Around 250 years ago, the United States went to war with England to gain independence. It won. Not long after that, after wallowing in their own misery over the defeat, the English tried again but were again sent back across the Atlantic with their tails tucked between their legs.
This fall, the United States will hand them another beating. Or at least, they'll try to. The draw for the 2022 World Cup took place this afternoon, and the United States was drawn into Group B with England. They'll be joined there by another long-time rival in Iran, and the fourth team will be either Scotland, Wales or Ukraine (we'll find out this summer).
All in all, it's a solid draw for the United States. Sure, England will be favored to win the group, but the United States should be favored over the other two countries in the group, no matter who wins the playoff between Scotland, Wales and Ukraine. Of course, this is men's soccer, and we're the United States, so we shouldn't take anything for granted.
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All right, I don't know if you've heard, but the Final Four is this weekend. So in tonight's newsletter, I have one NBA play as well as an NBA parlay, but I couldn't send you into Saturday without plays for the semifinals. I also tossed in three soccer bets because I love you so darn much. Let's get to it.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
🏀 Raptors at Magic, 7 p.m. | TV: NBA League Pass
- Key Trend: The over is 4-1 in the last five meetings
- The Pick: Over 216.5 (-110)
The Raptors and Magic have played twice this season, and they were two very different games. The first meeting happened back in October, with the Raptors beating the Magic 110-109, finishing 12.5 points over the total of 206.5. The second meeting was earlier this month in Toronto, with the Magic winning 103-97 as the game finished 19.5 points below the total of 219.5.
So what can we reasonably expect tonight? Well, it's not going to be a crazy shootout, but this total is a little low. I'm expecting a performance closer to what we saw in the first game because it'll be hard to replicate both teams' terrible shooting earlier this month. They combined to shoot 38.8% in that first game, including 31.1% from three. Hell, the Raptors couldn't even make their free throws that night, going 11/17 from the line. It was an awful offensive display.
Unfortunately for Orlando, not much has changed since then. From that night on, the Magic have an offensive rating of 103.2, which is the worst in the league. Still, as awful as that is, it's not reasonable to believe an NBA team can be that bad offensively forever, and it's impacting this total a bit too much. Again, I wouldn't expect some kind of 240-point explosion here tonight, barring an overtime or twelve, but I have this total closer to 219 than 216.5, so we're getting good value.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model thinks this game is a coin flip in every sense of the word.
💰 The Picks
🏀 Men's Final Four
The Pick: Villanova +4 (-110) -- Villanova lost Justin Moore to a torn Achilles in the team's Elite Eight win over Houston, which is an awful blow to the Wildcats and Moore. Moore is the team's second-leading scorer with 14.8 points per game. and he's not easy to replace. Still, as significant a loss as he is, it's impacting the line too much.
If there's any good news for the Wildcats, it's that the injury happened in the Elite Eight and not the Sweet 16. Jay Wright and the Wildcats have had an entire week to figure out how they can replace Moore. While Moore's absence will make it more difficult to beat Kansas, this Nova team is too experienced and disciplined defensively to let the Jayhawks pull away. I expect this game to look similar to Kansas' 66-61 win over Providence in the Sweet 16. If Kansas hadn't gotten to the free-throw line so often in that game, it probably would've lost, and Villanova does an excellent job of keeping opponents away from the free-throw line.
Key Trend: Kansas is only 2-5 ATS in its last seven NCAA Tournament games.
The Pick: Under 151 (-110) -- All the narratives about Mike Krzyzewski and the rivalry between these programs aside, I think we're due for an exciting basketball game on Saturday night. This game is likely to feature a lot of points, but not as many as the total projects. These teams are familiar with one another. They've played twice this season, and while both games were high-scoring (they averaged 164.5 points), there are no secrets between them. Each team knows what the other wants to do and will put together a plan to keep them from doing it.
