Dave’s Free Play, Wednesday 12/17/14

Bad beats. Anytime I hear anyone say there’s no such thing, that all that matters is the win or the loss, I just shake my head. That’s an absurd observation. Tracking right side losers and wrong side winners is a window into whether one is getting the job done in terms of pre-game analysis.

I’m not sure where to file the loss on Tuesday night by the Washington Capitals. It’s not really a bad beat, as the game was a coin flip from start to finish. So I can’t say that I had the right side, although I certainly didn’t have the wrong side. But there’s no question that from a pure aggravation standpoint, this might well be one of the all-time toppers.

In case you missed it, the Caps and Florida Panthers were tied at 1-1 after regulation as well as following the five minute overtime. That’s when history proceeded to unfold in the most amazing shootout the league has even seen.

The Caps and Panthers went through an unfathomable 20 rounds of shootout attempts. That’s a record. Washington was batting first throughout, and the Capitals took the lead on five occasions during this epic, only to surrender the tying goal each and every time. That’s just insane.

From an excitement standpoint, this was sensational, even for those of us who treat the entire shootout deal with disdain. But losing it the way it unfolded was absolute torture. So maybe it’s not a true bad beat. But it sure felt like one, and one for the ages at that.

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That horrible result on the Caps forced me to accept an overall split on the night. For the record, I’ve now lost seven straight NHL OT games and stand a ridiculous 7-18 for the season. That ain’t fun, folks.

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Nice job by the Rangers in what turned out to be an easy free play winner against slumping Calgary. I’ll break down a college hoop game for the Wednesday comp.

12/17 04:00 PM   CBB   (725) ARKANSAS STATE  at  (726) MISSISSIPPI STATE

Take: (726) MISSISSIPPI STATE -11.5

Is there such a thing as a good value spot on a double digit favorite? Not very often, but I think one can make a case that Mississippi State might be a bit of a bargain tonight as they host Arkansas State.

The visiting Red Wolves are struggling thus far. Aside from some decent offensive rebounding numbers, this team has been pretty mediocre at almost everything. That’s not a surprise, as Arkansas State returned zero starters from last year’s entry and head coach John  Brady is still trying to put together the right combinations in advance of Sun Belt play.

Mississippi State is also having problems, and the Bulldogs are probably going to have a rough go of it in SEC play. But this looks to me to be a spot where there are some fairly compelling reasons to chance laying some lumber with the home team.

It’s the first home game for Mississippi State since November 24 and head coach Rick Ray made no bones about the fact his players are looking forward to finally playing in Starkville. We’re getting the Bulldogs off three straight losses, so I would think there’s very little chance they won’t be focused tonight.

Craig Sword is back in action for the Bulldogs following back surgery that had kept him sidelined for the first seven games. Sword admits that he’s still got a ways to go with his conditioning. But his mere presence on the floor makes Mississippi State a better team. He’s the best player on this roster and Sword’s ability to penetrate should definitely help the Bulldogs increase their offensive efficiency.

This amounts to a right opponent at the right time scenario for a Mississippi State team that really could use a win. It would appear to be a good physical matchup for the Bulldogs and when I think I’m going to get a concerted effort out of a home favorite, I don’t mind giving up some points. That’s the case here and I’m laying it tonight with Mississippi State.

 

 

Dave’s Free Play, Tuesday 12/16/14

One thing I’ve always liked about the NHL is that when it’s time to make changes, teams don’t procrastinate very often. There have already been two firings this season, and you can bank on more to come as the season churns along.

Too bad some teams in the NFL are unwilling to utilize that same philosophy. Take for instance, the Chicago Bears. I realize it’s folly to put blame solely on any head coach in any sport. Marc Trestman is hardly the only one not getting the job done with this sorry outfit. But off what I’ve been seeing from this team all season, I think it’s safe to say that an overhaul is desperately needed, and that certainly would seem to include the head coach.

There were questions about the Chicago defense before the campaign ever started, and those fears have been realized. But the offense was supposed to be dynamic, and it has been anything but that.

What’s worse is the lack of focus this team has shown on a weekly basis. Jay Cutler is making more money than any other QB in the NFL this season. He’s terrible. Bad throws on a regular basis, absolutely no fire, and I’m really tired of hearing how “talented” Cutler is. Maybe the physical skills are there, but they’re hard to spot based on all the errors that take place virtually every game.

