This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 01/26/2009
A - Absence of football. For the first time since August we had a weekend without meaningful football. It sucked. There is, of course, one more game on the horizon, but this weekend was a stark reminder of the long, painful drought that is just around the corner. We don't even have arena football to kick around and at least pretend that it's a suitable replacement this year. Thank goodness for college basketball.
B - Bayern Munich. David Beckham isn't the only MLS star who is on a European vacation. Landon Donovan, from the L.A. Galaxy like Beckham, is currently on loan to Bayern Munich, and he's making a big impact. Donovan has scored four goals in his first five games in Germany, and had a fifth goal called back because of an offside. The games have been one-sided, high scoring, friendly matches, but Donovan is the leading scorer. He'll be in Germany until mid-March.
C - Celtics. It turns out that the reports of their demise were premature. Since losing seven of nine games, Boston has rolled off eight straight wins. A few have been particularly impressive - they rolled over Orlando by 10 in Florida, and rolled over the Mavericks last time out. Their second game of the year against the Lakers looms on Feb. 5. That will serve as a good test of both teams, and as a potential preview of a Finals rematch.
D - Dunkirk. Money rarely buys success in horse racing, but a very expensive purchase looked like a superstar in his debut. Dunkirk was bought for $3.7 million as a yearling, and he made his debut at Gulfstream Park as a three year old this weekend. He's royally bred - his dam, Secret Status, won the Kentucky Oaks in 2000, and his sire, A.P. Indy, is a former horse of the year. Dunkirk beat 11 horses in the race, winning by almost six lengths. Trainer Todd Pletcher has yet another budding star on his hands.
E - Emelianenko, Fedor. Any doubts that Emelianenko was the top heavyweight in the MMA world were convincingly erased on Saturday when he stopped Andrei Arlovski with one thundering punch. Arlovski was strong early, and seemed to have Emelianenko on edge. But then Arlovski got greedy and tried for a fling knee. Emelianenko caught him with a mid-air punch in response, and Arlovski was seeing stars. Arlovski became the fifth former UFC Heavyweight champion that the terrifying Russian has dispatched.
F - Fraternal love. I'm guessing Christmas will be awkward in the McGwire household next year. Mark McGwire's brother claims that the slugger did steroids. He also claims that he injected them into his brother. The account would obviously be damaging for McGwire's already heavily-tarnished reputation, but the claims are very dubious - the McGwire brothers are not close, and the brother has a book he is trying to shop to publishers. Still, this is further proof that steroids were the worst thing ever to happen to baseball.
G - Georgetown. Something is clearly wrong with the Hoyas. They have lost three games in a row, and five of their last seven. Four of the five losses have been conference games, too. The first three losses were acceptable - two eventual No. 1 seeds in Pitt and Duke, and a tough loss at Notre Dame. It's the last two that are a real concern, though. They lost by 17 at home to West Virginia, and then dropped a real stunner at Seton Hall. It was the first conference win of the year for the Pirates. Georgetown somehow managed to stay in the rankings, but their 12-6 record is far from good enough for their talent.
H - Howard, Dwight. Howard is now officially a megastar. Superman has set a record by becoming the first player to earn more than three million votes for the all-star team. He certainly deserves it - he leads the league in rebounds, blocks, and double-doubles, and his Magic are running away with their division. He's also a very likable star - he seems like a good guy, he has a great sense of humor, and he is almost certainly not going to wind up in jail.
I - It's a Bird. The first million-dollar race of the year was run at Gulfstream on Saturday, and it created a potential older horse star. It's a Bird took the lead in the final turn of the Sunshine Millions Classic and pulled away to win by more than five lengths. Macho Again was seen as the potential star in the field, which was limited to California- and Florida-bred horses, but he didn't fire and finished seventh. This was by far the biggest win in 27 career starts for the winner, and he has found improved form since switching trainers from Todd Pletcher to Marty Wolfson. He has won four of seven since the switch.
J - Juggernaut. I keep writing about Louisville here, but their play keeps justifying it. They could have been due for letdown after their win over Pitt, but they kept playing strong this week. They won two road games - an easy matchup at Rutgers, and a much tougher battle at Syracuse. They are now tied atop the Big East with Marquette, and have covered the spread in all six of their conference tilts.
K - Knee. The Milwaukee Bucks are barely hanging on to a playoff spot, but it probably isn't going to last. Leading scorer Michael Redd is out for the year with tears to the ACL and MCL in his left knee. Redd had already missed 14 games with a bad ankle, so this is unquestionably a frustrating year. He's not alone on the Bucks - Andrew Bogut has missed 13 games this year. Redd had settled into strong form before the injury, averaging 25 points per game in January.
L - Lakers. It was a very good week for Kobe and his boys. They peeled off four wins in four games, and two of them -- against Cleveland and San Antonio -- were both important and decisive. The unquestioned star of the week was center Andrew Bynum. It took the youngster a while to find his form this year, but he certainly has it now. He has averaged more than 13 rebounds in his last three games, and had 42 points against the Clippers.
M - Marc Iavaroni. To the shock of no one, the Memphis Grizzlies made a coaching change this week. He was just 11-30 when he was fired on Thursday, and the team lost 15 of his final 17 games. The change didn't make an immediate difference - the Grizzlies lost their first two without Iavaroni. The replacement was named Sunday, but he is far from inspiring - Lionel Hollins' only head coaching experience is an interim stint with the Grizzlies when they were in Vancouver.
