are reporting for their offseason conditioning program on Monday, but over the weekend Roethlisberger and the team made the decision that the QB would be too much of a distraction if he were to attend, so he's staying home. The conditioning program is theoretically optional, but this is still another indicator that this situation is for real.
V - Volunteers. In a tournament that was filled with teams overcoming adversity, the Volunteers faced as much as anyone. Their best player was kicked off the team after a December incident, and the team faced a hole it never really overcame since then. Despite that, they reached their first Elite Eight in team history, and came within one point of the Final Four. It turns out that Bruce Pearl is more than just a not-so-pretty, very loud face.
W - West Virginia. Bob Huggins was excited to be going home three years ago when he returned to the Mountaineers, and despite the controversy it's clear that he made the right choice. West Virginia has not only reached the Final Four, but they beat the most feared and ridiculously talented team remaining in the tournament in Kentucky to get there, and they did it without their starting point guard. They aren't just there, either - they are the second choice behind Duke to win it all.
X - Xavier. Yikes. It came to an end, but what and end it was. The mascots of our column ended their impressive tournament run with a loss in the best game of the tournament - a double overtime epic against Kansas State. Terrelle Holloway and future NBAer Jordan Crawford were impossibly good for the team down the stretch. What ultimately hurt them, though, was that no one else showed up for the party in overtime. Still, what a year, and what a team.
Y - Yikes. What in the world happened to Saint Mary's? In their first two games they were confident and awe-inspiring as they dispatched Richmond and upset Villanova. Against Baylor, though, I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that they played the worst game any team played all tournament (though WCC conference rivals Gonzaga were close against Syracuse). Everything that worked so well early on was a total disaster in this game. They faced adversity early on, and they just quit in the face of it.
Z - Zydrunas Ilgauskas. After his controversial 30-day vacation, Big Z is back with the Cavs. He played for the first time on Sunday, but it's hard to know the impact he had - the game was just against the Kings, and Ilgauskas played only 23 minutes off the bench. His four points weren't much, but his six rebounds were a positive step. The good news is that Cleveland doesn't need him to be a superhero from the start because they are cruising.