If I’m the coach, I’m sitting Cutler for the rest of the season. Simply stated, Trestman has nothing to lose at this point. Put in the backup and see if he at least generates some intensity. Fact is, if Trestman had true leadership skills as a head coach, he’d have absolutely made the move at halftime of last night’s lopsided loss to the Saints. But Trestman just kept sending Cutler out for the entire game, and that to me is enough to bluntly declare that Trestman isn’t the right man for this job. Great assistant, perhaps. Good head coach, sorry I can’t see it.

As for Cutler’s future with the Bears, I have no idea what they can do to salvage the situation. They’re going to have to pay him all those dollars. But at some point management has to simply admit they blew it with that monster contract, and the Bears have to move in another direction. This is a big swing and a miss, and that’s about all there is to it.

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My overtime and shootout woes in the NHL are getting a little ridiculous, as Ottawa coughed up the lead late in regulation and not surprisingly, got dumped in the shootout at Buffalo. Just for the record, I’m not 7-17 in games that go past regulation. Sixty minutes, no problem. Beyond 60, big problem.

I’ve been on a seesaw for much of this month, winning one night and losing the next. Frustrating as hell, but the next hot streak is just around the corner.

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The Portland line got out of hand with the Spurs sitting some players last night, but the Blazers covered regardless of the line they were played at. Tonight’s comp is in the NHL and I’ll be hoping it’s a 60 minute decision as I sure don’t need any more overtimes.

12/16 06:05 PM   NHL   (71) NEW YORK RANGERS  at  (72) CALGARY FLAMES

Take: (71) NEW YORK RANGERS  -110

Metrics are big part of the equation for many baseball handicappers. That’s not so much the case in other sports, although the metric community is growing across the board. That’s clearly the case in the NHL, as there are now a wealth of stats available to get a truer read on teams that the old school base statistics can offer.

The Calgary Flames spent the first portion of the season causing metrics believers to just shake their heads on a regular basis. All the data said the Flames were getting lucky, but they just kept on winning. However, the regression to the norm is now taking place, and in a pretty big way.

The Flames have hit the skids of late, and they will enter tonight’s home game against the Rangers on a five game losing streak. The good breaks have ground to a halt, the goaltending has slumped and a team that was supposed to be pretty mediocre is now playing that way.

The Rangers are currently just barely in the Eastern Conference playoffs as far as the current standings are concerned, but they’re coming into tonight’s battle in decent form. The Broadway Blues will be looking to win for the fourth straight game, so they’re trending in the opposite direction of the Flames.

In breaking down some of the key categories, this is pretty much a sweep for the road team. The Rangers have the better overall data, they win the home/road showdown on the stat sheet, and they’re also owners of the better special teams, both 5×4 and 4×5. With the Flames now mired in their first slump of the season, I will look for the Rangers to cash a winning ticket at what is a very reasonable price tonight.

 

Dave’s Free Play, Monday 12/15/14

Sometimes I can get a little wordy in this space. Not this time. This is short and sweet. Plus, I don’t feel like writing tonight, and since it’s my blog, I won’t.

I am astonished at how many people are buzzing about the bad day Aaron Rodgers had as the Packers lost to the Bills.

Aaron Rodgers is dating Olivia Munn. He has no bad days.

That is all.

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I had a good day on Sunday. 4-2 overall, and the NFL in particular has been very strong for the last month.

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The free plays worked out okay, with Illinois State a win and the Seahawks a push that I would imagine won for most players. It’s recorded as a push here though, as that was the consensus line when I published the play on Friday. Tonight, an NBA opinion.

12/15 7:05 PM   NBA   (713) SAN ANTONIO SPURS  at  (714) PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

Take: (714) PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

There’s no line on this game as of now, with the injury status of Spurs point guard Tony Parker currently up in the air. Parker did not play on Sunday as the Spurs got the win at Denver and he’s listed as questionable for tonight’s game with the Blazers.

Regardless of whether or not Parker plays, I will be looking to play Portland here. Two games in two nights is no big deal for San Antonio. But they are coming out of that thin air in Denver, and having a next night game that’s also on the road isn’t easy, not even for the Spurs.

Portland is playing very well at home, and they are at least off a win in their final road game after dropping a pair to Minnesota and Chicago. Actually, it was a solid trip for the Blazers as they managed to go 4-2, so no problem at all with the current form for this team.

