30 Apr

Suns tried to build a superteam for an NBA that no longer exists

It might not seem like it considering their embarrassing first-round exit (a 4-0 sweep to the Timberwolves), but the easiest historical comparison for the 2023-24 Phoenix Suns, by far, would be the 2010-11 Miami Heat. Just consider the surface-level similarities:

Both teams united three All-Stars in a very short span of time that had seemingly overlapping skill sets. This much was obvious where Phoenix was concerned, but it has largely been forgotten just how questionable the fit of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh looked on paper. All three ranked between 13th and 18th in mid-range shots per game in the season prior to uniting, and for their careers to that point, all three shot below 33% on 3-pointers.
Both teams were so committed to the idea of a star trio that they were willing to build their entire balance sheet around it. The 2010-11 Heat were only able to pay three players aside from James, Wade and Bosh a salary above the minimum (Mike Miller, Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem). The Suns also entered the season with three players earning between a minimum and a maximum contract in Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen and Nassir Little, and they managed to cobble together enough minimum money to get a fourth (Royce O’Neale) at the deadline.
Both teams exhausted their asset bases to put these teams together. The Suns traded Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and control over five first-round picks to Brooklyn for Kevin Durant along with four first-round swaps to Washington for Bradley Beal. The Heat gave up two first-round picks apiece for James and Bosh in sign-and-trades that were necessary for salary structure, and they needed to trade all of their players except for Anthony to clear the cap space needed to add them in the first place.
Both star trios were built around one former MVP (James for Miami, Durant for Phoenix), one hometown player who had led that team to the Finals (Wade for Miami, Devin Booker for Phoenix) and one All-Star who had spent his career to that point playing for bad teams (Bosh for Miami, Beal for Phoenix).
Neither star trio featured a traditional, rim-protecting big man. While both included plenty of ball-handling, neither had a traditional point guard either.
You could argue about some of the finer points here. Miami’s trio had fewer age concerns, more of a defensive track record and was probably considered a shade more talented at the time, but the basic philosophy that guided both organizations to their superteams was the same. On a fundamental level, it was an attempt to out-talent the rest of the NBA.

That was an achievable goal in 2010. Super-teams didn’t fully exist as a concept yet outside of Boston, whose three best players were all in their mid-30s. The league wasn’t nearly as deep, and it wasn’t as smart, either. The 2011 Rockets had a top-five offense with Kevin Martin as their leading scorer because they were one of the few teams to optimize their shot-selection. Miami’s fourth-leading scorer on the way to the 2011 Finals was Mario Chalmers at 7.8 points per game.

That number only looks crazier when you remember that the 2023 champion Nuggets had six players average double figures in the postseason. The Suns tried a 13-year-old trick in an older, wiser league. Miami’s investment in three stars was unprecedented at the time.

Today, you could argue that one-third of the league is as all-in as the Suns are. Heck, every team in Phoenix’s division has tried the super-team gambit in the last few years except for Sacramento. There are teams today like Boston that practically have entire lineups filled with All-Star-caliber players, and theirs were much more thoughtfully united with skill-set diversity in mind.

The league’s collective basketball IQ is lightyears ahead of where it was in 2011. Phoenix has one of the most talented offensive trios in NBA history. Its offense barely snuck into the top 10 because the Suns ranked second in the NBA in mid-range shot attempts, but 24th in 3-point attempts and 28th in restricted area attempts. As valuable as contested mid-range shot-making is late in games, we now know offenses fare far better when they avoid tough shots most of the time rather than make them. The modern NBA is simply too smart and too deep to be out-talented by three players who all do the same things.

In the end, the league was good enough even in 2011 to prevent itself from being dominated by three players alone. The Heat lost the 2011 Finals to the Mavericks. And that is where our two prospective super-teams fully diverge. The NBA of 2011 was designed to allow super-teams to improve and slowly accumulate depth over time. The Heat used the mid-level exception to sign Shane Battier, a starter on their two subsequent championship teams, in the summer of 2011. They followed that up by using their 2012 mid-level exception on Ray Allen, who went on to make arguably the biggest shot in Finals history. They included cash in their 2011 draft night trade for Norris Cole.

These aren’t tools that will be available to the Suns moving forward. The NBA’s new second luxury tax apron prohibits teams in Phoenix’s salary range from using a mid-level exception. They cannot include cash in trades, and trade rules in general become enormously restrictive. Moving forward, the Suns won’t be able to aggregate salaries in trades. They will have to send out at least as much money as they take in. They’ll even have to worry about future first-round picks getting frozen at the end of the first round if they stay in this salary range long enough.

The league learned from the super-team model that the Heat started, and now, the CBA specifically aims to make it harder for such teams to add or retain depth. While the Suns can use Bird Rights to retain their own players, it is worth noting that the luxury tax, especially at the repeater level, is about to get significantly more punitive on a purely financial level for teams that go deeper into it like the Suns have. Even keeping this version of their roster together is going to cost a small fortune.

Phoenix will have presumably late first-round picks (due not to their success but their incessant swapping) in even-numbered years moving forward, including No. 20 in this year’s weak class. Otherwise? Their only real avenue to adding talent will be minimum contracts. If that were a reliable way to build a supporting cast, well, the Suns wouldn’t be in this mess.

Every offseason features a few minimum-salary home runs. Kelly Oubre and Derrick Jones Jr. stand out from 2023 free agency. But most minimum signings turn out as Phoenix’s did to be low-end rotation players, if they can contribute at all. You’re going to hear quite a bit in the next few months about how the Suns need a true point guard and a defensive anchor to turn this around for next year. Short of breaking up their big three, they have no way of actually getting those players.

And that’s the dilemma facing the Suns right now. This super-team they’ve assembled doesn’t work. It’s never going to work. The league simply isn’t designed for it to work in the ways that it might have a decade earlier. Yet, there’s no real alternative here.

