November 2009

Sports picksNovember 27, 2009

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the high-rate at which favorites in the NFL were hitting. In that article, I noted that through seven weeks of play, underdogs were getting hammered:

Underdogs all sizes: 45% ATS
Underdogs of 7+ points: 39%
Underdogs of 9.5+ points: 35%
Underdogs of 10.5+ points: 27%

In that article I warned about betting the farm on favorites because decades of NFL history tell us that favorites simply don’t win at a rate anywhere near that. History actually tells us that things tend to revert to the mean.

So what has happened since then? In weeks 8-11, underdogs have fought back with a vengeance! Here’s what’s happened over the past four weeks:

Underdogs all sizes: 66% ATS
Underdogs of 7+ points: 67%
Underdogs of 9.5+ points: 64%
Underdogs of 10.5+ points: 62%

So what started out as a very anomalous season with favorites cashing at a very high rate, has evened out. After 11 weeks, it actually looks like a typical NFL season with dogs hitting at a 53% rate and big dogs (7+) hitting at a 50% rate. That’s right: All the profits from betting favorites through the first seven weeks has been completely wiped out in the last four weeks.

What does the rest of the season have in store? Only time will tell. But as a predominately underdog bettor, I have to say I’m glad things have normalized thus far.


Football picksNovember 16, 2009

Bill Belichick is catching a ton of heat for going for it on 4th down late in last night’s game. New England owned a 6-point lead and had the ball 4th and 2 on their own 28-yard line with 2:08 on the clock. Conventional wisdom says punt the ball. After all, that would give the Colts a long-field with two minutes to go, needing a touchdown. The announcers and analysts including Tony Dungy were unequivocal about their belief that punting was absolutely the right thing to do.

I disagree! Belichick made the right decision. It didn’t pan out for him, but who says punting would have kept the Colts out of the end zone? The way to judge the decision is not just on the result, but to analyze the options in detail.

The key to the question is, what was the chance that Indianapolis would score a touchdown in the two scenarios: NE punt or NE go for it. Here’s the answer:

If New England punts it
Assuming a 40-yard net punt, the Colts would have taken over at their own 32-yard line with two minutes to go. Historically, teams needing to march this far to get a touchdown to win, actually get the TD about 30% of the time. Now, Peyton Manning and this offense is not an average offense. Let’s say they are 35% better than average and have a 35% better chance than average to actually march down and score. That would give the Colts a 40% chance of winning the game (30% x 1.35). That means New England has a 60% of winning the game if they punted.

If New England goes for it
The NFL average conversion rate on 4th and 2 is 60%. But, with Tom Brady (one of the best QBs ever) behind center, we have to agree that the percentage is higher than the NFL average, which includes average and horrible QBs and offenses. Let’s say Tom Brady is 20% better than the average QB. That would give us an expected 1st down rate of 72%. That’s a 72% chance to lock in the win right there! Now, even if they don’t convert, they still have a chance to stop Manning and the Indy offense from marching 30 yards for the score. Let’s assume that on average, this Colts offense will score a touchdown about half the time from the 30-yard line with two minutes to go. Heck, since it’s Peyton Manning, let’s up that to 60%. Given there is a 28% chance that Indy gets their hands on the ball, we need to give then a 17% chance of scoring a touchdown (28% x 60%). So, in the end, by going for it, Belichick had an 83% chance of winning the game.

By punting the Pats had a 60% chance to win, and by going for it they had an 83% chance. That’s a huge difference and Belichick made the right call! Even if you adjust the assumptions above in favor of Indy, it’s really hard to find a way to make the numbers work out in favor of the punt. Really, it’s virtually impossible.

So, get off Belichick’s back. He made the right move. It was the tougher move that opened him up to a ton of criticism. But, it was the right move. Making tough but right decisions is really what we ask for in our leaders, isn’t it?


Basketball picks & Sports picksNovember 15, 2009

Every March, the NCAA Basketball Tournament takes shape and a handful of Mid Majors step into the spotlight and try to steal some of the glory reserved for the big boys. There are usually several surprises and by season’s end, those teams begin to take shape that may have the talent, experience and chemistry to have their one shinning moment. Here is a look at the candidates to do just that as we get ready to tip-off the 2009-2010 season. I will not include the top three which have posted in the top 25 (Dayton, Siena and Butler), but here is a handful of others that could have their day come March:




See our Top 25  for more on these top teams.

