This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 02/11/2008
A - Ascension. Few would be able to name the team at the top of the Big Ten standings at first guess. It's Purdue. It might seem like they are upstarts compared to the four other likely tournament-bound teams in the conference, but the Boilermakers proved they belonged this weekend by completing a season sweep of Wisconsin. Add in a sweep of Illinois, a solid beating of Ohio State, and a tight loss at Michigan State that far exceeded expectations and you have a team that has legitimately ascended to the upper tier of the conference.
B - Brady, John. LSU did a great disservice to sports handicappers this week. They fired coach John Brady. Ever since Brady made the Final Four with Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis it seems he has completely forgotten how to coach and recruit. His teams have been terrible, and betting against them has been a virtual lock. The good days will end sooner or later for bettors, but the good news is he has made such a mess with the program that John Wooden himself wouldn't be able to turn it around in a hurry.
C - Chris Webber. Webber made his debut for Golden State this week and, well, it was a debut. It was a bit of a surprise to see him start after missing so much time, and it was pretty obvious that he was rusty. He had four points in 12 minutes as the Warriors lost to the Bulls. His two points next time out against Sacramento were even worse, but at least he added five rebounds. I'm sure he'll come around in time, but it's a good thing that that the team doesn't need a lot of immediate help.
D - Drake Bulldogs. Coming into the season, Drake was expected to be completely irrelevant in the Missouri Valley Conference. After all, the team has one winning season to its credit in the last two decades. You would be very rich if you had been able to predict before the season that this would be the team to reel off 21 straight wins. They have virtually clinched the conference already, and they are an incredible 15-4 ATS, to boot.
E - Earnhardt, Dale Jr. So much for an adjustment period for Junior with his new car and new team. In his Hendrick Motorsports debut, Earnhardt won the Bud Shootout at Daytona. It may have only come in an exhibition, but it was still a much-needed win for the driver - he hasn't had a win of any kind since the summer of 2006. Maybe this is a sign of what can happen when the popular driver has a good team on top of their game behind him. No team is stronger than Hendrick these days - they had four drivers in the top six.
F - Faint hope. Indulge me for a second here. As a guy who lives and dies for Michigan it has not been a fun basketball season. Not only have wins been scarce, but we haven't even been competitive. I knew it was going to be a painful transition to John Beilein but I wasn't expecting anything quite like this. It pleases me, then, that we have shown signs of hope in the last five games. They actually won one on the weekend against Penn State, and they have covered spreads against three impressive teams - Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State - as well. Bright days are still way off, but at least I can actually believe that they might eventually arrive. That's progress.
G - Gasol, Pau. How is Gasol fitting in with his new team? It depends upon the game. His first start was brilliant - Kobe Bryant struggled, but Gasol picked up the slack and led the Lakers to an easy win. The very next game, though, was a disaster. They lost to the Hawks of all teams, and Al Horford looked like Wilt Chamberlain as he posted a career high 20 rebounds. Overall, though, they have little to complain about - they've won three of four on the road since the trade, including a nice win at Orlando.
H - Hurler. The Mariners showed that they are heading into the season serious about winning. They were closer than people expected last year, and they are significantly better after finally adding Erik Bedard from the Orioles to the top of the rotation after weeks of flirting. The Canadian lefty is a true star who will only be better now that he is out of the dysfunctional mess in Baltimore. The surprising part is that Baltimore got a better package of players for Bedard than Minnesota did for Johan Santana. I really like Bedard, but I'd take Santana any day.
I - Insanity. At some point in this column this week I planned to write about the Pro Bowl. In the end, though, I couldn't even bring myself to read a recap of the game, never mind watch the game itself. I honestly have no idea why the league still insists on playing this glorified flag football game between all the good players who aren't smart enough or important enough to come up with an excuse to skip it. This dog needs to be taken out back and put down humanely.
J - Jozy Altidore. The future is now for the U.S. Soccer team. Altidore, the biggest soccer phenom in the country not named Freddy Adu, made his first career start for the national side in a friendly against Mexico this week. Altidore made a big impression in the game that was played to a 2-2 draw in front on a shockingly large crowd of 70,000 in Houston. He scored the second goal to give his team a lead, but they couldn't play the defense to stay ahead.
K - Knight, Bobby. The old coach pulled off his final surprise this week. Or maybe it won't be his final surprise and he has one up his sleeve that will put Eddie Sutton to shame. Regardless, it was a shock when word came down at the start of the week that Knight had resigned effectively immediately and passed his team off to his son. It wasn't hugely relevant because the Texas Tech was on a slow road to nowhere, but I would have liked to see the guy get a better send off than this.
L - Louisville. It was an exceptional week for the Cardinals. Any week with two wins against ranked teams is one to remember. On Monday they went on the road and made Marquette look ridiculous in a crushing defeat. On Saturday they hosted a tougher opponent in Georgetown, but they were able to fight back from a big halftime deficit to win going away. Louisville has found their form at just the right time, and I expect them to be extremely tough down the stretch.
M - Malkin, Evgeni. It could very easily have been a disaster for the Pittsburgh Penguins when Sidney Crosby was hurt. Instead, Malkin has stepped up and filled the gap nicely. The Russian has 21 points in the 10 games since Crosby went down, including 15 in the last five. The Pens have won six of 10, and picked up a point in two overtime losses, so they've hardly noticed that Crosby is gone. Not that they won't be thrilled to have him back, of course.