That means we're going to need a lot of shot-making to reach this over, and while both teams are capable of that, we shouldn't overlook the impact playing in a giant stadium like the Superdome has on teams. The sightlines are a lot different in a giant football stadium than in an arena. It usually takes time for shooters to adjust, and with a total as high as this one, we might not need them to struggle long to keep them from hitting this total.
Key Trend: The last time the Final Four was in New Orleans, all three games finished under the total.
Wolverhampton vs. Aston Villa, Saturday, 10 a.m. | TV: CNBC
The Pick: Aston Villa (+155) -- Two weeks ago, before the international break, I told you how Aston Villa had struggled against the teams above it in the Premier League table. Wolverhampton is one of those teams, and it beat Aston Villa 3-2 earlier this season. That score does not tell the entire story. Aston Villa had a 2-0 lead after 80 minutes before Wolverhampton scored three goals in the final 15 minutes (Ruben Neves' game-winner came in the fifth minute of stoppage time). It was an incredible comeback, and one of the final straws for Dean Smith at Aston Villa before Steven Gerrard replaced him.
Aston Villa has been a much better team under Gerrard, particularly defensively. While it struggled in attack its last two matches, it was primarily due to not having Lucas Digne. Digne is a crucial part of how Gerrard has his team set up to attack, and he's expected to return this weekend. Meanwhile, Wolverhampton will be without Ruben Neves and Raul Jimenez this weekend. Neves is still dealing with a knee injury, while Jimenez is suspended for picking up a red card against Leeds. Those are two crucial parts of what Wolverhampton does in attack, and while they've been one of the best defensive teams in the Premier League, the metrics suggest they can't stay as "lucky" as they have been for long. Villa is a terrific value at this price.
Key Trend: Aston Villa has allowed only three goals in its last five road matches.
Juventus vs. Inter Milan, Sunday, 2:45 p.m. | TV: CBS Sports Network
The Pick: Under 2.5 (-125) -- This is a massive match in Serie A. Not just because it's between the two clubs that have dominated the league for so long, but because it's almost a must-win for each if they want to entertain the idea of winning the league this season. Inter is six points behind rival AC Milan in the table (with a match in hand), while Juventus is a point behind Inter. Fortunately for both, it seems they're secure in the fight for a Champions League spot with a sizable gap between the fifth place, but nothing is guaranteed there, either.
The international break couldn't have come at a much better time for either because Inter had been in a rut, winning only two of its last nine matches across all competitions. Juventus had won four straight Serie A matches, but they were all against bottom-dwellers, and the underlying defensive numbers weren't pretty. With all that's on the line in the league, and with both teams trying to tighten up leaky defenses, I anticipate seeing both teams take a more pragmatic approach this weekend.
Key Trend: Juventus has allowed only nine goals in 15 home matches this season.
Atalanta vs. Napoli, Sunday, 9 a.m. | TV: Paramount+
The Pick: Over 2.5 (-105) -- Another Serie A match that feels like a must-win for both parties. Napoli needs a win to keep pace with AC Milan in the race for the league title, and a loss here would likely destroy its chances of doing so. If Atalanta wants to keep any hope alive of catching Juventus and getting back into the Champions League next season, it can't afford to drop any more points itself. Where this match differs from the Juventus/Inter clash is that I don't expect either of these teams to get conservative.
Atalanta only knows how to play one way, and that's all out. Napoli can be more conservative, but it has struggled defensively when facing Italy's stronger teams. All of which should lead to a high-scoring affair. When these two met in Naples earlier this season, Atalanta won 3-2. That's nothing new between these two, as there have been 22 goals scored in the last five league matches between them. Let's bet on that trend continuing.
Key Trend: The last five Serie A matches between these teams have averaged 4.4 goals per match.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: SportsLine's prop genius Alex Selesnick has shared all his favorite NBA player props for tonight.
🏀 Tonight's Parlay
Tonight we've got a simple three-leg NBA moneyline parlay paying +119.
- Mavericks (-360)
- Suns (-320)
- Bucks (-330)