This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 01/12/2009
A - Arkansas. The Razorbacks are one of those college hoops teams that make it hard to love them. They followed up last week's big upset of Oklahoma with an equally impressive win against Texas this weekend. The two wins combined to make them media darlings, and to bring them into the eyes of the casual betting public. They rewarded those with newfound faith in their young team like so many teams do after big wins - they went out and lost their next game to a lesser opponent. It was Mississippi State in this case. Chances are that things aren't going to get better for these guys - they have played their last 10 at home, so the road beckons.
B - Boston College. Speaking of teams that didn't exactly capture the momentum off a huge win, Boston College followed a road win against North Carolina with a home loss against Harvard - 17 point underdogs. They seemed to like losing a lot, because they went right out and did it again. Miami was their next victimizer. Maybe their fans don't need to worry too much - they followed up their last two-game losing slump with a 10-win streak.
C - Celtics. The Eagles aren't the only Boston team that finds themselves struggling. This week found Boston in the midst of a stunning and mostly inexplicable collapse. Three straight losses this week, including one to the fairly lousy Bobcats, dropped them to just 2-7 in their last nine. That's ugly, and it puts a potentially fatal dent in their claim to being the best team in the league. The only saving grace was the way the week ended - they got a solid win in Toronto. Still, the problems persist, and they are significant.
D - Desert. I don't know what's going on in the desert, but the Cardinals could make a fortune if they could bottle it and sell it. I'm not sure there was anyone in the country who thought that Arizona would host the NFC Championship, but that's just what they will do next week. They got there by making Jake Delhomme look worse than totally incompetent. The atmosphere for the game should be electric - it took all of six minutes for the game to sell out.
E - Eli Manning. If Manning had any shame at all he would forfeit his ludicrous Pro Bowl berth immediately. The Giants are one and done at home, and their quarterback is the biggest reason for that. When he needed to be a strong and confident leader, he was instead confused and easily rattled, and he made some stunningly bad decisions that made it easy for the Philly secondary to shine. I've never liked the guy at all, and right now I feel pretty good about that.
F - Florida. Apparently the University of Florida owns the NCAA and just lets the rest of the teams visit. Florida won their second football national championship in three years on Thursday to go with their two in basketball over the same span. It wasn't an overwhelmingly dominant win on Thursday, but it wasn't in doubt for much of the second half, either. The offense was solid, and the defense was smothering, as the Gators made a potent Oklahoma offense look mostly toothless.
G - Golden Hurricane. Tulsa coach Todd Graham got a 10-year contract extension four days before the GMAC Bowl. He celebrated by leading his team to a truly dominating win over Ball State. We knew that the Tulsa offense would be explosive both through the air and on the ground, but the real revelation in the game was just how good Tulsa was on defense. Ball State had a great offense all season, but they couldn't get anything done against Tulsa. Ball State had a good excuse, though - coach Brady Hoke had bolted to San Diego State before the game.
H - He's baaaaack. To the surprise of almost no one, Tim Tebow has chosen to skip the NFL Draft and return for his senior season. It must have been close to a no-brainer - he has a questionable future as a pro, but his return to an already stacked Florida team makes them a lock for the preseason No. 1 ranking, and is very bad news for every team in the SEC and beyond. Don't look for any value in futures odds on this team.
I - Iverson, Allen. The guard got his first chance to return to Denver and remind them what they were missing this week, and he made the most of it, scoring 23 points to lead the Pistons to the win. Chauncey Billups had 30 points against his old team in the loss. Though Detroit got the win, and it's really too early to judge, Denver has so far got the better end of the deal - they are unexpectedly leading their division, while Detroit is lagging far behind the Cavs and not really scaring anyone.
J - Jeff Jagodzinski. This was one odd power struggle. Boston College said they would fire their football coach if he interviewed for the New York Jets' open coaching job. He did. So they did. It's odd on several levels. Jagodzinski doesn't seem likely to get the job, so he is likely to return to a coordinator job in the NFL after two years at Boston College. Like me, he must really hate ACC football. Boston College could find it harder to attract top coaching talent if they will so overtly handicap their ambition. Upward mobility is a fact of life in coaching, and BC is not an ultimate destination type of place.
K - Kirk Hinrich. It's a sad statement about the state of a team when what it desperately needs is the return of Kirk Hinrich. That's exactly where the Bulls are, though. The young team has struggled, and a frustrating lack of defensive accountability is perhaps the biggest reason. That's what Hinrich brings to the team. As rough as the season has been for the Bulls, it's not like it is too late. Only six teams have a winning record in the East, so it likely won't take much to make the playoffs.
L - LeComte Stakes. This race, at Fair Grounds, was the first graded stakes race of the year on the road to the Kentucky Derby. That means that we have an early star on the trail. His name is Friesian Fire. History would suggest he'll probably be forgotten about by May 2 in Louisville, but so far, so good. Trained by Larry Jones, the trainer who brought us Hard Spun and Eight Belles, the horse moved to the lead at the top of the stretch and held on for a solid win. This is Jones' last year as a trainer, so this story has Disney potential all over it.
M - Mats Sundin. The NHL's most eagerly anticipated free agent of the year finally made his debut this week with the Vancouver Canucks. In three games he has looked pretty much exactly like what he is - and old guy who is in nothing approximating game shape. He has a goal in three games, but the team has just one win. Canucks' fans are happy about the addition, but the eventual and much-needed return f Roberto Luongo will be far more valuable.
N - No advantage. We know what the story is supposed to be - an NFL team works hard all season to get that coveted home field advantage, then they reap the rewards in the playoffs. There's just one problem - it really didn't work this year. Three of the four games this weekend were won by the lower seeded road team. For the first time ever, the NFC Championship won't feature the one, two, or three seed, and neither championship game will include a No. 1 seed. Only the Steelers saved the weekend from total lunacy.
