Pictured: R.J. Barrett
Source: Justin K. Aller / Getty Image North America

Preview: Duke at Notre Dame

Duke shoots for its fourth consecutive win on Monday night as it visits struggling Notre Dame in a nationally-televised game. The Fighting Irish have lost four straight and own just one victory in conference play.

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The Blue Devils did not look like the No. 2 team in the country for 20-plus minutes on Saturday afternoon, but something clicked after a timeout early in the second half as they were able to pull away for the 66-53 win over Georgia Tech. “Our guys were just different [after that timeout], which says a lot about them,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after the game. “This is a game you lose if you’re thinking about being a winner. It’s a game that winners win, when you can turn it around with 18 minutes to go and just really not playing well, and then playing great.” A challenging start to the ACC schedule gets even tougher for Notre Dame as it faces a second top-three team in three days after getting blown out at home by No. 3 Virginia on Saturday. “I can’t say enough how impressed I am with [the Cavaliers],” Irish coach Mike Brey told the media after the 82-55 loss. “They could win the national championship. They are men who have won together and are polished, and we are the exact opposite right now. We’re searching and trying to build it.”

TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT DUKE (17-2, 6-1 ACC): ACC scoring-leader RJ Barrett (23.9) recorded a game-high 24 points on 8-of-16 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line while adding 11 rebounds against Georgia Tech. Zion Williamson, second in ACC scoring (21.7), added 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting and chipped in with seven rebounds and three blocks. Point guard Tre Jones made his return to the lineup after missing two games with an injury and had six points, four rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes.

ABOUT NOTRE DAME (11-9, 1-6): Brey was not impressed with his squad after Saturday’s loss and scheduled an 8 a.m. workout for the team on Sunday as a punishment. The Irish missed their first nine shots en route to 36.1 percent shooting from the floor and made just 8-of-29 from 3-point range while being outrebounded 45-33. John Mooney was a lone bright spot for Notre Dame, scoring 15 points and adding 10 rebounds for his ACC-leading 12th double-double of the season.

TIP-INS

1. Duke leads the all-time series 24-7, including wins at home and in the ACC tournament last season.

2. The Blue Devils are second in the ACC and fourth in the nation in points per game (87.4).

3. Mooney leads the ACC in rebounding at 10.8 per game.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo (in green)
Source: Streeter Lecka / Getty Image North America

Preview: Bucks at Thunder

The Milwaukee Bucks pushed their latest winning streak to six straight behind another MVP-like effort from superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo on Friday and own the fewest losses in the NBA as they get set to embark on a five-game road trip. Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will kick things off by visiting the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

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The Bucks trailed 87-76 entering the fourth quarter on Friday and were down 12 with under 10 minutes to play before Antetokounmpo took over, scoring 14 of his 34 points in the final period and outscoring the Hornets himself in the fourth, 14-12. “It gives us momentum,” Antetokounmpo told reporters of the win. “We sat for three days, we didn’t have a game and this game just is something we’re going to build on. Hopefully, we’ll go to this five-game road trip and try to get as many wins as we can.” The Thunder come into the matchup with some momentum as well after winning their last four games and averaging 122.3 points during that stretch. Oklahoma City improved to 16-7 at home with a 122-116 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday and is wrapping up a three-game homestand with Milwaukee.

TV: 6 p.m. ET, ESPN, FS Wisconsin (Milwaukee), FS Oklahoma

ABOUT THE BUCKS (35-12): One of the keys to Milwaukee’s fourth-quarter surge on Friday was a defensive change that left Antetokounmpo at center and moved seldom-used reserve Pat Connaughton into the lineup, allowing the team to switch at every spot. “It allows me to be up and take pride in my defense, try to play the guys one-on-one,” Antetokounmpo told reporters of the setup. “Usually, we play back in the pick and roll, so we let the guy come downhill and try to shoot a floater or shoot the tough two, but sometimes I feel like it’s nice to take a step or two up and try to defend those guards and take pride in helping the team.” Antetokounmpo added three blocks and three steals to his 34 points and 14 rebounds in the victory.

ABOUT THE THUNDER (30-18): Star point guard Russell Westbrook is shooting 41.8 percent from the floor – the lowest mark since his 2008-09 rookie season – and 24.3 from beyond the arc but is still finding ways to impact the game. Westbrook is trying to average a triple-double for the third consecutive season and piled up 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists on Friday. “(Westbrook) is a once in a generation kind of guy,” forward Abdel Nader told the team’s website. “He’s special on both ends. He plays with the energy level that some guys wish they could play with. He’s a hell of a leader and a hell of a player.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Thunder All-Star SF Paul George went 6-of-10 from 3-point range on Friday and knocked down at least three from beyond the arc in each of the last six contests.

2. Bucks C Thon Maker, who is averaging 4.7 points in 11.7 minutes but recently fell out of the team’s rotation, reportedly requested a trade.