A second Beal trade seems unlikely. He’s about to turn 31, he has three years of super max money left on his deal, he comes with a number of injury concerns and also has a no-trade clause. Even if the Suns could move him, it’s hard to imagine them doing so for the kinds of players they need right now.

Durant would fetch more in a trade to be sure, but his size alone makes him the most important star to be kept in a possible two-star approach. His value today likely isn’t close to what it was in February, 2023, either. He will turn 36 before opening night of next season and has an even scarier injury history than Beal. He’s getting to the rim far less than he did at his peak. His 2022 and 2023 postseasons were relative disappointments, as his efficiency dipped significantly in both.

Durant improved slightly against Minnesota, but he is no longer creating good team offense for teammates out of thin air as he did in 2021. He’s still an All-NBA Player. His shooting suggests he still will be next year at least, provided he stays healthy. But any team acquiring him would need to believe itself ready to compete for a championship right now. How many such teams, with the assets it would take to make the Suns a contender as well, even exist? Maybe the Knicks?

And then there’s Booker. Players as good as he is and as young as he is do not get traded unless they ask to be. If winning is his sole goal, it’s not hard to imagine Booker looking at Phoenix’s desolate future and pulling the trigger now. But in the likelier event that he’s satisfied, there just isn’t isn’t a win-now package out there big enough to put a winner around the Beal-Durant duo in Booker’s absence. Heck, given the injury risks those two pose, Booker might be a necessity as a floor-raising regular-season player alone.

The nuclear option for most teams in Phoenix’s situation is a true blow up. Doing so when you don’t control your own picks, as Phoenix won’t for the rest of the decade, is an incredibly scary proposition. Sure, the Suns could get picks back for Durant and Booker… but those teams would have Durant and Booker, which would probably prevent the picks they send back from becoming all that valuable.

Even the distant future picks that actually might amount to anything of note leave you in purgatory while you wait. Imagine being the current Brooklyn Nets… only without Mikal Bridges or a glamour market with which to attract more stars. That’s probably the likeliest outcome for a Suns team that blows it up. Even if they get it right, half a decade of irrelevance is on the table while the pick up the pieces of this failed roster.

If this all sounds grim… well… yeah. It should. This is bleak. It is one of the bleakest sets of circumstances facing any team in the NBA right now. It’s only going to get bleaker. Just look at the bottom of the Western Conference this season. The Memphis Grizzlies are younger, better and more thoughtfully constructed than the Suns are. If they are healthy and whole next season, they’re passing Phoenix. Houston’s young roster finished eight games below the Suns, and the Rockets could easily make a significant trade this offseason if they so choose. In that case, the Rockets might leap the Suns as well. If the Spurs choose to go all-in? Well… you’ve seen Victor Wembanyama. If he isn’t already good enough to take a team into the playoffs by himself, he soon will be.

There just isn’t a good answer here. There’s no an obvious pivot or strategic approach that can fix this for the Suns. They misunderstood where the league was when they traded for Beal and they misunderstood where it was going when they traded for Durant. Sure, it’s possible that they nail minimum-salary free agency this summer. Maybe they unearth their undrafted equivalent to Austin Reaves or Naz Reid this summer, or someone makes an unexpected deal for the meager assets the Suns have left.

But the most likely outcome here is that the Suns were simply wrong. They built a team for an era that has ended and now they’re doomed to ride this one out as a fringe contender before eventually collapsing without reaching the height that the Heat did when they tried this 14 years ago. Pat Riley understood the league he was competing in. Mat Ishbia didn’t.

Looking for more NBA coverage? John Gonzalez, Bill Reiter, Ashley Nicole Moss and special guests dive deep into the league’s biggest storylines daily on the Beyond the Arc podcast.

30 Apr

With LeBron James, Kevin Durant fading into sunset, changing of the NBA superstar guard is officially underway

Anthony Edwards stood at halfcourt with an ear-to-ear grin that would make the Cheshire Cat jealous. He crossed his arms, thrust his hips forward and commenced with the universal sign of disrespect popularized by WWE’s D-Generation X and jovially ushered into the NBA realm by Joel Embiid.

The beaming, jubilant Edwards aimed his bold gesticulation toward the Phoenix Suns and their crowd, as his Minnesota Timberwolves prepared to take an insurmountable 3-0 lead in their opening-round series.

Anthony Edwards hit the DX celly on the Suns 😅 pic.twitter.com/jR5wQw5MWD

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 27, 2024
With the symbol and its accompanying lewd, two-word epithet, Edwards might as well have been putting an entire generation of NBA legends on notice, warning them that the unstoppable wave of talent they all knew was coming — the changing of the guard that would eventually knock them off their pedestals — was officially here, brandishing its unwavering sentiment of youthful invincibility.

Even one of the targets of the spectacle, Kevin Durant, couldn’t tisk-tisk Edwards’ behavior. How could he? He was once himself an up-and-coming prodigy, unafraid of the aging stars whom he would one day supplant.

“You win the game, you do whatever you want,” Durant said.

The response is as simple as it is prophetic, as the 35-year-old Durant — ever the student of basketball and its history — must increasingly feel the crushing weight of basketball mortality pressing upon him and his contemporaries. This postseason has made it impossible to ignore.

Kevin Durant? Swept in the first round as a six-seed.

LeBron James? On the verge of a first-round exit as a seven-seed.

Stephen Curry? Eliminated in the Play-In Tournament as a 10-seed.

Meanwhile, the youth movement is thriving, starting with Edwards in all his charismatic bravado. The top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, led by 25-year-old MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, became the first team in NBA history to have all of their points scored by players age 25 or younger in a playoff game. Another 25-year-old MVP finalist, Luka Doncic, helms what was the hottest team in the Western Conference entering the postseason.

Moving to the East, exuberant Indiana Pacers engine Tyrese Haliburton just turned 24 and already had his “I’m here” playoff moment with a game-winning floater. Second-year Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero, barely above legal drinking age, is already taking on the superstar burden in the postseason, performing feats only previously accomplished by The King himself. And then there’s Jayson Tatum, who seems like a wily veteran due to his playoff experience, but is marching a historically great Boston Celtics team toward a championship at the ripe age of 26.

