Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, January 2

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Oklahoma +17 -110 over AlabamaFREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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The Crimson Tide is clearly the better team but something can be said for these teams that are being offered serious wood. The two biggest dogs in this year’s slate of Bowl games not only covered, they won outright. As a 13½-point pooch, Texas Tech defeated Arizona State 37-23 and last night as a 17-point pup, UCF defeated Baylor by 10. It would appear that being disrespected by being offered a crooked number provides a ton of motivation for these athletes. Besides, rumors of Oklahoma's decline as a national power are unfounded. The Sooners have outstanding offensive skill, a defense that rapidly improved all season and they have been a force on all three sides of the ball this year. The Sooners responded to being disrespected as a 10-point underdog (the most points they had ever received in the series with Oklahoma State) in the Big-12 Championship game and this is the most points they’ve ever received in a Bowl game.
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Sharps and squares alike will be sending it in on the Tide here. Every article, prediction and breakdown on this game suggests that the Sooners are outclassed here but as Chris Berman says, “That’s why they play the games”. When you wager on Alabama, you are paying a premium to do so because they are the most popular team in college football and they get more backing than any team in the country. The Crimson Tide have not been as dominant this season as they have been in recent years. Alabama has been occasionally excellent but mostly inconsistent and by no means are they a well-oiled machine. All of the pressure is on Alabama here. This is a Tide squad that played one of the softest schedules in school history and they are not even close to being as battle tested as they have been in the past. Laying significant weight in a BCS Bowl game is typically not in the winner's playbook and there isn't enough separation between these two to warrant an exception.

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Winnipeg +123 over OTTAWAFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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OT included. The Senators are giving up more than one full goal per game more than they did in the 2013 lockout-shortened season and currently sit 26th in the NHL in goals against, which is 12 spots lower than where they found themselves at the end of last season. The Senators are giving up a whopping 34.3 shots against per game and Craig Anderson isn't consistently bailing out his team like he was a season ago and there hasn't been the performance growth amongst some of the young defensemen that Ottawa was counting on. The Senators have stepped it up lately with three wins in four games but as the chalk, they have proven over and over again to be untrustworthy.
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Jets coach Claude Noel says Al Montoya will get the start here. Montoya has been stellar in his last two starts and appears to be supplanting Andrej Pavelec as the Jets' top goaltending option. Winnipeg has won three in a row over Minnesota, Colorado and Buffalo and scored six times on the Wild. The Jets are as healthy right now as they have been all season and that makes their defense core with Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom rookie Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart among the best in the league in moving the puck out efficiently. Trouba is a star in the making. He’s been playing excellent hockey and seems to be gaining confidence with each game. Trouba has registered eight points in the Jets' last 13 games. The Jets are not an easy out. They are physically tough, they’re quick and they’re improving with each passing week. Remember, Winnipeg is a team from the West that has more points playing in a tougher conference than Ottawa does playing in the East.
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DALLAS -½ +132 over MontrealFREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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Regulation only. Dallas is without question one of the most undervalued teams in the NHL. Over their past eight games, Dallas has faced the Avs twice, the Kings twice, Nashville, Vancouver, San Jose and St. Louis. Dallas picked up 12 out of a possible 16 points against that difficult set of opponents. Against the Blues and Kings in its last two games, Dallas picked up three out of a possible four points and outshot that pair, 62-47. Unlike the Canadiens, Dallas is in peak form and in a good scheduling spot they get our endorsement.
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The Canadiens have dropped two straight and six of their past 10. They blew a 4-1 lead against Carolina on Tuesday and will conclude a tough, six-game road trip here before hosting the Senators on Saturday night. The Habs are not in top form right now and they figure to be at least a little fatigued. In order to beat the Stars in Dallas, it’s likely going to take a top effort and we’re not sure the Habs have that in them for this one. There is nothing favorable about backing a team concluding a long road and that is stepping up in class.