3. The road team took each of the two meetings last season, with Milwaukee earning a 97-95 triumph at Oklahoma City.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Image North America

Preview: Michigan at Indiana

Sixth-ranked Michigan looks to regain its scoring touch when it visits Indiana on Friday in a Big Ten game. The Wolverines are coming off their worst shooting performance since Nov. 23, 2016 as they finished 33.9 percent from the field, but managed to pull out a 59-57 victory against Minnesota on Tuesday after being held to a season-low points total in a 64-54 setback to Wisconsin on Saturday, and hope to get back on track by sweeping the season series with Indiana.

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Michigan, which beat Indiana 74-63 on Jan. 6, is still well placed for a run at the Big Ten regular season title following a program-record 17-0 start as the Wolverines sit one game behind No. 5 Michigan State, and hope to keep pace with the Spartans by pouring more misery on the Hoosiers. Indiana is coming apart at the seams following a 73-66 loss against Northwestern on Tuesday. The Hoosiers have dropped five consecutive games and are in danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, but a potential quadrant one win over a Top 10 team could provide the spark that ignites Indiana’s postseason push with the second half of conference play approaching. “I’m looking forward to playing Michigan in a good environment,” Indiana coach Archie Miller told reporters. “Some guys got to step up and knock a couple down … as we’re not shooting the ball well right now.”

TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

ABOUT MICHIGAN (18-1, 7-1 Big Ten): Ignas Brazdeikis went 9-of-11 from the free throw line en route to a team-high 18 points and matched his career high with 11 rebounds in the win against Minnesota to post his second double-double after being held scoreless for the first time against Wisconsin. Jon Teske continues to be one of the most improved players in the conference as he added 15 points and five rebounds while Charles Matthews scored seven points, including the game-winning fadeaway as time expired. “I hoped I had gotten it off on time and thankfully I did,” Matthews told reporters. “I was happy we won because it was a survival game after we’d lost one.”

ABOUT INDIANA (12-7, 3-5): Juwan Morgan scored 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds against Northwestern to register his seventh double-double of the season and the 16th of his career. Rob Phinisee added a career-high 13 points while fellow freshman Romeo Langford added 12 points and six rebounds against the Wildcats. Race Thompson has been cleared to play and could return Friday after sitting out the previous 17 games with a concussion while Devonte Green, who is averaging eight points and 3.2 assists this season, has been suspended indefinitely for “not meeting the standards expected of members of the program.”

TIP-INS

1. Michigan has won the last five meetings by an average margin of 14 points.

2. The Hoosiers are 10-of-55 from 3-point range over their last three games.

3. The Wolverines have held eight of their last nine opponents to fewer than 65 points.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Matisse Thybulle (in white)
Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Image North America

Preview: Washington at Oregon

Washington puts its undefeated Pac-12 record on the line at Oregon on Thursday in a matchup involving the two best scoring defenses in the conference. The Huskies are trying for their first 6-0 start in the Pac-12 since 1983-84, and have outscored their opponents by 100 points during a seven-game winning streak – their longest since starting 11-0 in 2014-15.

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“The only thing I think our standing in the Pac-12 and our record so far in conference does is just we’re getting everyone’s best shot and it makes people want to beat us even more,” Washington senior guard Matisse Thybulle told reporters after the Huskies’ 71-52 victory versus California on Saturday. “That means we have to play even better. We’re accepting the challenge and we’re going to take it head on, and it’s exciting.” The Ducks are coming off a 78-64 loss at Arizona State on Saturday after starting the trip with a 59-54 victory at Arizona on Jan. 17. “We got to continue to develop our team. Offensively, we’re going to have to execute better,” Oregon coach Dana Altman told reporters after his club’s scoring average dropped to 72.1 – second-lowest in the Pac-12 with Washington just ahead 72.6. The Ducks have won six straight in the series – their longest since winning seven in a row from 1937-39 – by an average of 13 points after last season’s 72-64 victory in Seattle behind 14 points from junior guard Payton Pritchard, and hasn’t lost at home to the Huskies since 2010.

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

ABOUT WASHINGTON (14-4, 5-0 Pac-12): Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell (team highs of 16.7 points and 3.4 assists per game, 5.4 rebounds) recorded 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists versus Cal after scoring 19 or more in four of his previous five games, and is averaging 7.6 boards in conference games. Thybulle was eighth nationally in steals (2.72) and 20th in blocks (2.33) entering Thursday – the only player ranked in the top 20 in both categories and one of two in the top 100 (Duke’s Zion Williamson). Senior forward Noah Dickerson (13.2 points, club-high 6.7 rebounds) recorded 12 points and 11 rebounds Saturday for his third double-double of the season while senior guard David Crisp (11.2 points) is scoring 15.6 per contest and has connected on 15-for-26 from the 3-point range in Pac-12 games.

ABOUT OREGON (11-7, 2-3): Pritchard (team highs of 11.9 points and 4.5 assists), whose 20 points Saturday were his most since scoring 22 in the season opener, needs seven assists to become the sixth player in program history with 1,000 points and 400 assists. Freshman forward Louis King (10.4 points, 5.3 rebounds) is averaging 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in Pac-12 games, including a pair of double-doubles and recording 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists versus USC on Jan. 13. Senior forward Paul White (10.8 points) has reached double figures in six straight games, averaging 15.6 in the Pac-12 while grabbing at least four rebounds in each of the last six contests.

