No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 1 North Carolina
The Ducks, the Midwest Region champions, are in their first Final Four since 1939, when they won the first-ever eight-team NCAA Tournament. North Carolina, the South Region champion, is in its 20th Final Four, three more than any other school in NCAA history. It’s also the second straight trip for Roy Williams’ team after losing the 2016 national championship game on a 3-point buzzer-beater by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins. The Heels are one of the best offensive teams in the country, ranking No. 6 in adjusted efficiency, and the top rebounding team in the country led by big man Kennedy Meeks. He is one of three returning starters from last year’s runners-up along with Justin Jackson and Joel Berry. The top six players in Williams’ rotation are juniors or seniors.
Oregon doesn’t have as much talent overall as Carolina, which is full of McDonald’s All-Americans, but the Ducks are no slouches. Tyler Dorsey has been one of the best offensive players in this tournament in averaging more than 24 points per game. Dillon Brooks was the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Jordan Bell has been a rebounding and shot-blocking machine – much needed with the loss of big man and top shot-blocker Chris Boucher in the Pac-12 Tournament. Dorsey, Brooks, and Bell are all future NBA players. The one issue is that the 6-foot-9 Bell is the only big man in the rotation as the Ducks often play four guards. Oregon will be at a major size disadvantage vs. the Heels. The Ducks can also use their athleticism to pull UNC’s big men away from the basket.
Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals
The 2017 baseball season begins Sunday with three games, and the marquee matchup is the Sunday night ESPN game between the rival Cubs and Cardinals. It’s the first time since April 1909 that the Cubbies take the field as defending World Series champions. This year’s team could be even better offensively with a full season of slugger Kyle Schwarber. He missed nearly all of last season after blowing out his knee in early April but returned in the World Series and was a big reason Chicago rallied from 3-1 down to beat the Indians.
The pitching matchup is a good one between Cubs lefty Jon Lester, last year’s Cy Young runner-up, and young Cardinals ace right-hander Carlos Martinez. Lester was 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA in three starts vs. the Cardinals last year. He was backed in 2016 by a Cubs defense that was historically good. Opponents’ BABIP (batting average on pitches in play) was just .255 against the Cubs in the regular season, the best in history. The defense could take a hit in 2017 with the loss of center fielder Dexter Fowler, who signed with the Cardinals, and the lumbering Schwarber in left field most games. As for the Cards’ Martinez, he was 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year and was recently rewarded with a huge extension. Martinez did struggle vs. Chicago in 2016 with a 1-3 record and 4.80 ERA in five starts.
MLB Season Win Totals
Teddy & Pauly are bullish on the Orioles’ and Brewers’ win totals this year but bearish on the Pirates’ and A’s. Baltimore is given a number of 80.5 and should top that after being a playoff team last season. Yes, the starting pitching looks mediocre again, but that team will rake and the bullpen is elite, led by unhittable closer Zach Britton. ‘Over’ on the Orioles is the top wins total play of the year. Milwaukee is listed at just 70 wins. Will the Brewers reach .500? Probably not, but this is not an awful team and simply finishing 20 games under .500 cashes a winning bet on the ‘over’ here. Pittsburgh might have the best outfield in baseball but the rotation looks shaky after Gerrit Cole and he has injury questions of his own. Go ‘under’ 82.5 wins there. Oakland is in full rebuild mode and ace Sonny Gray will miss at least the first few weeks of the season. Offensively, the A’s scored only 653 runs last year, fewest in the AL. That lineup won’t be much better. ‘Under’ 73.5 wins on the A’s.