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Who to bet on beyond Gonzaga, Baylor

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Who to bet on beyond Gonzaga, Baylor

LAS VEGAS — Mark Few is the new face of college basketball. Once upon a time, Few was an underdog who coached Gonzaga teams that played the role of Cinderella in March, but the small-school, long-shot theme is an old storyline.

As a quirky, COVID-crazy season heads toward madness, Duke is dancing on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble and Kentucky has become a punch line. Blue-blood programs Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA are only flirting with relevance.

There is a new dominant team in blue. For the first time in Few’s two decades, Gonzaga should enter the NCAA field as the consensus favorite. BetMGM Nevada sportsbooks list the Zags as the +280 top choice, followed by Baylor at 3/1. Every other team on the futures board is getting double-digit odds.

“It’s a massive amount of Gonzaga and Baylor [futures] money,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “Gonzaga has the most money and Baylor has the second-most money, and it’s by a country mile over the third-place team.”

Many college hoops bettors sweat out games on a daily basis. Few has not been forced to sweat a result in more than two months. The Zags (20-0) have won 17 consecutive games by double-digit margins as they coast through a weak West Coast Conference schedule. The Bears (17-0) have been tested a few times in the Big 12, arguably the strongest conference in the country. Those are the final two undefeated teams remaining. Is half of the Final Four a foregone conclusion?

Inspired by the public perception of a two-horse race, Bogdanovich recently posted a prop price on the NCAA basketball champion: Field -120; Gonzaga/Baylor +100. William Hill’s line on the field moved to -125 after Saturday’s initial wagering.

“I think there are more teams that can win it than you might think,” Bogdanovich said. “There are plenty of teams that could get hot.”

In the NBA playoffs, the superior team typically advances in a long series. The NCAA Tournament’s one-and-done format leads to more volatility.

A top-heavy futures board favoring the Zags and Bears means there should be odds value in some other teams that could heat up and spring a surprising run in March.

Bogdanovich cited Florida State, Houston, Illinois and Iowa as teams with “a puncher’s chance.” While every team has flaws, beauty is in the eye of the bet-holder. Who are the true contenders in the field?

Michigan (10/1): The Wolverines returned to action Sunday for the first time in 23 days and immediately showed why they are the Big Ten’s best hope to stop a 20-year national title drought. Senior guard Isaiah Livers scored 20 points and 7-foot-1 freshman Hunter Dickinson had 15 rebounds and five blocks in a 67-59 comeback win at Wisconsin.

Any team that ranks in the nation’s top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency fits the profile of a title contender, and Michigan ranks No. 7 in each category, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings (Kenpom.com). The Wolverines’ odds were as high as 30/1 in early January, but the secret is out. Ohio State (14/1) is another potential No. 1 seed from the Big Ten that’s worth a look.

Villanova (10/1): A 16-point loss at Creighton on Saturday exposed the Wildcats’ shortcomings. Villanova is elite in offensive efficiency (No. 5), but awful in defensive efficiency (No. 90). The upside is coach Jay Wright has another month to make things right. Veteran point guard Collin Gillespie and forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl are talented enough to carry the team a long way. Villanova stock still can be bought at 16/1 odds at Circa Sports.

Alabama (16/1): Nate Oats has no fear. He publicly criticized Mike Krzyzewski in December, when the Duke coach whined about the wisdom of playing games during a pandemic, and Oats’ team plays with his bold attitude. The Crimson Tide defense is something Nick Saban would admire. Alabama is scoring 80.8 points per game and ranks No. 2 in defensive efficiency. Good guards win in March, and the Tide can roll with John Petty and Jaden Shackelford.

Virginia (20/1): The reigning NCAA champions from 2019 — there was no tournament last year — are not loaded with NBA prospects. The Cavaliers remain the top team in the ACC and rank in the top 15 in both offense and defense. Tony Bennett is a coaching master who imposes his will as Virginia forces opponents to play at its slow pace.

