Building the perfect team made for a grueling March Madness run

Choosing superlatives from across Division I college basketball is not easy. There are 362 teams, all with varying styles, varying strengths of schedules and varying consistencies. Do you prefer a team that is unstoppable at its best, but getting “its best” is rare? Do you prefer a team that is consistently really good but rarely takes it to an elite level?

During the NCAA Tournament, you need a combination of both: true excellence when it’s required, but also enough consistency to survive six grueling games against opponents who all have different styles, strengths and weaknesses of their own. Being great here or there might lead to a nice run. Being good enough all the time is what makes a champion.

So what if you could combine the best attributes from teams in this NCAA Tournament and make one super (and super-sized) team? Here’s the best of the best in this year’s bracket.

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Note: All advanced stats are via Synergy, unless otherwise noted.

Best overall offense: UConn
UConn has all the pieces. Tristen Newton is an experienced point guard who can score from anywhere, rebound and assist. Donovan Clingan is an efficient post scorer who also earns the Huskies a ton of extra opportunities. It’s a terrific combination to start with, and both return from last year’s title-winning team.

Then you get everyone else, and each contributor seems to have the perfect role. Cam Spencer (44%) and Alex Karaban (39%) can absolutely stroke it from 3. Spencer provides secondary ball-handling ability, while the 6-foot-8 Karaban can be a small-ball center in short spurts and really stretch the defense. Stephon Castle is a standout athlete with an NBA-ready body who attacks the rim fearlessly. Samson Johnson is a rim-running, lob-catching backup to Clingan, Hassan Diarra is a capable distributor and solid shooter at either guard spot, and even little-used Jaylin Stewart came on strong in the Big East Tournament.

But it’s not just the players, it’s their cohesiveness. They run an intricate offense — 11th in the nation in points scored off cuts — but rarely turn the ball over. They have the nation’s sixth-best assist rate but also plenty of guys who can get their own shot. The Huskies could be the choice for several of the following categories, but they get the nod in the biggest one.

Best post offense: Purdue Boilermakers
Say what you want about Purdue’s March disappointments and Zach Edey being the face of the worst one, last year’s loss to Fairleigh Dickinson. The Boilermakers’ post-up offense is ridiculous. Edey has been even better this season than last year’s player of the year campaign, which is why he’s assured of a second straight such award. Edey is shooting it better, turning it over less and drawing a truly absurd 9.7 fouls per 40 minutes per Kenpom, best in the nation by a wide margin.

I could sit here and show you his short jumpers and layups and dunks all game long. What’s been more impressive is how he’s become an offensive fulcrum. The Boilermakers assisted 50% of their makes at the rim last year. It’s up to 54% this year, and Edey is a big reason why.

Best interior offense: Marquette Golden Eagles
As I explained when I wrote this piece last year, “It’s important to differentiate between this category and the previous one: post offense possessions almost always result in interior scoring opportunities, but not all interior scoring opportunities come from post-ups.”

Interior offense can come from cutters, drives and a bunch of other places, too. The choice here is the same as last year’s as well. Marquette ranks third nationally in points per game around the basket (23.5), and the Golden Eagles do it in a bunch of different ways. Oso Ighodaro is a crafty interior scorer who is also a lob threat. Tyler Kolek is a downhill guard who does a lot of work in his paint, even though he can also knock down the 3. Everyone on Marquette cuts with abandon. The Golden Eagles rank in the 85th percentile or better on pick and roll ball-handler possessions, pick and roll roller possessions, cuts and in isolation. Their interior offense comes in so many ways.

Best transition offense: Texas Longhorns
This was a tough one. Illinois has the best transition player in the country in Terrence Shannon Jr. Teams like Western Kentucky and Samford score a ton in transition because of their absurdly fast pace. Kentucky might be the most lethal transition team at its best. Utah State and Gonzaga get the best shots in transition. So how do we end up with Texas? The Longhorns are, on a per-possession basis, the nation’s most efficient transition team. They have players who can rim run (Dylan Disu, Dillon Mitchell, Kadin Shedrick), a guard who can shoot the lights out (Max Abmas) and another guard who can run the show (Tyrese Hunter). Overall, the Longhorns are ninth in transition effective field goal percentage. Texas doesn’t play at the fastest pace, but when it does run, watch out.

Best perimeter shooting: Kentucky
This one was not tough. The Wildcats not only have the best 3-point percentage in the nation (41%), but they have have five guys making at least 37%. Reed Sheppard leads the charge at 52% — a number so absurd it looks like a typo. Rob Dillingham (45%) and Antonio Reeves (44%) are also deadeye shooters, while Zvonimir Ivisic (38% on small volume) adds some shooting ability from the bigs. Justin Edwards even reached 37% after a slow start.

Best free-throw shooting: Clemson Tigers
Clemson is a trendy upset victim playing Mountain West Tournament champion New Mexico in the first round, but if the Tigers do fall, it won’t be because of their free-throw shooting. At 79%, they are the tournament’s best team at the stripe. Joe Girard (96%), Chase Hunter (87%) and PJ Hall (79%) are all outstanding.