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St. Mary’s +7 over GONZAGAFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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The Zags are a West Coast Conference force that not only has an outstanding pedigree but that also comes into this game ranked #24 in the country after opening the year with 12-2 record. The Zags are 2-0 in conference play but it’s far too early to measure what they’ve done because of a rather weak out-of-conference schedule. Gonzaga’s two toughest games this season came against K-State and Dayton and the Zags lost them both. Now the Zags will play another very good squad and will do so without two of their starters in Gary Bell Jr., and Sam Dower.
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Even without the best ball-screen guard in college basketball (Matthew Dellavedova), Randy Bennett's Gaels are still getting it done. Benneett is a tremendous evaluator of talent and sees not where a player is, but where he is going. For example, Brad Waldow came to Saint Mary’s three years ago as a project. He’s now one of the better low-post scorers on the West Coast, averaging 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Stephen Holt was under-recruited yet has the size, skill set and toughness to play at any level. Bennett's formula is simple: Get a good shot every possession, take care of the ball and limit your opponent to one shot. The Gales shoot 48.2 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from 3-point range while out-rebounding their opponents by eight boards a contest. They also do an excellent job of defending the perimeter, holding opponents to 27.6 percent shooting beyond the arc. The Gaels are a fundamentally sound basketball team that has a chance to go far this season. We rarely back a team receiving 10 points or less when we don’t think that team has a chance to win outright. Well, the Gaels are certainly good enough to pull off this upset and the 7-points being offered is plenty of insurance to prompt us to step in.   
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Greg ShakerFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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California / Stanford  Under 142FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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The Line: This line opened at 143 and quickly shot down to it's current level. It would not surprise me to see it go down further although predicting those things this year has not been as easy as in the past..
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Why We Bet It: Stronger than average pace for both teams but conference play will see lower tempo and this number is higher than previous meetings between these two. Both squads strong with offensive rebounding should limit 2nd attempts tonight and the Cardinal has been very good getting back on D for transition attempts. As always we don't talk about everything that makes this a play although Trenders will be happy to know that this series has been mostly and UNDER series and Cal road games have been as well. I have a fair number here of 136.4 and good enough to play..
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Biggest Concerns: The point differential of 2.5 to 3 possessions at the end of the game could do us in here and is the nightmare for those of us that do play Unders. We will hope for a tight game or a Stanford romp and we will also hope that Cal can keep the Cardinal 3 Point % Under control..
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Added Notes: You can play this one down to 139 verses my number..

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WunderdogFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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St. Mary's at GonzagaFREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
Pick: Gonzaga -7FOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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Gonzaga has played at such a high level for well over a decade now, they are hard to even be considered as a mid-major. Gonzaga wins 20+ games like clockwork every single season, and are on their way again off to a 12-2 start. They rarely get tripped up at home, and have started the season at 8-0 here. St. Mary's has been chasing Gonzaga for several years, and while the Gaels are 10-3 to start the season, this is not the same caliber team that has been closing in on the Zags. The lack of quality wins, and questionable losses, leaves this team a bit overrated at this point of the season. Gonzaga is for real, and the line here is more reflective of better St. Mary teams over the past few years - not this year's version. Play on Gonzaga.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, January 2

Chip ChirimbesFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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Alabama vs. OklahomaFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
Pick: AlabamaFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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So much has been made of the egg Alabama laid when they played Utah (31-17) here after losing to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. This time they didn't make it that far as Auburn once again turned the Tide on its heels. Nick Saban has been brought to task and he wants this Alabama team win something! Oklahoma enters having won their last three in spite of using two different quarterbacks with different styles. Bell at 6'6” 260 pounds will find the Crimson's defensive line quick and strong. Look for senior A.J. McCarron (26 TD, 5 Int) to close the year with a bang.

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Ken ThomsonFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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Bowling Green -4FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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Still some value with the Falcons on their homecourt in this one.  IPFW is solid in certain spots but odds makers have caught up to them now.  They were blown out by Eastern Kentucky in last game which was at home.  Bowling Green beat North Dakota 79-69 a month ago.....at home....I expect a similar result in this game.
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Eastern Kentucky -8FOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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Glenn Cosey is the best player in the Ohio Valley Conference.  He leads four starters back for Eastern Kentucky.  This Colonel team just won at IPFW 90-68 in their last game on the 29th of December.  That was impressive.  Meanwhile, Easten Illinois lost at IPFW by 21 points 10 days ago.  Chris Oliver, a 6'8" transfer from Northern Iowa is now playing for EIU and had a double double for the Panthers in a 70-69 win over Tennessee State.  Reggie Smith, a transfer from UNLV and Marquette before that is a guard that can make a difference if he is hot.  Unfortunately for EIU his shooting percentage is poor.  Eastern KY will battle Belmont for the top seed in this Conference as they are clearly the top two teams.  I look for EKU to get up by a few at the half and then opening things up for a 15 point road win.