The Cavaliers are 11-1 since taking a 98-75 whipping from Gonzaga on Dec. 26. Few and the Zags do not want a rematch.

Oklahoma (50/1): The Sooners rank in the top 30 in offense and defense and own an impressive résumé that includes a win over Alabama, yet they remain underrated in the betting market. Lon Kruger is a quiet, underrated coach who has a track record of winning in March.

The Big 12 is loaded with contenders aside from Baylor. In an odd twist, Kansas is an afterthought. Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia are teams with the coaching, talent and toughness combination to reach the Final Four.

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One college student is using Instagram to make MLB cool again

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One college student is using Instagram to make MLB cool again

TAMPA — Alex Tantum represents a minority constituency of sorts: He is a college junior, and his favorite sport is baseball.

When he talks to contemporaries, often, “The first thing they say, when I ask, ‘Why don’t you watch baseball?’ is ‘Baseball is boring,’” Tantum said in a conversation Wednesday. “I think that some of the things that baseball is doing — I think bat flips, more celebrations, embracing players’ personalities — helps the game become less boring,”

In October 2019, Tantum created an Instagram account called “MLB FITS,” championed by the slogan, “The Game is Changing.” Its posts highlight well-dressed baseball players — some on the field, like a recent shot of new Met Francisco Lindor, but mostly off the field, like the Yankees’ Clint Frazier sitting in his highly celebrated shoe closet..

The Frazier post features a comment from Yankees teammate Tyler Wade, and that speaks to what makes this account special: Among its over 21,000 followers are many ballplayers themselves, including Wade, the Padres’ Blake Snell and retired Yankees legend CC Sabathia.

“It’s so important for them to be able to express their personalities,” Tantum said. “It’s good for themselves. It’s good for the game as a whole. It’s good for fans to be able to relate to them. I feel like the players’ outfits are an extension of their personalities.”

Tantum cited the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr., the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Lindor as players whom he believes can compel his generation with the way they both play the game and understand the value of looking good while playing good. A Yankees fan, he ranked Frazier, Wade, Judge, Gleyber Torres, Aroldis Chapman and Giancarlo Stanton (not in that order – they all reside in his top tier) as the team’s best-dressed players.

“My friends are really into the NBA and NFL,” Tantum said. “I think what the NBA does a great job of is marketing the players and letting the players really speak for themselves. I think MLB is doing more of that recently.” Players Weekend, he added, was a personal favorite, and he applauded the formation of the Players Alliance. 

After some talk of celebrations and expressions of emotion, I asked Tantum what he thought of the game itself, given all of the concerns and laments surrounding it.

“I’ve always enjoyed watching baseball. That’s just me as a baseball fan,” he said. “Obviously, there has been a lot of talk about time of the game, shortening the game, putting more hitting into the game, lowering the number of home runs versus strikeouts.”

There are changes that can be made to mitigate that; the attempted deadening of the baseball will be interesting, and fingers crossed that we’ll get pitch clocks and robot umps sooner than later. Ultimately, though, Tantum feels the best way to make baseball more exciting is to have the players be more excited.

“Emotion is good,” he said. “Pitcher celebrations are good, too. There’s always going to be those people who say, ‘I don’t like this. This isn’t the way it’s done,’ and stuff like that. But I think at the end of the day, the players are the ones who dictate what’s going on.”

The game, like the world, is changing. In a week when we saw Mariners president Kevin Mather resign in shame after voicing some fossilized views on players, it’s clear that baseball must further empower its players to be who they want to be in order for the industry to attain its full potential.


This week’s Pop Quiz question came from the late Jan Bottone of Wellesley, Mass.: The 1992 film “Light Sleeper” features a late scene in which a couple of people can be seen wearing baseball jackets, both sporting the same major-league team logo. Which team’s logo is it?


The Post’s baseball podcasts will get back up and running next week. Check them out.


Your Pop Quiz answer is the Yankees.

