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Loss to Warriors shows Cavs in free fall

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Cleveland Cavaliers still crumbling…plus Duke and Kansas come from double-digits down for big road wins on ESPN’s Big Monday. Those recaps, Tuesday hoop previews and an NFL “Market Watch” for Championship Sunday coming up in VSiN City.

NBA: Crumbling Cavs have now lost eight of 10 straight up, nine of last 10 and 18 of 22 ATS 
Entering Monday night’s marquee holiday attraction, the Cleveland Cavaliers had been in quite a funk. They were 2-7 straight up, 1-8 against the spread their last nine games. NBA Twitter had seemingly decided that Cleveland’s Eastern Conference dynasty was over. Boston and Toronto were now the frontrunners. Maybe Miami and Washington would join the fray. Cleveland’s defense was too vulnerable. The addition of Isaiah Thomas only made a soft defense worse.

Then, a 61-44 second half debacle against defending World Champion Golden State led to this boxscore…

Golden State (-5.5) 118, Cleveland 108 
Two-point Pct: Golden State 55%, Cleveland 55%
Three Pointers: Golden State 12/32, Cleveland 7/28
Free Throws: Golden State 24/30, Cleveland 15/22
Rebounds: Golden State 48, Cleveland 43
Turnovers: Golden State 16, Cleveland 15

Golden State won made free throws by nine points and made three-pointers by 15 on the way to what turned out to be a comfortable win (after snoozing through the first half). Cleveland’s outmatched defense couldn’t cover all the threats. The Cavs entered the night ranked second-worst in the NBA in points allowed per possession. 

Cleveland falls to 26-17 for the season, well off the pace for top seed in the East. Against the market, the Cavs are a woeful 12-30-1 ATS, sunk by an almost unbelievable 3-16 ATS record at home. In all games played the past several weeks, Cleveland is 4-18 ATS.

Golden State rises to 36-9 on is way to an inevitable #1 seed in the West. Even with steep prices nightly, the Warriors are 21-23-1 ATS. 

Also on MLK Day in the NBA (going in Nevada rotation order)

*Charlotte (plus 3) won at Detroit 118-107. The Hornets are now 4-2 straight up and ATS their last six after a long dry spell. They’re still just 17-25 for the season, with work to do to get back on the playoff radar. Detroit falls to 22-20 with the loss, in the mix with several teams fighting for a spot in the lower half of the Eastern brackets. After a great 16-6-1 ATS start, the Pistons are just 7-11-1 ATS since. 

*Philadelphia (plus 2) beat Toronto 117-111. That’s 5-1 straight up and ATS the last six for the Sixers. They’re not that far removed from dropping 9 of 10 straight up. Back into the playoff discussion with a 20-20 record. Toronto is four games behind Boston for the top seed in the East. 

*Milwaukee (plus 5.5) won at Washington 104-95. Milwaukee snapped out of a funk, ending what had been a dismal four-game non-cover streak. The Bucks are 23-20, but with little margin of error given the crowd. Washington is still looking at home court in the first round with a 25-19 mark. But, this is now six straight non-covers for the Wizards, and 5-14 ATS the last 19. 

*Atlanta (plus 5.5) beat San Antonio 102-99. The biggest shocker on an early slate of upsets. Atlanta is just 12-31 on the season, but is 13-6-1 ATS its last 20 games. Some of these ugly teams can offer betting value if the market penalizes them too steeply. San Antonio falls to 29-15, which is better than many expected given the long absence of Kawhi Leonard. 

*New York (plus 4) won at Brooklyn 119-104. New York had been horrible on the road out of the gate, but is now up to 8-12 ATS away from the Garden. Granting that Brooklyn isn’t much of a road game. The Nets fall to 16-28 straight up, but have been a money team this season at 27-17 ATS. Might be better to take value shots on the road with Brooklyn, where the Nets are 14-7 ATS. 

*Chicago (-1) beat Miami 119-111. The string of Monday upsets ends with a victory by a 1-point favorite! Chicago may be heating up again. That’s three covers in a row for the Bulls, and 17-5 ATS their last 22. Can they surge into the playoffs from 17-27 straight up? Will take a really long surge. Miami still leads the Southeast Division at 25-18. 

*Memphis (-3.5) beat the LA Lakers 123-114. Lonzo Ball is still out for the Lakers. The Lakers fall to 15-28, as Memphis rises to 14-28. The Griz are showing signs of life after the turmoil surrounding the coaching change. That’s a 6-2 ATS record the last eight for Memphis. 

*Oklahoma City (-11) beat Sacramento 95-88. A lot of negatives for both teams heading in. It’s a non-cover for OKC, who falls to 1-4 ATS its last five and 17-27 ATS for the season. The Thunder are 24-20 straight up, even though they’ve been a market underdog just FOUR times all season! Even with the cover, disappointing Sacramento is 3-9 ATS its last 12 games. The straight up loss drops the Kings to 13-30 this season. 

