Saturday’s Den: NCAA tourney notes, and random thoughts on a winter night

13) Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, stolen Thursday by thieves who shot and wounded a dog walker,, were recovered unharmed Friday in Los Angeles. The dog walker is expected to recover from his gunshot wounds; they didn’t say if the woman who returned the dogs banked the $500,000 reward Lady Gaga posted.

12) Georgia State 84, South Alabama 81— When ESPN first started 40 years ago, they showed a lot of Sun Belt games early on. I’m thinking they should give the league a weekly time slot now, either on Friday nights or Sundays:

a) They play good basketball; this game was fun to watch.
b) to show appreciation for helping ESPN get off the ground 40 years ago

This loss snapped South Alabama’s 8-game winning streak.

11) Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan are heavy favorites to be #1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but it is totally unclear who the fourth #1-seed will be.

10) Saint Louis 72, Richmond 67— Teams in A-14 are cannibalizing each other; I’m not even sure the A-14 will get more than one team in the tournament. Top six teams in the standings all have either three or four conference losses.

9) New Mexico fired basketball coach Paul Weir, but he’ll finish the season. Lobos are 16-36 in Mountain West games the last three years. Firing a coach after this screwed-up season could be judged as hasty; Lobos are very inexperienced this year, a bad season for that to happen.

8) Wichita State removed the interim tag from basketball coach Isaac Brown’s job title, named him the full-time head coach. Shockers have won five in a row, are 13-4 this season.

7) Random fact: actor Jim Belushi owns a cannabis farm in Oregon.

Some notes to remember for the upcoming NCAA tournament:
6) Last three years, #1-seeds are 5-7 ATS in first round, 4-7 ATS in second round

5) Last four years, #2-seeds are 9-6-1 ATS in first round, 6-10 ATS in second round.

4) Last six years, in 2nd round games in #4-5 seeds’ bracket, favorites are 19-5 ATS.

3) Last four years, underdogs are 11-5 ATS in Sweet 16 games.

2) Last six tournaments (obviously, there was no tournament LY), underdogs are 16-8 ATS in Elite 8 games.

1) Last nine years, underdogs are 10-8 ATS in national semifinals, but favorites covered six of last nine national title games. 

Monday’s Den: Happy birthday, Dad…….

13) I’ve become a fan of listening to podcasts on my phone; if there aren’t any good movies on TV late at night, after the games are over, then I’ll put music on or listen to a podcast.

I’m a little concerned that podcasts have replaced writing in a lot of places, because our society is lazy, and running your mouth is easier than typing out your thoughts, but still, I’ve enjoyed learning stuff from listening to people who are smarter than I am. 

Word of caution: There A LOT OF PODCASTS out there, so pick/choose things that interest you. My main interests are sports and movies; here are a few podcasts I listen to:

— The Moment, with Brian Koppelman (one of writers of Billions)
— Eye on College Basketball, a CBS production which is self-explanatory.
— The Mind of Miles, with former Nebraska hoop coach Tim Miles, who will have himself a nice career on TV if he chooses that option. He is upbeat and can really talk.
— Truth and Basketball, with George Karl and another guy- they get some good guests. Listened to an episode with Julius Erving the other night.
— 6 Ways to Sunday— Rams’ GM Les Snead and his wife, Kara Henderson talk about interesting aspects of being an NFL GM that we might not usually think about.

Sports, politics, movies, music; its all out there. Its like eavesdropping on conversations, so if you choose smart, interesting people, you’ll get smarter while you’re being entertained.

12) Book recommendation: If you love pro basketball and you remember the ABA, then you have to read Loose Balls, which is basically an oral history of the ABA. The author interviewed a ton of people, then cut/pasted their answers and created this book, long before cut/paste was an actual thing. 

Lot of great stories; some of it is obviously dated, seeing how the ABA ended 45 years ago, but the ABA is also highly underrated in basketball history. This book is worth reading.