4. BYU

It’s hard to believe, but the last NCAA Tournament win for the Cougars came all the way back on March 18th, of 1993. The appearances have been there as the Cougars have been dancing seven times, but were a one-and-done all seven times. This year there is hopes of more as the Cougars return PG Jimmer Fredette, F Jonahthon Tavernari, and Jackson Emery. That trio should be enough to get them to the dance, but can they win one?


Tulsa returns a talented group of players that has won 20+ games each of the past three seasons. They topped it off with a 25-win campaign a year ago. For the first time they are mentioned in the same breath as Memphis in C-USA, and have a bonafide chance to win the conference and grab a game or two in the tournament.


A hungry Panthers team that lost to Purdue in the NCAA Tournament by just five points a year ago and will likely punch their ticket back to the dance this March. The Panthers return with their starting five in tact, and 92% of their scoring which includes nine of the top 10 scorers. A team that could cause some damage in the Tournament.


The Zips went dancing last year for the first time since 1986 which resulted in a disappointing 77-64 loss to Gonzaga. The McKnight brothers return as the top two scorers as well as a cast of three freshmen, that are now experienced sphomores, and the Zips should be dancing again.


The Hilltoppers, unlike their football team which is still seeking their first FBS win, have not only made the dance, but just missed their second straight Sweet-16 run. This year should be no different as star PG AJ Slaughter returns with three other starters from a 25-9 team. Sweet sixteen anyone?


The Colonial had the ultimate Cinderella in 2006 and Old Dominion will likely carry that banner this year for the CAA. ODU brings back four starters from a team that went 25-9 a year ago. The Monarchs have a solid PG and inside presence, a combo that should send them dancing in 2010.


It will be interesting to see if the talented Purple Eagles have enough to unseat Siena in the MAAC. The Purple Eagles went 26-9 a year ago, and four starters return form that team including a pair of All-MAAC players in Tyrone Lewis and Bilal Benn. The MAAC is very unlikely to get two berths, so it could be an interesting final if Siena meets Niagara for the right to dance.

HONORABLE MENTION: San Diego State, VCU, Utah State, Morehead State, Wright State and Cornell.


Basketball picks & Sports picksNovember 4, 2009

College Basketball Picks 2009: Top 16-1 


Georgetown has found its way back to the top 25, and this year’s team certainly has that potential and more. The Hoyas have a three-player nucleus as good as anyone in the Big East with Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Hollis Thompson out of Los Angeles is the best of the incoming class and if he comes as advertised, the Hoyas will have a top-level player. The Big East is down some from a year ago, so the Hoyas are poised to make a run.


The Pac-10 is going to be down this year, but not at Washington as the Huskies will try to build from a 26-win season a year ago. They will add G Abdul Gaddy who should be the top impact freshman in the Pac-10, as well as one of the top freshman in the country. He will team in the backcourt with Isaiah Thomas to give the Huskies  what looks
like the premier backcourt in the Pac-10. Quincy Pondexter finally displayed his untapped potential last year, giving the Huskies a third option. The Huskies question marks will be under the basket, but if they don’t have a top player, they have a lot of depth and enough to fight California for the Pac-10 title.


The Cardinals looked like a Final Four team a year ago with 31 wins, but Michigan State kept them from punching their ticket. The Cards lost a couple if top players to the NBA and another to graduation, but the cupboard is far from bare. The Cards’ pressure defense will again be a factor with a trio of senior guards in Sosa, Smith and Knowles. Knowles finished second in the conference when he connected on 43.2% of his three-point attempts. Peyton Siva, a McDonald’s All-American will press for time in the guard rotation as well. Samardo Samuels returns inside, and last year was named to the Big East All-Rookie team, and Terrence Jennings provides a shot-blocking presence in the lane. They will be hard-pressed to match the 31-win season of a year ago, but the Cards aren’t going to fall far. There is a lot of experience in the backcourt, and an influx of talent that is ready to contribute.


The loss of Blake Griffin will hurt, but this marks the fourth straight year a Big-12 player was taken first or second in the draft, and the previous three had continued success in the year that followed. Big-12 Freshamn of the Year Willie Warren returns, after many thought he’d enter the NBA draft. His backcourt mate Tony Crocker also returns, and after a late season slump, he dropped 28 against Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. Cade Davis and his 42% three-point shooting also returns. The rest will likely be up to Capel’s best recruitting class since coming to the Sooners. Most noteable will be 6-9, 300 pound wide body Keith Gallon, one of the nation’s top center prospects. The Sooners won’t win 30 games like they did a year ago, but the mid 20s seems like a reasonable goal.


