This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 04/06/2009
A - Altidore, Jozy. For a couple of years now, 19-year-old Altidore has looked like a soccer star in waiting. Well, the wait may be over. Altidore had a hat trick for the U.S. National Team as they beat Trinidad and Tobago, 3-0, in World Cup qualifying. The outburst came in just his third international start. All three goals came as a result of passes from Landon Donovan, so the U.S. team may have found their star pairing to ride all the way to South Africa next year.
B - Blake Griffin. Not surprisingly, the hardware is rolling in for Oklahoma's bruising big man. He's now won pretty much every national player of the year award there is, and there was precisely zero drama in the voting for any of them. The only step left for him now is to declare for the NBA Draft. He hasn't done that yet, but there is no drama there either - he wouldn't dare stay in school after watching what Tyler Hansbrough did to his pro prospects by taking another shot at college glory.
C - Calipari. I don't really care much about Kentucky basketball. Or at least I didn't until this week. The Wildcats made an absolutely brilliant move by hiring away Calipari from Memphis. It cost them a not-so-small fortune, but Calipari has the perfect mix of charisma, skill, and intense hunger to turn Kentucky from the laughing stock they have become back into the national power they should be. I don't even think it is going to take him very long, either - especially if he can clear up some scholarship space to bring a blue chip recruit or two with him from Memphis.
D - Dwight Howard. There have been a lot of guys in the NBA who are very good rebounders. None have been better younger, though, than Howard. The Orlando Magic megastar became the youngest player in league history to reach 5,000 rebounds, surpassing none other than Wilt Chamberlain. More impressively, he got there more than two years before Chamberlain did. Of course, that doesn't mean much - Howard came right to the league out of high school, while Chamberlain had three years at Kansas and a year with the Globetrotters before getting drafted.
E - End. All good things must come to an end. Thankfully for Jeff Gordon, some bad things do, too. NASCAR's pretty boy broke a 47-race losing streak with a win at Texas this weekend. He was so excited that he grabbed the checkered flag and did a victory lap - something he had never done before as a pro. Wins had been in short supply, but Gordon was having a good season - four top-five finishes in six races had him at the top of the points race before this win.
F - Freddy. We came so, so close to a fairytale ending at the Shell Houston Open this week. University of Houston alum Fred Couples, who hadn't won since winning this tournament in 2003, had the lead on the final day with just a few holes to play. He finished with three straight bogies, though, to fall into a tie for third place. Paul Casey beat J.B. Holmes in a playoff to earn the victory that everyone on the course besides Casey and Holmes wanted Couples to win.
G - Garnett, Kevin. There is no need to panic, and I'm sure this is just precautionary, but I can't help but worry a little for Boston's playoff chances when their best player has been shut down for a few games this late in the season with a bum knee. There is no arguing that the team isn't worse off without their star, especially from a betting perspective - the Celtics are 6-14 ATS when Garnett is not playing, and 34-23 ATS when he is in the lineup.
H - Huskies. UConn looked so good for so long, and then they really didn't. Michigan State did a masterful job of game planning for them and frustrating them, but you have to wonder whether all of the distractions and setbacks of the last couple of months finally got to be too much for the team - especially in the face of the overwhelmingly pro-Spartan crowd. You also have to wonder if this is the last time we will see Jim Calhoun manning those sidelines.
I - I Want Revenge. I have watched a lot of Kentucky Derby prep races in my day, but I haven't seen more than a couple as convincing as the Wood Memorial this year. I Want Revenge, the heavy favorite, had everything go wrong - he stumbled out of the start, he couldn't find room to move, and opposing jockeys were out to stop him. None of it mattered. Like a seasoned pro, the horse recovered, relaxed, and stormed through an impossible hole to a lead and a good shot at Derby favoritism. People don't like the connections of this horse - the same who owned Big Brown last year - but it's hard not to love the horse.
J - Jay Cutler. Turns out that you can get what you want if you just whine loudly enough. The question now is whether getting what you want is actually a good thing. Cutler got himself traded to a contender, albeit one with a questionable offensive line, a seriously underwhelming receiving corps, and a history of offensive mediocrity. Because it cost a king's ransom to get him, the expectations will be very high. And Chicago fans are not known for their patience and nurturing. Cutler as a Bear could go really well, or it could go really, really badly. Am I a bad person because I am hoping for the latter?
K - Key Biscayne. In what has to be termed at least a slightly surprising result, Andy Murray beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets to take the Sony Ericsson Open on Sunday. Murray continues to play with increasing confidence every time out, and is finally living up to his potential - including a tour-best three victories this year. The final, though interesting, was not what the fans had paid to see - Rafael Nadal was upset in the quarterfinals, and Roger Federer blew a gasket and broke a racket en route to a loss to Djokovic in the semis.
L - Life. Another star athlete has been locked up for life, but this time it's a good thing. Chipper Jones signed a contract extension this week that virtually ensures that he will retire with the only team that he has ever played for. Chipper is one of the small handful of guys - Jeter, Pujols, maybe Dwight Howard one day - who define their teams and their cities, so this has to appeal to the sentimentalist in all of us. Even if we aren't Braves fans. Better this than Jerry Rice as a Seahawk.
M - Musket Man. The potential Kentucky Derby field this year is full of serious contenders and stunningly impressive horses. It's the kind of class in which a few good horses are going to get overlooked completely. Chief among those perhaps is Musket Man, the winner Saturday of the Illinois Derby. He was just a $15,000 yearling purchase, but he's run very well all spring, he's gotten better in every race, and he has a style that could suit the Derby well. The distance is a bit of a question, but it is for almost every three year old at this point in their careers. At the right price, which he is sure to get, this is a horse to watch.