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RocketmanFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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Marshall vs AkronFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
Pick: Akron -11FOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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The Marshall Thundering Herd travel to Akron to take on the Zips on Thursday night.  Marshall is 5-8 SU overall this year while Akron comes in with a 7-5 SU overall record on the season.  Marshall is 10-22 ATS last 3 years as an underdog.  Marshall is 6-25 SU and 8-20 ATS last 3 years on the road.  Marshall is 6-20 ATS last 3 years in non-conference games.  Akron is 33-3 SU and 17-7 ATS last 3 years when playing at home and going back even further 29-10 ATS last 39 home games.  Marshall is 0-6 SU on the road this year where they are allowing 85.8 points per game.  Akron is 5-0 SU at home this year where they are scoring 77.2 points per game while allowing only 61.8 points per game.  Favorite is 5-2 ATS last 7 meetings overall in this series.  We'll recommend a small play on Akron tonight!

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Tom BartonFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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Green Bay vs ClevelandFOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
Pick: Green Bay -6FOR FREE SERVlCE PLAYS VlSlT THESPREAD.COM
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The Phoenix have come out of the gates absolutely on fire and now get into Horizon league play with an opponent they have beaten in 3 straight meetings. Green Bay has won 9 of their first 12 games so far and many in impressive fashion. In fact their losses may be more impressive than their wins which is saying a lot. Green Bay dropped games to Harvard, Wisconsin and an impressive Eastern Michigan team. Those teams are a combined 32-6. Green Bay is averaging 77 points per game and are pulling down a very good 38 boards per game. The Phoenix have won their last 3 games by 27,16 and 50 points and have covered this number in 7 of their 9 wins. The Vikings meanwhile are 2-5 on the road and have beaten just one team all season with a winning record and have lost 6 of the last 7 in this arena. Last year Green Bay won by 7 and 27 and while I don't see a 27 point win again history repeats itself here with a solid Green Bay cover.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, January 2

Jeff Alexander

Utah +3½

Bottom Line: Utah will be out for revenge tonight as it looks to pay Oregon back for knocking it out of last season's Pac-12 Tournament. The Utes are a perfect 8-0 ATS when playing against a top-level team (win percentage above 80%) over the last 2 seasons. They are also 10-0 ATS the last 2 seasons versus excellent teams that shoot 45% or better from the field and hold opponents to 42% shooting or worse. Utah is 11-0 at home this season and 16-6 ATS as a home underdog or pickem under Krystkowiak. Bet the Utes.

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John Wilson

Oklahoma vs. Alabama    
Play: Alabama -17

That's probably unlikely. And neither is an Oklahoma win over Alabama. It has nothing to do with Saban winning big games and Stoops unable to do so. It's just that this Alabama team is a lot better than this Oklahoma team.

Alabama's sense of letdown after not getting to the BCS title game has to be stark. We've seen them come into the Sugar Bowl flat before—in 2008, they lost to Florida in the SEC title game after going 12-0. Then they lost to Utah 31-17, clearly still reeling from the earlier loss. On the other hand, 2010's 9-3 team showed no letdown as they spanked Michigan State 49-7. That shows again how Alabama might respond in one of two ways. After winning two straight championships, it's hard to see them thinking about making the bowl the first game of next year's campaign. Indignation and overconfidence might be the dominant emotions.

Oklahoma on the other hand responded to their 2nd loss by playing their best 3-game series of the season, and finishing with their best win, beating Oklahoma State on the road. If Oklahoma plays the way they did during that stretch, and Alabama counters with their final 3-game stretch? It's a 6-point Oklahoma win.

Can they do it? There are just too many factors pointing Alabama's way for me to override that with a stab at untangling the teams' emotional state. But I do think Oklahoma will have trouble keeping up with Alabama maybe for 2 quarters, but don't have enough offense to stay in the game.Bob Stoops coming up empty yet again, but this time getting respect for it.