N - NHL All-Star Game. If this game was a horse it would be time to take it out behind the barn and shoot it. The hockey players took a page from the NBA All-Star Game when they chose to play absolutely no defense. The game wound up 12-11 in a shootout. That obviously doesn't resemble good hockey in any way, and it's pretty much a waste of time. The only notable fact about the game is that it featured the first penalty in the contest since 2000.
O - Oregon State. It was a very good week for the Obama family, and that extends to the new president's brother-in-law, Craig Robinson. He coaches Oregon State basketball, and he led his team on a stunning road trip this week, with wins at both Cal and Stanford. It was the first time since 1993 that the Beavers have pulled that off, and it's particularly remarkable considering Oregon State became the first team ever to go winless in the Pac-10 last year. Oregon State also has a home win over USC, which gives them more conference wins than good teams like Oregon and Arizona.
P - Pat Perez. The 32-year-old journeyman golfer finally got his first tournament win this weekend in the Bob Hope Classic, but he needed a lot of help from Steve Stricker to get it. Stricker was at 33 under, the eventual winning score in the five-day event, going into final round, but he had a triple bogey at the seventh hole, and a quadruple bogey at 10 to fall out of contention. Perez had led the first three days, and ultimately won by three strokes. Stricker tied with Mike Weir for third.
Q - Q. The media doesn't have nearly enough to talk about in the first week of the two-week break before the Super Bowl, so they have to really overplay a story or two to fill time. This time around it was Anquan Boldin. He'd had an argument with his offensive coordinator late in the NFC Championship game, he'd ducked out of the dressing room early after the game, and that meant that he and his teammates and coaches had to tell everyone a million times that the situation would not be a distraction. It already is, of course, but it doesn't seem likely that it will be a difference-maker.
R - Ricky Hatton. There was drama in the boxing world this week, but as so often happens lately it didn't happen in the ring. Hatton had his upcoming fight with Manny Pacquaio called off over a dispute about money. But then both fighters realized that Floyd Mayweather probably isn't coming back soon, and there is no one else for either fighter to fight that offers the same payday, so the two best active pound-for-pound fighters in the game came to their senses and came to terms.
S - Spurs. San Antonio had a rough loss to the Lakers on Sunday, but that doesn't take away from the fact that they have found their form after a rough start. A team that was once just 10-8 is now up to 29-14, and they had won 14 of 17 before falling to the Lakers. It's still hard to believe that the team is elite, and they still have to improve to be relevant late in the season, but we can't yet count out the incredibly boring Spurs.
T - Timberwolves. What team has been the hottest in the NBA since New Year's Day? The Lakers? Nope. The Celtics? Not at all. Cleveland? Orlando? No and no. Incredibly, it is Minnesota, which is at 9-2 since the flip of the calendar. You don't have to worry about reserving them a playoff spot, though - the hot streak moves them to just 15-27. Still, it proves something that I didn't believe to be true - Kevin McHale knows how to coach.
U - Unbeatens. Last year we got all the way to the end of February before Memphis, the last of the unbeatens, lost. It happened a full month earlier this year, and in far less impressive fashion. Memphis lost to in-state rival Tennessee in an instant classic, while Wake Forest fell asleep at the wheel and dropped a bad game to Virginia Tech. The Hokies have a penchant for giant killing - they knocked off No. 1 North Carolina a couple of years back - but there is no excuse for the Deacons. This get no easier for them this week, starting with Duke on Wednesday.
V - Venus Williams. The elder Williams sister did what the sisters do so well - disappointed under the weight of reasonable expectations. Venus went to the Australian Open with a chance to make an impact against a relatively weak field, but she looked unfocused and uninterested before being upset in the first week. She wasn't alone in underperforming - Ana Ivanovic also lost one she absolutely should have won.
W - Wildcats. Northwestern is a rebuilding program, but they started the week off on a very good note this week. They had a solid win over Minnesota on Sunday, and followed that up with a huge performance. They traveled to Michigan State, and they emerged with an incredibly unlikely but thoroughly convincing seven-point win. Unfortunately, they are just 2-5 in conference, and their hot streak ended when they ran into the unstoppable force that is my Michigan Wolverines on Saturday.
X - Xavier. It was a very interesting week for the mascots of our column. First, they traveled to St. Bonaventure and took care of business in an easy game to move to 5-0 in the conference. Then they had a much bigger test, and they passed it impressively. They traveled to LSU, and emerged with a very solid 10-point win against a decent SEC team. The SEC isn't a mega-conference this year, but it still builds confidence for a team looking to do some tournament damage.
Y - Yikes. As a general rule I don't spend much time following or writing about girl's high school basketball, but this story is too strange to ignore. The Covenant School of Dallas beat Dallas Academy 100-0 two weeks ago. The head of the winning school then posted an apology on the school's website, saying he was embarrassed by the approach to competition. The coach disagreed with the statement, saying that his team played with honor and integrity and did nothing wrong. For winning a game 100-0, then, the coach's ultimate reward was getting fired. That'll teach him to have his team well prepared.
Z - Zzzzz. The only football we did have this weekend was the Senior Bowl. As always, the reports coming out of practice all week were more interesting and more valuable than the game ultimately was. Pat White was the MVP of the game, but he probably didn't do enough in the game to change the prevailing opinion out of practice that he is a pro receiver, not a quarterback. The week affirmed other things we already knew, including the weakness of the senior QB class.