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KEY STATS IN NCAA, NIT ACTION SET FOR TUESDAY NIGHT
The first two play-in games for the NCAA Tournament go tonight. And, there are nine games on the first night of the NIT. We've put together conference margin averages for all participating teams so you can see how they performed in their league. We've included conference strength 'adjustments' since those margin averages are self-contained within a league. And, we went and grabbed our favorite indicator stat in the colleges...two-point defense...from Ken Pomeroy's amazing college basketball statistical site.
We'll present that information for you on a game-by-game basis. Remember that the NCAA tournament games are played on a neutral court in Dayton, while the NIT games are played at the home floor of the bottom team listed in each matchup. Be sure to mentally add it 3-4 points for home court in the NIT.
We know the NCAA is calling the 'first four' the 'First Round,' even though there are only four games. Does that make any sense? The 'First Round' has four games, and the Second Round' has 32 games? DUMB! They didn't want to hurt the feelings of eight teams who have to earn their way into the brackets, so they completely mess up how NORMAL people talk about tournaments. Yeah, the 'Second Round' starts Thursday and Friday when 60 teams are playing their first game. Sixty teams got byes into the 'Second Round.' PLEASE!
Games are presented in rotation order...
NC Asheville: +6.6 margin average, 46% two-point defense Ark-Little Rock: -0.4 margin average, 50% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Even Vegas Line: NC Asheville by 4 Notebook: The Sun Belt has gotten so bad that there's no conference adjustment to make in this game. What you see could well be what you get. That's why Asheville is favored by as much as they are. They were MUCH better in their conference this year than Little Rock was. But, UALR did have a great postseason tournament. They're probably playing better than '-0.4' would suggest. If you like handicapping on defense, Asheville might be whispering in your ear. JIM HURLEY is talking to his on site sources and his Southern scouts to make sure his clients get the right side. This winner faces Pittsburgh later in the week.
UAB: +4.6 margin average, 45% two-point defense Clemson: +3.9 margin average, 44% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Clemson four points Vegas Line: Clemson by 4.5 Notebook: Stunning how little respect the ACC is getting from the selection committee this year. That's a nice change of pace after being overrated for about 20 seasons in a row! Clemson barely makes the grid, and has to play their way in. Virginia Tech misses entirely. UAB was a surprise entry as you probably know. We're certainly not going to champion their cause here. A margin of +4.6 just isn't that great in a lesser league like CUSA. They were a deserving regular season champ, but in a very disappointing conference. They surely wouldn't be a top seed in the NIT. UTEP is a #5 seed in the NIT, and had a better CUSA margin average than UAB did. JIM HURLEY will be talking to his sources to see if UAB has developed an 'us against the world' attitude after hearing all the criticism of their at-large bid...or if they've started believing Jay Bilas and company about not belonging in the first place.
NIT (Note that lines were slow to go up in this event, and may have changed quite a bit from the openers by the time you read this. Please use the data in our capsules to the game day numbers you get from your usual source)
Dayton: -1.4 margin average, 47% two-point defense Coll-Charleston: +9.9 margin average, 47% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Dayton six points Notebook: Charleston had a dominant year in their conference, and had to be disappointed about not winning their conference tournament. They may catch a tired and demoralized Dayton team here. The Flyers made it to the Atlantic 10 finals but couldn't go the distance. Great situational spot for Charleston, who's a #6 seed facing a #3. This game is definitely on the radar for NETWORK because of the potential fatigue issues for Dayton. Remember, the A10 championship game was Sunday.
Vermont: +10.9 margin average, 43% two-point defense Cleveland St.: +6.7 margin average, 46% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Cleveland State seven points Notebook: We always respect defense, even if it's coming from a weaker conference. Cleveland State has to be disappointed the Horizon wasn't getting more respect in the Dance this year. Bad luck in the tie-breaker put them behind the eight ball in the league tournament too. We can definitely see Cleveland State going deep in this event. But, they're flaky enough that a home loss to a smart, disciplined opponent is certainly possible. Not a high profile marquee matchup, but a very interesting game to handicap.