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Dave Price

Golden State Warriors +5

This has been a terrific spot to fade the Heat, who are home following a four-game road trip. Consider that Miami is 0-9 ATS in home games after playing at least three consecutive road games over the last two seasons. The Warriors are playing their best basketball of the season because of their commitment at the defensive end. They have held four opponents below 40% shooting during their six-game win streak. Miami is 14-2 at home but only 6-10 ATS in these games as the defending champs remain incredibly overvalued. Besides, the Warriors are 11-4-1 ATS in their last 16 road games versus a team with a home winning percentage greater than .600. The road team is 12-3-2 ATS in the last 17 meetings, and the Warriors are 4-0-1 ATS in the last 5 meetings in Miami. Take the points.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, January 2

Teddy Covers
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New York vs. San Antonio
Pick: San Antonio
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The Knicks aren’t just losing these days – they’re getting blown out on a nightly basis, losing three straight by a dozen or more, including a pair of ugly losses to the sub .500 Raptors and a 29 point home throttling at the hands of Oklahoma City. 
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And the scary thing for Knicks fans is that they’ve faced a remarkably weak schedule so far this season! Only two of the Knicks last 16 opponents has a record above .500.
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When they’ve stepped up in class against the elites of the Western Conference, it’s been downright ugly: 0-4 SU, 0-4 ATS, including a 120-89 home loss to the Spurs when these two teams met last month!  The expected return of Carmelo Anthony to the lineup is a complete non-factor – ‘Melo steals everyone else’s shots, and the team plays no better with him on the floor than without him.
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The Spurs are a great double digit favorite because they don’t let up with a lead. Greg Popovich has a stellar bench; one of the deepest teams in the NBA, allowing San Antonio to extend leads even without their backups on the court during fourth quarter blowouts.
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I’m not worried about a letdown here, even with the Clippers coming to town on Saturday, with this Tony Parker quote serving as solid evidence: “Now we have to take advantage, no letdown.”  The hapless Knicks aren’t likely to offer much resistance.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, January 2

Chris Jordan

My free play for Thursday is on the Minnesota Golden Gophers getting it done against the Michigan Wolverines, laying a small number at Williams Arena on the campus of the U of M.

Let the newest Big Ten era begin for the Golden Gophers, as coach Richard Pitino opens his inaugural conference season with Minnesota tonight at home, while his troops ride in on a six-game winning streak, including Saturday's 65-44 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Minnesota's 11-2 non-conference roll this season finds the Gophers leading the Big Ten in steals per game (8.8) and free throw percentage (.760), and ranks second in turnover margin (+3.8).

Tonight the Gophers get a Michigan team that is 8-4 after closing out 2013 with two straight wins. Michigan, which plays three of its first five conference games on the road, hasn't played away from Ann Arbor since Dec. 21, when it beat Stanford in New York, as part of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center.

This is never an easy place for visitors to play, and with the hype and excitement surrounding the Gophers this season, I have to believe they'll be up for this game and will get it done by at least six tonight.

4♦ MINNESOTA

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Jeff Benton

Thursday freebie is the Suns minus the points at home over the Grizzlies.

Memphis won round one of the series, taking a 19 point decision on their home floor in early December, but with losses in 7 of their last 10 both straight up and against the spread, it is hard to make a convincing case for this road dog tonight in the Valley of the Sun.

Phoenix is a hearty 11-4 straight up on their home court, and a pretty solid 10-4-1 against the spread in those home games this year. The Suns also enter play tonight with wins in 10 of their last 12 since that ugly loss at Memphis on December 3rd.

Revenge time for Phoenix, lay the wood!

2♦ PHOENIX

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Craig Davis

Free play of the day on the OKC Thunder over the Brooklyn Nets for the same reason I gave you the Clippers over the Bobcats as your free play of the day yesterday.

The Clippers came into last night’s game pissed off, having lost three of their previous four including an embarrassing blowout loss at home vs. Phoenix the night before.

After going to the locker room deadlocked, someone must have said something or literally lit a fire under some of the players’ butts… because they were a completely different team in the final 24 minutes.

They really stepped up the defensive intensity (which is mostly about effort) and outscored the ‘Cats 25-13 in the third quarter and 31-16 in the 4th quarter. What looked like it was going to be another tough game for the Clips turned into a blowout.

I see the same thing happening tonight in Oklahoma City as the Thunder are not happy with how the Portland game went the other night. After leading by as many as 16, the Thunder went into a bit of a funk, forgetting to play tough defense in the second half (and especially the 4th quarter) and they watched Portland not only come back… but ultimately take the lead and win the game.

Only OKC’s second home loss of the year, but considering they don’t have Westbrook, it wasn’t a horrible loss. Maybe the way they lost was bad, but losing to Portland without your starting PG and second leading scorer isn’t anything to be embarrassed about.

If you want to talk about embarrassing… look at Brooklyn. They enter tonight coming off a blowout loss at Indiana and at San Antonio… and it’s not going to get any easier tonight. Unfortunately for them, they catch OKC on a bad night.