TIP-INS

1. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 at 64.9 points allowed per game with the Huskies at 65.0 while Washington and Oregon are 1-2 in field goal percentage defense at 39.5 and 39.6, respectively.

2. Thybulle (254 career steals) is five away from moving past Arizona State’s Eddie House (1996-2000) and into third all-time in Pac-12 annals with Oregon State’s Gary Payton (321 from 1986-90) and Stanford’s Brevin Knight (298, 1993-97) leading the way.

3. Ducks senior G Ehab Amin (6.2 points) is one of two active players with 1,000 points (1,175), 500 rebounds (502), 200 assists (212) and 200 steals (249). Fort Wayne’s John Konchar is the other.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Auston Matthews
Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Image North America

Preview: Capitals at Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have tumbled into a tailspin that has seen them drop seven of their last 10 games overall and six of seven at home. The Maple Leafs likely won’t receive much sympathy on Wednesday when they host the Washington Capitals, who have lost a season-high six in a row (0-4-2) and surrendered at least seven goals in three of their last four contests.

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Auston Matthews is mired in an offensive funk, as the 21-year-old has just one goal in his last 13 games and three assists along with a minus-11 rating in his past seven. Matthews, however, has found success versus Washington as he boosted his point total to six (two goals, four assists) in six encounters after scoring and setting up a goal in Toronto’s 4-2 win on Oct. 13. Three-time Hart Trophy recipient Alex Ovechkin set up goals by countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chandler Stephenson in that contest and registered his third hat trick of the season – 23rd of his career – in Tuesday’s 7-6 overtime loss to San Jose. The Capitals, who allowed the tying goal in the final second of regulation before falling in overtime, will look to avoid losing seven in a row for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, TVA, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360, (Toronto)

ABOUT THE CAPITALS (27-16-6): T.J. Oshie scored one goal and set up two others against the Sharks to boost his point total to 10 (four goals, six assists) in his last eight games. Nicklas Backstrom had an assist in the first meeting with Toronto and set up a pair of goals on Tuesday to lift his total to 37, one shy of defenseman John Carlson for the team lead. The 29-year-old Carlson set up Oshie’s first-period goal against San Jose and has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last eight games.

ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (29-17-2): William Nylander, who has just one goal in 20 games, posted his first point since Jan. 3 when he set up defenseman Travis Dermott’s first-period tally in Sunday’s 4-2 setback to Arizona. The assist was the 22-year-old Nylander’s third in 20 contests this season after he recorded 41 in 82 games in 2017-18. Offense hasn’t been an issue for John Tavares, who reached the 30-goal plateau for the fifth time in his career on Sunday when he scored in the third period.

OVERTIME

1. Toronto F Mitch Marner has four goals and two assists in his last six games.

2. Washington G Pheonix Copley likely will get the nod on Wednesday and bid for his first win since Jan. 8, when he turned aside 37 shots in a 5-3 victory versus Philadelphia.

3. Maple Leafs G Frederik Andersen (21-11-1) is just 9-7-0 at home this season despite sporting a 2.28 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

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Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Victor Oladipo
Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Image North America

Preview: Raptors at Pacers

The Indiana Pacers have just four losses in the last 35 days, but two of them came against the Toronto Raptors, their opponent Wednesday in Indianapolis. The Raptors secured a three-point win over the Pacers at home Dec. 19 and a 16-point victory in a rematch Jan. 6, but Indiana is 11-2 against all other teams in that span after a 120-95 triumph over Charlotte on Sunday.

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“We just tried to prepare ourselves defensively, making sure it was tougher for them than it was in the last game,” guard Victor Oladipo told reporters, referencing an earlier 26-point loss to the Hornets. “Collectively, we did awesome.” Oladipo scored a team-high 21 points in the win while handing out seven of the Pacers’ 34 assists, one shy of the team’s season high. Toronto finished a 3-0 homestand with a 120-105 win over Sacramento on Tuesday. Star swingman Kawhi Leonard (rest) missed his third game in a row for the Raptors and he is not expected back until Friday at Houston.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, TSN (Toronto), FS Indiana

ABOUT THE RAPTORS (36-13): Toronto is 11-2 without Leonard this season and it overcame his latest absence with a 16-for-40 showing from behind the arc, led by a 4-for-5 effort by CJ Miles, who is averaging 13.7 points in 16.7 minutes over his last three games. Kyle Lowry finished with 19 points and nine assists while Fred VanVleet matched him in the scoring column one game after shooting 1-for-8 from the floor as he manages the wear and tear of the long season. “At this point nobody’s 100 percent healthy,” VanVleet, who recently missed a game with a thigh issue, told reporters. “You’ve gotta be a professional, take care of your body, try to be the best version of yourself that day and go out there and lay it on the line. So, barring anything major, I’ll be out there scrapping and clawing and giving it what I’ve got.”