11) Kid on Florida Atlantic’s baseball team hit two grand slams in one inning the other day, and they were his first two college at-bats. Not a bad way to start your career.

10) I’m in a 14-team fantasy baseball league; it is a dynasty league, so we have a 2-round draft every February, but otherwise keep our teams from year-to-year. This league has been going on since 2005; we’ve finished our draft already and now wait for spring training games to start this coming weekend. Every team gets four drop/adds per month.

I used to offer trades during the spring, but trading can be frustrating; only a couple guys will make deals that are fair exchanges. Few years ago, thought I had a trade wrapped up, but then the guy says, “One more thing……throw in deGrom and we’ve got a deal” Ummm, no bueno.

9) Colorado Rockies are taking grief over dealing Nolan Arenado, and the prospect of Trevor Story also getting traded sometime this year, before he hits free agency. Last time Colorado signed a major league free agent?

December 21, 2018, they signed Daniel Murphy. Are they trying to win?

8) More bad news for the Rockies Sunday; 35-year old 1B/OF Ian Desmond is opting out for the second year in a row, to spend more time with his family. Desmond must’ve taken good care of his money; he has passed on $13.5M by sitting out last year/this year. He is a free agent after this season; why would a hitter willingly leave Denver?

7) One of the pitfalls of wagering on college basketball is that lot of teams have very little depth, and a turned ankle or foul trouble to one guy can cripple a team.

— Notre Dame-Syracuse game Saturday, both teams played 7 guys (Syracuse played an 8th kid, but only for 3:00)
— South Alabama is on a roll, winning 8 in a row; they played six guys Saturday. Six!!!

Lot of work keeping up with who is healthy/who isn’t. It is way worse this year because of teams pausing for COVID and games getting re-scheduled. Hopefully next season will be more normal.

6) When you hear a basketball announcer on TV say “Eurostep” that’s his polite way of saying, “the guy just walked but the ref didn’t call it.”

5) Atlantic 14 tournament has been jockeyed around some:
— Tournament was moved up to March 3-6 in Richmond, all except the final.
— A-14 final will be March 14 in Dayton, which is close to Indiana, where the whole NCAA Tournament will be played. Trying to minimize any possible COVID issues.

4) St Bonaventure 69, Davidson 58:
— Bonnies are 11-3, 9-3 in conference.
— Get a map, and find Olean, NY; it is in middle of nowhere, on Southern Tier of NY.
— How does Bonnies’ coach Mark Schmidt not have a better job? He is a great coach.

Bonnies have 12 players, 2 freshmen, one sophomore, and NINE JUNIORS. They could be a really good team the next couple of years.

3) When I wrote tomorrow NBA’s page just before I started this page, was watching the Minnesota-Knicks game on TV. Knicks won a close game; just heard that after the game, the Timberwolves fired coach Ryan Saunders.

2) As if the last year hasn’t been weird enough, Saturday an NHL game was delayed for eight hours because the sun was out and the ice at the outdoor rink was melting. This was at the same time as the PGA event in Los Angeles being delayed because it was too windy out. Oy.

1) Today would’ve been my dad’s 95th birthday; he passed away six years ago, and I miss him every day. He was a quiet, patient person; somehow the patience didn’t get passed down to his son. 🙂

Back in the day, I wasn’t allowed to watch The Three Stooges on TV: my mother apparently thought I would start drilling people in the head with a wrench if I did, but when she went out, I would put The Three Stooges on (WSBK in Boston) and my dad would come in the room, shake his head at me, but five minutes later, he’d be laughing harder than I was. Every time.

My dad grew up in New York City, was a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan; he loved golf, the Mets/Knicks/Giants, going to the racetrack at Saratoga and being around his family, and we loved being around him. Happy birthday dad; wish you were here. 

Monday’s Den: Going thru college basketball conferences

Selection Sunday is less than four weeks away; no one even knows yet how Championship Week is going to play out; will every conference have a tournament this year, or just a lot of makeup games, so the better teams can jack up their power ratings?