Nikola Jokic, reigning owner of the “best player in the world” moniker, along with his chief competition — Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo — straddle the two generations.

Rest assured, the intent here is not to disparage the stars who brought the NBA to where it is today. The fact that James, Curry and Durant — the heliophysical marvels who vacuumed in the entire basketball universe for the better part of the past two decades — have continued to play at All-NBA levels at this stage of their careers is a testament to their talent, work ethic and limitless competitive vigor. The sunset of their careers has been as enjoyable as their first acts, even if their mere presence is no longer sufficient to produce a championship contender.

During this postseason, the sunrise of the league’s youth movement has clearly reached midday, relentlessly lasering its rays down upon the old guard until they’re eventually brought to submission.

The transition, however, isn’t necessarily a hostile takeover. While players like James, Curry and Durant desperately value winning and the mastery of their craft, there’s a genuine respect for the young Padawans following in their gargantuan footsteps.

“You see Luka, [Edwards], Shai, guys that are really coming into their prime and are highly decorated already as All-Stars and All-NBA guys,” Curry said during February’s All-Star Weekend. “The league is in pretty good hands when it comes to young talent that gets it and understands the magnitude of the platform we all have and will respect it as they come into their own.”

As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” It’s about time for the LeBron-era superstars to start embracing that sentiment, if they haven’t already, because their time for winning titles — at least as the unquestioned alpha — appears to have come to an ignominious end during their latest postseason run.

James’ desire to play with his son, Bronny, could provide the motivation to keep playing, knowing that his four championships and list of accolades that could fill Grand Lake St. Marys have cemented his place as one of the best — if not the best — to ever play the game. Curry has already hinted at a run at a PGA Tour card following his retirement from the NBA. Durant, given his penchant for unfiltered fan interaction, could probably start a social media content empire tomorrow if he wanted to.

No matter how it finally ends, we should all offer our gratitude for a generation of superstars who elevated the game through their rivalry, resilience and rarity.

“I’m on the other side, obviously, of the hill, so I’m not gonna play another 21 years. That’s for damn sure.” James said in late March. “I don’t know when that door will close as far as when I’ll retire. But I don’t have much time left.”

Looking for more NBA coverage? John Gonzalez, Bill Reiter, Ashley Nicole Moss and special guests dive deep into the league’s biggest storylines daily on the Beyond the Arc podcast.

30 Apr

‘Dorture Chamber’ contains Brandon Ingram, Nuggets end Lakers

Now that the 2024 NBA postseason has begun, the basketball betting market is hotter than ever. CBS Sports will be providing daily picks for the duration of the postseason. Sam Quinn will make at least one pick for every game between now and the NBA Finals.

Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics
Derrick White has been one of Boston’s most reliable sources of offense in this series. He’s hit the over on this line in all three games, he’s shot 50% or better from the field in all three games, and the matchups favor him quite a bit, as Miami’s starting lineup has to be offense-centric with Jimmy Butler and Terry Rozier injured. Boston’s shooting draws Bam Adebayo away from the rim, and that makes navigating the court for a smaller guard like White far less treacherous. Expect him to keep up his strong series in Game 4. The Pick: White Over 12.5 Points

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Brandon Ingram has gone under this points line in all three of his games against the Thunder, and it’s not hard to tell why. Nobody wants to spend 48 minutes in the Dorture Chamber, but the fact that Ingram only recently came back from a knee injury makes the matchup with Oklahoma City’s star defender even more difficult. Ingram isn’t playing nearly aggressively enough as a result, averaging under 14 shot attempts per game, and while he earned eight free throws in Game 2, he has combined for just five attempts in the other games. This isn’t his series. The Pick: Ingram Under 21.5 Points

Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers
This series almost feels like a spiritual successor to the 2017 NBA Finals. LeBron James facing off with a familiar foe that clearly has a superior roster. That team takes the first two games at home. James fights back and makes things a bit closer at home, and manages to win Game 4 at home to stave off a sweep. But once that series shifted back to Oakland, the Warriors took care of business. Even with Jamal Murray questionable, it’s hard to imagine the Nuggets messing around in their home building. The last place they want to be is in Los Angeles for a Game 6, and then, in the absolute nightmare scenario, a winner-take-all matchup against James in Game 7 (which he hasn’t lost since 2008). No, expect the Nuggets to go all-out from the start and assert themselves as defending champions in this one. The Pick: Nuggets -7.5

Looking for more NBA coverage? John Gonzalez, Bill Reiter, Ashley Nicole Moss and special guests dive deep into the league’s biggest storylines daily on the Beyond the Arc podcast.

27 Mar

Expert NCAA bracket picks against the spread, odds for First Four games

The 2024 NCAA Tournament officially got its start on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, with two First Four games. There are two more First Four games on Wednesday. The first games each day will tip off at 6:40 p.m. ET with all four showdowns on truTV and March Madness Live.

No. 16 seeds Grambling and Montana State will meet first, with the winner facing No. 1 seed Purdue in the Midwest Region. The next game will see No. 10 seeds Colorado and Boise State battling their way into the main bracket. The winner advances into the first round to face No. 7 seed Florida on Friday.

The First Four has been a mixed bag over the years, but generally the games serve as a perfectly tasty appetizer to the main course that is the first round of March Madness, which begins Thursday at noon.

Let’s take a look at each of the First Four games along with who our experts are predicting will not only advance to the first round but potentially cover the spread.