ABOUT THE PACERS (31-15): Darren Collison scored 19 points and handed out nine assists while Bojan Bogdanovic chipped in 16 points in Sunday’s victory as Indiana reached the 120-point mark for the fourth time in its last seven games. “Me, Bojan, Vic, we were all being aggressive on the pick-and-roll,” Collison told the media. “When all three of us are aggressive, it’s tough to beat us.” Bogdanovic is averaging 19.5 points on 51.6 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds against the Raptors this season.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Pacers SG Tyreke Evans is averaging 15.5 points in 18.7 minutes over his last six games.

2. The Raptors are 8-1 in the second game of back-to-backs.

3. Toronto has won five in a row against Indiana.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Grant Williams (in white)
Source: Joe Robbins / Getty Image North America

Preview: Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Tennessee plays its first game as the No. 1 team in the nation when the Volunteers go after a 13th straight victory Wednesday night at struggling rival Vanderbilt in an SEC contest. Tennessee won its first four league games by an average of 25 points before holding on to edge Alabama 71-68 at home on Saturday to vault into the No. 1 spot for the first time since 2008.

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“It’s all about keeping it here, letting it last,” Volunteers leading scorer Grant Williams told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “For me, I’ve always thought my goal was to hang banners rather than worry about halfway through the season. If we get caught up in that, we’re not going to meet what our goals are.” Tennessee won both meetings last season, including a 92-84 win at Nashville as Williams poured in 37 points, and will attempt to extend Vanderbilt’s overall losing streak to six games. The Commodores, who lost leading scorer Darius Garland (16.2) to a season-ending injury after five games, are primarily depending on freshmen and sophomores to lead them to their first SEC victory this season. “Unfortunately I can’t create any drills or anything in practice that equals experience, and so a lot of times we do it well in practice and you get into the game and it’s usually underclassmen that just don’t make the simple play we practiced,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew told reporters.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

ABOUT TENNESSEE (16-1, 5-0 SEC): Williams, a junior forward, is averaging 18.9 points (19.7 the last three) on 56.1 percent shooting from the field and grabbing 7.5 rebounds per contest. Senior guard Admiral Schofield, who recorded his second double-double of the season Saturday, averages 17.4 points and 6.5 rebounds while connecting on 45.1 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Junior point guard Jordan Bone (13.2 points) tops the team in assists (6.4) and senior forward Kyle Alexander (9.9 points) leads the Volunteers in rebounding (7.8) along with blocks (1.9).

ABOUT VANDERBILT (9-8, 0-5): Freshman forward Simisola Shittu leads the team in scoring (13.6) on 49.7 percent shooting from the floor – despite averaging 9.5 the last four games – and rebounding (7.6). Sophomore guard Saben Lee scored 30 points combined in the last two games to push his average to 12.4 and he leads the Commodores in assists (3.5). Senior guard Joe Toye (9.6 points) is just 3-of-10 from the field the last two games and freshman forward Aaron Nesmith (9.2) has raised his production level the last three contests, averaging 15 points and five boards.

TIP-INS

1. Vanderbilt junior F Matt Ryan averaged almost 11 points the first 13 games, but managed 15 combined in the last four.

2. Tennessee junior G Jordan Bowden is averaging 17.6 points the last five games to push his season mark to 10.8.

3. The Volunteers sat second in the nation in field-goal percentage (51.1) and Vanderbilt (44.6) was tied for 183rd through Monday.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Source: 2019 NFL Super Bowl 53 logo. (AP)

The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will meet in Super Bowl LIII (aka Super Bowl 53, or 2019 Super Bowl) on Sunday, Feb. 3 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This will be the seventh time the Super Bowl features a rematch. These two teams met in Super Bowl XXXVI back in 2002 as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won their first Lombardi Trophy by knocking off the heavily favored Rams (then in St. Louis) and the “Greatest Show on Turf” 20-17 in the Superdome in New Orleans.

Much has changed since then, as Belichick and Brady are now making their ninth Super Bowl appearance and the 11th in Patriots’ franchise history. A win would tie New England with Pittsburgh for the most Lombardi Trophies (six).

For the Rams, it’s their fourth Super Bowl appearance, but the first for a team from Los Angeles since the Raiders beat the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII way back in 1984. A victory for the Rams would even their Super Bowl record at 2-2 while exacting a bit of revenge for what happened 17 years ago.

While the teams and many other details have yet to be determined, it’s never too early to start making your Super Sunday plans. Draft your fantasy team for Super Bowl 53 NOW at FanPicks.com. Check out links to the contests below

WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO WATCH

Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)

Date: Feb. 3, 2019

Time: 6:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS (20th Super Bowl, breaks tie with NBC for the most); ESPN Deportes (Spanish language)

Broadcast Team: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (color commentary), Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn (sideline reporters)

Radio Network: Westwood One

Halftime Performance: Maroon 5, Travis Scott, Big Boi

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Tiger Woods
Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Image North America

The Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament is set for Jan. 24-27 at Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, Calif. That means it’s time to pick your optimal FanPicks fantasy golf lineup. Fortunately, our fantasy golf experts are ready to help. 

