January didn’t really end the way we wanted it to, so it’s time to get off to a fresh start for February. It’s the shortest month of the year, but one of the most important. We’ve got teams jockeying for March Madness, we have XFL 3.0, we have the Super Bowl (even if it’s one of the least satisfying matchups in recent memory) and we have the Club World Cup happening.
Two of those four take place today, so now’s the time to bounce back and find some winners. Here are my picks for February 1.
AL-AHLY WIN TO NIL, +125
This should work out well for the Egyptian champion. Al-Ahly hasn’t given up a goal in five straight competitive matches, and it’s a defensive-oriented side anyway. Auckland City represents New Zealand, and it’s made up mostly of semi-pro players. The Navy Blues keep making it to this level because Oceanian soccer simply isn’t very good. Al-Ahly dominates the Egyptian league and has proven itself year after year. They should comfortably earn a matchup with Seattle on Saturday.
PITTSBURGH +8.5, -110
Pittsburgh has actually played very well away from home this year. The Panthers own a 5-2 record in true road games, and the losses were at Vanderbilt and Duke. Pitt covered both times and owns a 7-0 ATS mark in true road games. North Carolina hasn’t been beaten in Chapel Hill, but the Tar Heels have only gone 5-5 ATS at the Smith Center. Plus, the Heels face Duke in Durham on Saturday, making this a prime look-ahead spot. As long as the whistles don’t overly favor Carolina, Pitt should keep this close.
MISSOURI -10.5, -110
Other than a cover in Lexington against overhyped Kentucky, LSU’s played pretty poorly on the road in the SEC. The Bayou Bengals lost by 40 in Tuscaloosa and fell by 20 in Fayetteville, scoring a combined 106 in those two games. To put that in perspective, Alabama got 106 on LSU by itself in that execution. Missouri has covered in three of four and looked dangerous against Iowa State. The luster has come off the Cyclones following the west Texas disaster, but Missouri’s still playing well right now. They should handle this battle of Tigers.
MINNESOTA TTU 55.5, -110
The Golden Gophers’ offense doesn’t really do anything well. They don’t shoot well from the floor (42%), they rank dead last in free throw percentage (59.3%), they don’t hit from outside (31.2%). That adds up to a mess in the best of times, and this isn’t the best of times. I’ve said it all year long: Piscataway is where offense goes to die. Penn State, Maryland, Indiana and Seton Hall all went to Rutgers and couldn’t break 50 on the Scarlet Knights. Some of those are good offenses; Minnesota simply isn’t. The Gophers shouldn’t do much scoring here.
ILLINOIS STATE -4.5, -120
UIC spent all spring trying to fight its way out of the Horizon League for the Missouri Valley. The Flames might have miscalculated here. Illinois-Chicago has dropped nine in a row and hasn’t won a league game since beating…Illinois State. But that win over the Redbirds masked something: Illinois State didn’t start the game well at all. The Redbirds fell behind 33-17 in the first half and trailed by 17 before closing the gap to four. Illinois State should perform better at home, and the Redbirds’ tendency to make their foul shots means they should close the game out if they don’t fall behind early.