Take the Thunder to roll by 17 tonight.

3♦ OKLAHOMA CITY

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Brad Wilton

Huge game for the Utes tonight in Salt Lake City, as into town comes conference-rival Oregon, and not only are the Ducks coming to town, but they come to town with a perfect 12-0 mark.

A closer look at Oregon's 12-0 mark shows 9 of the 12 wins coming in Eugene, and only one true road game thus far. Tough assignment on the road tonight, as Utah is out of the gate at 11-1, and their lone loss comes by a basket at Boise State 6 games ago as the +10 point pup.

The host in this series has won 4 in a row and 6 of their past 7 meetings straight up.

Utah is 5-1 against the spread at home this season, and getting a few points at home in a game in which they are playing a team that has not lost this season is exactly the type of play that I am all about.

Take the Utes in the dog role.

3♦ UTAH

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The Duke's Sports

Alabama -17

This can go two ways for Alabama: the 2008 Crimson Tide can emerge when they lost to Fla in the SEC Title game and came out flat to get pushed around against Utah in their bowl game; however, I see the 2010 'Tide showing up. That year under Saban, they lost to Auburn in their last regular season game and went into the bowl with an attitude to make a statement. And they did in a 49-7 demolition of Michigan State. Tonight, the 'Tide should come out firing on all cylinders against an Oklahoma defense that has looked downright mediocre at times, especially against the run. The smash mouth 'Tide can pound the rock and super efficient QB McCarron (26 TD/5 INT) can burn over eager safeties rippling down in the box,like Okie likes to do, with speedy wide outs on play action. And on the offensive end, the Sooners are without two offensive line starters. Sure, the two headed monster QB situation worked against Okie State but Saban and his top ranked defense had more than enough time to prepare for the spread with QB Bell and the zone read with QB Knight. 'Tide 4-0 ATS in bowls and 5- 1 ATS vs Big 12. Stoops talent poll has dwindled since his early days at Norman. He's 0-5 ATS in his last 5 vs SEC teams and has lost 6 of his last 7 January tilts. 'Bama rolls.

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Jeff Scott Sports

4 UNIT PLAY

Southern Utah/ North Dakota Under 143: Ok let's first start by saying that North Dakota is a bad defensive team, as they come in allowing 83.7 ppg on 53.5% shooting for the year, but that should not matter at all as they will be taking on a truly pathetic offensive team in the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. SU Comes in ranked 351st in the nation in scoring at 56.6 ppg and they are 351st in shooting at 35.2%. The Thunderbirds have yet to score more than 59 points vs a division 1 foe and their games vs division 1 teams have averaged just 131.5 ppg. Southern Utah is bad on defense, but North Dakota has been rather average on offense of late, averaging just 69 ppg in their last 5 games. Both teams shoot poorly from the FT line and from long range and neither team is really plays an uptempo pace. These teams met twice last year and 121 and 129 points were scored in those games. SU should be held to less than 6o points once again, while ND will put up no more than 75. I look for no more than 135 points scored in this one. 

3 UNIT PLAY

Colorado/ Oregon State Under 147: Oregon State has been involved in some high scoring games this year, but they have also been involved in some low scoring games and with this being a league game, I expect the latter to happen, especially with the way Colorado has played defense this year. The Buffaloes have allowed just 67 ppg on 42.5% shooting, while allowing just 66.4 ppg at home. Oregon State put up big numbers earlier in the year on offense, but off late they have slowed down a bit, averaging just 70.8 ppg in their last 5 games. On defense the Beavers allow 74 ppg, but on just 42.5% shooting and they should be able to play good enough defense in this one to keep the Buffs from scoring a whole bunch, OSU would like to run, but Colorado doesn't run all that much and with their game at their place I expect them to dictate pace here. No more than 140 here.

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River City Sharps

Monmouth PK

Both of these teams come into this game struggling as Siena is sitting at 5-8 on the season while host Monmouth is 6-7. Siena has played the tougher schedule to this point and has a decent win over Bonaventure to their credit, while Monmouth really has no good wins. That said, Siena has really struggled on the defnsive end, giving up 78 points of the road and 82 ppg to conference foes. Monmouth shoots almost 39% per game from behind the 3-point arc at home and Siena has struggled defending the three. With this game at a Pick, we are going to side with the home team and our numbers all indicate a Monmouth win.

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