College Basketball: #5 Duke rallies from 13 down to beat #25 Miami
Duke looked to be in big trouble in the second half of ESPN’s Big Monday opener. The Blue Devils let the hometown Hurricanes run off a 19-2 scoreboard sprint to build a 59-46 lead. Would it be another road conference loss for the Dukies, after earlier failures at Boston College and NC State (teams worse than Miami)? Sorry Duke-haters. Coach K’s bunch would win the rest of the game 37-16 to coast to a win and point spread cover.

#5 Duke (-4) 83, #25 Miami 75
Two-point Pct: Duke 60%, Miami 38% 
Three Pointers: Duke 11/21, Miami 9/25
Free Throws: Duke 10/21, Miami 8/10
Rebounds: Duke 43, Miami 38
Turnovers: Duke 19, Miami 11
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Duke 4-5-4, Miami 29-26-23

Yes, Duke was better on three-pointers than free throws. And Duke managed to win despite a poor FT night and a zillion turnovers. The key to success was obviously scoring inside the arc. Duke was an aggressive 21 of 35 (if they didn’t turn the ball over, they scored!). Miami could only manage 20 of 53. 

This will be the story for the Blue Devils all season. They’re loaded inside. If you can’t protect the rim, you’ll have trouble beating them. Though, that aggression inside does lead to turnovers. March success will all depend on matchups, and whether or not Duke runs into a scary inside defense. 

You’ll recall from Greg Peterson’s preview yesterday that Miami had been playing a slow pace and grading out very well in defensive efficiency. Let me grab the key sentence…

“If Duke is able to play close to its normal pace, Duke should be able to cover thanks to its definite size advantage in the frontcourt and ability to rebound.”

Duke was able to speed up this game (near 80 possessions per team) to take that Miami defense out of its comfort zone while using a size advantage to win two-point shooting 60% to 38% and rebounds 43-38. 

Duke rises to 16-2 straight up, 11-5 against the spread (still covering better than two of every three!). Miami falls to 13-4 straight up, 7-5 ATS (and just 2-4 ATS the last six). Given a loss at Clemson, and the home loss here, Miami isn’t currently measuring up to ranked opponents in the ACC. 

ACC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Duke 87, Virginia 85, North Carolina 83, Miami 80, Florida State 80, Clemson 80, Syracuse 78, Virginia Tech 77, Louisville 76, Notre Dame 75, Wake Forest 73, Georgia Tech 73, Boston College 73, NC State 72, Pittsburgh 65.

Miami may drop into the high 70s after this result. Also in the ACC Monday night, home underdog Boston College (plus 3.5) upset Florida State 81-75. The market doesn’t currently see BC as a Dance caliber team. But time for that to change if the Eagles keep getting results. 

College Basketball: #10 Kansas rallies from 16 down to shock #6 West Virginia 
With 5:44 to go in the first half, West Virginia led seemingly unprepared Kansas 33-17. The visiting Jayhawks were rattled by the Mountaineer defense and a raucous crowd. They were on pace for about 30 turnovers! Even with 8:57 to go in the second half, West Virginia was still up 55-43. Kansas would go on an 18-5 run to take the lead, ultimately finishing on a 28-11 run to shock a sellout crowd and a national TV audience. 

#10 Kansas (plus 5.5) 71, #6 West Virginia 66
Two-point Pct: Kansas 50%, West Virginia 57% 
Three Pointers: Kansas 8/23, West Virginia 5/27
Free Throws: Kansas 11/16, West Virginia 11/12
Rebounds: Kansas 35, West Virginia 38
Turnovers: Kansas 13, West Virginia 16
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Kansas 11-4-8, West Virginia 10-8-12

The key stat on the road at West Virginia is almost always turnovers. Kansas committed eight early ones, but played stellar basketball the rest of the way…ultimately winning the category. That combined with West Virginia’s woeful 5 of 27 performance from long range sealed the upset. If West Virginia isn’t forcing cheap points off turnovers, they turn mortal very quickly. (This is why it’s tough to ride the Mountaineers through March because they eventually run into a team that can beat their press.)

From Greg Peterson’s preview yesterday…

“Kansas must handle the press to win and or cover this game. Kansas typically values the ball quite well, turning out over on 14.4 percent if its offensive plays, which ranks 40th in DI basketball…If Kansas can break the press, there are open shots to be had. But if the Mountaineers can force turnovers and have those lead to fast break buckets, it will be West Virginia's game to lose.”