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Here’s what our best Farmers Insurance Open 2019 lineup looks like:

Tiger Woods ($7,600)

He’s rested, he’s ready, and he’s on familiar turf. There are horses for courses, and then there’s Tiger at Torrey Pines, where he’s some combo of Secretariat and Pegasus. Tiger’s an eight-time champion at Torrey, and for the first time since his last win there (2013), he enters the tournament as a legitimate threat to win it. Once he gets in contention at Torrey, muscle memory kicks in and he cruises; the last time he finished in the top 10 at the Farmers but didn’t win came in 2004, back when it was the Buick, and he’s won it five times since.

Alex Noren ($6,200)

The third-round leader at the Farmers in 2018, Noren lost to Jason Day in a playoff in his Farmers debut and arrives with unfinished business. The only issue is rust — he hasn’t played since the Hero in early December. One of many heroes of the Euro Ryder Cup demolition squad in 2018, Noren has won at least one tournament in four straight years.      

Brandt Snedeker ($6,200)

Sneds is another course horse who saves much of his best work for Torrey Pines — two wins (2012, 2016), two seconds, seven top 10s. Shot four rounds in the 60s at the Sony a couple weeks ago to finish T16, so he’s close. If his health holds up, he’s poised for a strong year.

J.B. Holmes ($5,900)

Bomber actually rolled the rock brilliantly at last year’s Farmers in finishing fourth, his third top-6 finish at Torrey in four years. Two of Holmes’ four career wins have come during the West Coast portion of the schedule, so this good old boy is comfy on Pacific time.    

Daniel Berger ($5,800)

In his first action since September, Berger shot four rounds in the 60s at the Desert Classic and finished T12. On Sunday, he didn’t miss a putt inside 10 feet. If he’s fully recovered from a wrist injury that put a damper on his 2018 season, he’s dangerous.   

Rory Sabbatini ($5,200)

The Tour’s other Rory is strictly a course play this week: He has seven top 25s and two top 5s at Torrey since 2002. Finished T20 last year after a solid ball-striking week. Interesting footnote: The South Africa native is now a citizen of Slovakia and is clearly thinking about playing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo under the Slovakian flag.

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Posted in Golf, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: R.J. Barrett
Source: yahoo.com

Preview: Duke at Pittsburgh

First-year Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel has quickly shown the ability to not only attract high-level freshmen to his program but also coax the best out of them, just like close friend and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. At least a handful of the best rookies in the ACC will take the floor Tuesday when the Panthers host the second-ranked Blue Devils in the first-ever meeting between Capel and his former mentor Krzyzewski.

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Duke’s vaunted freshmen class boasts the top two scorers in the conference and likely top-five 2019 NBA Draft picks in RJ Barrett (ACC-best 23.8 points) and Zion Williamson (21.5), and along with fellow rookie Cam Reddish, proved to be too much for previously undefeated Virginia on Saturday, accounting for 66 points in a 72-70 victory. “They’re mentally tough. … They came here mentally tough, especially those two kids, Zion and RJ. They play at a high, high level of scrutiny,” Krzyzewski said. Capel has his own impressive collection of first-year players, as Xavier Johnson (17.1 points) ranks ninth in the ACC in scoring, Trey McGowens (13.9) has two 30-point games over the last four outings and Au’Diese Toney (9.8) leads the team with 6.2 rebounds. The trio wasn’t able to get the job done Saturday, however, as the Panthers shot 33.8 percent and committed 17 turnovers in a 74-63 setback at Syracuse.

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT DUKE (15-2, 4-1 ACC): Barrett (30 points on 11-of-19 from the field), Williamson (27 points, 10-of-16) and Reddish (nine points, 3-of-12) all played at least 37 minutes and combined to take 47 of Duke’s 51 shots in the Blue Devils’ first full game without point guard Tre Jones (shoulder) on Saturday. Barrett’s performance was particularly notable, as he rebounded from an 8-for-30 shooting effort in Monday’s overtime loss at Syracuse to post his fourth 30-point game, tying him for the second most by a freshman in school history. Williamson, who is the only player in the country scoring at least 20 points per game and shooting at least 60 percent from the floor, is averaging 25.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in ACC action.

ABOUT PITTSBURGH (12-6, 2-3): Johnson committed six turnovers – he has at least four in every conference game and nine of his last 12 – but was otherwise unfazed by the Orange’s 2-3 zone, finishing 6-for-11 from the field and 3-of-5 beyond the arc en route to 17 points to extend the Pitt freshmen record for most consecutive double-figure games to 18. Jared Wilson-Frame (11.2 points) bounced back from a scoreless 10-minute showing Monday against Florida State with a team-high 19 points and eight boards over 26 minutes Saturday. McGowens shot 2-for-13 and scored seven points in 31 minutes while dealing with foul trouble and an injury near his right eye in the first half.

