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PICKS IN PROGRESS
8* Over Islanders/Coyotes (9:05 ET): We're starting to see some high O/U lines attached to Islanders games and for good reason. This club has the odd distinction of ranking both 2nd in goals scored and last in goals allowed. Sure enough, they've gone Over in five of their last six games coming into tonight, including an impressive 7-3 win in Chicago Saturday night. That marked the second time in five games that the Isles scored seven goals and fourth in the last six games they scored at least five! In five of their last eight games, there have been at least nine total goals scored. I'm jumping aboard the "Over train" tonight.
This matchup w/ Arizona looks to be an easy one, at least on paper. The Coyotes also rank near the bottom of the league in goals allowed (28th), but the big difference here is that they also rank 30th (next to last) in goals scored. Clearly, we'll need some semblance of offense here from the 'Yotes in order to get this one Over. Well, good news. They've twice scored five goals in the last four games, including the last one, a 5-2 win over St. Louis. They should also get plenty of scoring opportunities in this game given the Islanders are allowing an unthinkable average of 42.0 shots over their last five contests!
In the first meeting between these teams this season, the final score was 5-3 in favor of the Islanders. Note NY scored that many times despite only 25 shots on goal. I'd expect them to have far more chances tonight. Each team did score on the power play in that first meeting. If that happened again here, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised considering both teams rank in the bottom third in penalty killing w/ the Isles ranking 30th. This should be quite the high-scoring affair. 8* Over Islanders/Coyotes
10* Baylor (9:00 ET): The Big XII did not treat me well on Saturday as I came out on the losing end of a couple close games. One of them involved Kansas State, who was able to outlast TCU 73-68 as a 2.5-pt favorite (I had TCU). It was a good week for the Wildcats, who went 2-0 SU, also beating Oklahoma. But both wins came in the Little Apple (at home). Now they hit the road where they have not won since 12.29. Baylor, on the other hand, comes off a deflating three-point loss at Kansas, a place where they still have NEVER won. This sets up as HUGE game as "esteemed" bracketologist Joe Lunardi has both of these teams among the first few OUT of the field of 68 in March. It will be a crippling loss tonight for whomever falls. I'm siding w/ the home team in the "must-win" spot.
Baylor actually led Kansas by five w/ less than five minutes to go Saturday night. They'd just scored on nine consecutive possessions and rallied back from an 11-pt halftime deficit. Then the wheels came off as the Jayhawks outscored them 14-6 over the final 4:39. The Bears' last five losses to Kansas have come by a combined 20 points, which has to be frustrating. So too is the fact that the team's record isn't better than 12-7 SU, including 2-5 in conference play. Of those five Big 12 losses, three have come by exactly three points each. Six of the team's seven losses have come against Top 25 teams. This is a classic case of a squad being better than its record. Personally, I would have the Bears ranked just outside the top 25 teams in America.
Kansas State would still be a little lower for me, so factor in the homecourt advantage and Baylor is the play here. The Wildcats have recently come out on the winning end of a number of close games, basically the opposite of Baylor, though they too lost close in Lawrence (to Kansas) - in their case by just a single point. But since 12.20, they've also posted three victories by five points or less. That's in an eight-game span. Key to the Wildcats' victories last week was that they shot the ball exceptionally well; 56.5% and 52.9% respectively from the field in the two games. I don't see that happening tonight on the road. Baylor has only been favored five times this year, but covered four of them. They have NOT shot the ball that well recently, but that should change here at home where they are 38-9 SU the L47 tries. They've outscored visitors this season by an average of almost 19 PPG while holding them below 40% shooting. 10* Baylor
analysis soon8* Toronto (7:05 ET): Theoretically, Maple Leafs' fans should be quite happy right now. We're into the second year of what has been a renaissance for this long-suffering franchise and another playoff berth is all but assured given the gap between the top three in the Atlantic (a group they are counted among) and the field. Also, the team is off a thrilling 4-3 victory over provincial rival Ottawa on Saturday. But the pending free agency of star Auston Matthews (at the end of NEXT season) casts somewhat of a cloud over this franchise and there's already been talks of trading him in anticipation of a possible departure. That's crazy. Still, I was impressed by the way they were able to come from behind Saturday (snapped 4-game losing streak) and win. I like them tonight.
Perhaps even crazier than the Matthews' rumors is the fact the Colorado Avalanche come into this game riding a 9-game win streak. You have to remember that this team set records for ineptitude last season w/ only 48 points and a -112 goal differential, both easily league worsts. Incredibly, they've made the leap to playoff contender in just one year's time and haven't even trailed (at any point!) during the current win streak, which has seen them beat nine potential playoff teams (outscored them 37-15)! They've even been w/o their #1 goaltender, Semon Varlamov, since January 2nd! However, all but one of those wins has come at home. The Avs have played a league-low 19 road games so far and are just 8-9-2 in them. Jonathan Bernier continues to play out of his mind between the pipes, but how long can that possibly last? The Avs continue to give up a high number of shots and that could mean trouble against a high-scoring outfit like the Leafs.