Here is what I think/know about how teams look heading into the season’s stretch run:

AAC— Houston is 17-2, the AAC’s only sure bet to be in the field of 68; Cougars beat Texas Tech on a neutral floor in November, will be a popular sleeper pick in people’s brackets.

Cincinnati is 4-0 since their 25-day COVID pause; the four wins were by a total of nine points. Memphis, SMU still have a shot to play their way into at-large bids.

ACC— When ESPN’s announcers openly talk about the ACC being down this year, you KNOW the league is down. kenpom.com has ACC as the #4 league, tied for its lowest ranking since 2013. Right now, Virginia/Florida State look like the only sure things for the NCAA’s.

ACC will wind up with 2-3 other teams in the field, but it’ll be dependent on who wins lot of games from now on. Louisville is on a pause; Virginia Tech and UNC should get in if the wheels don’t fall off for them. Duke is 8-8, 6-6 in league; they’re a bubble team.

A-14— Some teams in this league have been hit hard by the pandemic; Davidson hasn’t played in three weeks, Saint Louis went 34 days between games, Fordham didn’t play a game until December 30, then fired its coach.

Their conference tournament will be one of the better ones; the winner might be the only A-14 team in the field of 68.

Big East— Villanova/Creighton are in, Seton Hall is mostly in. Rest of the league better get hot, or they’ll be in the NIT. KenPom has the Big East at #5, as low as they’ve been since 2002.

UConn lost lost four of its last six games; Xavier just had a 2-week pause. Under Patrick Ewing., Georgetown is 23-42 in regular season conference games; how does he get to fix things?

Big 14— One of the most interesting parts of Selection Sunday will be how many teams from this league get in the field of 68. Pundits on the Big 14 Network would have you believe that every team in the league is tournament-worthy, but we know thats not true. Why should a team that finishes 9th or 10th in a 14-team league get to play for a national title? 

Michigan came off a 23-day layoff Sunday and had a terrific comeback win at Wisconsin; Ohio State has won 9 of its last 10 games, Illinois has won five in a row (with two OT wins). One of the things I’ll be looking at is if Iowa gets in the same bracket as a real athletic underdog, a team like VCU or Loyola or Oregon.

Big X— Baylor hasn’t played in three weeks; my thing is that teams will need 3-4 games before the tournament to get their sea legs back. Oklahoma won its last won 7 of its last 8 games, and has a coach who has taken two other schools to a Final Four. They’re going to get six teams in the tournament unless Oklahoma State gets hot and makes it seven.

Texas was 11-2 before their 10-day COVID pause; they’re 3-2 since, but won their last couple games- they’re a team to watch between now and Selection Sunday.

Big West— I enjoy watching Big West games on my laptop late at night; its a good league, not a great league, but highly competitive. Adding Cal-Bakersfield made their conference tournament a hell of a lot harder- they’re a tough defensive team that doesn’t score points early, a lot like Cal-Irvine, another one of the league’s frontrunners.

Cal-Santa Barbara hasn’t lost yet in 2021 (10-0); this is the best team Cal-Riverside has ever had, and with a first-year head coach. Bottom part of the league has been on pause a lot; the semi-final doubleheader at the Big West tournament will be must-see TV.

Conference USA— North Texas/Western Kentucky seem like the two best teams; Mean Green hasn’t made the tournament since 2010, WKU hasn’t made it since 2013. UAB, Louisiana Tech also have a legit shot to win the tournament; this is a one-bid league.

Last three NCAA tournaments, C-USA had three different teams repping it, and none of those three were North Texas/Western Kentucky. Hilltoppers have an NBA big man in Bassey and three senior starters; this is Rick Stansbury’s time to shine.

Mountain West— Utah State, Boise State, San Diego State figure to battle it out in Las Vegas; Aztecs can get an at-large bid even if they lose in Vegas- they beat UCLA, Arizona State back before Christmas. San Diego State plays Boise State twice in a couple weeks; Aztecs got swept by Utah State. All three of those teams shouldo be in the Mountain West Final Four.