N - Nittany Lions. In what has turned into a very good week for the Big Ten conference, the Nittany Lions have picked themselves up from the disappointment of not getting off the bubble and have got themselves some hardware. Penn State won the NIT, and they looked good doing it. They won their five games reasonably easily, including a convincing win over Florida and a nice win over a solid Baylor team in the final.
O - Opener. The long, long baseball season is officially underway. The Phillies kicked of their season at home in the sole game on Sunday night, celebrating last year's title with pre-game ceremonies. Unfortunately, they couldn't follow the pomp and circumstance with a win. The Atlanta Braves have the best record in baseball for at least one night after beat the Phillies, 4-1, behind an impressive eight inning, two-hit outing from Derek Lowe. Rookie stud Jordan Schafer made quite an impact in his major league debut. He hit a home run in his first at-bat, and added another hit.
P - Pioneerof The Nile. The Santa Anita Derby winner is good, but we just don't know how good he is yet. For the second race in a row, Pioneerof The Nile was handicapped by a bizarre pace scenario that made it very tough for him to run a style that makes him comfortable. Classy as he is, though, he found a way to overcome it for the win. He's an impressive animal and he'll be well backed in Kentucky, though not as much as he would be if he had ever run on dirt before. The best part of his success is that it means that Bob Baffert is returning to Louisville with a serious contender. Baffert is a gem, and the sport is infinitely more interesting when he has a horse that makes people listen to what he has to say.
Q - Quite stupid. The next chapter in the incredible tale of stupidity that is Plaxico Burress has been written. Burress was cut by the Giants this week. The team made the logical decision that keeping a guy around with this kind of legal troubles, never mind one who is stupid enough to shoot himself in his leg, isn't worth the hassle no matter how difficult it is to find a No. 1 receiver. Now it will be interesting to see if New York takes any drastic steps to fill the gap the departure has created.
R - Renaissance. The Texas Rangers seem to have rebranded themselves as a redemption spot for talented major leaguers down on their luck. After having helped Josh Hamilton climb from junkie to hero the team has two more projects on its hands, though neither of these are as likely to succeed as Hamilton was. The team has given Andruw Jones and pitcher Kris Benson roster spots. Both guys will likely be on a short leash given their recent histories, but both played well enough in the spring to warrant this opportunity. At this rate I expect to see Dontrelle Willis in Arlington next year.
S - Spartans. You have to give Tom Izzo and his squad nothing but credit. The team and their conference were maligned coming into the tournament, but they have convincingly overcome the two biggest beasts in the most feared conference in the country to earn themselves a spot in the National Championship Game. It's not just that the Spartans have won that is so impressive. It's that they have so thoroughly dominated the second half of both games, and have clearly frustrated opponents that, on paper at least, are superior. Win or lose in the final game this is an incredible run for this team.
T - Tar Heels. I haven't been a huge advocate of the Tar Heels for most of the season. I guess I might have to get over that. North Carolina did pretty much everything right on Saturday night, and that was more than enough for them to prove that they had a significant class advantage over Villanova. Like Tom Izzo, Roy Williams has had his team incredibly well prepared the last couple of games, and they have totally shut down their opponents' strengths.
U - UFC. You can't really accuse the UFC of under-delivering these days. They had another of their lower profile Fight Night cards this week, and they stacked it with 12 solid fights. The card lacked big, marquee names, but there was still intrigue - like when Martin Kampmann got a decision over former WEC champ Carlos Condit in Condit's UFC debut. There was also a strange betting quirk on the card - all 12 fights were won by the favorites.
V - Villanova. They were very good until they weren't anymore. Jay Wright and his boys had one heck of a tournament run, but in the end they ran into a team that was just plain better than they were, and they ran out of answers. There were some solid individual performances on Saturday night, but collectively they weren't fast enough, strong enough, or effective enough to make it all the way.
W - Wow. I don't know about you, but I didn't see this coming - the Magic beat the Cavs on Friday night. Or, more correctly, they absolutely crushed the life out of them. For the first time in his entire career, LeBron James found himself down by more than 40 points as Orlando opened a 41-point gap early in the second half en route to a 29-point win. The Cavs found their winning ways again on Sunday against the Spurs, but this result adds a bit more intrigue to an Eastern Conference playoff battle that was starting to look a bit lopsided.
X - Xavier. The mascots of our column didn't play this week, but it appears as if they suffered a crushing loss anyway. Coach Sean Miller initially rejected a job offer from Arizona on Sunday night, but the school wanted Miller and couldn't afford the embarrassment of being rejected by two high profile coaches, so they sweetened the offer significantly and it appears Miller will take the job. Miller had a great job at Xavier, and his team next year will be even better than it was this year, but you can't blame a guy for jumping at the chance to coach an iconic program in a major conference.
Y - Yikes. I'm not a doctor, but I have watched enough "ER" to know that a bleeding ulcer probably isn't a good thing. Unfortunately, that's just what Ichiro Suzuki is suffering from. He was put on the 15-day DL this week and will miss at least the first eight games of the season. The problem could linger and cause more problems as well - this is not the kind of thing that just goes away. Losing their best player is a major blow for a Seattle team that was already dealing with a very slim margin of error. Playing without Ichiro is a new experience for the team - he has missed an average of just two games a year since coming from Japan.
Z - Zzzzzz. This storyline is getting more than a little tired - Danica Patrick's racing day ended early this weekend after a crash, but instead of taking responsibility for it she got into a shouting match with the other driver involved. This time it was rookie Rapahel Matos. I am sensitive to the fact that she is breaking down barriers and all, but Patrick's continued poor sportsmanship would be much easier to stomach, regardless of her gender, if she had some results to back up her bravado and exposure.