Odds via SportsLine consensus | All times Eastern

(10) Colorado vs. (10) Boise State
Wednesday, 9:10 p.m. | truTV, March Madness Live: Few teams enter the NCAA Tournament with better vibes and renewed optimism as Colorado, which has won seven of its last eight games thanks to finally landing on the right side of some injury luck. Coach Tad Boyle has a talented squad stacked with future NBA talent playing with a lot of confidence going into March Madness. Pick: Colorado -2.5

(16) Grambling State vs. (16) Montana State
Wednesday, 6:40 pm. | truTV, March Madness Live: Grambling State is dancing for the first time in school history after taking down the SWAC regular-season and tournament titles. The Tigers are 18-4 since a 2-10 start, and they are led by two standout guards in Kintavious Dozier and Tra’Michael Moton, who I think have the goods to at least keep this one within the number. Pick: Grambling State +4

Get every pick, every play, every upset and fill out your bracket with our help! Visit SportsLine now to see which teams will make and break your bracket, and see who will cut down the nets,

all from the model that beat over 92% of CBS Sports brackets players three of the last five years.

27 Mar

Boise State vs. Colorado prediction, best bets from expert on 22-10 run

The Boise State Broncos (22-10) and Colorado Buffaloes (24-10) meet in the 2024 First Four on Wednesday. The winner of the game will be the No. 10 seed in the South Region and take on the No. 7 seed Florida Gators in the first round on Friday. The Buffs went on an eight-game winning streak to close out the regular season and bolster their NCAA Tournament resume before losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament title game. The Broncos finished the regular season in a tie for second place in the Mountain West, but lost to New Mexico in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Boise State is making its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance under head coach Leon Rice, while CU will be making its sixth appearance under Tad Boyle.

Tipoff from UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio is scheduled for 9:10 p.m. ET. The Buffs are 3.5-point favorites in the latest Boise State vs. Colorado odds from SportsLine consensus, while the over/under for total points scored is 143.5. Before making any Colorado vs. Boise State picks, be sure to see the college basketball predictions and betting advice from SportsLine expert Jimmie Kaylor.

Kaylor is a betting and DFS expert for SportsLine, who has covered college sports and the NFL for close to a decade as a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. His background as a former high level athlete — he was a Division-I All-American and professional athlete — gives him a unique perspective when building his fantasy lineups and locking in his betting picks. He has his finger on the pulse of the college basketball landscape and has been cashing in big for SportsLine members for the last two years.

Kaylor enters the 2024 NCAA Tournament on a 19-9 run on his college basketball picks for SportsLine. He is up 10.1 units, returning a profit of $1,010 for $100 bettors. In Tuesday’s First Four matchup between Virginia and Colorado State, Kaylor went 3-1, returning a profit of $190 for $100 bettors and running his overall streak to 22-10. Anyone who has followed his picks this season is way up.

Now, the Kaylor has his sights on Boise State vs. Colorado in the First Four 2024 and just locked in his picks and predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see his picks. Here are several college basketball odds and trends for Colorado vs. Boise State:

Colorado vs. Boise State point spread: Colorado -3.5
Colorado vs. Boise State over/under total points: 143.5
Colorado vs. Boise State money line: Colorado -179, Boise State +149
CU: KJ Simpson leads the Buffs in scoring at 19.6 points per game.
BSU: The Broncos rank 18th in the country in strength of schedule.
Colorado vs. Boise State picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why Colorado can cover
Colorado is athletic and has the potential to be one of the most explosive offensive teams in the March Madness field. Tad Boyle’s team averages 79.3 points per game, with five players averaging 10.2 or more points per game. The trio of KJ Simpson, Tristan da Silva, and Cody Williams will give opposing teams fits, and center Eddie Lampkin Jr. is an imposing presence on the inside.

Simpson, a 6-foot-2 junior, leads the team in scoring (19.6 ppg) and assists (4.9) to go with 5.7 rebounds per game. Williams, a 6-foot-8 wing and future NBA lottery pick, is back from an ankle injury that slowed him down during the Pac-12 Tournament and averages 12.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Da Silva averages 15.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the Buffs. All three players will likely be on NBA rosters in the future. See which team to pick at SportsLine.

Why Boise State can cover
Boise State is another Mountain West team that feels like it was disrespected by the Selection Committee. The Broncos put together an impressive regular season resume en route to earning their third straight NCAA Tournament bid. Leon Rice’s team finished in a tie for second place in the Mountain West during the regular season, before being upset by eventual champion New Mexico in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament.

The Broncos enter March Madness ranked 26th in the country in NET after played the 18th-most difficult schedule in college basketball. BSU has four players averaging 12.5 points or more per game, and it is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the March Madness field. Forwards O’Mar Stanley (13.0 points, 6.4 rebounds) and Tyson Degenhart (17.0 points, 6.2 rebounds) lead the way for the Broncos. See which team to pick at SportsLine.

How to make Boise State vs. Colorado picks
Kaylor has analyzed Boise State vs. Colorado from every angle and he’s leaning Over on the point total. He has also discovered a critical X-factor that has him jumping all over one side of the spread. He’s only sharing what it is, and which side to back, at SportsLine.

27 Mar

Picking winners of all 63 games in the NCAA Tournament with 63 reasons why

I never fill out my bracket until the First Four is over. After all, First Four teams have a well-established propensity to go further than just one game, and this year’s bunch — especially the No. 10 seeds from the Centennial State, Colorado and Colorado State — could add to that.

That also gives me more time to research and distance myself from championship week. That’s the upside. The downside is it gives me more time to fret. What am I missing? What am I looking into too much?

What am I doing?

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But eventually Thursday comes, and my bracket is due. So I boil it down to one sentence for every matchup. It’s part adages I believe in (great, experienced guard play and NBA talent are requisites), part research and part “I need to get this done.” So here’s the result: 63 picks, 63 sentences and too many reasons to worry (and be excited) to count.

