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By Jim Hurley:

We're ticking down the final days/hours in February - and sometimes that's the best time of it all for College Basketball fans:
The business of "March Madness"is almost here and so it's a calm-before-the-storm scenario with a slew of teams - especially this year - looking to fill out the field of 65 teams in next month's NCAA Tournament.
Here's a note for all of those folks who would like to expand the field to 96 teams (or even more!):
Let well enough alone and don't think for a single minute that if the NCAA Tournament was expanded there wouldn't still be teams moaning-and-groaning about not getting an invite - that bit of madness (sadly to say) will never end until and unless the NCAA Tourney big-wigs decide to let everyone into the pool.
'Nuff said.
We'll get more College Basketball goodies shortly but first this ultra-important reminder:
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Basketball and NBA Winners when you check in on Game Days anytime after 10 a.m. ET on the weekend and after 1 p.m. ET Monday-through-Friday right here online or else get us at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - and do make sure to be with us all through this exciting and very profitable hoops ride right into June!
Extra, extra: Jim's "NBA Knockout Move"delivered the goods this past Monday night as the one-point underdog Milwaukee Bucks blasted the New York Knicks 83-67 behind Andrew Bogut who cranked out 24 points, 20 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. The Knicks were coming off an OT loss to Oklahoma City and word was Tracy McGrady was going to play limited minutes - all the more reason to play the Bucks plus the point and you never did have to sweat it!


Let's get up-close and personal with Wednesday/Thursday matchups from four different conferences: The Big 10, the Big 12, the SEC and the Pac-10:

On Wednesday, it's ...
#3 PURDUE (23-3, 11-3 Big 10) at MINNESOTA (16-10, 7-7 Big 10) - 8:30 p.m. ET, Big 10 Network
Suffice to say, the 2009-10 Purdue Boilermakers are one streaky team - fortunately for Matt Painter's squad, the streakiness arrow is pointed up these days.
Purdue exited last Saturday's rugged 75-65 non-cover win against 12 ½-point underdog Illinois with nine consecutive victories (that's after a three-game losing streak that followed a season-opening 14-game winning streak ... see what we mean?) and now the Boilers are looking to nab the season sweep over Minnesota after Purdue copped a 79-60 triumph way back on Jan. 5th.
The Boilermakers' win that game gave Purdue it's 14th consecutive win to start the season and the heroes back then were many including Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore who scored 18 points apiece while Hummel also contributed 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocked shots.
Note that Minny shot just 20-of-65 from the floor in that first meeting (that's 31 percent) and afterwards Gophers coach Tubby Smith was upset that his team's trapping defense that forced turnovers didn't convert 'em into points on the other end of the floor. Now, Purdue's guards can expect to be harassed from baseline-to-baseline here and that means the Boilermakers' big men must come back to help - and then trigger some easy hoops with long outlet passes.
Minnesota guard Lawrence Westbrook nailed four triples and scored 20 points in last Saturday's 81-58 home win against Indiana - he's made 9-of-17 treys since Feb. 11th - and he might sway the momentum of this conference clash with a couple of long-distance bombs. Stay tuned.
#22 TEXAS A&M (19-7, 8-4 Big 12) at #24 BAYLOR (20-6, 7-5 Big 12) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Here's a showdown of Associated Press Top 25 teams that - if truth be told - would have to play themselves out of the NCAA Tournament at this late stage of the season. Still, no sense in getting complacent and so here it's a revenge-minded Baylor bunch that takes the floor in Waco and looking to make up for the errors of its way in that 78-71 loss at A&M back on Feb. 6th.
You might recall that Baylor sported a 12-point first-half lead but frittered it away even though the Aggies shot a miserable 4-of-18 from beyond the three-point arc. Texas A&M reserve guard B.J. Holmes, however, kept pulling the trigger on his triple tries and it paid off with a couple of dramatic trifectas that each time pulled Mark Turgeon's club within one point of the lead.
Guard Donald Sloan later iced matters while nailing 7-of-8 free throws in the game's final 3:02 and so now Baylor's bent on getting payback here but note Scott Drew's club is an ordinary 7-5 SU (straightup) since early January and former transfer Ekpe Udoh better get clicking here after going just 3-of-15 from the field in last Saturday's 82-75 loss at 2 ½-point favorite Oklahoma State.