I’ll go ahead and assume this is one the Blazers will want about as much as any game they’ve played this season. It was certainly not a surprise, but this is still playoff revenge for Portland as the Spurs eliminated them in five games last spring.

There is no such thing as a cinch spot to fade San Antonio. Even when Greg Popovich decides to rest regulars, there’s always apprehension involved when trying to beat this outfit. Let’s face it, the Spurs have the most fundamentally sound roster in the NBA and what that means is that they’re dangerous even if most of the minutes are going to the backups.

But even the Spurs can be played against in certain spots and this looks like a pretty good one. It’s got to be a big circle game for the Blazers, their fans should, be thoroughly fired up and the potential absence of Parker is of some importance. I will be looking to take my chances with Blazers tonight once the number for this game goes up in the morning.

 

Dave’s Free Play, Monday 12/15/14

Sometimes I can get a little wordy in this space. Not this time. This is short and sweet. Plus, I don’t feel like writing tonight, and since it’s my blog, I won’t.

I am astonished at how many people are buzzing about the bad day Aaron Rodgers had as the Packers lost to the Bills.

Aaron Rodgers is dating Olivia Munn. He has no bad days.

That is all.

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I had a good day on Sunday. 4-2 overall, and the NFL in particular has been very strong for the last month.

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The free plays worked out okay, with Illinois State a win and the Seahawks a push that I would imagine won for most players. It’s recorded as a push here though, as that was the consensus line when I published the play on Friday. Tonight, an NBA opinion.

12/15 7:05 PM   NBA   (713) SAN ANTONIO SPURS  at  (714) PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

Take: (714) PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

There’s no line on this game as of now, with the injury status of Spurs point guard Tony Parker currently up in the air. Parker did not play on Sunday as the Spurs got the win at Denver and he’s listed as questionable for tonight’s game with the Blazers.

Regardless of whether or not Parker plays, I will be looking to play Portland here. Two games in two nights is no big deal for San Antonio. But they are coming out of that thin air in Denver, and having a next night game that’s also on the road isn’t easy, not even for the Spurs.

Portland is playing very well at home, and they are at least off a win in their final road game after dropping a pair to Minnesota and Chicago. Actually, it was a solid trip for the Blazers as they managed to go 4-2, so no problem at all with the current form for this team.

I’ll go ahead and assume this is one the Blazers will want about as much as any game they’ve played this season. It was certainly not a surprise, but this is still playoff revenge for Portland as the Spurs eliminated them in five games last spring.

There is no such thing as a cinch spot to fade San Antonio. Even when Greg Popovich decides to rest regulars, there’s always apprehension involved when trying to beat this outfit. Let’s face it, the Spurs have the most fundamentally sound roster in the NBA and what that means is that they’re dangerous even if most of the minutes are going to the backups.

But even the Spurs can be played against in certain spots and this looks like a pretty good one. It’s got to be a big circle game for the Blazers, their fans should, be thoroughly fired up and the potential absence of Parker is of some importance. I will be looking to take my chances with Blazers tonight once the number for this game goes up in the morning.

 

 

Dave’s Free Play, Sunday 12/14/14

I’m by no means what anyone would ever call a tough interviewer. There have been a few spots where I’ve stepped out and asked my subject difficult questions, but for the most part I tend to keep things pretty light.

But compared to what I saw on Showtime last night, I’m hard core. The interview with Floyd Mayweather was about the worst I’ve ever seen. I understand there’s a serious financial arrangement between the two. Fine, then just don’t do the interview. Better that than the pathetic softball-fest that took place.

Sorry, but there cannot be a Mayweather interview this week that simply avoids the topic that has to at least be mentioned. Mayweather was on FaceTime with Earl Hayes when the rap artist reportedly murdered his girlfriend, Stephanie Moseley and then shot himself to death. Granted, this had to be an extraordinarily difficult incident for Mayweather to apparently witness. But there’s no way to do an interview a few days later and not bring it up.

Mayweather was also allowed to put all the blame for the fight that never was with Manny Pacquiao on everyone but himself. That’s ridiculous. Both parties are responsible for what would have been an epic matchup not taking place. It doesn’t matter who’s more at fault. Allowing Floyd to assign all the problems with the fight not happening on Pacquiao was absurd.

