Saturday, January 22, 2022

Undefeated No. 7 USC faces its biggest test yet against Cal, plus other best bets for Thursday

I’m addicted to fireplace videos on YouTube. I’m watching one right now as I write this. I didn’t have a fireplace in my home growing up, and I don’t have a fireplace right now, but I want one. I love watching a fire. I have spent many hours of my life around a fire staring at it. Whether it’s a fire pit, fireplace or a campfire, I can stare into the flames for hours without losing interest.

I had never watched a fireplace video until a few weeks ago. With Christmas approaching, I found a 10-hour fireplace video in 4K on YouTube and put it on my television as a lark while working. And I loved it. I haven’t been able to stop since. Over the last three weeks, the only things that have been on my television screen are sporting events and fireplace videos.

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I even find myself starting to feel warmer while watching. My next step is to find some campfire-scented candles and light them to add to the experience. Either that, or win enough of these bets that I can build a fireplace in my house, or just buy a new house with one.

Time to add to the fireplace fund.

All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook

🔥 The Hot Ticket

No. 7 USC at Cal, 11 p.m. | TV: FS1

Latest Odds: Over 128.5

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The Pick: Over 128 (-110): Who wants to stay up late with me and root for points? There’s a large college basketball slate out there tonight, and the best value I’ve found is on this total. USC is one of the few undefeated teams left in the country, and it’s built its 12-0 record on a foundation of defense. The Trojans rank 16th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom and haven’t allowed more than 73 points in a game all season.

And it’s that defense that’s keeping this total where it’s at, but you know what? USC hasn’t played anybody yet! Their strength of schedule ranks 186th nationally, and the Trojans have played only three top-100 teams, according to KenPom. So those defensive numbers have been put up against largely inferior teams.

On the season, USC’s adjusted defensive efficiency is 90.4, but in its first two Pac-12 games against Utah and Washington (two of the top-100 teams on the schedule), it jumped up to 98.9. The Cal team the Trojans face tonight has not been good on offense and moves at a slow pace, but it is a team that’s shown an ability to get hot from three. We aren’t going to see an offensive extravaganza, but we should get into the 130s.

Key Trend: The over is 18-7-1 in USC’s last 26 games against teams with a winning record.

Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: I’m not going to tell you what SportsLine’s Projection Model has to say about this game, but we sure do have a lot in common!

💰 The Picks



🏀 College Basketball

Stephen F. Austin at Abilene Christian, 8 p.m. | TV: ESPN+

Latest Odds: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks +6.5

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The Pick: Stephen F. Austin +6.5 (-110) — That’s right, it’s time for more degenerate plays in your favorite newsletter. Sorry, but while there are some “bigger” games tonight, there’s not a lot of value on any of them, and the NBA only has four games going. That means we’re diving deep for the winners tonight, and that leads us to a WAC matchup between Abilene Christian and Stephen F. Austin.

In short, while Abilene Christian is off to a better start, Stephen F. Austin has tested itself a lot more. The Lumberjacks have played the 100th most difficult schedule in the country this year and are coming off a loss to Kansas. The problem is that Kansas loss was on Dec. 18, and the Lumberjacks haven’t played since. I think that lay-off plays a part in this line, and its impact is too significant. The Wildcats come into this on an 11-game win streak but haven’t played a team ranked inside the top 125 by KenPom in any of those games. They’ve been terrible offensively, and while their defense is solid, it’s hard to trust the numbers considering the level of competition. I’m taking Stephen F. Austin, and that’s the bottom line because this newsletter said so.

Key Trend: Stephen F. Austin is 2-1 ATS off a loss this season.

Grand Canyon at UT Rio Grande Valley, 8 p.m. | TV: ESPN+

Latest Odds: Under 143.5

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The Pick: Under 142.5 (-110) — I cannot wait to see the message I get from my editor when he finds this game here. He probably doesn’t even know UT Rio Grande Valley exists, and that’s fine because I barely did either. As for the play, the explanation is not complicated. Neither one of these offenses is any good. Grand Canyon has played one of the weakest schedules in the nation (352nd) and has still only managed an adjusted offensive efficiency of 101.7 against it, which ranks 176th. The Antelopes move slowly and shoot poorly. They’re overly dependent on three-pointers but aren’t exactly assassins from deep.

On the other side, the Vaqueros (great name) move quickly on offense, but it usually ends with a turnover. Seriously, 20.4% of their offensive possessions have ended with a turnover. When they manage to keep the ball long enough to get a shot off, they don’t make nearly enough of them. They give up plenty, though, which is the only concern about this play. Opponents have shot 55.4% from inside the arc against the Vaqueros, so maybe tonight is the night the Antelopes find their range, but even if they do, I still think we can come in under this total.

Key Trend: The under is 12-5-1 in Grand Canyon’s last 18 games as a favorite.

🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: The Projection Model’s favorite college basketball play tonight is on the spread between Eastern Washington and Montana.

🏀 Tonight’s Parlay

OK, how about a college basketball parlay that includes some games you might normally watch? This one pays +161.

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