Once the Jayhawks found their composure, the game came to them. This continues the recent Kansas trend of winning and covering on the road (Texas, TCU, and now West Virginia in Big 12 action), but missing the market by a mile at home (as discussed yesterday here in VSiN City). 

Big 12 estimated “market” Power Ratings: West Virginia 87 at home…84 on the road, Kansas 86 at home…85 on the road, Texas Tech 85 at home…84 on the road, Oklahoma 83, TCU 80, Texas 79, Baylor 79, Kansas State 77, Oklahoma State 77, Iowa State 74.

This conference is getting messy because a few teams are getting a lot of market respect at home. Most analytics-based measures allot three points for home court advantage in basketball. In its last two games, West Virginia was plus 4.5 at Texas Tech (suggesting they were worse than the Red Raiders on a neutral court), but -5.5 at home vs. Kansas (suggesting neutral court superiority to the Jayhawks). This will work itself out eventually. We’re trying to capture how the market is pricing this conference. The market is in love with home court advantage to a degree that may not be justified. 

Also in the Big 12 Monday night, Baylor (-4.5) beat Oklahoma State 76-60.

Greg’s back with a couple more TV previews. A chance for us to get caught up on what’s been going wrong for Wisconsin this season, and what’s been going right for Purdue. Then, Clemson/North Carolina should be a real Tuesday night treat. We finish the day talking Championship Sunday in the NFL. 

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

Wisconsin (9-9 straight up, 6-10-1 ATS) at No. 3 Purdue (17-2 straight up, 12-6 ATS)
7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
Early Line: Purdue -16

Since going from an eight-point favorite to laying 5.5 against Western Kentucky on December 13, Wisconsin has seen the line move in its favor in four of its past six games…with the opening and closing line being the same in the other two.

Purdue had been bet up in its past four games prior to last week, but was bet down by a half point in its road games against Michigan and Minnesota. In the previous four games Purdue was bet up in, the Boilermakers closed as favorites of 19 points or greater.

On the Block: Key Analytics Rankings (out of 351 D1 teams)
Offensive Efficiency: Wisconsin 1.055 (99th), Purdue 1.165 (6th)
Defensive Efficiency: Wisconsin 0.992 (137th), Purdue 0.860 (5th)
Pace: Wisconsin 65.5 (350th), Purdue 73.0 (146th)

Purdue might be the most balanced team in the country. Purdue is joined only by Michigan State as teams that rank in the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency.

Purdue has a pair of starters that exceed 7-foot tall to control the glass. And it shoots 41.5 percent from 3-point range as a team, which is seventh in the nation.

Wisconsin is typically a team that specializes in the little things, but have been poor at the free throw line. The Badgers shoot 68.8 percent as a team, which ranks 247th nationally. With Purdue making 75.3 percent of its shots at the line, it gives the Boilermakers the upper hand. Wisconsin draws a foul on 28.8 percent of its offensive possessions, which ranks 25th in the country. Part of that has to do with the Badgers playing at the second-slowest pace in the country, which means each possession runs longer and puts stress on the opposing defense.

Wisconsin’s best hope of covering this number is to slow down the game and muck it up. Purdue has the better backcourt and Badgers big man Ethan Happ can only cover one 7-footer at a time. Wisconsin’s defensive efficiency is not what it has been in past years. If this game is played closer to Purdue’s normal pace, it’s more likely to be lopsided.

Wisconsin will also try to take away the 3-point shot as the Badgers give up the third-fewest triple tries in the country at 15.1 per game. If Purdue can find open looks from distance and buck this trend, the game could very easily get out of hand.

No. 20 Clemson (15-2 straight up, 9-5 ATS) at No. 15 North Carolina (14-4 straight up, 9-7-1 ATS)
7:00 p.m. ET on the ACC Network
Early Line: North Carolina -6

Clemson's games have not seen much line movement since the Tigers kicked off ACC play. All five of its conference games have closed within a half point of the opening number, though its final tune up prior to the ACC slate saw Clemson get bet down a point prior to facing Louisiana-Lafayette.

The market appears to have swung on North Carolina. The Tar Heels have been faded in three of their past six games after their home loss to Wofford in which Roy Williams' squad closed as a 25.5-point favorite. Including that Wofford game, North Carolina was on a streak of not being bet down in five straight games.

On the Block: Key Analytics Rankings (out of 351 D1 teams)
Offensive Efficiency: Clemson 1.092 (53rd), North Carolina 1.103 (40th)
Defensive Efficiency: Clemson 0.907 (15th), North Carolina 0.950 (56th)
Pace: Clemson 71.0 (235th), North Carolina 74.9 (67th)

North Carolina's 58 percent rebounding rate leads the nation and shows that the Tar Heels both get second chances for themselves and don't allow their opponents that same luxury.