As for the fights themselves, there’s all kinds of outcry over the scoring that took place in two of the fights. Big deal. Boxing ran out of eyes to blacken before I was born, and that event took place way too many years ago. I didn’t score either one as, to be honest, I was only half watching. That’s about as much attention as I can summon up for boxing these days.

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Won a little in college hoops on Saturday, but lost on the ice. I’m reasonably satisfied with the basketball, both college and lately the NBA, the football has actually been very good lately, but I’ve gone a little cold in the NHL. Up overall for December, although not spectacularly so by any means. I’ll look to get it heated up again today, and NFL Sundays have been in full stride for the last few weeks.

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No sweat with Gonzaga as the Saturday free play. The Bulldogs pretty well dominated UCLA for the entire game. I’ll look at another college game for the Sunday comp.

12/14 1:00 PM   CBB   (825) ILLINOIS STATE  at  (826) DEPAUL

Take: (825) ILLINOIS STATE +2.5

I’ve enjoyed some success in games involving DePaul already this season, and I’ll be looking to try and beat the Blue Demons today.

Illinois State is a rather unimposing 4-3 thus far. But the Redbirds have played pretty well for the most part. They let a big early lead vanish in a loss to Utah State, but the other two defeats were narrow ones to quality opponents in Seton Hall and VCU. They’re not what I’d call outstanding at anything, but Illinois State has not real liabilities, either.

DePaul is good hit, no field. The Blue Demons can put the ball in the basket. But as usual DePaul plays defense like it’s a foreign concept, and that makes winning difficult anytime the shots aren’t falling with as much regularity as usual.

This game therefore fits one of my preferred tendencies, which is to take points with better defensive underdogs. I also favor Illinois State from a situational standpoint. The Redbirds have enjoyed a full week of prep for this in-state duel. The Blue Demons are limping back to Chicago after getting drilled a few nights back at George Washington.

DePaul probably qualified as a bit of an early season surprise, most notably off the impressive win over Stanford. But that was a terrific spot for the Blue Demons and I didn’t suddenly upgrade them off that nice victory.

This is still the same DePaul team I’m used to seeing. On their good nights they can be a handful but focus and fundamentals have been an ongoing problem for the Blue Demons throughout the Oliver Purnell regime.

Illinois State is not a worldbeater, but they’re the better team here and it’s a decent enough spot. I’ll opt to take the available points and will side with the Redbirds.

Dave’s Free Play, Saturday 12/13/14

No commentary tonight, as the enormous Saturday slate of basketball and hockey action is taking up all the available time right now. So let’s jump right to the Saturday free play. For those interested in getting all my plays, the current monthly package includes a minimum +10 net units guarantee and can be purchased via the “buy now” tab on this page. Or for more detailed info, simply email me directly at cokin@cox.net.

12/13 07:00 PM   CBB   (579) GONZAGA  at  (580) UCLA

This will be what amounts to the final opportunity in the regular season for Gonzaga to make a national statement. Almost all of the schools vying for a high seed come NCAA Tournament time have a chance to build their credentials with wins in major conference play. Gonzaga doesn’t have that opportunity. Their only remaining non-WCC games besides this one are with Texas Southern, Cal Poly plus a late January date with a disappointing Memphis squad.

That makes winning tonight’s game at UCLA more than just mildly desirable for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have some okay wins under their belts to start the season, but the only real signature game was last weekend at Arizona, and Gonzaga let that one get away in overtime. A loss here and regardless of how easily the Zags dominate the WCC, their seed for the Big Dance will be negatively impacted off the non-conference results.

That translates into what could be a tough evening for UCLA. The Bruins have a wealth of impressive talent, but their inexperience has shown in their two toughest games. UCLA fell apart down the stretch against Oklahoma and they were completely blown out by North Carolina. It’s also worth noting the Bruins struggled in their two most recent wins, against an okay but not great San Diego entry and a fairly mediocre UC-Riverside squad. UCLA will also be the shorter team tonight, which is very unusual for them, and I’ll be eager to see how they handle the Gonzaga length.

Right at the present time, I believe a great argument can be made that Gonzaga is a legit Top 10 team. The Bruins could be down the road, but right now they’re nowhere near that level.