Coastal Carolina: +11.1 margin average, 42% two-point defense Alabama: +5.4 margin average, 41% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Alabama ten points Notebook: Coastal Carolina had some personnel 'issues' late in the season, so they're not lately playing as well as the math makes it look. Our statheads have been studying their recent boxscores very closely to try and get the right read on this game. Alabama is a #1 seed...and that's a volatile position in the NIT. Some teams no-show the event because they're mad about missing the Big Dance. Others make a statement by steamrolling people on their way to New York. If the Tide do get fired up, they're not in a very scary quarter of the brackets. Alabama possesses one of the better defenses in the NIT too.
Harvard: +8.9 margin average, 47% two-point defense Oklahoma State: -4.8 margin average, 45% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Oklahoma State 11 points Notebook: Great to see ESPN's family of networks picking this one up. Dick Vitale went overboard in suggesting Harvard was a Dance caliber team. They're certainly capable of upsetting an Oklahoma State team that has done little to justify a #3 seed in our view. That's an awful margin average in a Big 12 conference that was having a down year. Cornell of the Ivy League had a nice Dance run last year. Wouldn't it be something if Harvard played its way to New York? A tough travel itinerary awaits if that's going to happen. Early NIT results for Oklahoma State, Colorado, and Nebraska may provide some indicators about what to expect from the league Thursday and Friday.
Murray State: +7.6 margin average, 47% two-point defense Missouri State: +6.2 margin average, 48% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Missouri State 12 points Notebook: Big conference adjustment here...but there is some in-house debate about whether the computers are overstating it. Murray State has a decent basketball reputation, and won't be overwhelmed by the site. Missouri State has some real darkhorse potential if they don't stub their toe in this spot. We say that because of their brackets though, not because of their defense. You'll notice in the NIT nutshells today and tomorrow that we're looking at a lot of 47% and worse defenses. This is why we've been emphasizing this stat all season. Better defenses often find their way to the Dance.
McNeese State: +7.3 margin average, 49% two-point defense Boston College: +0.6 margin average, 50% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Boston College 15 points Notebook: Boston College is a #1 seed, but they sure haven't established to NETWORK that they're anything special within the NIT context. Yes, they're capable of playing well. Who isn't? That poor two-point defense and lethargic ACC margin average are suggesting trouble is ahead. Maybe that won't happen against somebody from the poor Southland Conference. Madison Square Garden probably wouldn't mind some Boston flavor in the Final Four. Maybe that will grease the skids for the Golden Eagles.
Fairfield: +8.3 margin average, 43% two-point defense Colorado State: +0.9 margin average, 48% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: Colorado State 9 points Notebook: Fairfield was a strong team from the league that sent Siena to the Big Dance the past couple of years. That's a danger conference to be certain, which means Colorado State better not think this will be easy. Altitude will help the host. The defensive edge for the visitor has our attention. This one could get interesting. Well, it will be a disappointment if it doesn't get interesting.
UTEP: +5.6 margin average, 46% two-point defense New Mexico: +3.8 margin average, 47% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: New Mexico 4 points Notebook: Rare meeting of teams from the regular Vegas board. The Mountain West was clearly more impressive than CUSA this year. So, the margin averages will get turned around a bit after you make the conference adjustments. Home court may not mean as much here though because this isn't exactly foreign territory for UTEP. Can the Miners regroup from their blown lead in the CUSA championship game? They had to be thinking about the Dance already. It cost them big time. New Mexico is so used to guarding Jimmer Fredette that everyone else must seem easy!
Kent State: +5.5 margin average, 47% two-point defense St. Mary's: +9.1 margin average, 47% two-point defense Conference Adjustment: St. Mary's 4 points Notebook: Both teams could be demoralized here. St. Mary's spent the last 11 months being certain they were going to the Dance. What a punch in the gut! Kent State lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Akron Saturday Night, now find themselves jetting across the country for a Tuesday tussle. Note that St. Mary's hasn't been playing to that +9.1 margin average for quite some time now. They really limped home. We can't disagree about their exclusion. We're actually glad to see teams punished for slumping when it matters most!
We couldn't get too specific in our write-ups because we have to protect the plays for NETWORK clients. By the time you read this, final decisions will have been made on the Tuesday slate, keyed by great information from our scouts and sources across the country. The NIT in particular is the event where that kind of information matters more than any other. Teams who care cover. Teams who don't, don't! JIM HURLEY will find out who cares, and YOU will reap the benefits.
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The NCAA Tournament starts TONIGHT. MARCH MADNESS IS HERE! MAKE THE MOST OF IT WITH JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!
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