TIP-INS

1. Blue Devils junior F Javin DeLaurier is one field goal shy of tying the ACC record for consecutive shots made (20), set by Duke’s Alaa Abdelnaby in 1988-89.

2. Pittsburgh tied a season low with eight free throws Saturday after a 38-for-46 performance from the foul line in its upset of the Seminoles.

3. Five of the seven freshmen that rank among the top 21 scorers in the conference play for either the Blue Devils or Panthers.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Zavier Simpson
Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Image North America

The Wolverines try to build on a growing legacy with a trip to Wisconsin on Saturday.

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No. 2 Michigan’s 17-0 record ranks as its best ever start. It can set a new program record for longest winning streak in a season if they defeat the Badgers.

The Wolverines (6-0 Big Ten) got big games from two starters who normally don’t light up the scoreboard in an 80-60 win over Northwestern on Sunday.

Point guard Zavier Simpson poured in a career-best 24 points and added four assists and three steals without a turnover. Center Jon Teske matched his career high with 17 points and also contributed 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Simpson averages 8.6 points, fourth-best on the team, with Teske just behind him at 8.4 ppg.

“As we go down the road, we’re going to need that,” coach John Beilein said of their offensive contributions. I don’t want to compare it to any other team because we’ve had some great teams. I hate comparing great to great but I do say this team has the capacity, if we get that out of those two, I wouldn’t want to have to guard that.”

Michigan has three players averaging over 13 points a game, including freshman Ignas Brazdeikis (15.6), Charles Matthews (14.1) and Jordan Poole (13.4).

Beilein downplayed the historical significance of his team’s start.

“Probably everybody would like me to make some great statement about being 17-0. It’s just another game,” he said. “It’s another game and we’ve got another one coming up Saturday at Wisconsin.”

Michigan reached the national championship game last season, so it knows most programs are judged by its tournament success.

“You don’t win championships with 17 games, 17 wins,” Matthews told ESPN. “We’re just trying to be winning at the end of March, beginning of April.”

The Badgers (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten) will try to avoid losing their third straight. They have dropped four-point decisions to Purdue and Maryland in their last four games.

Wisconsin trailed by 18 at halftime to the Terrapins on Monday and its second-half rally came up just short.

“Every loss stings,” sophomore guard Brad Davison told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The start of the game is what stings. It is kind of a theme the past couple of games. Getting down early and then fighting and crawling and scrapping to get back – making it hard on ourselves.

“In the first half, our offense was very stagnant,” he added. “We had to take a lot of tough shots late in the shot clock that we didn’t have to do in the second half. We had a lot better ball movement.”

The Badgers made 11 3-pointers in second half.

“I thought the execution was as good as it has been in a while,” coach Greg Gard said. “I thought we really moved the ball. We shared it. We got it to the right people. Obviously, it helps when you make shots. But shots usually go in because of good execution. It’s not by accident. I thought we had a lot of guys that did some very good things.”

The Badgers are led by forward Ethan Happ (19.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.6 apg).

Michigan won at Wisconsin 83-72 last season.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Tom Brady
Source: Maddie Meyer / Getty Image North America

The top two seeds come together for a rematch of their 43-40 thriller earlier this season

It’s hard to look at this year’s AFC Championship between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs as anything other than a potential changing of the guard. Tom Brady, 41, will be eyeing an unprecedented ninth Super Bowl appearance; to do it, he’ll need to rise to the challenge of 23-year-old emerging superstar Patrick Mahomes. Perhaps the greatest ever to play the sport at his position will be pitted against the man who may define it for the next generation.

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But the rivalry runs far deeper than just those two men. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is looking to erase his record of playoff futility by finally beating the game’s best on the other sideline in Bill Belichick. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce hopes to displace an aging, injury-prone Rob Gronkowski as the AFC’s best at the position. And despite the Patriots’ undefeated home record this season (9-0) it’s the Chiefs’ fans at Arrowhead who have one last opportunity to prove what home-field advantage in the postseason is all about.

Their last matchup, a 43-40 Patriots victory in Foxborough, was easily one of the best in the NFL this season. Expect Sunday’s game to bring the same amount of offensive firepower and late-game drama with a berth in Super Bowl LIII on the line.

AFC Championship: New England at Kansas City

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 6:40 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

Spread: Chiefs -3

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Mahomes keep from making mistakes?

In this type of game, it’s fairly clear what you’ll get from the Patriots’ Tom Brady. A roller-coaster regular season was put to rest last week against the Chargers; 343 passing yards and no turnovers meant the outcome was never in doubt. The Chiefs can’t expect to capitalize on his mistakes although Brady did have a lost fumble in their matchup earlier this season.

The real focus is on whether Patrick Mahomes can keep it together. On paper, he had one of the best statistical seasons in history with 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,100 passing yards. He did nothing to cost his team in a cruise control-type performance against the Colts in Arrowhead last week.

But the Patriots in the playoffs are a different story altogether. The Chiefs were mortally wounded in their regular-season matchup through multiple mistakes by Mahomes early on. Two interceptions led to seven Patriots points and cost the Chiefs seven more at the end of the first half. It’s enough to make the difference in a game where we’ll count the number of punts on one hand.