Theres’s no bargain to be had here. Everything I’ve pointed out is known to the guys who put together the numbers, and they’ve priced Gonzaga accordingly. So this would clearly not fall under the heading of a value play. But if Gonzaga is on its game tonight, UCLA will likely have to play at a significantly higher level than they’ve displayed thus far, and I’m willing to be the Bruins can’t. So even with a less than perfect betting line, the call here is on Gonzaga minus the points.

Dave’s Free Play, Friday 12/12/14

It might happen tonight, it will certainly take place by the end of the weekend. Kobe Bryant will pass Michael Jordan as the third-leading scorer in NBA history. Don’t expect much in the way of a celebration by Kobe. He’s not a happy camper these days.

If you think this is going to be a hatchet job on one of the best players of all time, forget about it. But in light of Kobe’s blow up at practice on Thursday, where he yelled at his GM about the players he’s surrounded with and called his teammates soft, it’s clear that Bryant has never figured out one simple truth. His desire to excel is admirable, but it’s also at a level that just isn’t in the makeup of nearly everyone else.

One of the reasons that many of the greatest players in their respective sports have generally not succeeded at the coaching or management level is that they just can’t grasp that the vast majority of players don’t think the way they do. It’s an asset in terms of their playing careers, as they push themselves beyond any normal limits. But very few people, even high level athletes, are wired that way. That makes for what frequently becomes a liability when these true superstars retire as players and try their hand at coaching or management.

As for Kobe, he probably needs to be someplace else other than with the Lakers as he winds down his phenomenal career. I have no real idea where he would be the best fit. But it’s sure not a team that has zero chance to contend. As a result, Bryant is clearly not in a great frame of mind, and it’s entirely possible that he’s destroying whatever chemistry the Lakers are trying to put together. This is already a bad basketball team, but with Kobe fuming on a constant basis, chances are they’re going to get even worse.

Whether or not the Lakers are trying to move Bryant is something I don’t know. But if I were the GM, I’d be calling a meeting with Kobe and letting him know that he’s better off playing his last season or two someplace else. That’s because at this point, he’s not doing the Lakers much good, and perhaps more significantly, the Lakers aren’t doing Kobe any good either.

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A tough to swallow 3-2 on Thursday night. Another post-regulation loss in the NHL as Winnipeg blew a late 3-1 lead and lost in a shootout. My regulation record in the NHL remains outstanding. The OT/Shootout scorecard now reads a woeful 7-15. My hoops went 3-1, with three pretty easy winners and a loss with Belmont. Unfortunately, a couple of their starters were ruled out shortly before game time, and that was pretty much that. An overall win for the day, but I’d still classify it as a disappointment.

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The Jets are looked like a winner as the Thursday free play, but a late rally and subsequent shootout win by the Avalanche turned the W into an L. I’ll focus on a Sunday NFL matchup for today’s free play.

12/14 01:25 PM   NFL   (329) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS  at  (330) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Take: (330) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -10

This won’t be particularly in depth as far as analysis is concerned. That’s because the stats and the data have little bearing on this selection. It’s pretty simply climbing on a freight train and avoiding a train wreck.

The Seahawks have caught fire. That 3-3 ledger that existed in mid-October is now a far more attractive 9-4. It’s hard to see Seattle finishing any worse than 11-5, and their winning out is more than a remote possibility.

The 49ers are a complete mess. They’re still on the right side of .500 at 7-6 and therefore still in the playoff race, but that seems little more than a technicality at this juncture. The offense is awful and it sure looks as though head coach Jim Harbaugh is going to be patrolling a different sideline next season.

This is a rivalry, so perhaps playing the Seahawks rings out whatever the best is at this point for San Francisco. But I doubt it. This team looks to be toast. Seattle is just the opposite, but it would be very surprising to see them take the 49ers lightly. The Seahawks don’t like the 49ers, the coaches are not exactly pals and I’m having a tough time creating a scenario where the visitors can have a real chance at an upset.

This is elevator up vs. elevator down, and it’s reflected in the betting line. But I suspect it’s even more lopsided that the spread indicates and I expect this game to be very one-sided. So as much as I’m reluctant at all times to lay doubles in the NFL, that’s the only way I can go in this clash. I’ll look for the red hot Seahawks to lay waste to the stone cole 49ers. Seattle minus the points is the choice.

 

 

 

Dave’s Free Play, Thursday 12/11/14

Ask the average college football fan to name the head coach at almost any of the consistently strong big conference programs, chances are he’ll know the answer. Ask the same fan to name the athletic director at whatever institution you’re quizzing him on, odds are you’ll receive a blank stare in return.