O - Ogilvy, Geoff. The PGA Tour is underway for the year, and the runaway, wire-to-wire winner is an Australian. Ogilvy, the former U.S. Open winner, tried to give the tournament away to a hard-charging Anthony Kim on Sunday, but he got his act together on the back nine and won by six easy strokes. The Mercedes-Benz Championship isn't a full-field event, so a win here against the tough field is an impressive start to the year. Apparently American players don't like fast starts - the last eight winners of the tournament have been foreign.
P - Pro. This is the time of year when we learn what college football players we will lose to the pros sooner than we probably want to. There have been several this year, including a huge number of good running backs. The really big names that stick out are two sure-handed speedsters - Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, and two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech. Both guys are redshirt sophomores. There are two coaches that almost certainly wish they had started the players as true freshman so they could have got another year of production out of them.
Q - Quite strange. One of the strangest sights early in the upcoming baseball season will be seeing John Smoltz in something other than a Braves jersey. After 21 seasons in Atlanta, Smoltz has signed a one-year offer sheet with the Red Sox. Smoltz is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but I like the deal - he'll provide some good innings, and his intense competitive spirit and professionalism will only help the youngsters on the team. There is very little downside.
R - Rod Marinelli. What happens to the first ever coach to lead a team to a 0-16 season in the NFL? Surprisingly, he gets a new job less than two weeks after getting fired. Granted, it's a step down - he's the new defensive line coach for the Bears, and he has the increasingly common and increasingly meaningless title of assistant head coach as well. Even more surprising, he took this job to work with his pal Lovie Smith over several offers to be a defensive coordinator. Given the respect he is clearly held in by his NFL peers, it seems clear that Detroit's pathetic showing wasn't particularly his fault.
S - Snow. The Steelers' game was an ugly, snowy affair - especially for the Chargers. San Diego got off to a fast early start, and Darren Sproles had some highlights, but in the end the Steelers were too much for the Chargers to handle. Ben Roethlisberger got better as the game went along, and the Chargers offense wasn't up for the challenge of the Steelers' defense. This playoff season has shown us that anything can happen, but Pittsburgh did a compelling imitation of a championship-caliber team.
T - Tiresome. Everyone who doesn't understand this needs to get their head around it - Utah is not the national champion. I am sick to death of the argument that they were somehow wronged or cheated. The system isn't perfect, but any system that has to identify one top team from 118 after just 13 games isn't going to be perfect. If Utah was No. 1, Florida would be rightfully outraged, and USC and Texas would have the same claims that they do now. Instead of complaining about this issue when it happens and sounding like a bunch of babies, people just need to relax and enjoy college football for the beautiful mess that it is.
U - UNC. Now this is getting crazy. For the second time in eight days, the supposedly unstoppable force that is the Tar Heels has lost a conference game. This time around it was the surprisingly undefeated Wake Forest Demon Deacons that did the Tar Heels in. This loss isn't as embarrassing as the first one, but it still isn't good. Two problems jump out at first glance at the scoresheet - Ty Lawson wasn't particularly good (nor was he against BC), and Tyler Hansborough had his lowest point total in 10 games.
V - Vu, deja. After a long and illustrious career, Brendan Shanahan is poised to return to where it all began. Shanahan is about to return the New Jersey Devils, the team that drafted him. The veteran hasn't played this year, and was holding out hope of returning to the Rangers, the team he has been with for a couple of years. When it became clear he wasn't going to land there, though, he jumped at the next best opportunity. It's a good deal. Shanahan lands on a team that will make the playoffs and always finds a way to be dangerous once they get there. New Jersey doesn't get the sniper Shanny once was, but they still get a workable forward who is an outstanding leader. That's important for the team with the injury to Martin Brodeur.
W - Wolverines. I might be the only one that cares, but it has been so long since Michigan basketball gave fans like me anything to cheer about that I can't help but revel in our current success. My boys won two conference games this week. Both fell into the category of games that they absolutely needed to win to contend, but the fact that they got it done is more than we have expected in years. Sunday's win over Iowa was particularly inspiring - the first half was perhaps the most perfect half of basketball the team has played in a decade. I'm still trying to be realistic, but we are entering the territory in which not making the tournament will be truly gutting.
X - Xavier. It was a very solid week for our mascots. They had two conference games against outclassed opponents, and they did exactly what they should do - they crushed them. In a pleasing bit of symmetry, both games - against St. Louis and at Fordham - were won by 26 points. Next up is Rhode Island - a better test than the prior two, but still a game that shouldn't be too much of a challenge if the Musketeers are firing.
Y - Yikes. Jake Delhomme was bad. Really, really, really bad. So bad, in fact, that it would take an absolute miracle for him to have not played himself out of a job. Delhomme had five interceptions on 34 passes, and he lost a fumble for good measure. Every quarterback has bad days, but Delhomme looked so stunningly ineffective and disinterested that you'd think that there has to be more to it than just a bad day. After all, it's not like the Arizona defense is particularly world class.
Z - Zoom. It seemed like Cal had made a very good coaching move - they needed a total overhaul, and Mike Montgomery was desperate to return to the safety of the Pac-10 after the nightmare of the NBA. By any measure, though, the team is ahead of schedule. After going a dismal 6-12 in conference play last year, the team has started out at 4-0 with solid wins over Arizona State and Washington. The Bears lead the country in three-point percentage, and are a legitimate Pac-10 force. Keep this up and Montgomery might have to make room for some hardware in his personal trophy case.