“We didn’t feel good,” Mahomes said this week about the Patriots’ loss earlier this year. “We didn’t play our best, especially early in the game. And when you play teams of this caliber, with this much history of knowing how to win and capitalizing on people’s mistakes, you can’t come back and win games like that.”

“For us, we have to learn from that, know we can’t make those mistakes. It’s going to be a dogfight for the entire game.”

Can he outduel the Patriots’ secondary this time? Philip Rivers never looked comfortable last week and New England’s defensive unit heads in with momentum. The Patriots know how to create takeaways in the playoffs. It’s imperative Mahomes puts those demons behind them by striking early and often in the first half.

2. Can Sony Michel outduel Damien Williams?

You might be surprised to know all four of the Chiefs’ touchdowns last week came on the ground. After releasing Kareem Hunt last month, many felt their rushing game would struggle but Williams has proven up to the task. The fifth-year player has stepped in admirably, posting a higher yards per carry average than Hunt (5.1 to 4.6) and two 100-yard rushing efforts. (That included 129 yards against the Colts last week). Hunt, by comparison, had just one 100-yard rushing game this year despite his speed and explosiveness.

Is that more because of the Chiefs’ offensive line or is it Williams himself? The answer is a little bit of both. But the Patriots’ defense will offer a stiffer test than the Colts’ front line. New England held Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon to just 15 rushing yards and the Chargers to 19 total. Ranked 11th against the run, allowing 112.3 rushing yards per game over the course of a full season that number drops to 65.0 when you include just the last three weeks.

Kansas City, meanwhile, has a rushing defense that ranked 27th in the NFL. It provides a make-or-break opportunity for rookie Sony Michel to put up some big numbers once again after a masterful 129-yard, three-touchdown performance last week. Michel, who lost part of his season due to injury, has been left in the shadows while other rookies like Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley have taken center stage. But they’re not playing this late into January. Michel might be the most important person on the field for a Patriots offense that finally appeared to loosen up with the chains constantly moving on the ground.

3. All Tyreek, all the time

Tyreek Hill was unhinged the last time these teams played. Seven catches, 142 yards and three touchdowns almost singlehandedly kept the Chiefs in the game. Last week’s postseason contest was a bit more pedestrian (eight catches, 72 yards) but a bounce-back performance should be expected.

Travis Kelce may be the Chiefs’ most reliable receiver but Hill is the one who can score at any given moment. The fastest player on the field can get more yards after the catch than anyone else in this game when given space and he’s already proved he can outrun the Patriots’ secondary.

This 75-yard touchdown play from the first matchup truly highlights the explosiveness of the Chiefs’ offense when both he and Mahomes are on the same page. It’s why the Patriots can’t fall behind in this game but the Chiefs will never feel like they’re out of it.

X-Factor: Kicking Game

Stephen Gostkowski is one of the game’s most reliable kickers. But a 27-for-32 season obscured the fact he was just six-for-11 on kicks over 40 yards in length.

During a year where long field goals have become the norm, not the exception, that may give the edge to another changing-of-the-guard figure: 23-year-old Harrison Butker. Butker was eight-for-11 on kicks 40 yards and longer while nailing a 54-yarder just a few weeks ago against Seattle. He also has the advantage of kicking within his own stadium during a night where the wind will make a difference (forecast to be 10-15 mph).

One miss from either kicker could be all that’s needed to determine the outcome.

Final Analysis

Conventional wisdom says the Chiefs should come out on top in this one. It’s a youthful team playing at home and hungry for revenge after their national stub-a-toe moment against the Patriots earlier this year. Andy Reid, 1-4 in championship games is too good a head coach to get shut out of the Super Bowl with this team.

And yet. The Patriots, labeled as rare underdogs have embraced that mentality with a bear hug. Julian Edelman’s Twitter posted a hype video followed by T-Shirts fans could order with the hashtag BETAGAINSTUS. It’s the type of us against the world mentality that plays well within a Bill Belichick locker room and the same type of emotional boost the Eagles used against them in Super Bowl LII (with great success, I might add).

Add in Tom Brady, who seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder amid criticism his play has slipped at 41 and it’s hard to count the Patriots out. They need everything to break right for them to pull this out but we’ve seen that type before from them in the postseason, haven’t we?

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Todd Gurley
Source: Harry How / Getty Image North America

A rematch of heavyweights set to brawl in the Big Easy for a ticket to Super Bowl LIII

The Los Angeles Rams make their second trip to the Crescent City to battle the New Orleans Saints this season as the top two seeds meet in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. The Rams (14-3) and Saints (14-3) find themselves one victory away from a spot in Super Bowl LIII after taking care of business at home last week in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

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Los Angeles trampled Dallas 30-22 out on the West Coast last Saturday. The Rams’ tandem of C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley piled up 238 rushing yards and three touchdowns while averaging more than six yards per carry (on 39 total attempts). Los Angeles controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage, limiting Dallas to just 50 rushing yards, and dominated time of possession (36:13 to 23:47).