Perhaps that’s part of the problem at Wisconsin. Barry Alvarez hasn’t been the head coach for many years. But he’s the head Badger and everyone knows it. In essence, he overshadows the head coach publicly and that might be a bitter pill to swallow for the guy who’s supposed to be running the football team.

This isn’t a knock on Alvarez. He’s simply one of the most powerful men in the game. A great coach for many years, and he has remained a very visible force nationally since stepping away from the sidelines.

Coaches are constantly looking to step up the ladder and move to higher paying and potentially more prestigious positions. But the cases of Bret Bielema and Gary Anderson are not typical. Bielema got big dollars to take over Arkansas and the SEC is the top of the college football food chain. But Arkansas is one of those “other” programs in the SEC, and while the Razorbacks becoming a perennial contender isn’t impossible, it sure won’t be a snap.

Anderson is not even taking a lateral position. Wisconsin is annually a ranked team with designs on a major bowl. Oregon State is a lower tier PAC-12 program that plays second fiddle in its own state to Oregon, and that’s not about to change anytime soon.

So there has to be more here than meets the eye. I therefore would be surprised if Wisconsin is able to land a big name fish as its next head football coach. It’s as though Alvarez is still the coach even though he’s not and as we’ve seen at other locations where the legend remains on the scene, that’s a big shadow for anyone to operate under. Perhaps that’s the best explanation for why Wisconsin can’t seem to hold onto a coach anymore.

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I had a terrible Wednesday in roundball. Just one of those nights where my teams ran into hot shooters everywhere and the results weren’t pretty at all. Still in the profit column for December, but a good chunk went back in the wrong direction last night. The obvious task now is to get back on the beam tonight.

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Denver got crushed by a very hot shooting Northern Iowa squad as the Wednesday free play, and it wasn’t as close as the misleading final score. I’m heading back to the ice for the Thursday comp.

12/11 06:05 PM   NHL   (15) WINNIPEG JETS  at  (16) COLORADO AVALANCHE

Take: (15) WINNIPEG JETS +100

Winnipeg was a winner for me on Tuesday as the Jets rolled to a convincing 5-2 victory at Dallas. I’ll be right back on the same side tonight as the Jets journey to Denver to take on the Avalanche.

The Jets continue to be somewhat under the NHL radar, but this team is playing solid two-way hockey right now. Winnipeg is not blessed with much offensive flash, but they’re playing at a higher level than most observers might have anticipated. It doesn’t look like a fluke, either.

The first thing that’s noticed when viewing Jets games is that they don’t take many chances. Their modus operandi is to protect their own end. They basically only take chances when an opportunity presents itself. The formula is working very nicely, and I believe it will serve them well here against a Colorado entry that’s not the most disciplined outfit in the league.

The Jets, as was the case on Tuesday, have the advantages in most of the categories I give the most credence to. I particularly like the fact Winnipeg has been so good on the road penalty kill. Colorado’s home power play has not been especially productive, so the special teams advantage is pretty clearly with the visitors. Winnipeg also has the better overall 5×5 stats, and their road data is as good as Colorado’s home figures.

I always like to try and come back with a team I just won with if the circumstances and price are right. I believe that’s the case this evening, so it’s another call on the Jets to register the win at Colorado.

Dave’s Free Play, Wednesday 12/10/14

Sometimes logic wins out. And so it goes with the Cubs ending up the winners of the Jon Lester sweepstakes. I expected Lester to sign with the Cubs when he turned down a substantial offer from the Red Sox this past spring.

Here’s the thought process as to why the Cubs were always the favorite to land the talented southpaw. First, there’s the longstanding relationship between Lester and Theo Epstein. The latter has done a tremendous job of stockpiling the Cubs farm system, and that’s now starting to pay dividends. That being the case, it figured that the Cubs would get to work on bringing in some quality veteran talent from elsewhere in hopes of becoming serious contenders by no later than 2016.

Getting an ace to head the staff was going to have to be via free agency or a trade, and with Epstein very unlikely to deal away any of his coveted top prospects, going after one of the big names on the market was a foregone conclusion. I thought Lester would be his prime target once the southpaw turned the Red Sox down.