First round
No. 1 UConn over No. 16 Stetson: The Hatters’ first NCAA Tournament trip is a short one as UConn just has too many options.
No. 8 Florida Atlantic over No. 9 Northwestern: If Northwestern was healthy, I’d take the Wildcats, but Florida Atlantic wins a high-scoring one with Johnell Davis and Boo Buie going back and forth.
No. 5 San Diego State over No. 12 UAB: Jaedon LeDee is the best player on the court.
No. 4 Auburn over No. 13 Yale: The Tigers’ depth, athleticism and length overwhelms the Bulldogs.
No. 6 BYU over No. 11 Duquesne: The Cougars are third in 3-pointers made this season.
No. 3 Illinois over No. 14 Morehead State: Behind Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask, the Illini are the first Big Ten Tournament champion to make the second round since 2021.
No. 10 Drake over No. 7 Washington State: Darien and Tucker DeVries are the latest father-son duo to lead an upset.
No. 2 Iowa State over No. 15 South Dakota State: The Cyclones flex their defensive muscle.
No. 1 Houston over No. 16 Longwood: The Cougars bounce back from a rough Big 12 Tournament title game loss.
No. 9 Texas A&M over No. 8 Nebraska: The Aggies’ massive advantage on the boards proves the difference.
No. 12 James Madison over No. 5 Wisconsin: The Dukes are experienced and explosive, and they defend the 3-pointer exceptionally well.
No. 4 Duke over No. 13 Vermont: Jon Scheyer’s club should be well-rested and refocused after losing its ACC Tournament opener.
No. 6 Texas Tech over No. 11 NC State: The Wolfpack are a popular upset pick, but Pop Isaacs leads a Red Raiders team with five double-digit scorers.
No. 3 Kentucky over No. 14 Oakland: Greg Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies are one of the great stories in this tournament, but Kentucky has too much offense.
No. 7 Florida over No. 10 Colorado: The Gators have great guards, active bigs and terrific size across the board, making things tough on KJ Simpson and Co.
No. 2 Marquette over No. 15 Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers will push the Golden Eagles to their limits, especially with the nation’s fastest tempo, but Tyler Kolek’s return pays huge dividends.
No. 1 Purdue over Grambling State: the Boilermakers are back and on a mission.
No. 9 TCU over No. 8 Utah State: The Horned Frogs have a ton of experience, and Jameer Nelson Jr. or Emanuel Miller will make some big shots late.
No. 5 Gonzaga over No. 12 McNeese: This will be a tight one, and in a battle of great guards (Ryan Nembhard plus Nolan Hickman vs. Shahada Wells), big man Graham Ike powers the Bulldogs.
No. 13 Samford over No. 4 Kansas: The Jayhawks, especially without Kevin McCullar Jr., don’t have the firepower or depth to keep up.
No. 6 South Carolina over No. 11 Oregon: One of the hardest calls of the first round goes the Gamecocks’ way thanks to better guard play.
No. 3 Creighton over No. 14 Akron: I named Akron my favorite No. 14 seed to win, but Creighton is just too experienced and composed to fall this early.
No. 7 Texas over No. 10 Colorado State: Max Abmas and Dylan Disu get the inconsistent but talented Longhorns off on the right foot.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 15 Saint Peter’s: The Peacocks will have major trouble on the boards and against Dalton Knecht.
No. 1 North Carolina over No. 16 Wagner: RJ Davis fuels the Tar Heels in their opener.
No. 9 Michigan State over No. 8 Mississippi State: The Spartans have won nine of their last 10 first-round games.
No. 5 Saint Mary’s over No. 12 Grand Canyon: The Gaels are really, really solid up and down the roster, and their defense is terrific, too.
No. 4 Alabama over No. 13 Charleston: This game will feature a ton of points, but Mark Sears will be the difference.
No. 11 New Mexico over No. 6 Clemson: Get ready to know the names Jaelen House, Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Donovan Dent.
No. 3 Baylor over No. 14 Colgate: The Raiders’ close-but-no-cigar first-round tradition continues.
No. 10 Nevada over No. 7 Dayton: The Wolf Pack have the backcourt and, at long last, the defense to get their first NCAA Tournament win since 2018.
No. 2 Arizona over No. 15 Long Beach State: The Wildcats avoid a repeat of last year’s 2-vs.-15 loss to Princeton.
Second round
No. 1 UConn over No. 8 Florida Atlantic: The Huskies pass their first major test of the tournament, with their excellent offense tearing up a poor FAU defense.
No. 4 Auburn over No. 5 San Diego State: The rugged Aztecs are used to wearing opponents down, but the Tigers are too deep and talented for that.
No. 3 Illinois over No. 6 BYU: The Illini get to the second weekend for the first time since 2013, with the guards dominating.
No. 2 Iowa State over No. 10 Drake: Keshon Gilbert continues his breakout season, and that Cyclones defense leads the way again.
No. 1 Houston over No. 9 Texas A&M: The Aggies just don’t make enough perimeter shots to keep up with Jamal Shead, L.J. Cryer and Emanuel Sharp.
No. 4 Duke over No. 12 James Madison: Duke beats the Dukes with Kyle Filipowski continuing a strong postseason.
No. 3 Kentucky over No. 6 Texas Tech: Antonio Reeves, Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard carry the Wildcats.
No. 7 Florida over No. 2 Marquette: Shaka Smart hasn’t made it past the first weekend since VCU’s 2011 First Four-to-Final Four run, with 10 first-weekend exits since.
No. 1 Purdue over No. 9 TCU: The Boilermakers are just too much inside (Zach Edey) and outside (country’s second-best 3-point shooting percentage vs. a suspect TCU perimeter defense).
No. 5 Gonzaga over No. 13 Samford: This isn’t Mark Few’s best team, but having two composed guards against Bucky Ball’s press is a huge advantage.
No. 3 Creighton over No. 6 South Carolina: Ryan Kalkbrenner is the perfect defensive anchor against the Gamecocks’ hard-driving guards.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 7 Texas: The Volunteers have the length, strength and versatility to limit Abmas and Disu, and the Longhorns don’t have enough consistent answers elsewhere.
No. 1 UNC over No. 9 Michigan State: Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard vs. Davis is a great guard matchup, but the Tar Heels are too good offensively all-around.
No. 4 Alabama over No. 5 Saint Mary’s: The Crimson Tide’s length, pace and athleticism overwhelm the Gaels.
No. 3 Baylor over No. 11 New Mexico: The Bears’ 3-point edge (39% vs. 33%) is too much for the Lobos to overcome.
No. 2 Arizona over No. 10 Nevada: In a game against his former conference rival, Keshad Johnson’s toughness, athleticism and improved shooting (39% from 3-point range) are key.
Sweet 16
No. 1 UConn over No. 4 Auburn: I trust the steady Tristen Newton more than I trust Auburn’s many guards.
No. 3 Illinois over No. 2 Iowa State: The Cyclones have seen a lot of good offenses, but they haven’t seen anything quite like the Illini’s.
No. 1 Houston over No. 4 Duke: The Blue Devils struggle against really physical, tough teams, and Houston might be the nation’s best at both.
No. 3 Kentucky over No. 7 Florida: These two split their regular-season meetings, decided by five points combined, and Sheppard makes some big ones to win this one.
No. 1 Purdue over No. 5 Gonzaga: The redemption tour continues as Edey gets Ike in foul trouble early, and the Zags have no interior answer after that.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 3 Creighton: This was the only pick I crossed out and re-picked, and I did so because Knecht’s status as the best player on the floor overcomes Creighton’s balanced attack.
No. 4 Alabama over No. 1 North Carolina: Alabama has the widest range of outcomes this tournament, and in an up-tempo battle, the Crimson Tide are just a little better getting the shots they want.
No. 3 Baylor over No. 2 Arizona: Scott Drew and his bevy of guards are too much for an Arizona team that struggles to defend the 3.
Elite Eight
No. 1 UConn over No. 3 Illinois: Both of these teams can really score, but the Illini have too many defensive lapses against the Huskies’ intricate offense.
No. 1 Houston over No. 3 Kentucky: In a battle of contrasting styles, the Cougars’ physicality wins the day.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 1 Purdue: The Volunteers can put together a solid gameplan against Edey thanks to their size, and Knecht’s rampage through the tournament continues.
No. 4 Alabama over No. 3 Baylor: The Bears finally meet their match in the 3-point shooting department, and Alabama’s 2-point proficiency helps the Crimson Tide win a thriller to make their first Final Four.
Final Four
No. 1 UConn over No. 4 Alabama: The Huskies have the interior defense to protect the rim, the athleticism to defend the perimeter and the composure to end the Crimson Tide’s run.
No. 1 Houston over No. 2 Tennessee: Both teams are excellent defensively and can struggle offensively, but I trust Houston’s backcourt a little more to get big buckets down the stretch.
National Championship
No. 1 UConn over No. 1 Houston: The Huskies are the complete package and pull off the first repeat since 2006-07 Florida.