Bottom half of this league is really bad; the bottom three teams are a combined 6-35. Aztecs will sweat some on Selection Sunday if they lose in the MW tournament, but they’re likely the only team in the league that rates an at-large bid.

Pac-12— Contrary to what Bill Walton talks about on ESPN every week, league is a little down- Arizona’s being ineligible because of recruiting violations is a big part of that. I’m thinking four teams from Pac-12 get in. Right now, USC is clearly the best team, but Andy Enfield won more NCAA tourney game at Florida Gulf Coast (2) than he has with the Trojans (1).

UCLA lost three of its last five games; Mick Cronin hasn’t had a great record in March. Oregon usually gets stronger as time goes on; they’re likely to make some noise next month. Colorado has a veteran team, but they play one good game, then have a stinker- their last three losses are to Washington, Utah, Cal, all bad losses. 

SEC— The most 2020 thing in college hoop is that Kentucky is 6-13, 6-7 in conference; curious to see if John Calipari is in the CBS studio during the first round of the tournament. With the league’s perennial frontrunner out of the picture, that leaves Alabama as the best team- they’re fun to watch, play a very fast pace, but they don’t have a great basketball pedigree (one win in NCAA’s, since 2007).

SEC figures to get five other teams in the field of 68; Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee. Would expect all six teams to win their first round game; not sure any of them, other than Alabama, will get to the Sweet 16.

Southern— Much like the Big West, I’m looking forward to the semi-finals of this tournament; this is a one-bid league, so when East Tennessee, Furman, NC-Greensboro and Wofford likely face off in the semi-finals, it’ll be very entertaining.

WCC— Gonzaga is in this league; they’re this generation’s version of Jerry Tarkanian’s great UNLV teams from 30-40 years ago. Big fish, small pond, strong national footprint. Gonzaga is going to be favored to win a national title; that springs added pressure.

BYU is only other WCC team that has a shot at an at-large bid; they have wins over San Diego State, Utah. BYU probably needs to get to 20 wins for that to happen; they’re a mature team in terms of the players’ ages, which has to help in a weird season like this one. 

Since 1995, #3 or lower seeds in Super Bowls.

1997— #4 AFC Denver (+11.5) W31-24
1999— #4 AFC Tennessee (+7) L16-23
2000— #4 AFC Baltimore (-3) W34-7
2003— #3 NFC Carolina (+7) L29-32
2005— #6 AFC Pittsburgh (-4) W21-10
2006— #3 AFC Indianapolis (-6.5) W29-17
2007— #5 NFC NJ Giants (+12) W17-14
2008— #4 NFC Arizona (+7) L23-27
2010— #6 NFC Green Bay (-2.5) W31-25
2011— #4 NFC NJ Giants (+3) W21-17
2012— #4 AFC Baltimore (+4.5) W34-31

Since 1995, #3 or worse seeds in Super Bowl: 8-3 SU, 10-0-1 ATS

Friday’s Den: A small sampling of Super Bowl prop bets

You can bet on almost anything in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Here are interesting prop bets (this is just a small sample— the entire menu of bets is a 40-page document)

13) As I type this, Chiefs are a 3-point favorite, with a total of 56.

Chiefs, over/under 29.5 points

Bucs, over/under 26.5 points

12) Over/under passing yards for Patrick Mahomes: 331.5

Over/under passing yards for Tom Brady: 306.5

11) Will the game be tied at any point, after 0-0?
Yes -$200, No -$240

10) Will there be a lead change in 4th quarter?
Yes +$110 No -$130

9) Receptions by Mike Evans: over/under 4.5

8) Longest reception for Tyreek Hill: over/under 27.5

7) Teams that will have the longest touchdown play:
Chiefs -$150, Buccaneers +$130