As for Lester, he certainly had some other major offers. But as he’s a top of the rotation starting pitcher, I didn’t see much chance he’d sign with the Dodgers or Giants. I don’t know Lester personally, but #1 starters want to be #1 starters, and Lester would be no better than #2 in either of those locales.

So that left a return to Boston or a fresh start with the Cubs. There’s really not much more for Lester to accomplish with the Red Sox. But becoming the bellwether of the Cubs staff has to be really exciting at this point. There’s little doubt this team is on the way up in a big way. Every member of the 2004 Boston World Champions is basically a hero forever to Red Sox Nation. You can bet your bottom dollar it’ll be at least as historic, and maybe even more than that if and when the Cubs finally break through and win it all. Lester has to want to be a part of that. Seriously, who wouldn’t?

I wish picking winners was as easy as I thought this call was. It’s nice to scope one out very early in the game as was the case here. As for Jon Lester deciding to spurn whatever the Red Sox were offering, no problem. He gave the Red Sox lots of great innings in huge situations, and I’m sure hoping the team’s fans will continue to cheer for Lester with his new team.

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Okay Tuesday, with a pair of winners in college, a small profit with a split on two NHL dogs, and a small loss on the Lakers. My official play on that game was a split unit on the first half and the full game. The first half lost, but as I sent out the full game when it was Lakers -2.5, I recorded that end as a winner. That play was posted at various websites as well, and was a winner at one, a loss at another as it wasn’t posted there till the line had gone up, and I’m not sure what the number was at a third site, and won’t find that out till later today. In any event, my personal records are based on what the number is when it’s sent to my personal clients. In this case, the early bird caught the worm.

Good start to the month, and confidence this will continue. My special for the month is all my plays across the board for 30 days, including analysis with virtually all the selections. There’s a guarantee of a minimum net profit of at least 10 units, with almost all the plays being of the one unit variety. There are no ten-unit plays or anything of that sort, so this is a legit ten net unit guarantee. Anything short of that and the service continues at no additional cost until that minimum profit plate is achieved. Subscribe easily via the “buy now” tab on this page, or email me with questions or for more detailed information at cokin@cox.net.

Details on the bowl package tomorrow.

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Nice job by the Jets as the free play from last night’s NHL slate came through. I’ll go for what I think is a pretty good scheduling spot for the Wednesday comp.

12/10 06:00 PM   CBB   (559) NORTHERN IOWA at  (560) DENVER

Take: (560) DENVER +4

One noticeable early season college basketball trend is that teams stuck in sandwich spots are having some trouble, and I’m looking for that to be the case once more this evening as Northern Iowa travels to Denver.

Let’s get the downside of this play out of the way right off the bat. I’m backing the second best team in this duel. Northern Iowa is better than Denver. Also, the last meeting between these two was in the now defunct Bracketbuster event a couple season ago, and Denver went on the road and got the mild upset at Northern Iowa. So it’s conceivable some of the Panthers upperclassmen might well recall that defeat.

But there’s plenty of upside on the Denver side as well. First off, it’s a tough trip for teams not used to the mile high altitude and Northern Iowa falls into that classification.

More importantly, I’ll call this a potential flat spot for the visiting Panthers. They’re off a grinder of a game with George Mason. Northern Iowa appeared to be well on its way to a comfortable victory, leading by 12 with about six minutes to play. But the Panthers failed to maintain that advantage, and ended up having to go an extra five minutes before subduing the Patriots. The other half of this sandwich occurs this weekend as Northern Iowa has a big date with Virginia Commonwealth coming up on Saturday. That’s a game that could conceivably have at-large ramifications come tournament time.

It’s tough to say for sure what any team’s focus will be for a particular game. So I obviously cannot state with conviction that UNI mails it in tonight or is even slightly off their best game. But that’s what handicapping is all about, finding spots where there’s a potential advantage and I think that’s the case here. Northern Iowa has plenty of depth and that could alleviate the fatigue issue, and they’re a well coached team that matches up pretty well with the Pioneers.

But Denver has had substantial success in spots similar to these. In fact, the Pioneers seem to be at their best when hosting upper echelon teams. Joe Scott is an ace at controlling the tempo on this court and with Northern Iowa likely to cooperate by playing Denver’s preferred pace, I see a good chance for the mild upset to take place tonight. I’m on Denver plays the available points.

