LAS VEGAS — The Minneapolis Machine just kept chuggin’ Sunday in Iowa. The Golden Gophers dropped to 15-7 overall, and 6-5 in the Big Ten Conference, but they’ve been glorious to us for a simple reason.
Minnesota is a Cover Machine.
Getting 7.5 points against the Hawkeyes, the Gophers hung in there and battled, losing 90-85. Tickets cashed.
A month ago at Michigan State, they lost 76-66. But they were getting 12 points. Tickets cashed.
At home against Wisconsin five days later, they lost 61-59. But they were getting 2.5 points. Tickets cashed.
I watched the Spartans and Badgers games at my home sportsbook, beside three Minnesota natives. At the buzzer both times, the trio was bummed. I said, No! The Gophers were Golden, covering both!
They weren’t amused; none had taken Minnesota and the points in either tilt.
Golden Gophers are 20-3 ATS, leading men’s college hoops
Getting 2.5 points, Minnesota beat Penn State, 83-74. Getting 1.5 points against Northwestern, Minnesota won, 75-66. Getting 3 points, it defeated Michigan State, 59-56. Then Sunday’s beauty arrived.
I first noted this point-spread juggernaut in early December. Getting 12.5 points, Minnesota lost to Ohio State, 84-74; that represented these darling Gophers’ seventh cover in eight games out of the gate.
As a 2-point dog, it beat Nebraska, 76-65. Giving 8.5 to Florida Gulf Coast, Minnesota won 77-57. Yielding 22.5 to IUPUI, the Gophers won, 101-65.
And it continued, Minnesota not losing its secure grip on the title of Nation’s Best Cover Squad. It’s 20-3 against that dastardly number, a scintillating 87% success rate that’s the soundest piece of any college hoops investment portfolio.
Third-year coach Ben Johnson knows all about the Land of 10,000 Lakes, since he starred at DeLaSalle High in the Minneapolis suburb of Nicollet Island, on the Mississippi River off the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.
A two two-time all-state first-team selection, he led the Islanders to a pair of state titles. At Northwestern and then Minnesota, the 6-foot-3 guard tallied 1,202 points in his collegiate career.
His first season as a Golden Gophers player, for coach Dan Monson, he helped them reach Madison Square Garden in the NIT, where they lost to Georgetown and then Texas Tech.
Johnson’s matriculation back to Minnesota, through the coaching ranks, seemed a natural progression. After two sub-.500 campaigns, he has righted the overall ship in Minneapolis.
Those first two seasons under coach Johnson, the Gophers were 26-33-2 against the spread. This season, they’ve been outstanding. A scintillating ATS record might go a long way to portending potential future triumphs.
And if you’re a Golden Gophers supporter or alum who likes to lay a few lira on your program, you know you’re riding a spectacular wave of which fans of every other team are envious.
Two of that trio of Minnesota natives, up at my home sportsbook, have seen the light, too; last week, the duo thanked me for the insights. I told them, write a note to coach Johnson.
College hoops teasers set aside for Super Bowl bets
That pattern we had established of those dozen programs, which included Minnesota, that went 11-1 ATS two Saturdays ago, including a rousing 12-0 involving my 6-point teaser action?
Straight up, they would have gone 6-6 this past weekend. With that 6-point tease, it would have gone 8-4, which would have required some fancy three-team dancing to secure a profit on my minnow’s bankroll.
I decided to take the high road, however, instead using those investment dollars to partake in Super Bowl LVIII. I zipped outta Dodge for the weekend, not caring to deal with the Amateur Hour that Vegas becomes during big celebrations.
Not being physically able to make those teaser wagers Saturday morning, and transfer those physical tickets into my Romeo y Julieta (Churchill, de Habana) cigar box, I passed.
Which became a good deal, since just two or three losing teasers can pollute the whole group.
Instead, I bought Super Bowl tickets on the game ending in exactly 3 points (+500) and San Francisco tailback Christian McCaffrey earning MVP honors (+425). If one won, I’d finish ahead in my Super Bowl bets.
Kansas City 25, San Francisco 22, Overtime.
UNLV has covered 11 of its past 13 games
Were the kids listening?
Last week, we highlighted how well UNLV had been doing with both of the Boone twins, Kalib (12.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg) and Keylan (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), in third-year coach Kevin Kruger’s lineup.
That began Dec. 13, when the 13.5-point underdog Rebels upended Creighton, 79-64, in a newish arena up in the Henderson foothills of Las Vegas.
Freshman point guard Dedan Thomas Jr. (team highs in 34.7 average minutes, 12.5 ppg, 6.1 apg) has been a steady influence, as UNLV excels in taking care of the ball and disrupting other floor generals.
The Rebels are also among the nation’s top-20-percentile in 2-point shooting, at 53.6%. Their free-throw shooting (70.7%, 218th in the land), 3-point touch, and 2- and 3-point defenses need work.
Yet, their fine run continued Saturday, when 12-point dog UNLV went to New Mexico and upended the Lobos, 80-77. The Rebels had a Vegas moneyline between +515 and +550, with +580 available in other lands.
UNLV has covered 11 of its past 13 lined games, and it takes a four-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game at Fresno State.
Stats guru Ken Pomeroy has the Rebels flirting around the 100 ranking of his big chart of every 362 Division-I team. New Mexico had been No. 21, so that put a bow on UNLV’s second outstanding triumph of the season.
Fresno is No. 188, so the win streak should become five. Then comes No. 47 Nevada, Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Vegas.
That heated rivalry will likely help determine seeding for the Mountain West men’s tournament, March 13-16 right there in the Mack. That might offer one hell of a home-court advantage for one of the country’s hottest teams.
Get prepared: March Madness betting sites and promos
Runnin’ Rebels led by fiery coach Kevin Kruger
We have buried the lead, saved the best for last, because what UNLV aficionados might have savored most is Kruger exploding at officials who used a ridiculous amount of time to make a Flagrant-1 call on Thomas.
Kevin’s pop, the legendary coach Lon, showed exceptional fire as a guard at Kansas State. So did Kevin as a player, when—playing for his pop at UNLV—he was the rudder to a 30-win season and the Sweet 16 in 2007.
Save for a life’s-best game from Oregon guard Tajuan Porter (33 points), the Rebels would have played for a spot in the Final Four at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
As it was, it represented the best UNLV season since legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian won a national crown in 1990 and lost to Duke in a national semifinal the following season.
Lon could get hot as a coach, too. If one of his chrages ever crossed him, that player had better have been prepared to face a wrath of fury. At least one Rebel did just that, and he was soon an ex-Rebel.
The elder Kruger suffered few fools. As a New York Knicks assistant coach, in December 2003, he barked at Minnesota’s Latrell Sprewell, who was berating Knicks owner James Dolan, to “just play the game.”
Kevin, indeed, possesses similar coaching DNA, which should earn points with fans that he lost when he and his team were booed soundly as Air Force beat UNLV, 90-58, at the Mack on Jan. 23.
Then the four-game winning streak started.
If Kevin reproduces such exhilarating player moments as a coach, the Rebels faithful will be very pleased. Some were beginning to think he was a mannequin, dull and expressionless.
I’m not suggesting going out to the Westgate SuperBook and purchasing that 200-to-1 ticket on UNLV to make the NCAAs and advance to the Final Four.
Keeping an eye on its odds to win its league tourney, on its own hardwood? That might be a different story.