Clemson will try to counter that with its ability to block shots. The Tigers block 9.5 percent of foe’s shots, which ranks 19th in the country. North Carolina rejects 6.7 percent of opponents’ shots; which should offset a few extra rebounds North Carolina could pull down.

Both teams are very similar 3-point shooting teams. North Carolina makes 37.7 percent of its 3s and Clemson strokes it at 37.4 percent. With Clemson getting 23.5 percent of its points off 3s and North Carolina 23.7 percent, these teams are mirrors images of each other from the perimeter. If either team can separate itself in the 3-point shooting dead heat, it will give that squad the edge in both winning and covering the game. 

If it comes down to free throws, Clemson should feel comfortable despite being the road team. Clemson is 22nd in the country in road free throw shooting at 77.6 percent. That is better than the 71.9 percent North Carolina shoots at home. The best antidote to that is not fouling, and that's what North Carolina does. The Tar Heels foul on 20.6 percent of their opponents’ possessions, which ranks seventh in DI basketball.

North Carolina and Clemson look quite even on paper. The question is, can Clemson do enough on the glass to keep itself close with North Carolina? That could be where this cover will either be won or lost.

NFL Playoffs: “Market Watch” and “market” Power Ratings
Some very interesting market dynamics are already in play for both of this coming Sunday’s conference championship showdowns. Will be fun to monitor strategies from both sides of the counter this week. 

First, let’s dispatch with the weather. Once again, both New England and Philadelphia have similar forecast profiles. But this week that means weather is probably a non-factor. Temperatures should be in the low 40s or high 30s. Plenty of time for new developments. For now, it’s a breeze at best rather than strong winds, with moderate temperatures for mid-January. Any Over/Under line moves won’t be connected to weather. 
 
Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET: Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
Opening Line: New England -9, total of 45.5
Current Line: New England -9, total of 46.5

Very interesting situation here because sharps typically respect underdogs with great defenses, AND also love using favorites of -8.5 in six-point teasers where they can move the line down to -2.5. It naturally follows that there’s a ton of motivation for professional bettors to POUND the Jaguars at plus 9 in hopes of bringing the number down to plus 8.5…which would then allow them to include New England in teasers. It also naturally follows that sports books want to avoid dropping the game into the teaser window.

If the public keeps heartily endorsing Tom Brady and the Pats (a strategy that has been a virtual printing press for years), then we’ll stay on the nine (or possibly go up). But, if the public decides this line is too high…sports book directors will have some decisions to make. 

Best guess for now is that the public focuses on “Brady vs. Bortles” and is comfortable on New England at anything below -10, while sharps will focus on Jacksonville’s stellar defense and hope that plus 10 comes into play. If a teaser door happens to open briefly, sharps will gladly sprint through.

Sunday at 6:40 p.m.: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Opening Line: Minnesota -3.5 (even), total of 40
Current Line: Minnesota -3.5 (even), total of 38

As we mentioned yesterday, some stores are showing Minnesota at -3, but are charging -120 on vigorish rather than the standard -110…while others have the hook at even money. The power of three is such that models can easily show the dog being a smart bet at plus 3.5, but the favorite being a smart bet at -3. The margins are that tight. And threes are that common a victory margin for games with low point spreads (though the power might lessen at the new PAT distances outdoors in January). 

The total has dropped two points because of the caliber of defenses on the field. Not weather related. Philadelphia’s defensive swoon against the NY Giants seems to be long forgotten. Last week, the Eagles held Matt Ryan and the Falcons to 31% on third downs while allowing no long TD drives. The Vikings held Drew Brees and the Saints to 22% on third downs while allowing only one long TD drive (the other two TDs came after an interception and a blocked punt). Quant models must have been getting gradings in the mid-to-high 30s. 

Now to our estimate of “market” Power Ratings. Using three points for home field advantage, we’ve built a scale that represents how these teams stack up against each other. You’ll see they’re also in line with early estimates for Super Bowl lines (remember to give the Vikings home field if they advance).  

89: New England
86: Minnesota 
83: Jacksonville
80: Philadelphia

Philadelphia is up a smidge from the Atlanta game. We mentioned in the stat recap that a case could be made for lifting the Eagles higher than this. Their point of attack edge vs. the Falcons was larger than somebody like Buffalo or Tennessee would likely have achieved as hosts. Remember that the Eagles had scoring drives of 86 (TD), 74 (FG), and 80 (FG) while Atlanta’s only TD was a gift on an 18-yard drive. 

When thinking about early Super Bowl lines, remember that Jacksonville would likely jump up from 83 were they to beat the Pats in Foxboro, while the Eagles would do the same with a win over Minnesota…possibly up to 82ish given back-to-back wins over the Falcons and Vikings. 

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See you Wednesday!

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