Dave’s Free Play, Tuesday 12/9/14

It’s Johnny Football time. The surprising Cleveland Browns are making the move this Sunday and handing over the QB reigns to rookie Johnny Manziel. The battle between the rival Bengals and Browns was already big to begin with as both teams are battling to make the playoffs. It just got a whole lot bigger at every level.

The trash talking began on Sunday night as Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis called Manziel a “midget” and I would expect the Browns decision to be a hot topic all week long, with fans everywhere eager to see how the volatile rookie performs.

I don’t see where there’s even the slightest controversy here. Brian Hoyer did pretty well early on this season and kept Manziel on the bench longer than most expected. But Hoyer has not been good at all recently, and his numbers over the past three games are simply terrible. It’s a team sport and it’s really tough to single out one player as the goat when a team loses. . That’s a game Cleveland absolutely should have won. Erratic kicker Billy Cundiff missed another critical field goal attempt, so Hoyer has some company. But it’s difficult to avoid at least co-tagging Hoyer for the defeat at the hands of the Colts on Sunday.

I was hoping the Browns would make this move prior to the Colts game. But the NFL is what it is as far as QB moves are concerned, and the rule rather than the exception is that coaches are very reluctant to change things up, particularly when the team isn’t playing all that badly as a whole.

In any event, this ought to be fun. If Manziel has a good game, it’s going to be a huge story. If Manziel has a bad game, same deal. Like him or not, the guy is a lightning rod. I’ve got no idea right now whether or not I’ll be playing this game, but I’ll definitely be watching.

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Split on Monday with a very easy college basketball winner on Florida, and a somewhat aggravating loss in the NBA with Toronto. The Gators really got after it following two straight losses and visiting Yale was in a terrible spot coming off what their coach called the “biggest win in school history” against Connecticut. As for the Raptors, they went up 20 and then went to sleep on defense after halftime. Denver was on the back end of two games in two nights, but you’d have never known it as they completely outhustled the Raptors throughout the second half. I lost count of the number of put back baskets scored by the Nuggets as the home team refused to box out, while launching threes at random at the other end. Welcome to the NBA.

The ongoing December special is for one full month of all my plays, which includes the college bowls. There’s a strong guarantee with this package. Minimum profit of at least 10 net units over the 30 days, or the service continues at no cost until that overall bottom line is achieved. Sign up using the “buy now” tab on this page, or shoot an email to me directly at cokin@cox.net.

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Toronto failed to produce as the Monday free play. I’ll take a look at an NHL game tonight as the Tuesday comp.

12/09 05:35 PM   NHL   (15) WINNIPEG JETS  at  (16) DALLAS STARS

Take: (15) WINNIPEG JETS +115

Regardless of the sport, I have a tendency to prefer what I’ll call defensive dogs. This isn’t an automatic take for me, as there’s more to it than just backing an underdog that plays better defense, but it’s part of the overall philosophy I like to utilize. This game looks like a good example.

The Dallas Stars have some offensive punch, no doubt about it. But it’s on their own side of the blue line that this team has a tendency to struggle. I don’t think there can be any argument that the reason †he Stars are languishing where they are in the Western Conference standings directly correlates to their inability to keep the other team off the scoreboard.

That’s in complete contrast with the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets don’t have a great attack and are not blessed with many strong finishers. But this team really gets after it on the defensive end. Thus, it’s not all that surprising to see that Winnipeg would be in the playoffs if the season where to end today, and that stamps them as what has to be a consensus overachiever to this point.

When matching up the Jets and Stars, the categories I focus on the most indicate that Winnipeg is legitimately the better team. They’ve done well on the road, and a big part of that success has been superb penalty killing on enemy ice. The Jets owns what amounts to a significant special teams advantage heads up against Dallas, so that’s a big plus with Winnipeg getting underdog odds tonight.

The goaltending duel is tough call as there has not been much in the way of consistency for Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen. He can be lights out when he’s on, and awful when he’s not. Coin flip as to which Lehtonen shows up here. The same can be said for Ondrej Pavelec, although it’s worth noting the the veteran Jets goalie has been much better this season in road games. If the Jets decide to go with Michael Hutchinson, no beefs here. He’s been lights out for Winnipeg and has accumulated stone gaudy stats along the way.

I”ve got this as close to a tossup overall, but the key numbers favor Winnipeg. Add in a decent dog price and the Jets look very playable this evening.