Vegas veteran Benjamin Eckstein, author of America’s Line, brings three decades of experience to make weekly picks in his “Ecks & Bacon” column.
Las Vegas - Got a little taste from the baseball diamond tonight and it'll be the Padres with Blake Snell over the D'backs. The last time we saw Snell, he was pulled from the World Series game against the Dodgers. At the time, the Rays were up 1-0 and there was one out and one on. Snell had allowed only two hits, posted NINE K's and logged just 73 pitches.
He was TICKED OFF! So, if you think that Blake doesn't wanna get off on the right foot in San Diego, think again. Just check out his spring training numbers. How about 14 innings, 5 hits, ZERO earned runs, 13 K's and a 3-0 record. All in on the Padres. And you can BOOK IT!!!
Baylor vs Houston Pick
On to the Final 4 Baabbbeee!!!
In the battle for Texas, and a spot in the championship game, we're gonna ride Baylor into the winner's circle. No offense to any of the teams at the Big Dance, but the Bears from Waco had a much tougher road to the Final Four than Houston. They beat Hartford (#16), Wisky (#9), Villanova (#5) and Arkansas (#3).
Kelvin Sampson's Cougars beat Cleveland State (#15), Rutgers (#10), Syracuse (#11) and Oregon State (#12). ALL double digit seeds. NOT a single digit seed in the group. Now they face a #1, and it AIN'T gonna be pretty. If you look at the respective conferences where each team lives, it's quite evident that Baylor played MUCH tougher opposition.
My old buddy Jeff Sagarin from USA Today rated the Big 12 at 84.28, just behind the Big Ten, while the American Athletic was rated at 77.81. Those ratings make perfect sense considering the Big 12 sent SEVEN teams to the Big Dance, while the American had only two. We like the way Houston plays defense, but playing against offensively challenged teams made life easier. NONE of the four opponents had an offense rated in the top 20.
Baylor is rated NUMBER THREE!!! Totally understand that the Cougars are absolute BEASTS on the offensive glass, listed as the 2nd best in the country. But, we can tell you that the Bears from Waco are the 7th best offensive rebounding team in the nation. Gimme Baylor for the MONEY!!!
UCLA vs Gonzaga Pick
And now the late game.
HOLY DOUBLE DIGIT spread Batman. FOURTEEN POINTS in a Final Four game. It has been 25 years since there's been a two touchdown point spread at this stage and it was Kentucky -14 over Syracuse in the 1996 title game. The Wildcats failed to cover in a 76-67 victory, but Gonzaga is on another level. No one has come within 16 points of the Zags at the Dance. They beat Norfolk State 98-55 covering a 33 point spread. Eased past Oklahoma 87-71 as a 15.5 point favorite. Rocked Creighton 83-65 as a -12.5 point choice.
Then sent USC back to Los Angeles posting an 85-66 W as an -8.5 point chalk. Now they get another Pac-12 team, and after looking over some past scores, the kids from the little city of Spokane (population 222,081) LOVE to play and BEAT anyone from L.A. (population 3,979,576), or, any team from the Conference of Champions.
The Zags have not lost a game to the Pac-12 since 2015, and bring a 10-0 mark to this Final Four game. Yea, TEN & OH!!! They also bring the BEST offense in the entire country to Indy, and surprise, a top five defense as well according to KenPom. Gonzaga rates a 126.8 on offense and 88.0 on defense.
The Bruins clock in at 116.2 on the offensive side, good for #13, while the defense is all the way down in the 45th slot at 94.2. We tried to get cute and grab USC at +9 in the last game, and while we made it only a lean, we still had to minus a few potatoes from the bank account.
Not gonna do that in this spot. Sure, the -14 sounds like a ginormous hill to climb, but everyone thought that Alabama -9.5 against Ohio State in the National Championship football game was The Wall from The Game of Thrones. Of course, 'Bama crushed the Buckeyes, 52-24. But if you're looking for an all-in, both hands type wager, NOT here. Got the Zags going to the title tilt on Monday, but this is just a Leaning Tower of Pisa.
And if you're looking for winners during the week, or a selection for the title game, I will be doing quick 15 second picks every day on Instagram.