6) Will either team score three straight times?
Yes -$210, No -$180

5) Will either team score in first 6:30 of the game?
Yes -$155, No +$135

Will either team score in final 3:30 of the game?
Yes -$170, No +$150

4) Will Tom Brady throw an interception?
Yes -$140, No +$120

3) Longest touchdown play of the game: 46.5 yards

Shortest touchdown play of the game: 1.5 yards
Over +$150, Under -$170

2) Total yardage of all made field goals in game: 112.5 yards

1) Longest made field goal in game: 46.5 yards

Wednesday’s Den: My nine favorite Super Bowls, and other Super Bowl trivia

13) Steelers 31, Rams 19:
— Even though they lost, it was first time Rams made it to a Super Bowl.
— Rams led 19-17 after third quarter; they were 10.5-point underdogs.
— This was Pittsburgh’s fourth Super Bowl title in six years.

12) Giants 17, Patriots 14:
— The thought of a New England team going 17-0 was nauseating.
— Subway sandwich chain was recently sued by two people who claim the “tuna” in Subway’s tuna subs is something other than tuna.
— I used to eat lot of Subway subs, until they hired Bill Belichick to do commercials, then I switched to Jersey Mike’s. Much better subs.

11) Chiefs 23, Vikings 7:
— NFL Films’ highlight film of this game made KC coach Hank Stram a household name.
— “Keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys” NFL Films struck gold miking the coach.
— This was the last game before AFL/NFL merged; Chiefs were a 12-point dog.
 
10) Raiders 32, Vikings 14:
— Minnesota made the Rams’ life miserable in 70’s playoff games, so this was a good result.
— This was my senior year in HS; I played in a CYO basketball league where the games were played in a Jewish Community Center. Go figure.
— We had a game scheduled at same time as the Super Bowl; our refs didn’t show up until after the football game. I sat in a lounge and ate chips/drank soda watching the football game. Needless to say, I was fairly useless during the basketball game.

9) From 1984-96 seasons, the NFC won 13 consecutive Super Bowls.

8) In his nine Super Bowls, Tom Brady’s team has never scored a first quarter TD, or led after the first quarter (0-4-5). He’s won six of the nine games SU.

7) Strange Stat of the Day:
Last 14 Super Bowls, the team with the lesser win %age went 10-4 SU, 13-1 ATS

6) Only twice has the team that lost a Super Bowl won the big game the next season:
— Dallas lost Super Bowl V to the Colts, beat Miami the next year.
— New England lost Super Bowl LII to Philadelphia, won the Super Bowl the next year.

5) Saints 31, Colts 17:
— Saints were in the NFL 21 years before they played a playoff game.
— Someone made a commercial of Saints fans’ reactions at home parties when Tracy Porter ran back a pick-6 74 yards to clinch the game for New Orleans. It is a great commercial.

4) Chiefs 31, 49ers 20:
— Whenever the 49ers lose, I’m probably pretty happy.
— I’ve never heard anyone say they dislike Andy Reid, and I know someone who hates Ray Romano. Reid won his first world title in his 21st year as a head coach.
— 49ers led this game 20-10 after third quarter.

3) Eagles 41, Patriots 33:
— Nick Foles is 28-27 as a regular season starter, 4-2 in playoff games.
— He’s played for five teams in nine years, but will always be a Philly legend.
— Foles caught a TD pass on a trick play to give Philly a 22-12 halftime lead.

2) Steelers 27, Cardinals 23:
— Arizona lost, but getting Cardinals here put Kurt Warner in the Hall of Fame.
— Warner threw a 64-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald with 2:37 left to put Arizona ahead.
— Big Ben won it with a 6-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes with 0:35 left.

1) Rams 23, Titans 16:
— 73-yard TD pass from Warner to Bruce with 1:54 left put Rams ahead.
— Mike Jones tackles a Titans’ WR on 1-yard line as time ran out.
— Warner capped off a storybook season, throwing for 414 yards.