N - Nowitzki, Dirk. It probably doesn't seem like much of a surprise that the German star of the Mavs had a big triple double on Wednesday to lead his team past the Bucks. It should. As incredible as it seems, that was the first triple double of Nowitzki's career. The 29 points, 12 assists and 10 boards weren't enough to help his boys cover, though. For a team with a .680 win percentage, the Mavs are just a terrible bet - 20-27-3 ATS.
O - Older horse division. With Curlin off to Dubai for his next two starts, the division is very wide open in the States. All the names we have gotten used to in the last couple of years have been retired and it is time for new stars to emerge. One of the first appears to be Grasshopper. He got his first graded stakes win on Saturday in the Mineshaft, and he looked good doing it. Though he hadn't won before, he had a solid record - he was a strong second to Street Sense in the Travers last summer.
P - Pyro. I have my first crush on the Triple Crown trail this year, and for the second straight year he is from the Steve Asmussen stable. Curlin's stable mate Pyro was a strong second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, but he looked like a whole new horse in the Risen Star Saturday. He was last of 12 at the top of the stretch before totally exploding in a move you have to see to believe to take it going away. If you missed it, you had better head to Youtube right away. You don't have to be a racing fan to be in awe of this one.
Q - Quite insane. I was on the edge of my seat for all of Wednesday because it was national signing day. Once I thought about it, though, I was a bit embarrassed that I was so interested and affected by the decisions of 17 year olds. It made me feel very old. Regardless, I was shocked by how well Miami and Notre Dame were able to do despite on-field struggles, I was saddened by the success of the devil himself in Alabama, and I was pleased by how well Michigan did despite the coaching change. It was nice to see USC not quite do as well as usual, too.
R - Reversal. Washington State had been free falling after a strong start, with consecutive losses to Cal, Stanford and UCLA, and six games without a cover. They found their form again with a bang on Saturday, though. USC rolled into town and probably wished they had just stayed at home. They lost by 24, and Wazzu shut down everything the team tried. O.J. Mayo was ineffective, and his teammates were no better. We'll have to wait to see if the Cougars just got lucky or if their mojo is back, but for one game at least we remembered why people were so high on this team a month ago.
S - Shaq. For the second time in two weeks we have been caught completely off guard by a huge NBA trade. Unlike the Gasol move, though, it isn't completely obvious why the better team made the deal. Shaq has a lot to offer, but he's also well past his prime, not totally healthy, and way to slow even at his best to fit seamlessly into the Phoenix offense. Still, I am cautiously optimistic that the deal will end up as a winner for the Suns. My biggest wish is a Phoenix - Lakers Western Conference Final - the hate on that court could be cut with a knife.
T - Ty Lawson. Tyler Hansbrough may be the superstar on the Tar Heels, but it's pretty clear that Ty Lawson is the engine that keeps the team rolling strong. Lawson has missed two games, and it hasn't been pretty. The Tar Heels got blown out at home by hated rivals Duke, and then needed a miraculous late comeback and two overtime periods to get past Clemson. Lawson can't heal fast enough.
U - UCLA. The Bruins will have to work very hard to find ways to spin the embarrassment they suffered on Sunday. They were playing Washington, a team that is just 4-7 in conference, and a pitiful 9-14 ATS, so there was no reason for them, the best team in the conference, to have any problems at all. There was really no reason for them to lose by 10, but they did it anyway. Darren Collison was terrible in the loss - three points in 38 minutes.
V - Vijay. Singh hung around all weekend, and was able to close with a birdie to force a playoff at Pebble Beach this weekend. It wasn't meant to be, though - the pride of Fiji was dispatched by Steve Lowery on the extra hole. The highlights of the tournament were elsewhere, though - seeing Phil Mickelson shoot an 11 on a par five on Friday made every amateur golfer in the world feel better, and it was a treat to see 48-year-old Corey Pavin finish an unexpected third.
W - Wildcats. Kansas State played an emotional game against Nebraska on Wednesday. Senior guard Clent Stewart lost his mother to bone cancer, and the team played in her honor. Michael Beasley, like he does so often we have almost become numb to it, stepped up and had a huge game. He pretty much beat Nebraska single-handedly with 35 points and 13 rebounds as the much-improved Wildcats won by 15.
X - Xavier. Our mascots made us nervous on Sunday when they looked like they were going to drop one to St. Joe's, the third best team in the A-10. In the end, though, our faith was rewarded as they won by four. There's a bit of a disturbing trend, though - that's the seventh time in nine games that they have failed to cover, and the second straight game when they won by far less than they really should have.
Y - Yahoo. I really don't like cheering for an injury, but I will make an exception in Curt Schilling's case. The Boston hurler has a serious arm injury, and there is at least a decent chance that it could be career ending for the aging player. I know that retirement won't totally shut the guy up, and it certainly won't make him any less annoying, but at least it would mean that he'd find himself in front of a microphone less often. That would make the world a better place.
Z - Zorn, Jim. The Redskins found yet another way to prove that they are a confused and ultimately doomed franchise. First they hire coordinators before they have a coach, then they strike out on landing their top choices for their empty head job, then they string along three contenders seemingly forever before ultimately elevating their new offensive coordinator, Zorn, to head coach. No one saw that one coming, and even fewer will be excited by this move that reeks of desperation and chronic ineptness. Zorn has never even been a coordinator before (unless you count his two weeks for the Redskins).