20 Mar

San Antonio’s Alamodome will host league’s title game in May

The San Antonio Brahmas helped kick off the latest rendition of the XFL on Sunday. Their city will also help the 2023 XFL season culminate by hosting the inaugural championship game. Minutes before Week 1’s showdown between the Brahmas and St. Louis Battlehawks, the league announced that the Alamodome will feature the title contest on May 13.

“We are thrilled to announce that San Antonio and the Alamodome will be the host of this season’s inaugural Championship Game,” XFL chairwoman and co-owner Dany Garcia said in a statement. “I have been so impressed by the level of enthusiasm and commitment from the fans in San Antonio. We can’t wait to bring together the best of the XFL North and XFL South to compete for the Championship title in an event that will celebrate our players, coaches, and the revival of professional football in San Antonio.”

Dwayne Johnson, Garcia’s XFL co-owner, said the host site also has a special connection to his past.

“I started my wrestling career in San Antonio, specifically at the Alamodome,” he said in an XFL statement. “This was my very first Royal Rumble. The city, the fans, San Antonio and the state of Texas helped shape my career.”

The first annual XFL Championship Game is officially scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on May 13, with ABC set to broadcast.

Besides hosting the Brahmas, a new franchise in the latest spin on the XFL, the Alamodome also serves as the home stadium for the NCAA’s Alamo Bowl and the UTSA Roadrunners. The venue previously served as the home of the San Antonio Commanders, one of the eight teams in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football League.

20 Mar

2023 XFL picks, Week 1 bets by proven expert

The XFL makes its triumphant return this weekend with several intriguing matchups, including one between the Seattle Sea Dragons and the D.C. Defenders from Audi Field in Washington, D.C. The Sea Dragons and Defenders have been picked by many experts to be two of the top three teams in the league. Both have solid quarterbacks in Ben DiNucci for Seattle and Jordan Ta’amu for D.C., and both have top-notch coaches in the Sea Dragons’ Jim Haslett and D.C’s Reggie Barlow. Seattle also has one of the better offensive coordinators in the game in June Jones, a former NFL head coach himself.

Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. The Defenders beat the Sea Dragons 31-19 during the 2020 Covid-shortened season. Seattle is a 2-point favorite in the latest Defenders vs. Sea Dragons odds from Caesars Sportsbook, while the over/under for total points scored is set at 38. Before making any Sea Dragons vs. Defenders picks or XFL predictions of your own, you need to see what pro football expert R.J. White has to say.

White, a Fantasy and gambling editor for CBS Sports, consistently crushes against-the-spread picks and went 535-450-30 on his ATS picks from 2017-22, which returned more than $3,500 to $100 players. He also closed the NFL season on an incredible 107-80-6 on his last 193 against-the-spread and total NFL picks during the 2022 NFL season, returning more than $1,800 for $100 bettors.

White has crushed not only the NFL but also the XFL during its abbreviated 2020 season, going 16-4 on XFL ATS picks before the league suspended operations. Anyone who has followed him is way up.