Having already lost four in a row, Toronto found itself down 3-1 after two periods Saturday vs. Ottawa. But they stormed back w/ a three-goal third period and that can certainly create some "momentum" (hate that word!). The Leafs have been a little unfortunate of late in that opposing goalies have posted a .933 save percentage against them the L5 games. Compare that to a .898 save percentage against them for the season. Combined w/ Colorado allowing so many shots, I expect the home team to break out offensively in this battle of top seven offenses and grab the two points. 8* Toronto
10* New Orleans (8:05 ET): The Chicago Bulls opened the season an abysmal 3-20 SU, looking every bit as bad as the pessimistic projections foretold. However, since that time, a strange improvement has taken hold, one that has seen them go 15-8 SU over the L23 games. They come into tonight having won four of the last five, two of those wins coming by three points or less (one in double OT), however, the last one was as "easy as it gets" as they dispatched Atlanta (on the road!) by a score of 113-97. That same Atlanta team just beat New Orleans not long ago (last Wednesday), but don't be fooled by those disparate results as the Pelicans are clearly the better team here and I expect that to show in the final result tonight. Lay the points.
The Bulls have also covered five straight as their lone SU loss during that stretch came against Golden State. They held the Hawks to 38.0% shooting Saturday while scoring at least 112 pts themselves for a third consecutive contest. However, context is everything and the bottom line is the Bulls are still being outscored by 5.6 pts per 100 possessions, the third worst mark in the entire league. Granted, there's been a big difference between the last 23 games compared to the first 23, but I remain unsold on any kind of renaissance taking place in the Windy City. They are bad road team w/ a record of just 7-16 SU and being outscored by almost nine points per game. Also, they're likely to be w/o PG Kris Dunn here as he suffered a concussion in the Golden State game.
All-Star starters were just named last week. There were two teams that had multiple players picked. One was obviously Golden State w/ Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The other was New Orleans w/ Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. This Pelicans team, while not deep, is one the top teams in the West will certainly want to avoid in the 1st round of the playoffs. Right now, it's a close battle for the bottom few spots, but I have the Pelicans ranked as the 6th best team in the Conference. Led by Davis and Cousins, they average more than 110 PPG and are sixth in the league in offensive efficiency. I don't see the Bulls having any answer inside for the "twin towers." Though it was only a seven-point win over Memphis on Saturday (didn't cover), New Orleans led by as many as 21 and never trailed. Also note that they won in Chicago earlier in the year (in a very ugly low-scoring game) and covered as 5.5-pt favorites. With a virtually identical pointspread here at home, there's substantial value on the chalk here. 10* New Orleans
8* Charlotte (7:05 ET): It seems as if every time the Hornets are set to possibly turn a corner, they shoot themselves in the proverbial foot. The latest instance of this "phenomenon" occurred Saturday, right here at home. Off impressive B2B victories over Detroit and Washington, they were in position to win a third straight game over a top eight team (in the East) as they led Miami by five w/ 34 seconds remaining. Sadly, they lost (on a disputed foul call) 106-105, dropping them to an almost unfathomable 0-14 SU in games decided by three points or less since the start of last season! Fortunately for this underachieving ballclub, tonight they'll host the worst team in the league, that being Sacramento. Don't be scared off by the pointspread in this one - lay it!
Despite an 18-26 SU record, the Hornets have basically scored the same number of points that they have allowed this season! Last year, they actually outscored the opposition, yet finished 36-46 SU. Compare this to the season Sacramento is having as the Kings are now a league-worst 13-32 SU (lost 7 straight) and being outscored by 9.2 ppg, easily the worst mark in the league (next worst is Phoenix at -6.7 ppg). Furthermore, the Kings have the dubious distinction of ranking last in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They're one of only two teams in the league not averaging at least 100 PPG and they're the only team that doesn't average at least one point per possession. In other words, they stink.
Earlier this month, the Hornets went to Sacramento and destroyed the Kings by a score of 131-111. They were 4-pt favorites there, so little to no adjustment has been made by the oddsmakers for this rematch. On the road this season, the Kings are already being outscored by roughly 12 points per game. They just lost - by 18 - at Memphis, who is the other team in the league not averaging 100 ppg. That marked the third double-digit loss in the last four games and fourth overall during the seven-game skid. To further illustrate their struggles, they've covered just two of the previous 11 games and that's despite being an underdog in nine straight. 8* Charlotte
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