If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected] 

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Mets’ Noah Syndergaard honors late Post photographer Anthony Causi

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Mets' Noah Syndergaard honors late Post photographer Anthony Causi

Mets photo day at spring training simply isn’t the same this year.

Pitcher Noah Syndergaard posted a touching message to the Mets’ official Twitter account Thursday morning, paying tribute to Post sports photographer Anthony Causi, who passed away from coronavirus last April at 48.

“Hey Anthony, today’s photo day and it’s just not the same without you,” Syndergaard said. “It pretty much sucks. We’re thinking about you today, and we know that you’re snapping photos from above. Miss you man.”

Causi, on assignment for The Post, was a staple at Mets spring training throughout the last decade, bringing our readers a look at the Mets unlike any other photographer.

During Yoenis Cespedes’ first spring training with the Mets in 2016, Causi chronicled the outfielder’s wild cars, even one day getting a view riding shotgun. On photo day in 2016 Causi also captured the Mets’ vaunted starting rotation of Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Bartolo Colon, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.

And during his stays in Port St. Lucie, Causi developed a friendship with Syndergaard, who was willing to let Anthony try just about anything — including a photo of the right-hander signing an autograph from the ground up.

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Celtics, Heat are two teams moving in opposite directions

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Celtics, Heat are two teams moving in opposite directions

The NBA is approaching the All-Star break, and teams have started to show us what they are with about 32 games in the books. This week, I’m looking at two teams in particular, the Heat and the Celtics.

I believe these franchises are heading in opposite directions. Miami’s season was derailed by injury and COVID-19 absences. Yet the Heat have maintained their intensity on defense, showing bettors signs of improvement as they continue to get some continuity with their personnel.

Meanwhile, the inherent flaws in Boston’s roster have started to rear their ugly heads. A team many believed would find its way back to the Eastern Conference finals is now struggling to keep itself out of the play-in game.

Miami is getting warm

About two weeks ago, I thought the Heat were on the verge of a run. They had won three straight, but had covered just one of those games. The betting market had seemingly soured on the Heat, making them 1.5-point underdogs to the Rockets in a game the Heat won. Miami lost its next three games, however, failing to cover each time, and I backed away from my hypothesis. Well, the Heat were 3-0 SU and ATS in their last three entering Wednesday and are slowly starting to look like the team that won the Eastern Conference last season.

The Heat are second in defensive efficiency since Jimmy Butler returned from a foot injury, allowing 107.2 points every 100 possessions. Opponents were shooting just 44.1 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from 3-point range. Because the Heat’s defense has been so efficient, they have managed a +2.0 net rating despite ranking 22nd in offense over that stretch. What happens when Miami starts to find its way on offense?

The Heat finished last season seventh in offensive efficiency and second in 3-point shooting. This season has been derailed by injuries and disease, so their inconsistencies are understandable. Miami is a fantastic candidate to right the ship as it builds continuity. Right now, the Heat are 30/1 at BetMGM to win the NBA title, and 33/1 can be found. Those prices could look pretty good when the dust settles in the Eastern Conference.

Boston is wicked average

The Celtics lost on Tuesday night in Dallas, extending their slide to 3-7 SU and ATS entering Wednesday. Boston’s offense has really taken a step back during this slump, averaging only about 109 points per 100 possessions over this stretch. The problem has been an offense that has no flow.

Sunday in New Orleans, the Celtics’ offense devolved into isolation sets for Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or Kemba Walker, and as a result they managed just 0.9 points per possession in the second half. This has been a problem all season, and it is why the Celtics rank 28th in assist rate at 54.5 percent. Yes, Marcus Smart has been sidelined with a calf injury, but Smart is not going to fix what is wrong with Boston’s offense. Where does the improvement come from then?

In short, nowhere. This is what the Celtics are going to be this season. They are still a quality defensive team, and that will still lead to a postseason berth. But this is a thin team that lacks ingenuity on offense, and that will hold Boston back from competing for the Eastern Conference title.

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