Now, he has locked in on Sea Dragons vs. Defenders and released a confident against-the-spread pick that is available only at SportsLine. Here are the XFL lines and trends for Defenders vs. Sea Dragons:

Defenders vs. Sea Dragons spread: Sea Dragons -2
Defenders vs. Sea Dragons over/under: 38 points
Defenders vs. Sea Dragons money line: Seattle -135, D.C. +115
SEA: The Sea Dragons had a minus-3 touchdown deficit in 2020
DC: The Defenders were 3-0 on their home field in 2020
Defenders vs. Sea Dragons picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Sea Dragons can cover
Wide receiver Josh Gordon has NFL talent, but it’s yet to be determined if he is committed to getting back to an elite level following his off-the-field struggles. In parts of eight NFL seasons, he played in 77 games, making 252 catches for 4,284 yards (17.0 average) and 21 touchdowns. He also rushed six times for 89 yards (14.8 average). His best season was in 2013 with the Cleveland Browns, when he caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards (18.9 average) and nine touchdowns.

Another intriguing receiver on the Seattle roster is Juwan Green. A former member of the Tennessee Titans, he played two collegiate seasons at Albany. In 2019, he had a monster season with 83 receptions for 1,386 yards (16.7 average) and 17 touchdowns. His best game that year was in a 38-35 overtime loss at Monmouth, when he caught 15 passes for 245 yards (16.3 average) and three touchdowns.

Why the Defenders can cover
Running back Abram Smith is another weapon for D.C. The former Baylor standout had been with the New Orleans Saints last year, but failed to crack the roster. He was coming off a remarkable senior season in college. At Baylor in 2021, he carried 257 times for 1,601 yards (6.2 average) and 12 touchdowns. He had nine 100-plus-yard rushing games in 2021, including a 27-carry, 188-yard and three-touchdown performance against No. 19 BYU in a 38-24 victory.

Also ready to make his mark in D.C. is wide receiver Josh Hammond, who had been in camp with the New England Patriots. He played collegiately at Florida, compiling 1,138 yards receiving on 87 receptions (13.1 average). His best season was in 2018, when he caught 28 passes for 369 yards (13.2 average) and four touchdowns. In a loss to Missouri that season, he caught five passes for 48 yards (9.6 average) and one touchdown.

How to make Defenders vs. Sea Dragons picks
White has analyzed this matchup and while we can tell you he’s leaning Under the total, he has discovered a crucial x-factor that makes one side of the spread a must-back. He’s sharing it only at SportsLine.

20 Mar

Houston Roughnecks soar to No. 2, D.C. Defenders retain top spot

The first weekend of the XFL’s 2023 season had a little bit of everything. Saturday saw the Arlington Renegades rally past the Vegas Vipers and the Houston Roughnecks rough up the Orlando Guardians. Sunday’s doubleheader featured two close games, including the St. Louis BattleHawks’ thrilling comeback win over the Brahmas in San Antonio. In the nightcap, the D.C. Defenders rallied to defeat the Seattle Sea Dragons after trailing most of the game.

The Defenders and Renegades justified their first and second spots in our Week 1 Power Rankings. Houston, which was fifth in our initial rankings, had the most convincing win of the weekend, albeit it came against the team we had ranked at the bottom of the league.

How far did the Roughnecks move up? Did D.C. do enough to stay ahead of the field? We’ve got all those answers and more in our Week 2 Power Rankings below.

  1. D.C. Defenders (1-0)
    Last week: No. 1
    D.C. didn’t do anything to lose its grip on No. 1. It showed resolve in battling back to post a road victory against a gritty Seattle team that went into the game as the betting favorite.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ unit settled down after allowing a touchdown on the game’s first drive. Leading the charge was defensive back Michael Joseph, who had two second-half interceptions: first a pick-six, then a pick to set up Jordan Ta’amu’s game-winning touchdown run.

The Defenders won, but they will need more production from their offense moving forward. They particularly struggled in the passing game, as Ta’amu completed just eight of his 19 attempts.

  1. Houston Roughnecks (1-0)
    Last week: No. 5
    Wade Phillips’ squad jumps up three spots after its 33-12 thumping of Orlando. After allowing an early touchdown, Houston was in control the rest of the way while dominating play on both sides of the ball.

Brandon Silvers did throw two picks, but was otherwise solid with 272 yards and two touchdowns. He had a lot of success getting the ball to Deontay Burnett and Jontre Kirklin, who combined to catch 13 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Houston’s passing game was complemented by running backs Max Borghi and Dejoun Lee, who ran for a combined 77 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries.

Led by Trent Harris’ four sacks, Houston’s defense came up with several momentum-changing plays that included three interceptions and several stops on possession downs.

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  1. St. Louis BattleHawks (1-0)
    Last week: No. 4
    In the final 90 seconds of the BattleHawks’ opening win, they took full advantage of the XFL’s rules that differentiate it from the NFL. Down 15-3, St. Louis scored a touchdown, then made it a 15-12 game after a successful three-point conversion. The BattleHawks then were able to keep possession after choosing to try to convert on fourth-and-15. A.J. McCarron hit Austin Proehl to convert, then the duo connected on the game-winning score with 16 seconds left.

It was an extremely effective XFL debut for McCarron, a former NFL starter and three-time national champion at Alabama. Though he was sacked five times, McCarron managed to complete 18 of 26 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He went 11 of 14 for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

  1. Arlington Renegades (1-0)
    Last week: No. 2
    The Renegades’ defense was responsible for both of the team’s second half touchdowns in their 22-20 win over Las Vegas. The unit then stymied the Vipers’ game-tying, two-point conversion attempt before stopping the Vipers’ fourth-and-15 attempt to retain possession.

The Renegades’ defense did its job, but Arlington will obviously need more from its offense going forward. Sal Canella produced as expected with 70 yards on seven catches. But Arlington needs more players who can stretch the field for Drew Plitt, who threw for just 172 yards on 19 of 25 passing.

  1. Seattle Sea Dragons (0-1)
    Last week: No. 6
    There were plenty of things to like in Seattle’s season opener. Ben DiNucci threw for 282 yards while having immediate success connecting with Josh Gordon (six catches for 74 yards and touchdown), Jahcour Pearson (12 catches for 95 yards) and Blake Jackson (eight catches for 51 yards). Seattle’s defense, led by Emmanuel Smith, held D.C. to a meager 2.5 yards per carry.