Best ball security/passing: Northwestern Wildcats
Last year, I went with Virginia, which led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and had the country’s lowest turnover rate. Then what happened? One of the most inexplicable turnovers of all time in a first-round loss to Furman. That’s March!

Here’s to hoping things go a little better for Northwestern. The Wildcats have the lowest turnover rate of any team in the tournament (13%) and assist on 60% of their makes, a top-25 rate nationwide. Fifth-year senior Boo Buie is one of the best guards in the nation, and it truly pained me to leave him off my top 10 guards who could lead a run, but Northwestern’s injury woes (and the fact that they’d play UConn in the second round) pushed him off. If the Wildcats do make a run, however, it’ll be behind Buie, who had a top-five assist rate in Big Ten play, and fellow guard Ryan Langborg, who not only led Princeton to the Sweet 16 last year but had the lowest turnover rate (6.8%) in Big Ten play this year.

Best overall defense: Houston Cougars
Oh man, this one was tough. Iowa State and Houston were No. 1 and No. 2 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency, separated by hundredths of a point. The Cyclones shut down the Cougars in the Big 12 Tournament title game just days ago. Both are not only sound units, but disruptive ones at that. Iowa State had the country’s second-highest turnover rate forced, and Houston was third.

I’m going with the Cougars because they are slightly better defending the 3 (30% to 32%) and significantly better defending the 2 (43% to 47%). A big reason for the gap is the Cougars are third in D-I in block rate; the Cyclones are 87th. Again, these two are neck and neck. I wouldn’t have a problem if you put Iowa State here. Houston gets the nod by a hair.

Best perimeter defense: Auburn Tigers
The Auburn perimeter defense is nearly impeccable. The Tigers have a great combination of pesky on-ball defenders, lengthy helpers and bigs who can really move. They also have incredible versatility; they go 11 players deep. They adjust on the fly as well as anyone. Here are their ranks.

Defensive efficiency



Effective field goal percentage



Spot-up points per possession allowed



Jump shots points per possession allowed



Oh, and if you do get past the first wave of defense, Auburn has the No. 2 block rate in the country. Good luck.

Best transition defense: North Carolina Tar Heels
During last year’s disappointment, in which the Tar Heels went from preseason No. 1 to missing the tournament, their transition defense was atrocious: 303rd on a points per possession basis. This year, they are tied for first with Houston. It’s a truly remarkable — almost miraculous — turnaround. The Tar Heels also allow just a 45.3% effective field goal percentage in transition, best in the country. The addition of the versatile Harrison Ingram has been a huge reason for the improvement.

Shot selection: Alabama Crimson Tide
Nate Oats’ team lands here again. It’s hard to argue against. Per, the Crimson Tide have the best shot quality in the country and the fifth-best rim and 3 rate. They get good looks in the most efficient places almost every trip, hence the nation’s No. 3 offensive efficiency. Alabama led the SEC in 2-point field goal percentage (57%).

Depth: Auburn
A second nod to Bruce Pearl’s club. Depth can be (and usually is) a blessing, but it can also be a curse if you can’t figure out the best lineup, especially in a single-elimination game. After all, you can only have five players on the court at once. Still, Pearl has perimeter shooting (three players over 39% from 3), defense, experience, rebounding and, perhaps most importantly, a true star at the center of it all in Johni Broome.

Experience: Creighton Bluejays
Creighton is the eight-most experienced team in the country per’s algorithm, but more importantly, it’s experienced on the big stage. Creighton basically uses five players. Four of them were on last year’s Elite Eight team. The one who wasn’t — point guard Steven Ashworth — is a senior who played in two NCAA Tournaments at Utah State. The Bluejays allow the lowest free-throw rate in the field, playing terrific defense without fouling. They are also the third-best free-throw shooting team in the field at 78%. This team won’t beat itself and will stay composed.

Height: Purdue
There are a bunch of ways to assess team height. It would have been hard to argue with Florida before 7-foot-1 Micah Handlogten’s season-ending injury in the SEC Tournament final. The Gators still have great height across all five positions, but it’s not quite as strong as it was before. Instead, we pivot to Purdue. Obviously the 7-foot-4 Edey helps a lot, but so does having seven more rotation players who are 6-foot-4 or taller.

Who wins every college basketball game today, and which favorites should be on upset alert? Visit SportsLine now to get picks and predictions for every college basketball game, all from a model that simulates every game 10,000 times.

FAU may start another run, plus SportsLine’s upset bracket

A No. 9 seed beating a No. 8 is hardly an upset, as there’s really no difference between the seeds, and these games are usually the most evenly matched of the first round. Last year, two No. 9 seeds advanced in Florida Atlantic and Auburn.

Coach Dusty May’s Owls made history by going all the way to the Final Four in just their second-ever NCAA Tournament, but they were very fortunate to beat Memphis by a point in Round 1 thanks to a Nicholas Boyd floater with 2.5 seconds left. There was a controversial jump-ball call with about 20 seconds left that gave FAU possession and the chance for the lead. Memphis led by four at the break and for most of the second half, and an argument could easily be made the Tigers were the better team.

