Tiny Nick’s Gambling Picks: 3/16

Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski (USA TODAY Sports)
Locks

NBA (0.75 Unit) LA Lakers @ Minnesota Timberwolves -4.5 First Half (-110): 7:00 PM CT on Bally Sports North

The Lakers have not held a halftime lead since Feb. 9th, a run of 12 straight games. They’ve only held one halftime lead in their past 16 games, with an average halftime margin of minus-9.3 points in that stretch. The starts can’t get much more brutal for this squad, LeBron James is yelling at teammates while giving no effort, and the wheels might be fully off at this point.

Enter a game at Minnesota, with what’s guaranteed to be a sold-out crowd for LeBron in town, hyped up off the 60-point night for Karl-Anthony Towns on Monday. This thin Lakers roster – particularly up front – is a perfect victim for KAT to stay hot against, helping get the Wolves off to another fast start. They’ve been playing well early in games. Minnesota is now up to 4th in the NBA for first half scoring, with a plus-2.4 average margin.

Overall, the Wolves have been able to exploit bad teams recently, and that’s simply what the Lakers are right now. I see them exploiting L.A. early in this one as they stay hot behind KAT.

NBA (0.75 Unit) Milwaukee Bucks/Sacramento Kings 1st Half Over 117.5 (-110): 9:00 PM CT on NBCS-CA

The market continues to undervalue first half totals for the Milwaukee Bucks, and this is a number that I have to jump on. For starters, it’s far less than half of the full game total of 241.5, so obviously points are expected in general. But it’s ignoring the recent trend of higher-scoring first halves in the NBA, particularly in games that don’t figure to be close. The Bucks can easily blow out Sacramento here if they want, creating a slower pace and less scoring late.

But in the first half at least, these teams that are both top-10 in pace should go up and down the court in a hurry. Milwaukee leads the NBA in first-half scoring while Sacramento is not far behind, particularly at home where they average 57.9 first half points. And the porous Kings defense does no better early in games, ranking 26th in first half points allowed, so the Bucks have an easy victim for their preferred style. This should be a track meet early on, and I see a lot of value in this number.

NBA (0.75 Unit) Los Angeles Clippers/Toronto Raptors Over 215 (-110): 9:30 PM CT

I don’t have a ton of data to back this one up, but 215 seems pretty low for two NBA teams that have gone over this number in 7 of their last 8 games. When these two teams met earlier in the year, the game got to 224. In that game, Toronto put up 116 while only making 31% of their three point attempts. Not much has changed since then for either of these teams in terms of style, and while I don’t expect this one to be a track meet by any means, I do expect it to get over the 215 mark.

NCAA Basketball (0.5 Unit) Bryant +3 vs. Wright St. (-110): 5:40 PM CT on TRUTV

I really like the matchup here for Bryant, especially with the ability of the Bulldogs to score on anyone. Behind the nation’s leading scorer in Peter Kiss, along with Charles Pride and Luis Hurtado, this Bryant team is excellent at getting to the rim and creating shots. I like the ability of that trio to attack a Wright State defense that has struggled all season, rated just 224th in the country, and shows zero competence in defending dribble drives.

Bryant should also have an edge defensively, where their aggressive zone scheme takes away Wright State’s ability to post up Grant Basile. The Raiders have an excellent scoring trio of their own, but they’ve had difficulty with zone defenses this year and Bryant’s is a tough one to face with very little preparation. That’s the determining factor for me here, as Bryant should get enough stops in a high-scoring game to pull away. The wrong team might be favored in this one, so I’ll take the 3 points of insurance on the Bulldogs.

NCAA National Title Futures

Since 2000, NCAA national champions have shared a very similar statistical profile, and one that’s predictive for this year. With just the two noted exceptions, they have all had:

a.      Top-25 mark in adjusted offensive efficiency

b.      Top-25 mark in adjusted defensive efficiency (except 2021 Baylor, ranked 27th)

c.      Top-75 strength of schedule

d.      A positive assist-to-turnover ratio

e.      A coach with Sweet 16 experience (except 2014 UConn)

The only teams to check all of those boxes are Auburn, Baylor, and UCLA, except that’s not the whole story. Since the tournament expanded in 1985, absolutely no champion was knocked out of their conference tournament before the semifinals. Both Auburn and Baylor lost in the quarterfinals of their conference tournaments, so we’ll toss them out.

That leaves us with UCLA, who is fighting some history themselves because that 2014 UConn team is the only national champ with a 4-seed or worse. Keeping in mind the exceptions above that say coaching experience isn’t paramount, and a great offense can compensate for defense, here are the bets I’m making to win it all this year:

Arizona (+700) – Tommy Lloyd is a brand new head coach, but has plenty of Sweet 16 experience on the Gonzaga staff. The Wildcats check every other box.

Kansas (+800) – The Jayhawks have a similar profile to Baylor last year, checking every box except for a defense that’s 29th in efficiency. An offense that’s 6th could compensate.

Kentucky (+800) – Same story as Kansas but the Wildcats are 27th in defense and 3rd in offense.

Iowa (+1500) – They have to come out of Kansas’ region, but the 77th-ranked Hawkeye defense has trended up recently and the 2nd-rated offense can hide a lot of flaws.

Tennessee (+1500) – The Vols look to go the opposite way and compensate for a 36th-rated offense (that’s trending upward) with the 3rd-rated defense.

UCLA (+1900) – Can’t argue with them checking all the boxes! Plus this team was preseason No. 2 for a reason.

Texas Tech (+2100) – Coach Mark Adams was an assistant for Tech’s runner-up finish in 2019, and the Red Raiders have issues scoring at times. But the best defensive rating in the country can take them a long way.

Degenerates

NBA Denver Nuggets/Washington Wizards Over 228.5 (-110): 6:00 PM CT on NBCS-DC

Despite losing Bradley Beal for the season, this Wizards team is still able to score. Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis have Washington still holding the 7th-best shooting percentage in the league. But the defense is still nowhere to be found, and it’s led to 9 of their past 10 games cashing the over, along with a 20-13-1 record to the over in home games this season.

The Nuggets should be able to exploit that defense as much as they feel like, as Denver is one of the best shooting teams in the league. The Nuggets can be tricky with totals though, often locking down on defense more than you would expect. But against a Wizards team without much to play for, I expect a high-scoring game from two teams that can really shoot it.

Tiny Nick is 646-526 ATS (+76.8 Units) on his Locks since joining Zone Coverage. 

Every day he will offer his Locks and Degenerate picks. Locks are the games he’s confident in. Degenerates are entertaining but riskier picks.

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Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski (USA TODAY Sports)

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