Butler lost four starters from a 30-win team a couple years ago, and most thought this team would fall off the face of the Earth last season. Hardly, as the Bulldogs grinded out 26 wins. The bad news for Horizon opponents is that Butler returns all five starters that started in all 32 games a year ago. That list includes the Horizon Player of the Year in Matt Howard. The Bulldogs started three freshamn a year ago that all have a lot of experience and talent. Gordon Hayward was the league’s newcomer of the year, and he and Shelvin Mack led a USA U-19 team to the World Title. The Bulldogs have a shot to crack the top 10 this season, and another deep run in the NCAA Tournament is likely.


What shapes up to be a down year for the Pac-10, will not be the case in California as the Bears appear to be ready to slug it out with Washington for the top spot. The Bears were a 20-win team a year ago, and led by All-American candidate Jerome Randle, 94% of the scoring returns. Patrick Christopher averaged 14.5 points per game a year ago, and Theo Robertson contributed 13.5 ppg, are also on the floor for the Bears again this year. There should be extra motivation for this team that slumped badly down the stretch dropping five out of their last seven, and getting the ouster from the tournament by Maryland. I expect the Bears to rise to the top of the Pac-10 this season. If they put it all together, they could be a top 10 team.


West Virginia may put out their best team since the Jerry West teams back in the late 50s. They return four starters and motivation from a first-round exit from the tournament a year ago. The team is led by book-end forwards DaSean Butler and Devin Ebanks. Butler should top the 2,000 point mark this season. Ebanks really emerged laast season and began to take over games and had 49 points in the Big East tournament including 20 in their big win over Pitt. The Mountaineers will have one of the top front-courts in the country. The issues here may come from off-court incidents that forced the suspension of Joe Mazzulla and Daryl Bryant, but Mazulla was reinstated in September, but Bryant is not certain at this time. JUCO Player of the Year Casey Mitchell, should ease the loss of Ruoff. The Mountaineers have a lot of weapons and will be a factor, not only in the Big East, but in the national picture as well.


Scottie Reynolds’ length-of-the-court drive sent an unsuspectig Villonova team to the Final Four last year and he is back to help the Wildcats make another run. The nucleus of players includes four players with starting experience, and when you toss in the fact that Jay Wright is bringing in the top 30 freshman to contribute, the Wildcats are poised to make another run. One of the newcomers Mouphtaou Yarou, is a strong 6-10 shot-blocker that will give the Cats something inside that they have never had. Taylor King will also be eligible this season. King is a sharp-shooting Duke transfer that scored 5.5 ppg at Duke two years ago. If the freshmen live up to the billing and contribute considerably, a return to the Final Four is not out of the question.


The Boilermakers have not reached the final four since 1980 and last year, many thought they’d be close. They went onto win 27 games, but that wasn’t enough to avoid disappointment. The Boilers this year will come down to one key factor, and that is the health of  Robbie Hummel. Hummel suffered from bad back a year ago, but appears to be healthy to start the season. Purdue returns its top three players with Hummel backed by Johnson and Moore. The Boilers finished last year in the upper part of most statistical catergories in the Big-10, and every player that made at least three starts returns. If Robbie Hummel isn’t a cheerleader and is healthy, there is no reason why the Boilermakers shouldn’t reach the Final Four.


The Vols were all smiles when Tyler Smith announced, after flirting with the NBA draft for a second straight year, that he would be back. Smith averaged 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game, and dished out 114 assists a year ago. Smith isn’t alone as the Vols entire starting five from a year ago returns in tact. The team will also have more depth than coach Pearl has had in several years. Coming into the fold this year will be Kenny Hall, who was a double-double prep player. The Vols won 31 games two years ago and slipped to 21 a year ago, but the talent and experience is in place so those 31 wins aren’t out of the question this year.


It is hard to even consider a top 10 without Duke, but Coach K just keeps bringing in talented players. Duke’s biggest problem this season will not be talent at the guard position, but depth. Elliot Williams who was a starter down the stretch, left for family medical reasons and Marty Pocius decided to decline a medical redshirt season. The Dukies still have Kyle Singler. The Devils have not been to a Final Four since 2004, but remain a top program, and you can never count out a Coach K team. This one is similar to those of the past…talented, without a load of depth, but like those teams as well, this year’s squad is ready to make a run.