No. 9 seeds now lead No. 8 seeds 78-74 all-time. The last sweep for No. 9s was in 2019 and the last for No. 8s was in 2015 — only the third sweep by the eights since the field expanded in 1985. Notably, Villanova won the national title in the ’85 tournament as a No. 8 and remains the lowest-seeded school to win it all. What you may forget is that Rollie Massimino’s club nearly lost to No. 9 Dayton in Round 1.

Kentucky reached the national championship game in 2014 as a No. 8 seed but lost to No. 7 Villanova. Two years ago, UNC was a No. 8 and got to the national title game as well, but lost to Kansas despite a huge halftime lead.

Let’s dive into each No. 9 vs. No. 8 matchup and isolate the best chance for an upset.

Get every pick, every play, every upset and fill out your bracket with our help! Visit SportsLine now to see which teams will make and break your bracket, and see who will cut down the nets, all from the model that nailed a whopping 20 first-round upsets by double-digit seeds.

9 vs. 8 upset rankings
Ordered from least likely to most likely.

  1. Michigan State over Mississippi State (+1)
    I’m probably the wrong person to write this story because I am a Spartans fan and have been hugely disappointed by their season, as Tom Izzo’s historic streak of consecutive Big Dance appearances nearly ended at 25. I do think Michigan State was quite a bit overrated at No. 4 entering this season because they went on another patented Izzo run March Madness run as a No. 7 seed last year, with wins over No. 10 USC and No. 2 Marquette before losing in overtime to No. 3 Kansas State. Michigan State has 16 NCAA Tournament wins as a worse seed under Izzo, the most by a head coach in history.

The Spartans, who enter 2-5 in their past seven, have had only one opening-round exit over the past seven years, but Izzo’s teams are generally based on defense and rebounding, and Mississippi State is arguably better in both. The Bulldogs are holding foes to 29.4% from deep this season, third-best in the NCAA field. Big man Tolu Smith is one of two SEC players to average at least 15 points and eight rebounds this season, and he could have his way inside. But I hope for the Izzo magic to show up again.

  1. Texas A&M over Nebraska (-1)
    The Trev Alberts Bowl! The former All-American linebacker at Nebraska had been the athletic director there since 2021, but was recently (and shockingly) hired away by Texas A&M for the same gig. Not only does Alberts have to feel a bit uncomfortable watching this matchup, but Nebraska and A&M also are playing in the first round of the women’s tournament. The Cornhuskers are the only Power 6 conference school to never win a game in the men’s Dance at 0-7. One potential disadvantage for Fred Hoiberg’s club was that it played only three neutral-site games all season (2-1 record), tied for the second-fewest among NCAA Tournament teams.

Texas A&M is an incredibly streaky team that finished just 9-9 in the SEC but got hot at the end with five straight wins — including over Kentucky and Mississippi State — before running into Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinal. The Aggies are one of four teams in the Dance to to have multiple players (Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford) averaging at least 16 points per game (minimum of 25 games played) and are one of 13 teams with at least seven Quad 1 wins. A&M also leads the nation with a 42% offensive rebound rate. I also happen to believe Texas A&M is the only No. 9 seed with a realistic shot to win in Round 2 vs. a top seed, in this case Houston in the South (presuming the Cougars aren’t upset by Longwood in Round 1).

  1. TCU over Utah State (+4)
    Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs are in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season and won in the first round in the previous two. The No. 9 seed matches the worst in school history, matching their slot from 2022 when TCU beat Seton Hall before losing in overtime to No. 1 Arizona. Nine of TCU’s 10 scholarship players who have logged minutes this year have played in the NCAA Tournament before, and that’s obviously a nice bonus. The Frogs can run teams ragged as they average 18.1 fast-break points per game and 22.5% of their scoring is via the fast-break, with both leading the NCAA. Under Dixon, TCU is an excellent 31-16 all-time at neutral sites and 9-3 in games played in an NBA venue — which will be the case in Charlotte.

Utah State’s Mountain West got six schools in for the first time, but those six team were not treated well by the committee in terms of seeding. USU won its first outright Mountain West regular season title in its 11 years in the league yet only got a No. 8? It’s a pretty impressive title, though, considering Utah State was one of just three teams in the nation returning zero points to its 2023-24 roster from last season. Junior swingman Great Osobor, a transfer from Montana State, was named both the Player and Newcomer of the Year in the conference. KenPom ranks the Aggies 47th nationally with TCU at No. 35.

  1. FAU over Northwestern (+2.5)
    Everyone of note is back from Florida Atlantic’s Final Four run in 2023, although the Owls had to sweat Selection Sunday a bit considering they didn’t win either the regular season or tournament titles in the American Athletic Conference. It was FAU’s first season in the league after several years in Conference USA. That FAU got a No. 9 seed seemed a bit generous with their bubble stature. Led by AAC Co-Player of the Year Johnell Davis, the Owls led the league in scoring (82.5 PPG) and field-goal percentage (48.1). They had won 13 straight games in March before an upset loss to Temple by a point in the conference tournament.

In 2017, Northwestern earned its first NCAA Tournament win in school history as a No. 8 seed, beating No. 9 Vanderbilt by two. The current Wildcats’ Boo Buie is one of the best players in the country and the only Power 6 player averaging at least 18.0 points and 5.0 assists this season. But Northwestern is brutally thin entering the Dance with guard Ty Berry (11.6 PPG) tearing a meniscus last month and 7-foot senior center Matthew Nicholson (5.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG) ruled out for the tournament Wednesday by head coach Chris Collins.

2024 First Four picks from proven model

Teams that are looking for respect on a national level meet Wednesday to close out the 2024 First Four as the Colorado Buffaloes take on the Boise State Broncos. The winner will take the No. 10 seed in the South Region and move on to face No. 7-seeded Florida on Friday. Both the Buffaloes and Broncos expressed surprise and disappointment at their inclusion in the First Four, an indication they were among the last clubs included in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field. But both have also vowed to make the most of the opportunity.

Tipoff is set for 9:10 p.m. ET from UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The Buffaloes are 3-point favorites and the over/under for total points scored is 143.5 in the latest Colorado vs. Boise State odds via SportsLine consensus. Before making any Boise State vs. Colorado picks, be sure to see the college basketball predictions and betting advice from SportsLine’s proven model.

The model simulates every Division I college basketball game 10,000 times. It enters the 2024 NCAA tournament on a 148-106 roll on all top-rated college basketball picks dating back to last season, returning more than $1,700 for $100 players. It also has a strong 29-19 (+810) record on top-rated spread picks this season. Anyone following has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Colorado vs. Boise State in the First Four 2024. You can head to SportsLine to see its picks. Here are several college basketball odds and trends for Boise State vs. Colorado:

Colorado vs. Boise State spread: Colorado -3
Colorado vs. Boise State over/under: 143.5
Colorado vs. Boise State money line: Colorado -165, Boise State +138
CU: The Buffaloes have won 20 of 25 games this season in which they were favored.
BSU: The Broncos are 15-8 against the spread in their past 23 games.
Colorado vs. Boise State picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why Colorado can cover
The mindset of teams regarding their seeding line and NCAA Tournament game venue can play a big part in their motivation, and there’s little doubt this edge belongs to Colorado. Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle said he knew his team was something of a longshot heading into the conference tournament, and he wasn’t even sure that an appearance in the title game would be enough to be included in the field.

Boyle told the media he had a feeling that if the Buffaloes were included, there was a decent chance they would have to play in the First Four. He not only doesn’t mind but said getting the nod among the last teams considered helps make up for numerous years he felt Colorado deserved a spot but was left at home.

“I knew this would be a possibility of playing on a Wednesday, and we are, but we’re excited. It’s like a new life. It’s like being reborn,” Boyle said.

Conversely, video of Boise State’s reaction to being pegged for the First Four showed the Broncos recoiling in disbelief and disappointment as they apparently believed they were a lock to be included in the main 64-team field. See which team to pick at SportsLine.

Why Boise State can cover
When the seeds were announced on Selection Sunday, Boise State coach Leon Rice at first led the chorus of grumblings for a team that apparently felt it deserved to be included in the main 64-team field instead of the First Four. However, Mountain West Conference foe Colorado State, a club with a nearly identical resume, also was sent to Dayton and had to earn its way into the main bracket with a win over Virginia on Tuesday night.

However, once the initial disappointment subsided, Rice decided to take a different approach for getting the Broncos motivated for their game against Colorado. He first said the Broncos would use the perceived snub as motivation to prove the committee wrong on their seemingly low opinion of the Mountain West, which had just one team get out of the first round last season.

Rice amended his stance to mirror that of Colorado State coach Niko Medved, who took the approach that playing and winning a First Four game would turn into a major advantage by the time the official First Round matchup materialized.

“The seed doesn’t matter, location doesn’t matter, brackets don’t matter … because you’ve got to find a way to win,” Rice told the media. See which team to pick at SportsLine.

How to make Boise State vs. Colorado picks
The model is leaning Over on the total, projecting the teams to combine for 145 points. It also says one side of the spread hits 60% of the time. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

Defenders defense stuffs Dragons, Roughnecks rough up Guardians

If you are already missing football, then you’re in luck, because a new league kicks off this weekend. The XFL is back, and there’s plenty to be intrigued by this spring. Rod Woodson and Hines Ward are new head coaches, there are some new rule changes to keep an eye on and then the rosters include some names all football fans will know.

Former All-Pro wideout Josh Gordon is a member of the Seattle Sea Dragons, former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Martavis Bryant is with the Vegas Vipers and even one of the most famous NFL punters from the past decade returns to the field, as Marquette King is booting the ball for the Arlington Renegades.

One of the most fun aspects about this league is that we don’t know what to expect. So naturally, we are going to blindly gamble on it. Every week, I’ll be posting my ATS picks for the XFL on Let’s go ahead and jump into Week 1. To view our XFL Week 1 Power Rankings, click here.

All odds are via Caesars Sportsbook

Vegas Vipers at Arlington Renegades (-2.5)
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET (ABC)

This is Bob Stoops vs. Rod Woodson. Stoops’ Renegades could be the preseason No. 1 team, as they have an impressive coaching staff, a quarterback in Kyle Sloter and a star tight end in Sal Canella — who played with Sloter in the USFL. I will say, Sloter didn’t play as well as I thought he would for the New Orleans Breakers — even though he was named All-USFL. Sloter threw the second-most interceptions with 12, compared to just nine touchdowns. That said, I still believe he has potential, and could be one of the better signal-callers.

Vipers quarterback Luis Perez is a spring league veteran, and he has a few notable targets like Geronimo Allison, Jeff Badet and Martavis Bryant. But I’m interested to see how good this defense is. That unit has former NFL sack leader Vic Beasley coming off the edge. Most will likely have the Renegades winning this game, but I’m going to go out on a limb and take the underdog Vipers. Coach Woodson starts the season off with an upset victory.

The pick: Vipers +2.5
Projected score: Vipers 24-21

Orlando Guardians at Houston Roughnecks (-2)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

If you look around at different XFL power rankings, the majority of sportswriters are expecting the Guardians to be the worst team in the league. While that means absolutely nothing, I see where they are getting that from. The quarterback room consists of Deondre Francois, Quinten Dormady and Paxton Lynch. Orlando does have some playmakers at wide receiver, however. Cody Latimer and Eli Rogers may be players you recognize, and then JaVonta Payton led the SEC with 22.9 yards per catch in 2021 at Tennessee (min. one reception per game).

I’m not sure the Roughnecks have an elite quarterback room either, but Wade Phillips is a good coach. If you’re a Maryland Terrapins fan, the Roughnecks are the team for you (behind the D.C. Defenders, of course). They have four former Terps in the secondary with Sean Davis, A.J. Hendy, William Likely and Jordan Mosley. The Roughnecks were the XFL’s best team in 2020, going a perfect 5-0 before the league shut down due to COVID-19. I’ll lay the points with the favorites.

The pick: Roughnecks -2
Projected score: Roughnecks 16-7

St. Louis Battlehawks (-2) at San Antonio Brahmas
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (ABC)

A.J. McCarron is likely going to be leading the Battlehawks into … battle, and I think he could impress some people in this league. He has a big target in Hakeem Butler out of Iowa State, who was a fourth-round pick back in 2019, but didn’t catch on at the next level. As for the Brahmas, you’ll recognize running back Kalen Ballage and of course head coach Hines Ward. Some think San Antonio could be an underrated team. Maybe it is, but I’m going to lean to McCarron in Week 1.

The pick: Battlehawks -2
Projected score: Battlehawks 23-20

Seattle Sea Dragons at DC Defenders (PICK)
Sunday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

The Defenders are the No. 1 team in Bryan DeArdo’s power rankings, so I’m going to have to roll with them. I haven’t watched much of quarterback Eric Dungey, so that’s going to be an interesting storyline to follow. I’m curious to see if he’s the best quarterback on roster with Jordan Ta’amu and D’Eriq King there as well, but I’m picking D.C. because of its defense. Gregg Williams is a very well-known NFL assistant/villain, and then linebacker Reggie Northrup is a veteran linebacker and MMA fighter that takes the practice field with a cigarette in his mouth.

I think Seattle is an interesting team — especially with Josh Gordon at receiver. Ben DiNucci could be a solid quarterback as well. Jim Haslett is an experienced defensive mind, but I’m going to ride with the Defenders.

Players, coaches, schedule, new rules, everything you need to know about rebooted league

Super Bowl LVII put an end to the NFL season, but fans don’t need to worry about having football withdrawal, not with two spring leagues playing games during the NFL’s offseason. Along with the USFL’s second season, which begins in April, the rebooted XFL is back after a two-year hiatus. The XFL will kick things off this Saturday, Feb. 18 — six days after Super Bowl LVII.

Here’s everything you need to know about the modern version of the XFL ahead of this weekend’s games.

Initially founded in 2001, the XFL was a joint collaboration between NBC and WWF, spearheaded by Vince McMahon. After a hot start, poor ratings ultimately led to the league lasting just one season. The league returned in 2020, with McMahon leading the reboot, but had to close its doors again after COVID-19 shut things down after just five weeks. The league filed for bankruptcy and was forced to sell.

A group that includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson then bought the league out of bankruptcy for $15 million, eyeing 2023 as its return season. For cost-saving measures, each XFL team will train in Arlington, Texas, and will only travel for game days.

The league consists of eight teams that are split into North and South divisions. Here’s a look at each team, which division they are in, and who will be coaching them in 2023.

XFL North
D.C. Defenders — Reggie Barlow
Seattle Sea Dragons — Jim Haslett
St. Louis Battlehawks — Anthony Becht
Vegas Vipers — Rod Woodson
XFL South
Arlington Renegades — Bob Stoops
Houston Roughnecks — Wade Phillips
Orlando Guardians — Terrell Buckley
San Antonio Brahmas — Hines Ward
If you’re wondering what changed between the 2020 XFL lineup and the 2023 version, there is only one team — the San Antonio Brahmas — with both a new host city and new team name. Three teams have the same nickname but a new host city: The Vegas (formerly Tampa) Vipers; the Arlington (formerly Dallas) Renegades, and the Orlando (formerly New York) Guardians. The L.A. Wildcats are no more.

Notable players
Several former notable NFL players will be part of the XFL in 2023. They include former All-Pro wideout Josh Gordon (Sea Dragons), former Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant (Vipers) and Vipers quarterback Luis Perez, a longtime NFL journeyman who started for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals last year before briefly spending time with the Rams.

Former NFL quarterbacks Ben DiNucci (Seattle), A.J. McCarron (St. Louis) — both of whom have started games in the NFL — and former NFL and USFL alums Kyle Sloter (Arlington) and Jordan Ta’amu (DC) will also take part in the XFL’s upcoming season.

Three former NFL first-round picks — quarterback Paxton Lynch (Guardians), linebacker Vic Beasley (Vipers) and safety Matt Elam (Guardians) — are also in the league. Lynch was the 26th overall pick in the 2016 draft by the Broncos. Beasley, the seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft by the Falcons, was an All-Pro in 2015 with 15.5 sacks. Elam was the last pick of the first round of the draft in 2013 by the Ravens.

Running back Matt Jones (Vipers) was a third-round NFL pick in 2015 by Washington. Two punters — Marquette King (Renegades) and Brad Wing (Brahmas) — started in the NFL.

Rule changes
Like the USFL, the XFL has a few rules that distinguish itself from the NFL.

Teams can score three points after scoring a touchdown if they elect to place the ball at the 10-yard line following a touchdown.
Unlike the NFL, the clock will start in the XFL following incomplete passes and out of bounds plays prior to the two-minute warning in either half. The clock will stop after first downs after the two-minute warning in either half. There will be 10-minute halftimes.
The XFL has adopted the XFL’s onside kick alternative where a team can try to keep the ball after a score by attempting to convert a fourth-and-15 from its own 25-yard line.
Teams can complete a double forward pass as long as the first completion does not cross the original line of scrimmage.
Overtimes will consist of alternating attempts from the opponent’s 5-yard- line. Each team will get three attempts or until a winner is declared.
How to watch
All 43 XFL games will be broadcast across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. Each game will also be streamed on ESPN+.

Week 1 schedule
Saturday, Feb. 18: Vegas Vipers at Arlington Renegades (Choctaw Stadium) — 3 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN+
Saturday, Feb. 18: Orlando Guardians at Houston Roughnecks (at TDECU Stadium) — 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN/FX and ESPN+
Sunday, Feb. 19: St. Louis Battlehawks at San Antonio Brahmas (at The Alamodome) — at 3 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN+
Sunday, Feb. 19: Seattle Sea Dragons at D.C. Defenders (at Audi Field) — 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+
Season schedule and playoffs
The XFL will play a 10-game regular season that will conclude Sunday, April 23. Four teams will then take part in two semifinal games, with the two winners participating in the XFL Championship that will be played on Saturday, May 13.

2023 XFL picks, Week 1 bets by proven pro football expert

The new-look XFL returns to the field for the first time in three years when the Arlington Renegades host the Vegas Vipers in the 2023 season opener on Saturday at Choctaw Stadium in Arlington, Texas. With new owners, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and eight teams from Seattle to Washington, D.C., the XFL hopes to finish what it could not three years ago. In 2020 the league was able to play only half of its 10-game season before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to cancel the rest of the season. The Renegades vs. Vipers game is the first of four games this weekend.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. ET. Arlington is a 3.5-point favorite in the latest Renegades vs. Vipers odds from Caesars Sportsbook, while the over/under for total points scored is 36. Before locking in any Vipers vs. Renegades picks or XFL predictions of your own, you need to see what pro football expert R.J. White has to say.

White, a Fantasy and gambling editor for CBS Sports, consistently crushes against-the-spread picks and went 535-450-30 on his ATS picks from 2017-22, which returned more than $3,500 to $100 players. He also closed the NFL season on an incredible 107-80-6 on his last 193 against-the-spread and total NFL picks during the 2022 NFL season, returning more than $1,800 for $100 bettors.

White has crushed not only the NFL but also the XFL during its abbreviated 2020 season, going 16-4 on XFL ATS picks before the league suspended operations. Anyone who has followed him is way up.

Now, he has locked in on Renegades vs. Vipers and released a confident against-the-spread pick that is available only at SportsLine. Go to SportsLine to see it. Here are the XFL lines and trends for Vipers vs. Renegades:

Renegades vs. Vipers spread: Arlington -3.5
Renegades vs. Vipers over/under: 36 points
Renegades vs. Vipers money line: Arlington -178, Vegas +150
ARL: TE Sal Cannella had 34 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns in the USFL in 2022.
VEG: QB Luis Perez completed 72% of his passes in the USFL in 2022.
Renegades vs. Vipers picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Renegades can cover
Arlington has a prolific quarterback in Drew Plitt. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound Plitt played five seasons at Ball State and finished second in program history in completions (777) and third in passing yards (9,062) and passing touchdowns (68). In brief action with the Bengals last preseason, he completed 7-of-8 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown.

In addition, the Renegades have a running back with NFL experience in Keith Ford. The 5-foot-10, 219-pound Ford has spent time on the roster of the Bills, Colts and Packers. He has played in two NFL games, running for 79 yards on 21 carries.

Why the Vipers can cover
Vegas has receivers with NFL experience. Martavis Bryant had 145 receptions for 2,183 yards and 17 touchdowns in four seasons with the Steelers and Raiders. Meanwhile Geronimo Allison had 89 receptions for 1,045 and six touchdowns in parts of five seasons with the Packers and Lions.

Bryant and Allison will be catching passes from a prolific passer in Luis Perez. The 6-foot-3, 222-pound Perez was a two-year starter at Texas A&M-Commerce where he threw for 8,327 yards and 78 touchdowns and led the team to the Div. II national championship in 2017. That season he also won the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is the Div. II equivalent to the Heisman Trophy.

How to make Renegades vs. Vipers picks
White has analyzed this matchup and while we can tell you he’s leaning Under the total, he has discovered a crucial x-factor that makes one side of the spread a must-back. He’s sharing it only at SportsLine.

2023 XFL picks, Week 1 bets from proven expert

The Houston Roughnecks were the class of the XFL in 2020, winning all five of their games before the league was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Houston attempts to pick up right where it left off when it hosts the Orlando Guardians in the 2023 season opener for both teams on Saturday. The Roughnecks were offensive juggernauts in 2020 as they led the XFL with 158 points and a plus-47 point differential. The Guardians begin their first season in the Sunshine State after spending 2020 in New York, where they posted a 3-2 record.

Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET at TDECU Stadium. Houston is a 3.5-point favorite in the latest Roughnecks vs. Guardians odds from Caesars Sportsbook, while the over/under for total points scored is 35. Before making any Guardians vs. Roughnecks picks or XFL predictions of your own, you need to see what pro football expert R.J. White has to say.

White, a Fantasy and gambling editor for CBS Sports, consistently crushes against-the-spread picks and went 535-450-30 on his ATS picks from 2017-22, which returned more than $3,500 to $100 players. He also closed the NFL season on an incredible 107-80-6 on his last 193 against-the-spread and total NFL picks during the 2022 NFL season, returning more than $1,800 for $100 bettors.

White has crushed not only the NFL but also the XFL during its abbreviated 2020 season, going 16-4 on XFL ATS picks before the league suspended operations. Anyone who has followed him is way up.

Now, he has locked in on Roughnecks vs. Guardians and released a confident against-the-spread pick that is available only at SportsLine. Here are the XFL lines and trends for Guardians vs. Roughnecks:

Roughnecks vs. Guardians spread: Houston -3.5
Roughnecks vs. Guardians over/under: 35 points
Roughnecks vs. Guardians money line: Houston -178, Orlando +150
HOU: S Sean Davis made five interceptions and 2.5 sacks in 70 NFL games from 2016-21
ORL: DE Stansly Maponga played in the NFL, XFL and CFL before signing with the Guardians
Roughnecks vs. Guardians picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Roughnecks can cover
Head coach Wade Phillips and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart have a lot with which to work in Houston. The secondary includes safety Sean Davis, who recorded five interceptions and 259 tackles over six NFL seasons with four teams. Also in the defensive backfield is cornerback William Likely, who set a number of records at the University of Maryland and was named to the 2022 All-USFL Team after finishing third in the league with four interceptions for the Houston Gamblers.

The Roughnecks also should have a strong defensive line with tackles C.J. Brewer and Glen Logan terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. The 25-year-old Brewer starred at Coastal Carolina for five seasons and appeared in two games for the Buffalo Bills this past campaign. Logan, who is 24 years old, was a five-year letter-winner at LSU and helped the Tigers to the national championship in 2019.

Why the Guardians can cover
Orlando is coached by former NFL cornerback Terrell Buckley, who was a member of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXVI championship team. Buckley has a solid staff under him that includes defensive line coach Ty Warren (two-time Super Bowl champion defensive end) and offensive coordinator Robert Ford, who won three Super Bowls while serving as tight ends coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Former NFL signal-caller Shane Matthews also is on hand as quarterbacks coach and will be tasked with trying to get the most out of a group that includes Paxton Lynch.

Lynch is expected to be under center against the Roughnecks on Saturday. The 29-year-old was selected 26th overall by the Denver Broncos in the 2016 NFL Draft after forgoing his senior year at the University of Memphis. Lynch appeared in five games — four starts — with the Broncos from 2016-17, throwing for 792 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions, and had five TD passes and four interceptions for the Michigan Panthers of the USFL last year.

How to make Guardians vs. Roughnecks picks
White has analyzed this matchup and while we can tell you he’s leaning Under the total, he has discovered a crucial x-factor that makes one side of the spread a must-back. He’s sharing it only at SportsLine.

2023 XFL picks, Week 1 bets by proven expert

Football fans will be treated to the opening of a new XFL season this weekend. The eight-team league kicks off its action with two games each on Saturday and Sunday, with the opener on Sunday centered in San Antonio. The Alamodome hosts a battle between the San Antonio Brahmas and the St. Louis Battlehawks. The Battlehawks represent the XFL North against the Brahmas from the XFL South.

Kickoff is at 3 p.m. ET in San Antonio. Caesars Sportsbook lists St. Louis as the 3-point road favorite, while the over/under, or total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, is 35 in the latest Battlehawks vs. Brahmas odds. Before making any Brahmas vs. Battlehawks picks or XFL predictions of your own, you need to see what pro football expert R.J. White has to say.

White, a Fantasy and gambling editor for CBS Sports, consistently crushes against-the-spread picks and went 535-450-30 on his ATS picks from 2017-22, which returned more than $3,500 to $100 players. He also closed the NFL season on an incredible 107-80-6 on his last 193 against-the-spread and total NFL picks during the 2022 NFL season, returning more than $1,800 for $100 bettors.

White has crushed not only the NFL but also the XFL during its abbreviated 2020 season, going 16-4 on XFL ATS picks before the league suspended operations. Anyone who has followed him is way up.

Now, he has locked in on Battlehawks vs. Brahmas and released a confident against-the-spread pick that is available only at SportsLine. Here are the XFL lines and trends for Brahmas vs. Battlehawks:

Battlehawks vs. Brahmas spread: Battlehawks -3
Battlehawks vs. Brahmas over/under: 35 points
Battlehawks vs. Brahmas money line: Battlehawks -155, Brahmas +130
Battlehawks vs. Brahmas picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Battlehawks can cover
St. Louis has notable talent on the offensive side of the ball, especially at the skill positions. Running back Brian Hill projects to be a dynamic force in the XFL, as the former fifth-round pick from Wyoming has four NFL touchdowns on his resume and extensive experience. The Battlehawks also have a proven entity in quarterback AJ McCarron, with the 32-year-old bringing eight years of NFL experience to the table.

He is a rare example of a proven NFL player showing up in a spring environment, and McCarron should display a steady hand. McCarron can also utilize a deep stable of wide receivers, including Austin Proehl, Hakeem Butler, and No. 1 draft pick Marcell Ateman. On defense, linebacker Mike Rose started for four years at Iowa State and was one of the final cuts of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2022 at the age of 22.

Why the Brahmas can cover
San Antonio projects to have a dynamic running game behind the work of Kalen Ballage. The 27-year-old is a four-year NFL veteran, appearing for the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Los Angeles Chargers. Ballage has more than 650 yards on 213 carries over four seasons, and he was a fourth-round pick out of Arizona State following a career that included an eight-touchdown game against Texas Tech.

San Antonio also seems to be in safe hands with quarterback Jack Coan, who led Notre Dame to an 11-2 record and a top-10 ranking in his final college season at Notre Dame. With an experienced offensive coordinator in Jamie Elizondo and a headline-grabbing head coach in Hines Ward, San Antonio should be strong on offense.

How to make Brahmas vs. Battlehawks picks
White has analyzed this matchup and while we can tell you he’s leaning Under the total, he has discovered a crucial x-factor that makes one side of the spread a must-back. He’s sharing it only at SportsLine.

Raptors deal forward to Knicks for RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley

The Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks have finalized a big-time trade. Toronto is sending OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn to the Knicks in exchange for RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and a 2024 second-round draft pick.

Anunoby has long been coveted as one of the league’s premier 3-and-D players but the Raptors haven’t been enticed enough to move him despite multiple teams showing significant interest in recent years. The 26-year-old wing made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team and led the league in steals last season while averaging 16.8 points per game and shooting 38.7% from deep. He could help bolster a Knicks defense that’s lost Mitchell Robinson to a season-ending ankle injury.

Toronto is getting plenty of talent back, though. Barrett, 23, is a native Canadian and signed a four-year, $107 million deal ahead of the 2022-23 season. He averaged a career-high 20.0 points per game in 2021-22 but has taken a step back since Jalen Brunson became the Knicks’ lead guard. Whether there will be more shots for him in Toronto remains to be seen.

Quickley, 24, was not offered a rookie extension over the offseason but is viewed as one of the league’s more promising young guards and could thrive if given more opportunities to play. He finished second in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting last season. He also averaged an impressive 22.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game through 21 starts in 2022-23. The Raptors recently moved Dennis Schroder to a bench role and could carve out a larger role for Quickley upon his arrival.

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New York is doubling down on defense by adding a long wing who doesn’t need a ton of touches to be effective and Toronto has added more pieces to its young core for the future.

The new-look Knicks could take the court for the first time as early as Monday, Jan. 1, in a home matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Raptors, on the other hand, will host the Cleveland Cavaliers on the first day of 2024.

Heat star to return to lineup vs. Jazz after missing four games

Jimmy Butler is set to return to the hardwood. He’s missed his last four games with a calf injury but the Miami Heat announced that he’s available to play against the Utah Jazz on Saturday.

Butler is averaging 21.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists through 23 games this season for a Miami team that’s already had its fair share of injury struggles. Tyler Herro missed 18 games while Bam Adebayo has missed 10. However, the Heat have been able to get the job done without being completely healthy.

Duncan Robinson is having a resurgent year after falling out of the rotation last season, Josh Richardson has jelled with the team after spending time with five teams over his previous four seasons, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. has blossomed into one of the league’s most impactful rookies by taking on a heavy workload from the get-go.

Miami is happy to welcome Butler back, but several other players won’t be available for Saturday’s matchup. Kyle Lowry has been ruled out with a head contusion, Martin has been ruled out with a back injury, and Martin has been ruled out with an ankle injury.

The Heat have rattled off four straight wins without Butler and rank fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with a 19-12 record. They’ve won their last five matchups against the Jazz.