On Thursday, it's ...
SOUTH CAROLINA (14-12, 5-7 SEC) at #2 KENTUCKY (26-1, 11-1 SEC) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
The one lone loss on that Kentucky record you see here happened back on Jan. 26th at South Carolina - so do you think the rowdies at Rupp Arena will be a tad noisy for this nationally televised tilt from the Bluegrass State?
Okay, so maybe Kentucky's first-year coach John Calipari (more on him below) won't come out publicly and say this is a message game or a statement game but we'll say it for him as his 'Cats have been champing at the bit to get back at a Gamecocks crew that swiped a 68-62 win last month thanks in large part to dynamic guard Devan Downey who brought down the house with 30 points in 38 minutes of play.
Kentucky - masters of the close-call win this past week with road triumphs at Mississippi State (in overtime) and Vanderbilt (by two points) - did get a combined 46 points from frosh stars DeMarcus Cousins (27 points) and guard John Wall but the rest of this 'Cats crew shot a collective 7-of-24 from the floor and something tells us that stat's about to change here.


We know, we know.
Whenever anyone in the media starts to rank coaching jobs it becomes a lightning rod for controversy - usually with schools believing "their guy"is doing a better job than the next but in this subjective look here, we've mapped out the Top 5 Coaching Jobs (yes, so far) in America and we are glad to spell out the reasons.
Unlike conventional wisdom that often claims a head coach is doing his best work when he allegedly had little to work with our Top 5 Ranking takes in the whole ball of wax - so why shouldn't a coach at a high-profile place who is doing a superb job not get included in the mix (see Kentucky's John Calipari, for example)?
So, here's the 1-thru-5 look at the Best Coaching Jobs in the land as we get set to close out play in February:

1. CHRIS MOONEY, Richmond (22-6, 11-2 Atlantic 10) - Hats off to the 23rd-ranked Spiders and their brilliant fifth-year head coach who no doubt will be latching onto a bigger/better job next year. Mooney's team at times seems to have mastered the Princeton-style offense while getting a bit more liberal with shot selection and this team has risen to the top of the A-10 charts and exited last Saturday's 74-70 win against George Washington with an eight-game winning streak and note Mooney has engineered out-of-conference victories this 2009-10 against Mississippi State and Missouri and his rising-star team must be watched at tourney time considering the style of play utilized over the course of 40 minutes.

2. JOHN CALIPARI, Kentucky (26-1, 11-1 SEC) - The UK Wildcats are sitting at #2 in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll and their head coach is sitting #2 in our Top 5 Coaching Jobs segment. Anyone believes that all Calipari has done in Year One at Lexington is toss those talented freshmen onto the floor and tell 'em to do something really knows nothing about coaching. Calipari has artfully handled his kid stars guard John Wall (16.8 ppg) and F/C DeMarcus Cousins (16.1 ppg and 10.1 rpg) and the first-year 'Cats coach has made everyone feel important in their specific roles although Calipari would love to have developed his bench a bit more by this late stage of the season. Otherwise, it's been a masterpiece job on the sidelines.

3. GARY WILLIAMS, Maryland (19-7, 9-3 ACC) - Maybe the hardest-working man (still!) in the sport pours sweat each/every game and continues to pour his heart into this team most "experts"believe would be no better than a seventh- or eighth-place finisher in this year's Atlantic Coast Conference. Instead, "Beware of the Turtle"seems appropriate this year as the College Park kids enters Wednesday's home game against Clemson sitting in second place behind Duke in the ACC standings and this isn't exactly a vintage Terrapins team. Guard Greivis Vasquez (18.8 ppg) is a stud but the remainder of this squad won't be found in the "who's who"of College Basketball.