Texas has emerged as an annual power in the world of college basketball, and their 109 wins the past four years proves it. This year will be no different and a Final Four appearance is within their reach. Those expectations heightened when two days before the NBA draft, Damion James announced he would return for his senior year. This will be Rick Barnes’ most talented team, and James is not alone. Dexter Pittman is emerging. At nearly 300 pounds, the once spot-duty player, who couldn’t stay on the floor for but a few minute increments, is much more conditioned for the rigors of NCAA basketball and is ready to be a force inside. The Horns have the complimentary players ready to emerge as well as a top recruitting class loaded with talent. If everything comes together for this team, coach Barnes’ team could be cutting down the nets at the end of it all.


The Tar Heels have the deepest talent pool in the nation. Despite losing more than any other ACC team, the Heels come back a threat to be the likely winner when all is said and done. Most thought Ed Davis would be a first-round NBA pick if he came out, but he returns. The depth inside is unmatched and there is no doubt enough of that potential will be tapped, to put the Tar Heels in position to win it all again. It will happen if sophomore PG, Larry Drew can get the ball to the talented cast of Heels. There are seven McDonald’s All-Americans on this year’s roster (last year’s team had eight), so what they lost in experience, wasn’t lost in talent. The Heels will be making their presence known come March.


John Calipari at Kentucky is scary. He has been able to recruit the best of the best at institutions without much of a reputation – UMass and Memphis. What can he do at Kentucky? For starters, he assembled by far the top recruitting class in the country, something likely to be repeated year after year. There is a ways to go, as Kentucky saw a streak of 17 straight NCAA bids end a year ago, but that won’t be happening any time in the near future as long as Calipari is there to work his magic. He has Patrick Paterson, arguably the best big man in the SEC, and two other starters returning, but the incoming class is so strong, neither is guaranteed to start. Enter guard John Wall, a likely one-and-done player, and a host of talented impact freshmen. If the Cats get their act together, they will become a very dangerous team in March, one that could leave Kentucky fans smiling when the final buzzer sounds.


Michigan State made an unlikely run all the way to the Championship game, and the returning cast offers hopes of finding their way back once again. Coach Izzo has taken every four year player to at least one national semifinal in his 14 years of coaching at Michigan State. It starts with PG Kalin Lucas and a healthier Raymar Morgan, who spent much of last year with walking pneumonia and a broken nose. The Spartans will add a wide-body inside in 6-9 285 pound Derrick Nix, who reportedly has trimmed down and could provide help under the hoop. The bottomline here is a very tactical coach that gets the most out of his teams, and with the talent in place, that means another trip to the Final Foour is in order.


The best news for Kansas came when Cole Aldrich and Sheron Collins who both flirted with the NBA draft, decided to return. That immediately made Kansas a viable Final Four candidate. What is scary is the influx of a top notch, stacked recruiting class has many wondering which of last year’s starters will be sitting? Not a bad problem to have – talent, depth and experience, with new faces pushing them. Xavier Henry will demand immediate playing time in the backcourt, and his older brother CJ, is eligle after transferring from Memphis and sitting out with a broken foot a year ago. Jeff Withey, a 7-0 transfer from Arizona will be eligible after the fall semester. The Jayhawks have the inside-out presence of Collins and Aldrich, in much the same way Carolina had Lawson and Hansbrough, and that may lead to the same result. Kansas looks like the most likely team to win it all.


Basketball picksNovember 4, 2009

College Basketball Picks 2009: Top 25-16

25. UCLA
The Bruins’ program has undergone a resurrgence over the last four years as they have won a total of 123 games, or just about 31 a season. They lost a lot of key players, but won’t drop off the face of the earth this season. While Cal and Washington should battle for the top spot in the Pac-10, UCLA is stil a cut above the rest. The Bruins have reloaded with a lot of future NBA players. Mike Moser and Tyler Honeycutt will give the Bruins a pair of forwards that can play – just need experience. The Bruins, under coach Holland, are going to get after it on defense –
that is a sure thing, and if the young players provide some offensive punch, the Bruins will be knocking on the door of the top 25.

