Good afternoon, dearest reader. If you're one of the many hit with a bunch of snow from the winter storm rolling through the United States, I hope you've finished shoveling. I know I haven't.
There's nothing quite so deflating as going outside to shovel a bunch of snow that fell overnight, only to discover 15 minutes in that nearly everything you've shoveled already had a new layer of snow on top of it. The only thing worse than that would be to spend two years coming up with a new name for your football team and deciding on Commanders.
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Anyway, it's a big day in sports. Not only does Washington have a new name, but by the time you read this, the Minnesota Vikings might have a new coach named Jim Harbaugh. Unless you think Jim Harbaugh flew to Minneapolis to interview for an NFL job on National Signing Day -- yep, that's today too -- without the expectation that the job will be offered to him.
At least nobody has filed any more class-action lawsuits against the NFL since yesterday?
Here's what else is going on. Make sure you read these stories before getting to tonight's picks. If you need me, I'll be outside shoveling. Again.
- Speaking of lawsuits against the NFL, Brian Flores explained his decision to file one.
- Former Browns coach Hue Jackson implied he was paid to lose games, which is a great contract bonus for any Browns coach.
- Ben Simmons is costing himself a lot of money.
- The USMNT needs a Plan B in attack.
Let's see what winners I found beneath all that snow.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
🏀 No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 18 Illinois, 9 p.m. | TV: Big Ten Network
The Pick: Illinois -7 (-110): Full disclosure, I'm a fan of the Illini, but the love and affection I have for the team is not impacting my thoughts on this game. Instead, I'm using my intimate knowledge of the team and my familiarity with the Big Ten in general to tell you that the Illini are the side you want to be on tonight.
First of all, the Badgers might be good, but as I've written in this newsletter before, I'm not entirely bought in. While the Badgers are 17-3 and ranked higher than the Illini, more predictive ranking metrics like KenPom have Wisconsin ranked 25th and Illinois 16th. This is primarily due to the fact the Badgers aren't a good shooting team. They rank 247th nationally in eFG% (48.2), 221st from three (32.7%) and 47.7% from two (254th). What the Badgers do well is not turn the ball over, which means they don't waste chances.
Tonight they face an Illini team that is solid defensively on the interior and perimeter, which will come in handy. Expect to see a lot of Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams on Wisconsin's Johnny Davis. As for the Illini, the market is a bit off on them. Illinois is 15-5 on the year and atop the Big Ten conference standings, and it's done all this despite only having Andre Curbelo for six games due to a concussion and COVID protocols. Curbelo is one of the best point guards in the country and will be back in the lineup tonight.
Illinois' giant center Kofi Cockburn sometimes struggles with size because he's not used to going against players who can compete with him in that area, but while Wisconsin has a 7-footer in Steven Crowl, Cockburn outweighs him by 50 pounds. The two-man game between Curbelo and Cockburn will be hard for the Badgers to defend.
Key Trend: Illinois is 5-2 ATS in its last seven as a home favorite, and the favorite has covered 18 of the last 26 meetings between these two.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The SportsLine Projection Model doesn't love much of anything in this game, but its strongest lean is on the total.
🏀 College Basketball
Pitt at Wake Forest, 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN2
The Pick: Over 135.5 (-110) -- Before I get into the pick, can we talk about how ordinary the ACC is this season? It's one thing when the conference is lacking behind other conferences in football, but the ACC has always been a basketball conference, and it has no great teams this season. Duke is the only ACC team ranked in the top 30 by KenPom, and the Blue Devils are 12th. KenPom also has the conference ranked sixth overall behind the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big East and Pac-12.
And part of the reason for that is Pitt! The Panthers are bad. They're 8-13 on the season and have one of the worst offenses in the country, which has helped drag this total a little too far down. While nobody will call the Demon Deacons an elite team, they are solid offensively and do rank among the elite when it comes to shooting from close range. Wake's 59.6% shooting from two ranks third nationally, and Pitt has shown little reason to believe the Deacs will struggle from there tonight.
As for Wake, while its overall defensive numbers are strong, the Deacons adjusted defensive efficiency goes from 95.8 overall to 100.2 in conference play. That's still near the top of the ACC, but it's a significant enough jump to make me believe the Panthers will find more success offensively than the total for this one suggests. Also, there's a decent chance this game is in hand early, and the benches clear -- as does the level of defense.
Key Trend: The over is 11-4 in Wake's last 15 games as a favorite.
No. 12 Villanova at No. 24 Marquette, 10 p.m. | TV: FS1
The Pick: Marquette +4.5 (-110) -- Only two weeks ago, Villanova was hosting Marquette, and I told you to take the Golden Eagles against the spread. Not only did the Eagles cover the spread that night, but they won outright, beating Nova 57-54 behind 21 points from Justin Lewis. Here we are, with Villanova making the return trip to Milwaukee, and it's favored once again. And we're betting against it again, too.
Villanova, like many teams, isn't as good on the road. Four of Nova's five losses have come on the road or at neutral sites. Only two of its five road wins have come against a team ranked in the top 50 by KenPom (No. 46 Seton Hall and No. 22 Xavier). While Villanova is the better team, Marquette is solid defensively and gave the Wildcats fits in the first meeting, holding them to 37.9% shooting from the floor.
Furthermore, the bulk of Villanova's scoring is done behind the three-point line, but Marquette does a good job defending the perimeter and held the Wildcats to 6-of-24 shooting from three in the first meeting. My biggest concern with this play is that Villanova should dominate Marquette on the glass, but they did that in the first meeting, and the Eagles still won. Tonight all I'm asking them to do is cover.
Key Trend: Marquette has covered eight straight overall and six straight as an underdog.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: There's a large slate of college basketball tonight, filled with marquee games, but the SportsLine Projection Model's favorite play of the night is in the game between Presbyterian and Campbell.
🏌 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Top 10s
We're betting on each of these golfers to finish in the top 10 this weekend.
- Charley Hoffman (+600)
- Chris Kirk (+650)
- Lucas Glover (+650)
- Adam Hadwin (+800)
- Matthew NeSmith (+800)