April 4, 2016 (2:05 PM ET)
There are two picks today.
The Major League Baseball season starts for us today and we could not be more excited! Last year, SPS went 91-68 and profited big thanks to largely focusing on short favorites and underdogs. This year, we have lofty goals again and are confident of a lucrative season ahead! Of course, like any other form of investment, it is a long-term one and the baseball season in particular, is a marathon and NOT a sprint since each team plays 162 regular season games! There will inevitably be both good and bad stretches along the way then but we'll no doubt come out on top as we always have.
1: Take North Carolina -2 spread against Villanova for 3% of the bankroll.
Villanova is coming off arguably the greatest performance in NCAA tournament history when they completely shut down and dismantled Oklahoma in the Final 4. It was an ultra-impressive performance, however we believe that outing has somewhat skewed perception heading into this contest. The North Carolina Tar Heels are not the Oklahoma Sooners and pose a much greater challenge to the Wildcats in this contest.
Villanova has shown their ability to be an incredibly efficient offense and has given teams fits this tournament with their four-guard lineup. They can switch on all screens on the perimeter without having to worry about falling into mismatches and that has been a big reason why the Wildcats have strolled through the tournament this season. Most modern day college basketball teams are built around perimeter offense; however North Carolina is not one of them. The Tar Heels are the most dominant low post team we’ve seen at this level in some time. They do a bulk of their damage on the interior and have been extremely efficient about it. Despite not being a 3-point shooting team, Carolina still produces an efficient 1.23 points-per-possession thanks to their inside trio of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Villanova typically utilizes a small lineup and we believe they are going to get chewed up on the inside by the Tar Heels bigs.
The only sizable big man that Villanova has is Daniel Ochefu and while he is certainly capable of handling his own at the rim, the Wildcats don't have anyone else to help. The Tar Heels have made a living on the offensive glass and if Ochefu is forced to contest a lot of shots at the rim, he will likely be out of position with multiple UNC players crashing the boards. Villanova did a great job at limiting Oklahoma's ability to drive to the basket and while their interior defense has been solid, they haven’t been great on the defensive glass, ranking outside the top-100 in defensive rebounding percentage. Despite their blowout win, they did manage to give up 19 offensive boards to the Sooners and that will certainly be an issue against the Heels, who rank third in offensive rebounding percentage. Even if the shots aren’t falling for Carolina in the early going, there should be plenty of second chance opportunities.
Another reason for Villanova's success in this tournament has been their ability to rattle opposing point guards and force them into mistakes. North Carolina plays two point guards, Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II who are both extremely proficient ball handlers. As a team, they only turn the ball over on only 15.3% of their possessions, the 18th best mark in the country. Villanova has caused havoc with their pressure on their last two opponents, forcing both Kansas and Oklahoma into a combined 33 turnovers which has allowed the Wildcats to score some easy buckets. We don't expect Nova to be as fortunate tonight as Paige and Berry should be able to break the press and get their big men easy looks on the fast-break.
There is no question that Villanova has been lighting things up from the floor this tournament. They shot 71% in their last contest and are shooting 48.9% from 3 point range this tournament. While it is one thing to be efficient on the offensive side of the ball, the pace that Villanova is knocking down shots simply cannot be sustained. While we don't necessarily believe they will go ice-cold from the field, a more "realistic" shooting performance is likely in order. The Wildcats also aren't a team that is built to overcome poor shooting performances. They lack size, they don't get to the line often (243rd in free throw rate) and they struggle to grab offensive rebounds (209th in offensive rebound percentage). If they struggle from the field, it will be extremely difficult to keep up with North Carolina's ability to score virtually at will.
North Carolina was the pre-season number 1 team heading into the season. They were the overall #1 team in this tournament and were the favorites to win it from the beginning. They have done everything right and have played near perfect basketball all tournament long, coming away with double-digit victories in every matchup thus far. While Villanova is a quality team and is coming off a masterful performance, they are now facing the toughest and most complete team that they have faced all season! The Wildcats will likely put in a valiant effort, but North Carolina simply has too much talent and too much depth for Villanova to overcome. It's a bargain to get a team as good as UNC at such a discounted price and we expect them to be the team who cuts down the nets at the end.
2: Take Texas Rangers (-121) on the Money Line against Seattle Mariners risking 3.63% to win 3%.
The Texas Rangers took the Blue Jays to a fifth and final game in the ALDS series before a Jose Bautista homer and the subsequent, now-infamous 'bat flip' of ages ended their playoffs! Needless to say coach Jeff Banister and his ambitious squad are back with a vengeance and have unfinished business. Last year was a break-out season for Mitch Moreland and Rougned Odor at 1st base and 2nd base respectively and the duo make an incredible infield along with Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre! Those four started and played many games together in the second half of the season and by now have a great understanding. They also provide their fair share of power and make the Rangers lineup a difficult one to manage. Stability and continuity are undervalued aspects in most sports and baseball is no different. Whereas the masses are simply fixated on the two starting pitchers' and their reputation and number of strike-outs, there's no substitue for good fielding and hitting! A pitcher like Felix Hernandez might be excellent today but if the defense behind him, which is nowhere near as polished as that of the Rangers makes a couple of 'errors', it won't matter.
The Mariners are ambitious as well but the problem for them is that there have been a LOT of changes! There are a lot of new pieces to this team both in the starting lineup and in the bullpen and that's not all. Even the front office was revamped with Jerry Dipoto as the General Manager since September and his decision was to let go of Lloyd McClendon at the end of the season and replace him with the inexperienced Scott Servais. While we believe this is a change that might actually pay dividends in the long run, it will not be immediate. It'll take time for all the moving parts to gel and for every individual in this organization both on and off the field to fully understand their role and co-exit together. Seattle might be a better team a few months from now as a result than right out of the gate!
Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez are both aces and should have solid outings but as a southpaw, Hamels might just get the better of a Seattle lineup that features 5 left-handed hitters! After years of being with the disappointing Philadelphia Phillies, he's itching to finally start the season with a team that has real ambition and is packed with talent. He's gotten the better of the majority of the hitters in the M's lineup including Robinson Cano who is just 3 for 18 against him in his illustrious career with no walks! If he can work his way around Gutierrez and Nelson Cruz, he might just record a quality start and notch a 'W' on opening day. Even if he's not at his best however, we don't expect 'King Felix' to dominate the Rangers the way he did last year as this is a powerful offense that can hurt pitchers in a number of different ways and is more confident coming into this season than last year at this time!
Chris Iannetta is a veteran catcher but he's never previously worked with Felix Hernandez and his unique personality before (other than Spring Training) and it may take the two a few starts to fully get on the same page. Robinson Chirinos and Cole Hamels will have no such issues on the other hand. The relationship between a pitcher and a catcher is the most important one in this sport and how in-sync they are can not be overemphasized. We believe the Rangers have better chemistry and synergy all over the ball park and even in management and are more likely to come out of the gate and win games. They also have revenge in mind as despite winning the AL West division in 2015, Seattle gave them trouble. They remember that and will want to flip the script by starting the season with a statement victory that sends out a strong message to the rest of the division! Unlike Texas, Seattle has a new-look relief core and closer and even if they do hold the lead going into the final couple of innings, they are more likely to throw it away than the Rangers are.
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