DiNucci’s three turnovers (especially his fumble near D.C.’s goal line in the game’s final seconds) loomed largest, but the Sea Dragons’ inability to run the ball (just 51 yards on 17 carries) and their lack of a pass rush also contributed to the loss.

  1. San Antonio Brahmas (0-1)
    Last week: No. 3
    The Brahmas appeared on their way to victory before McCarron led the BattleHawks’ epic comeback. San Antonio’s defense, which dominated through three quarters, gave up 15 points and two touchdowns in the game’s final 90 seconds.

Lost in Sunday’s game was the fact that San Antonio’s offense also got things going late in the game. Led by Jack Coan’s passing, the Brahmas scored on their final two possessions to build a 15-3 lead. Coan completed passes to nine different players on the day, while Kalen Ballage gained 84 of San Antonio’s 133 rushing yards.

Big plays were missing from San Antonio’s offense. The unit had just two runs of over 10 yards and one pass that went for over 20 yards.

  1. Las Vegas Vipers (0-1)
    Last week: No. 7
    In a game that was decided by defense, the only thing the Vipers’ defense did not do was get the ball in the end zone themselves. That proved to be the difference in the game, as Las Vegas quarterback Luis Perez threw two pick-sixes that sank the Vipers’ Week 1 hopes.

The Vegas defense is good, but the offense is a major cause for concern. The Vipers ran for a paltry 25 yards on 15 carries, while former Steelers standout Martavis Bryant finished with a disappointing stat line of 28 yards on four catches.

  1. Orlando Guardians (0-1)
    Last week: 8
    Yes, they’re last in Power Rankings for a second straight week. And yes, they had the least impressive performance of Week 1. But there were some positives to glean from Orlando’s opening game.

In defeat, the Guardians received solid efforts by wideouts Cody Latimer, Andrew Jamiel and Eli Rogers. They were also able to run the ball against Houston’s defense. In fact, the Guardians should have run the ball more after averaging nearly 5 yards per carry on 16 attempts. Orlando’s defense also came up with splash plays in the form of two third-quarter interceptions.

Unfortunately for Guardians coach Terrell Buckley, the good things his team did against Houston were undone by poor quarterback play and several big plays allowed by his defense. Orlando tried to resolve the former problem by benching Paxton Lynch for Quinten Dormady during the second half.

20 Mar

Top DraftKings daily Fantasy football picks, lineup advice by top expert

Week 2 of the 2023 XFL season will begin on Thursday night as the Seattle Sea Dragons host the St. Louis Battlehawks at 9 p.m. ET. DraftKings is running XFL DFS tournaments for Thursday’s single-game slate and XFL daily Fantasy players across the country are trying to dial in their XFL DFS strategies. The Sea Dragons are coming off a disappointing 22-18 loss to the DC Defenders in Week 1 but they’re likely to be integral in XFL DFS with former Hawaii head coach June Jones calling the plays.

Seattle passed the ball 56 times during their Week 1 loss and had three different receivers — Jahcour Pearson, Josh Gordon and Blake Jackson — finish with at least six catches for 50 yards. So does that mean that you should be loading Seattle players into your XFL DFS lineups, or might too much exposure to that side be too risky? Before making any XFL DFS picks on DraftKings for this Thursday night showdown, be sure to check out the XFL DFS advice, strategy and projections from CBS Sports Fantasy and gambling editor R.J. White.

White, a Fantasy and gambling editor for CBS Sports, consistently crushes against-the-spread picks and went 535-450-30 on his ATS picks from 2017-22, which returned more than $3,500 to $100 players. He also closed the NFL season on an incredible 107-80-6 on his last 193 against-the-spread and total NFL picks during the 2022 NFL season, returning more than $1,800 for $100 bettors.

White has crushed not only the NFL but also the XFL during its abbreviated 2020 season, going 16-4 on XFL ATS picks before the league suspended operations as sportsbooks scrambled to correctly evaluate team quality in a league where little was known heading into the season. Anyone who has followed him is way up.

Now, White has turned his attention to Thursday night XFL action in Week 2 and locked in his top daily Fantasy football picks. You can only see them by heading to SportsLine.

Top XFL DFS picks for Sea Dragons vs. Battlehawks
White is high on Sea Dragons wide receiver Jahcour Pearson. After catching 76 passes for 804 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior at Western Kentucky, Pearson only appeared in three games during the COVID season of 2020 and then transferred to spend his final season at Ole Miss. He caught 26 passes for 392 yards in his lone season in Mississippi and then was invited to Giants rookie minicamp but didn’t stick.

This is a clear opportunity for Pearson to raise his profile with NFL scouts watching and he’s already taking advantage. Last week in the loss to DC, Pearson was targeted 14 times and caught 12 passes for 95 yards, leading Seattle in all three categories. With so much attention being paid to Gordon, expect a big season from Pearson in a pass-happy offense.

Another one of the top XFL DFS picks from White: Battlehawks quarterback AJ McCarron. The former national champion at Alabama was a fifth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and he played with five different teams over the course of his seven-year NFL career. McCarron threw for 9,019 yards and 77 touchdowns at Alabama and then threw for 1,173 yards and six touchdowns with just three interceptions in his NFL career.

Now the 32-year-old is looking to prove that he’s back healthy again after suffering a torn ACL while playing for the Falcons in 2021. He went 18 for 26 last week and threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns while engineering a wild comeback win over the San Antonio Brahmas. He’ll look to recapture that fourth-quarter magic on Thursday and quarterbacks are must-plays in single-game daily Fantasy football formats.

How to set XFL DFS lineups
White is also targeting an undervalued player who is set to explode for huge numbers in Battlehawks vs. Sea Dragons on Thursday. This pick could be the difference between winning your tournaments and cash games or going home with nothing. You can only see who it is here.