New Orleans stumbled through the first quarter of its game this past Sunday against Philadelphia. Drew Brees threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage and the Eagles jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. But a Marshon Lattimore pick of Nick Foles started to turn the tide, as the Saints’ offense found its footing and the defense shut Philadelphia out the rest of the way. After a shaky start, the Brees-to-Michael Thomas connection got going as New Orleans went on to score the final 20 points of the game.

These two teams met in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome back in Week 9 as the Saints won a high-scoring affair 45-35. The offenses combined for 970 yards with Brees (346 yards, 4 TDs) and Jared Goff (391, 3) both filling up the stat sheet. Thomas (211 yards) also made his presence felt as New Orleans handed the Rams their first loss of the season. That game ended up being the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

NFC Championship: Los Angeles at New Orleans

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3:05 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Spread: Saints -3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Michael Thomas vs. Rams’ secondary

Last week against Philadelphia, Thomas hauled in 12 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown. The receptions were his highest since Week 9 when he went for 211 and a score on 12 grabs against the Rams. Will the All-Pro continue to have success against Los Angeles’ defense?

The Rams’ secondary will include a key component who was missing from the teams’ previous matchup. Starting cornerback Aqib Talib will start this Sunday after missing half of the regular season (Weeks 4-12) because of an ankle injury.

How much of a difference will Talib make? In the nine games (including last week’s playoff win) Talib has played this season, Los Angeles is giving up 206.3 passing yards and 17.7 points per game. Without him, those numbers jump to 272.6 and 30.8.

Additionally, no one should forget about the on-going squabble between Rams’ cornerback Marcus Peters and Saints’ head coach Sean Payton. Those two bantered during the first meeting in November. The feisty rhetoric continued this week. Despite what Peters mentioned, it seems unlikely that these two will sit down together to enjoy some gumbo. Will the Saints’ receivers go out and back up their coach’s trash talk?

2. Todd Gurley/C.J. Anderson vs. Saints’ front seven

Gurley’s production dipped toward the end of the regular season as he dealt with a knee injury that caused him to miss the last two games. Before that he failed to gain 50 rushing yards in Weeks 14 or 15, but he did remain a factor in the passing game (combined 13 catches for 106 yards).

But the positive for the Rams was that Gurley’s absence opened up an opportunity for C.J. Anderson, who the team signed following his release by Carolina. The former 1,000-yard rusher showed he was still capable of carrying the load, as he went for nearly 300 yards in the final two games of the regular season and then led the team with 123 in the Divisional Round win over Dallas. Not to be outdone, Gurley showed he was plenty healthy by going for 115 and averaging a robust 7.2 yards per carry against the Cowboys.

The duo will look to keep things going against a New Orleans defense that finished second in the regular season vs. the run (80.2 ypg). In the first meeting, the Rams managed 92 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries with Gurley responsible for most of the damage (68 yards, TD, 5.2 ypc). Anderson wasn’t with Los Angeles then but you can pretty much expect head coach Sean McVay will call on both of his backs on Sunday.

3. Saints’ offensive line vs. Rams’ defensive line

New Orleans has done a superb job of keeping Drew Brees upright. He took all but a small percentage of the snaps from center in 15 games during the regular season with opponents registering a total of 17 sacks. No other quarterback started as many games yet was sacked so few times this season. To put it another way, he was sacked during just 3.4 percent of his pass attempts. That’s the second-lowest rate in the NFL even though Brees attempted nearly 500 passes (489, 16th).

Los Angeles has a formidable trio that anchors its defensive line. It starts with Aaron Donald, the All-Pro who is the front-runner to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight year after racking up 20.5 sacks, 25 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the regular season. Ndamukong Suh has done his part clogging things in the middle while Michael Brockers chips in as the other starting defensive end. These three have started all 17 games together and are tasked with making plays behind the line of scrimmage and getting pressure on Brees, even if it doesn’t result in a sack. Their effectiveness will dictate how the linebackers are used by veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Can the Saints’ offensive line hold up against the Rams’ fearsome threesome? Three Saints’ linemen were flagged for holding versus the Eagles. Andrus Peat struggled in particular, with two holding calls against him. He is expected to play Sunday in spite of his broken hand, which clearly hampered him last week. Considering that Donald leads the NFL in sacks and tackles for a loss, New Orleans cannot let him dominate a the point of attack and take over the game, even if that means double-teaming him.

Final Analysis

The NFC bracket held to form to give us a No. 1 vs. No. 2 championship game. As a result, fans will witness two evenly matched teams that are tied for the best records in the NFL. If the regular-season matchup foreshadows what will happen in this one, another high-scoring contest awaits.

But this game appears headed for a closer finish than what transpired back in November. The Saints had a 21-point lead late in the first half before a field goal made it 35-17. The Rams battled all the way back to tie the game with less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter only to watch New Orleans score the next 10 points over a three-minute span. Sunday’s matchup figures to stay tight for the duration and may even need overtime to decide the winner.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks