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Joe Nelson - About Me

Joe Nelson has been featuring picks on Vegas Insider for over five years and has been a regular on the leader board, compiling top three finishes in the NFL, college football, the NBA, college basketball, and MLB. Well known for the Nelly’s Sportsline Green Sheet football newsletter, Nelson provides his best picks to Vegas Insider clients now focusing on the NBA and college basketball as well as baseball on the site.

With a statistics background and years of experience working with several established handicappers as well as nearly a decade as a professional handicapper, Nelson provides a unique approach with traditional methods as well as innovative strategies. Nelson’s handicapping focuses on team situations, schedule analysis, and line evaluation as well as a variety of statistical indicators that are incorporated into the process.

Nelson was the 2011 champion in the Wise Guys football contest, besting out a field of 72 national handicappers for the top prize and also has had great recent success on Vegas Insider including a strong 2011 baseball season and a great track record in both college basketball and the NBA over the last few years. Check out regular blog posts and articles for insight and commentary and be sure to get on board for daily pick packages throughout the year with Joe Nelson.

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By Joe Nelson
Posted 04/13/2014 at 12:18 PM

With the NCAA Tournament over the NBA Draft decisions will dominate the headlines in the coming weeks. While the status of several key players remains unknown, it is not too early to take a look at how the rosters could shape up next season. Here is a very early preview of the 2014-15 college basketball season in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin: After a final four run the Badgers are likely to be the favorites in the Big Ten next season and a team that should start in the national top five. Wisconsin loses Ben Brust, a great shooter and a high energy sparkplug that was a strong rebounder despite his small stature. With Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker planning to return to school Wisconsin will return seven of its top eight scorers and the major decision to make will be whether to mainly play small with Bronson Koenig moving into the starting lineup or play a bigger lineup with Nigel Hayes moving into a starting role and allowing Dekker to play at his natural small forward position. Promising freshman Ethan Happ could also find minutes on this team and greater roles for sophomores Vitto Brown and Jordan Hill could add depth to the team as well as the return of Zak Showalter after a redshirt season.
Nebraska: Not many expected the Cornhuskers to be ready for the NCAA Tournament this season but with an 11-7 campaign in the conference season Nebraska made the field before an ugly performance in the big dance opportunity. The chance to build on that success will be there for the growing basketball program as outside of Ray Gallegos, every major contributor is scheduled to return. Terran Petteway will be a Big Ten player of the year candidate after averaging over 18 points per game last season and Nebraska should be one of the top defensive teams in the conference. Nebraska will be far from a one-year wonder as the Cornhuskers should return to the NCAA Tournament and pose a legitimate threat in the Big Ten race next season.
Michigan: John Beilein overcame the loss of three NBA draft picks last season with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway leaving early and Mitch McGary injured all season. Michigan delivered a Big Ten championship and a run to the elite eight in the NCAA Tournament so this is a team that can reload. The roster for the Wolverines is not clear as McGary could return or go into the NBA draft despite barely playing last season. Nik Stauskas seems likely to leave for the NBA and Glenn Robinson may do the same. Even if everyone goes, Michigan will still be a team that can compete well in the conference. The Wolverines will have an experienced backcourt with Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, and Spike Albrecht and expanded roles for Zak Irvin and Jon Horford will allow for a still very promising lineup. Michigan has three promising forwards committed for next season including Kameron Chatman, a four star recruit from Oregon and there will not likely be a huge drop off for the Wolverines.
Minnesota: The 2014 NIT champions could be a player in the Big Ten race next season in the second season under Richard Pitino. Austin Hollins departs but six of the team’s top eight scorers are back in action next season including what should be a great backcourt with seniors Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. Four forwards with experience return and the freshmen on the team that saw little playing time could step into expanded roles with immediate success. Having the extra practice time and playing in a championship setting can be a confidence builder, as several recent NIT champions have gone on to make deep NCAA Tournament runs in the following years. Minnesota has been stuck in a state of good but not great seasons in recent years and with some potential openings at the top of the conference this could be a team that breaks through.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes opened the season strong in 2013-14 and then completely dissolved late in the year, barely making the NCAA Tournament and failing to survive the first day. Roy Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe, and Zach McCabe all will graduate, taking over 30 points per game out of the equation. Iowa still will return a good group of experienced players and should still have excellent depth. Iowa will obviously need to improve defensively and get more consistent play but the Hawkeyes can produce a similar season in 2014-15. Iowa’s ceiling may not be as high as it was last season but given the disappointing finish, a better season in a Big Ten that could be fairly wide open in the top half is possible.
Maryland: Joining the Big Ten will be a challenge but Maryland went 9-9 in ACC play last season including being one of two teams to beat Virginia. There was only one senior on the roster and John Auslander only played in 10 games as the Terrapins will make the conference move with a full cupboard. Former Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz will rejoin the league and Dez Wells and Seth Allen return as the top two scorers on the team, Allen with a chance to play a full season after missing the first half of the season last year. Maryland also is bringing in a very promising recruiting class with four star players at every position, led by point guard Melo Trimble and seven-footer Trayvon Reed. The adjustment to the conference and the youth on the team might mean Maryland is a year away but it may not take long for the Terrapins to succeed even with the lukewarm results in recent ACC seasons.
Michigan State: There are heavy losses for the Spartans with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling graduating. Gary Harris is expected to enter the NBA draft and Branden Dawson is said to be considering leaving as well. Michigan State will still have strong guard play next season with veterans Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine joined by highly regarded freshman point guard Lourawls Nairn. The frontcourt will return Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski but there will be huge shoes to fill with Payne leaving and if Dawson also leaves Michigan State could really struggle up front. Michigan State always brings in solid talent but it does project as a serious step back season for the Spartans at the moment. One bright side to all the injuries last season was more playing time for younger players that might not have seen the court otherwise.
Illinois: After a strong non-conference performance Illinois ran into trouble in the Big Ten season with a 7-11 record but Illinois started to play its best late in the season. The top two scorers from last season are seniors-to-be Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams and last year’s team was very young with only four upperclassmen. Illinois pulled in a promising recruit to add to the depth at forward as Leron Black out of Memphis should be expected to contribute immediately. Illinois could be an improved team that has a chance to climb back into the NCAA Tournament picture in 2014-15 if they can use the late season momentum that was built.
Indiana: The Hoosiers are not likely to retain star freshman Noah Vonleh but with Stanford Robinson and Yogi Ferrell Indiana will have an excellent backcourt. Jeremy Hollowell and Troy Williams can step in to bigger roles but the frontcourt will be lacking and in needing to replace Vonleh and glue-guy Will Sheehey it will be tough for Indiana to make a big leap. Indiana does have two highly rated recruits coming in but they are both guards so finding minutes won’t be easy. Indiana beat both Wisconsin and Michigan last season so the potential is there but they went just 3-6 against the bottom half of the conference with wildly inconsistent play, which starts with erratic head coach Tom Crean who could face a hot seat all season. 
Ohio State: The Buckeyes never could find a consistent offense last season to go along with its outstanding defense. Losing seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith takes away two players that had great careers in Columbus. The Buckeyes could have a solid front court with Sam Thompson and Amir Williams but with LaQuinton Ross opting to leave early for the NBA the scoring options are limited. Senior Shannon Scott will have a hard time replacing Craft as he was actually an even worse shooter than the maligned Craft was last season. The Buckeyes do have the top rated incoming class in the conference with three four star recruits, led by D’Angelo Russell who could start right away in the backcourt. Ohio State turns new leaf with the loss of three prominent players and while they will likely take a step back defensively the scoring numbers could rise with the young lineup.
Purdue: The Boilermakers finished last in the Big Ten last season, losing each of the final seven games of the season. Purdue was mostly competitive however as they played close with several of the top teams in the conference but they could not deliver many upsets. Terone Johnson departs but the next six leading scorers on the team are expected back next season and Purdue also has a recruiting class that most place in the top three in the conference. It will be a big year for Matt Painter in his ninth season after some success but a few disappointing years in a row. Expect several of the freshmen to get minutes immediately, led by 7’1” Isaac Haas and small forward Vincent Edwards and this is a team that could close the gap with the rest of the conference.
Penn State: Long time starter Tim Frazier graduates for the Lions but five of the top six scorers are back in action led by dynamic guard D.J. Newbill. The Lions do not have impact freshmen joining the team but this will be an experienced team with solid depth. The Lions did not manage to beat any of the elite teams in the conference last season and four of the six conference wins came by four or fewer points. Penn State had a lot of trouble closing out games last season as well with several narrow losses and losing its senior point guard that was also a great defender is not likely to help in those late game tests.
Northwestern: With Chris Collins in his first season with the Wildcats, Northwestern made some waves, frustrating teams with great defense and slow play and scoring a few big wins. Offense was a serious problem for the Wildcats last season and top scorer Drew Crawford will graduate. Northwestern returns the next six leading scorers on the team but only three of those players averaged more than five points per game as this was not a high scoring team. Victor Law is one of the stronger recruits Northwestern has had in recent years and the local Chicago product could help provide a boost to the scoring potential for the Wildcats. It will be hard for Northwestern to get over the hump and climb closer to a first ever NCAA Tournament berth but this will still be a team that is tough to prepare for.
Rutgers: The Knights won just 12 games last season including going 5-13 in AAC play. Two of the top four scorers for Rutgers depart and while Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack both scored over 14 points per game last season Rutgers will likely struggle in the move to the Big Ten. Rutgers lacks high impact recruits though D.J. Foreman is likely to step into a prominent role at the power forward position right away. After greatly struggled on defense last season Rutgers will likely have a tough time in the Big Ten transition.



By Joe Nelson
Posted 04/07/2014 at 12:21 PM

The NCAA Tournament never seizes to amaze with another great tournament filled with great down-to-wire games and surprises. This year’s championship game is filled with two programs familiar with national success but no one expected Kentucky and Connecticut to match up tonight in a historic final by the seeding.  
Connecticut Huskies: Connecticut looked like they would be one-and-done most of the way against St. Joseph’s before forcing overtime and actually covering in the opener. The Huskies faced a tough path with wins over title contenders going against Villanova, Iowa State, and Michigan State but they have had some good fortune as well. Georges Niang did not play for Iowa State and Villanova was perhaps seeded too high with the Big East looking rather weak at this point. The win over Michigan State came as a big surprise for many but the Spartans had been an inconsistent team all season and the hot shooting the Spartans enjoyed early in the postseason was not going to continue. It was also a much worse Michigan State defense than anyone seems to realize.
While Connecticut has scored 74 points per game in the tournament this is a team led by its defense. The Huskies were a top 10 team in 2-point shot percentage on defense and Connecticut is not only one of the best free throw shooting teams in the nation; they are a team that often has a free throw attempt edge as they manage fouls well defensively. The Huskies actually missed three free throws on Saturday but the Huskies shot nearly 56 percent with a highly efficient offense in the upset over Florida. Shabazz Napier is also a player that can take over games like no other perimeter player left in the field and he was just as vital on defense in the national semifinal, picking up four steals.
Connecticut shot over 93 percent from the line during the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games to hold on in two close games. Those games came in very comfortable environment at Madison Square Garden as the Huskies enjoyed a great venue edge to reach the Final Four despite being a #7 seed. Connecticut’s offense had plenty of rough games against some of the best defensive teams it has faced in AAC play like Louisville and Cincinnati but the Huskies have fared well in slower paced defensive games in the last two games with wins over Michigan State and Florida, holding those two powerhouse programs to just 107 points combined.
Connecticut does not have the size that Kentucky has, especially on the perimeter but the Huskies are still a tall and deep team that can force the Wildcats into being more of a jump shooting team than Wisconsin did as Connecticut should compete better on rebounds and allow fewer second chance points. Outside shooting, turnovers, and free throw trips will likely decide the fate for the Huskies.
Kentucky Wildcats: The Wildcats were the preseason #1 team as the season started, sitting with just 5/1 odds to win the NCAA title (compared with 33/1 for Connecticut). By the seeding it is a huge surprise that Kentucky is in the Final Four but the path has not been as impressive as it sounds, beating three of last year’s final four teams. Wichita State was a deserving #1 seed but the Shockers had not played high quality competition or battled in many close games. Louisville was a vastly overrated team based on the 2013 championship as this year’s team had no high end wins and Kentucky had already defeated them earlier in the season. Michigan was the best team in the Big Ten all season but the Wolverines don’t play great defense and in a shooting match Kentucky was able to hit one more shot as part of an epic shooting day for the Wildcats. In the Final Four Kentucky was impressive in the paint but it was again a big outside shot that saved the day.
Kentucky’s success Monday will depend on whether or not they can continue shooting as well as they have been. The Wildcats are a 33 percent 3-point shooting team on the season but in the huge wins over Wichita State, Louisville, and Michigan they shot over 44 percent. That includes making 7 of 11 3-point shots against Michigan including the game winning shot that broke a tie in the final seconds. Against Wisconsin Kentucky continually forced the ball inside, getting a huge edge in the paint scoring as well as many second chance opportunities. Kentucky only made two 3-point shots in the semifinal but they only attempted five shots from beyond the arc. The reason Kentucky held off a Wisconsin team that looked like the more complete squad was that they did not turn the ball over, featuring just four turnovers in the game.
Despite the next level talent and obvious athleticism for the Wildcats this is not a team that creates turnovers and gets a great deal of transition baskets. Those fast break opportunities were rare against Wisconsin and will be unlikely against a superior Connecticut defense. The points-per-possession numbers for Kentucky have been off the charts so far in the tournament and the championship will determine if Kentucky can continue that incredible clip or if they will hit a wall against one of the best defenses they have faced all season outside of Florida, a team the Wildcats lost three times against.
The offensive rebounding edge for Kentucky has not been as pronounced as it seems as Kentucky has averaged just over a four rebound edge per game on the offensive glass in the NCAA Tournament. Officiating played a big role in the narrow win over Wisconsin as offensive charges were very rare, Kentucky frequently barreled into the lane out of control and were bailed out on several block calls that many crews likely would have called the other way. With a quicker Connecticut squad defending Kentucky could see some of those calls go the other way.
Kentucky has won five games by a total of 18 points including wins by one, two, and three points as this team of freshmen has delivered in big moments. Connecticut is a veteran team that has not had a game decided by fewer than five points in the tournament although the first game did go to overtime. It seems inevitable that the Wildcats will be in a down-to-the-wire game again in what should be a thrilling championship.


Nelson: Surprises and Disappointments
Nelson: 2014-15 Big Ten Preview
Nelson: Final Four Analysis
Nelson: South Regional Preview
Nelson: West Regional Preview
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04/13/2014 at 12:18 PM
Early Look at the B1G in 2014-15

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