Chicago State Cougars’ spread joy

Bet on it: The unheralded team has turned heads in Vegas because of its ability to cover point spreads.

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Chicago State at Iowa State

Iowa State guard Izaiah Brockington (1) shoots against Chicago State guard Coreyoun Rushin (15) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

Matthew Putney/AP

LAS VEGAS — There have been some superb college coaching performances so far this uneven, virus-influenced season.

New Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd and Auburn boss Bruce Pearl both began the week with a single defeat, and Purdue’s Matt Painter has the Boilermakers among the elite.

One name, though, occupies our marquee.

Gerald Gillion of Chicago State.

The program had been woeful, 28-170 over the last seven seasons. It last had a winning campaign (at 19-13) in 2008-09. At some point, a shuttering would have surprised nobody.

However, athletic director Elliott Charles held on, hiring Gillion, an energetic 36-year-old Florida State graduate who instills being above average, last summer.

Chicago State is no longer a surefire bet-against team — a “dumpster fire,” a professional punter called it — when spotted on a day’s rotation of games.

The Cougars (6-13) are 12-7 against the spread, one of only 12 national programs through Monday, according to TeamRankings.com, with at least 12 covers this season.

From 2010 through 2021, Chicago State owned the nation’s worst spread record, at 51-79-1 (39.3%).

It had dropped its previous 30 Western Athletic Conference road games, dating back to January 2017, but broke through last Saturday to beat Lamar 67-56 in Texas.

Don’t discount Chicago State’s overall record, either, because this is its first six-win campaign in five seasons. It seeks double-digit victories for the first time since 2013-14.

In his guard-heavy schemes, Gillion features Ali Dibba, Jahsean Corbett, Brandon Betson and Chicago native Coreyoun Rushin.

Finally, these Cougars have claws.

LAND OF LINCOLN ANGLES

Eastern Illinois games, through Monday, were a national-best 14-0 to Under. Even those who had caught onto the Panthers’ contagious sluggishness halfway through this run have been stacking profits.

EIU is a nightmarish shooting squad, as its 39.6% touch inside the arc is the worst among the country’s 358 Division-I programs. At the line, its horrendous 60.9% marksmanship is better than only four other teams.

It has only busted the 60-point barrier twice, at 61 and 62 — both defeats.

In addition, Over on DePaul (11-5), Illinois (11-6) and Illinois State (10-5) games have also been money. Four times on the same date in November, games involving two of those three sailed Over, fashioning a fine parlay tactic.

Entering this week, two-way Over parlays involving those three are 5-5. For a $100 bettor, that wager returns $360. An investment of a grand, with those 10 plays, returned $800 — an 80% ROI over two months.

Illinois and DePaul games are scheduled for Feb. 24 and Feb. 27. All three are scheduled to play next Saturday, Feb. 5 and Feb. 19.

CROSSING A LINE

The delay of Stanford’s basketball game at Washington State the afternoon of Jan. 13 provided apropos theater for a yes/no prop on the game actually being played. Two-way live action might have been robust.

A virus test proved inconclusive. Another was ordered. After a 75-minute delay, the game started. The Cardinal won 62-57.

There have been so many cancellations and postponements, I’ve heard yapping in sportsbooks, and on social media, about potential yes/no props on games actually taking place.

An offshore entity might dangle such offers, suggests one Vegas sportsbook

director, but not in the States. That would drift into “The Dead Pool” territory, he says of the 1988 film in which game participants predict celebrity deaths.

The health of players determining the outcome of a wager is distasteful if not macabre, he says, which isn’t business they seek to conduct. And states’ gaming control boards, says one bettor, probably wouldn’t allow such a prop.

NIXED IN NEVADA

The worst part of the Nevada Gaming Control Board suspending PropSwap activity, in September, isn’t that it cost me money.

On Jan. 11, I purchased a 20-to-1 ticket on golfer Kevin Na to defend his title last weekend at the Sony Open in Honolulu.

My tack with such a futures play has been to turn early success into two- or three-times profit, via PropSwap. Na led after Round 1, then faded. Several college hoops futures returned sweet dividends in recent years.

PropSwap, a secondary sports-ticket outlet, was started in 2015 by Chicago natives Ian Epstein and Luke Pergande. They have filed a lawsuit against the GCB, and their counsel has advised them to not discuss the matter.

Sports tickets can be bought, via PropSwap, in 20 states, including Illinois. In nearly 30 jurisdictions with legalized sports betting — except for Illinois, Michigan and Nevada — such tickets can be sold.

In November 2020, Gov. Steve Sisolak replaced GCB chair Sandra Douglass Morgan with James Gibson, who studied at the University of Chicago and is a familiar PropSwap adversary.

In 2015, he was in the Nevada Attorney General’s office, the GCB’s legal wing, when the GCB balked at PropSwap’s business proposal.

Epstein and Pergande tapped the well-connected barrister Dan Reaser, from Fennemore Craig, and the GCB ultimately ruled that PropSwap didn’t fall under its umbrella.

Sports-betting tickets are bare paper, it determined, property like title to a loan. PropSwap started and has flourished. Now comes Gibson. He was a one-man gang against Daily Fantasy Sports, illegal in Nevada since 2015.

For whatever reason — a publicity stunt, for a future elected-office run? — PropSwap is in his crosshairs.

In this legal round, Marc Rubinstein, of Reid Rubinstein & Bogatz, represents Epstein and Pergande.

The worst part?

That Epstein voted for Sisolak.

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