Maryland held its breath as Greivis Vasquez worked out for 25 NBA teams and then withdrew, meaning he will return to Maryland. Last season he became only the sixth ACC player ever to lead his team in points scored, rebounds and assists, while cutting his turnovers down from 149 to 98. Eric Hayes is the long distance connection, and the Terps have Landon Milbourne in the middle to form a tough trio of players. Despite the talent, the Terps need one of the Freshmen to step up and supply some scoring inside and some board help. The ACC is loaded, so they may be a top 25 team, but might only be the fifth-best team in the conference.

Dayton came out of nowhere a season ago to finish 27-8. They return four starters from that team as well as 10 of  their 11 top scorers. Dayton won its NCAA Tournament opener against Big East West Virginia. Chris Wright had a lot to do with that, pouring in 27 points and grabbing 10 boards. The Flyers are 41-10 with him in the lineup and he had 54 dunks last year. The Flyers established a top-notch homecourt finishing at 18-0, now they have to learn to win on the road. The Flyers could be better if they can knock down some threes as they finished at just 32.8% a year ago, No. 11 in the A-10, and improve upon their FT percentage. This team could find its way higher in the rankings if those things happen.

John Beilein had a system at West Virginia that proved to be a winner. He is now into his third year at Michigan with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. It’s been a long time for Michigan to get back into the limelight, and they are getting closer, but they could use a big man under the hoop. The maturation of Freshman PG Darius Morris will be the key to this team. If he struggles, so will the Wolverines. If he comes in and does what they think he can, this team will crack the top 25, but they aren’t quite ready to bang with the elite just yet.

Siena is heads and heels better than any MAAC team, has been to the big dance two straight seasons, and will attempt to become only the second to make it three straight, along with now departed LaSalle. The Saints return four starters, along with Clearance Jackson who was Sixth Man of the year in the MAAC, so they have a lot of experience and talent. They have quality depth, and after the first semester will add more when LaSalle transfer Kyle Griffin becomes eligible. The Saints were a 27-win team a year ago, and should equal or exceed that this season.

Last year the Big East was loaded with great teams. This season there are still a lot of top teams, and Notre Dame could break into that group, especially with the return of Luke Harongody. A six-game losing streak near the beginning of the Big East season really tore the soul out of this team. They add Ben Hansbrough (Tyler’s brother) as he transferred from Mississippi State. They also add another experienced player in Scott Martin over from Purdue, so the Irish have the pieces. The offense was big last year, but it will all come down to their commitment on the other end that will determine their fate.

It seems like the Buckeyes have a never-ending supply of big men and another has arrived in seven-footer Zisis Sarikpoulos. An injury-plagued season set the Buckeyes back to 22-11 a year ago, and first-round exit in the tournament. They will have perhaps the best tandem of forwards in the Big-10 with Evan Turner and a healed David Lighty. The Buckeyes have a lot of perimeter firepower, and if they get anything out of the latest big-man in the middle, the Buckeyes will climb.

Oliver Purnell has put Clemson basketball back on the map. The Tigers made the NCAA tournament back-to-back years, and will likely add a third appearance this season. Purnell has brought in a top-25 recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American Milton jennings – the first McDonald’s All-American to come to Clemson in 18 years. Clemson will again be a force inside, but it will all come down to their Achillies heel. Last season the Tigers had just 23 more assists than turnovers and if they don’t get that fixed, what they have inside won’t get them to this level.

The Huskies missed an opportunity to hang a third National Championship banner last season, and perhaps Jerome Dyson had something to do with that. Dyson suffered a season-ending knee injury and was missing in the tournament. Now with a lot of key departures, the Huskies still have a lot of talent, but are just down in experience. Stanley Robinson may be the most athletic player in the country. Towards the end of the season, he finally began playing like it. Dyson and Walker form a top backcourt duo with a lot of speed and Coach Calhoun has some very promising newcomers, especially Ater Majok who flirted with the NBA draft, but will be the next big man to head to the NBA from UConn. If the younger players, and they are good ones, can adapt to the Calhoun system, the Huskies will be dangerous come March.

Georgetown has found its way back to the top 25, and this year’s team certainly has that potential and more. The Hoyas have a three-player nucleus as good as anyone in the Big East with Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Hollis Thompson, out of LA, is the best of the incoming class and if he comes as advertised, the Hoyas will have a top-level player. The Big East is down some from a year ago, so the Hoyas are poised to make a run.