The best way to sum up Thursday: Jacksonville trailed North Florida by 21 at halftime. In Swisher Gym.
If you’ve been reading my plays regularly, you know that Jacksonville in Swisher Gym is about as automatic as it gets for my plays. The Dolphins had won 21 straight games prior to losing to Liberty, and even then, I played the under and still cashed. Jacksonville at home had been as sure a cash as you can get in this business, and they were home to North Florida. The Ospreys hadn’t done much of anything on the road all year, and the Dolphins were coming off a win over Queens. What could go wrong?
Halftime score: North Florida 43, Jacksonville 22.
The Dolphins stepped up the defense in the second half, but poor shooting made the difference as UNF cruised to a win. And when something like that happens, it’s just one of those nights. UCLA couldn’t put Washington to bed, Montana State barely escaped Northern Arizona and Sacramento State couldn’t sustain a strong first 20 minutes. Add it up, and I’m ready to move on to Friday.
Of course, this is NHL All-Star Weekend, so it’s a Friday with no hockey. Translation: time to get creative. Here are my plays for February 3.
BAYER LEVERKUSEN ML, -120
If you listen to our podcast regularly, you know that I famously played Bayer Leverkusen to finish second to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. Then Leverkusen fell flat on its face in the opening month, looking more like a relegation candidate.
Well, here come the Black and Reds. They finally lost to Dortmund to end a four-match win streak, but this team is formidable now. It’s probably too late to save my bet (and given that Union Berlin is sitting second, I no longer care), but it’s not too late to make some money back. Leverkusen’s on form and has a score to settle with Augsburg. If you want a score sprinkle, the past three matches at the WWK Arena have finished 1-0 to somebody. Leverkusen 1-0 is going off at +800 here.
CHELSEA-FULHAM UNDER 2.5, -105
These teams just met last month, but don’t read too much into that. Chelsea’s been very active in the January transfer window, and the Blues have beefed up their defense over the past few weeks. Plus, Fulham isn’t scoring right now; five of the Cottagers’ past six matches have seen two goals or less hit the mesh.
The exception was of course a 2-1 win over Chelsea, but I think that gets reversed here. Fulham seldom plays well at Stamford Bridge, having failed to score in four straight trips to Chelsea’s ground. The past three at the Bridge have all been decided by 2-0 to Chelsea, making Chelsea and Under 2.5 (+285) and Chelsea 2-0 (+575) outstanding value plays.
HARVARD +3.5, -110
Yale’s been a different team on the road in Ivy League play. That’s problematic, because five of the Bulldogs’ final seven are away thanks to scheduling quirks. Yale’s 0-2 on the road in the Ivy and handed Columbia its only win in the league to this point.
Harvard, meanwhile, can’t get any consistency going. The Crimson have alternated win-loss every game since November 20, a streak that now covers 15 games. The pattern says Crimson win tonight, and so do the odds. Yale has just one cover in seven games, and the underdog has covered five straight in The Game. I’ll gladly take my free triple with Harvard.
EASTERN MICHIGAN-BALL STATE OVER 151.5, -110
Get ready to run. Eastern Michigan prefers to play at a fast tempo, which should mean plenty of transition points. That’s fine with Ball State, which gets aggressive on defense and isn’t exactly known for great guarding in the halfcourt. The Cardinals are at their best when forcing turnovers and getting to the line, and the Eagles commit a ton of fouls. As long as Ball State doesn’t screw this up at the stripe, both teams should carry their weight.
BOISE STATE +5.5, -110
I hate betting on the best game of the day, especially on a Friday. That’s because so much of my strategy revolves around finding value where Vegas doesn’t have time to look. But with this matchup, I have to pull the trigger. Boise State’s defense should help the Broncos stay in the game in a must-win battle for the Mountain West. After last year’s March pratfall (0-4 in the NCAA Tournament), the Mountain West isn’t going to get a lot of respect, which makes every game critical. This game’s a must for a Boise squad that’s lacking in quality wins.