4. JAMIE DIXON, Pittsburgh (21-6, 10-4 Big East) - Let's get this on record: We don't necessarily love Dixon as an in-game coach as we've witnessed this Panthers edition do lots of silly/stupid things this season but yet it's hard not to include this boss-man in the mix of Top 5 Coaching Jobs when you consider he lost three absolute superstar players from last year's Elite 8 team and this club hasn't missed a beat. Pittsburgh plays hard at all times - just ask West Virginia and Villanova (two recent victims at Pitt) - and wouldn't it be something if the Panthers finally made it to a Final Four in a year in which nobody thought they would be any good?

5. TONY BARBEE, UTEP (20-5, 11-1 Conference USA) - Maybe the nation at large has been putting up its nose at the UTEP Miners ... but we won't do such things. The C-USA leaders deserve an NCAA Tournament bid this year even if they don't win next month's conference tourney and this fourth-year head coach deserves some plaudits for getting things on track all the while incorporating forward Derrick Caracter into the mix (he's played 19 games and is averaging 14.3 ppg and 8.8 rebounds-per-game). Barbee is a protégé of the aforementioned Calipari - he played for "Coach Cal"at UMass and worked as an assistant coach under Calipari at Memphis - and UTEP's seeing all the dividends being paid right now.


The further we get away from the NBA Trade Deadline (that's now a week old) the more and more it looks like the Dallas Mavericks (36-21) were the biggest winners during this all-important time frame:
Since Feb. 18th, the Mavs have won all three of their games - and four in a row dating back to the night before the deadline - and in-the-know NBA folks believe that Dallas really improved team chemistry with that blockbuster deal that saw 'em acquire Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood from the woe-be-gone Washington Wizards while ridding themselves of trouble-maker Josh Howard who now happens to be out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
There is a true bounce to the Mavs' collective steps these days and the defense has picked up too as evidenced by the fact that Dallas yielded 85, 91 and 82 points in post-Trade Deadline wins against Orlando, Miami and Indiana. In Monday's 91-82 triumph over the visiting Pacers, there was the seven-foot Haywood pulling down a career-tying best 20 rebounds while Butler and Stevenson chipped in with a combined 15 points and 9 boards - and All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (game-high 23 points) isn't getting cheated out of his field-goal tries but the pressure has been eased in terms of Nowitzki needing 25-or-more shots per game.
The Mavericks will find out a little more about themselves on Wednesday night when the Los Angeles Lakers invade town but don't be surprised if this Dallas winning streak gets some real "legs".
While everyone hyped the fact the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers are climbed way under the league's salary cap with their trade day moves, the fact is Dallas - at least so far - has helped itself more than anyone else when you're talking about the here-and-now.

In other NBA News & Notes ...
If the Orlando Magic is gonna get back into this year's NBA Finals, then "supporting role"players Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson must continue to take (and make) late-game three-point shots.
In the Magic's electric 101-95 win last Sunday against Cleveland, this dynamic duo banged home a triple apiece at crunch time and allowed Vince Carter to finally get unleashed with an 8-point final quarter. Maybe All-Star center Dwight Howard gets most of the kudos on this squad but - as everyone saw last year - this team is all about the sum of its parts and those three-point shooters might well be enough to guide Orlando past Cleveland once again come Eastern Conference Finals time ...
How about this factoid?
The NBA's three top assist leaders - that's New Orleans' Chris Paul (11.2 apg), Phoenix's Steve Nash (also 11.2 apg) and Utah's Deron Williams (9.9 apg) - each started off this week injured and out of action:
Williams was banged up in Sunday's stupefying 93-89 come-from-way-behind overtime win in Portland he missed Monday's 105-100 home loss to Utah with a bruised right quad;
Nash missed Tuesday's game in Oklahoma City with a sore lower back and abdomen;
And Paul remains sidelined with a knee injury that figures to keep him out till at least early March.
Betcha didn't realize that Boston point guard Rajon Rondo (9.7 apg) is the next highest-ranking assists leader in the NBA.

Note: Catch our look at Saturday's Top College Basketball Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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