COLLEGE BASKETBALL SATURDAY SIX-PACK - NBA UNDER-THE-RADAR TEAMS
Friday Night Sweeps in Hoops!
Cashline Wins with Princeton (+11) over Cornell 47-50
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IT'S OUR COLLEGE BASKETBALL SATURDAY SIX-PACK - MUCH-HYPED 'NOVA-SYRACUSE TILT IS THE PRIME-TIME ESPN HEADBANGER
PLUS WE CHECK IN ON #1 KANSAS, #2 KENTUCKY AND #3 PURDUE, TOO
NBA NEWS & NOTES: WHO ARE A COUPLE OF "UNDER-THE-RADAR" TEAMS THAT COULD JUST STEAL THIS YEAR'S CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY?
By Jim Hurley:
Hope you've seen that ESPN graphic that's been displayed recently that showed only four non-power conference at-large invitations were extended last year - a number that's been dwindling down rapidly through the past half-dozen years and one that gives the so-called "mid-majors" something to worry about as we get ready to embark on all the various conference tournaments (a/k/a the mini-tournies).
So, whether or not you like to root for the "Davids" of the world against the "Goliaths" when in comes to the NCAA Tournament, the fact of the matter is you probably won't have all that many true so-called Cinderella stories - although it's hard for us to believe that the likes of Butler, Gonzaga, Northern Iowa and Utah State won't get at-large invitations even if they don't win their upcoming respective mini-tournies.
The teams that really have to be shaking in their gym shorts include the following:
Old Dominion, Siena, Murray State, UC-Santa Barbara and Weber State.
These clubs all are on top of their respective league standings at press time but should any of 'em lose in the mini-tournies then it's a case of adios, amigos!
No doubt we'll be keeping a close eye on what happens with all the mid-major teams but the message has been sent that next month's NCAA Tournament figures to be dominated - once again -- by the "big boys" with the hot chatter lately regarding just how many teams from the Big East, the Atlantic-10 and the woe-be-gone Pac-10 (among other conferences/leagues) will be filling out the 65-team field and no question that two of the country's "big boys" step into the bright spotlight here on this final Saturday in February as everyone's going absolutely ga-ga over #7 Villanova at #4 Syracuse.
We'll get to that game preview in a moment here in today's Jim Sez but now first here's a key 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!
BILL COLLECTOR'S SPECIAL
It's month end and the bills are piling up for everybody. People try to think of a way to make the accounts balance out. But clients of the Jim Hurley Network have an ingeniously simple method for paying their bills--they do it with their bookie's money! The Network is releasing its monthly Bill Collector's Special on Saturday to make it all possible! We won this game in January when Baylor (+8½) not only covered against Texas, but won outright, 80-77 and this game for February is every bit as strong!
And now here's our Saturday Six-Pack of top College Basketball TV tilts with current Associated Press rankings and overall/conference records included below ...
#7 VILLANOVA (23-4, 12-3 Big East) at #4 SYRACUSE (26-2, 13-2 Big East) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let's just say we'll be glad when the ESPN "family of networks" stops promoting this game in upstate New York - hey, we're all looking to close out the hoops-crazy month of February in a big way but this game has received more hype than a Tiger Woods press conference and it's gone a little over the top!
Now, we'll see who comes out on top in this battle of Top 10 teams with an estimated 36,000 people - give or take - there inside the Carrier Dome as actual eyewitnesses and here's how we see the keys in this conference clash:
Host Syracuse wants to get the ball up on the backboard and go after it while looking to seize on the height advantage here and so both Wesley Johnson (15.8 ppg) and Arinze Onuaku (10 ppg) must make their presence felt in the paint - gotta believe this tandem needs to score minimum 35 points for Jim Boeheim's club to open up the perimeter game where guard Andy Rautins will try to keep 'Nova honest with an array of triple tries.
On the flip side, Jay Wright's Wildcats would love to nail some long-distance shots early and perhaps try to convince Boeheim that he must forego the famed 2-3 zone (don't count on that happening!) but senior G Scottie Reynolds (19 ppg) remains the heart-and-soul guy here and something tells us he's gonna play a full 40 minutes and might wind up taking 20-plus shots even if the 'Cuse zone shades in his general direction.
The fact is this might be the "right time" for the Orange to be playing 'Nova - the 'Cats have split their last six outings and there is some belief that the starters may be a tad tired although Wednesday's 74-49 wipeout win against South Florida might have been a "second wind" game for the Philly kids.
Okay, let's play this one already!
Here's the rest of our Saturday Six-Pack ...
#14 MICHIGAN STATE (21-7, 11-4 Big 10) at #3 PURDUE (24-3, 12-3 Big 10) - 12 p.m. ET
Naturally, the biggest news here is that Purdue's do-it-all forward Robbie Hummel - the Boilermakers' second-leading scorer (15.7 ppg) is gone for the year with a right knee blowout and so don't blame the home folks if they need a half (or more) to get their minds right here as that injury to the 6-foot-8 junior was a real shot to the gut.
No question that guard E'Twaun Moore (17 ppg) must step it up in this game but expect Tim Izzo's road folks to counter his play with lots of presses/traps in an attempt to tire out Moore before he ever gets to the finish line.
#2 KENTUCKY (27-1, 12-2 SEC) at #19 TENNESSEE (20-7, 8-5 SEC) - 12 p.m. ET, CBS
Now that John Calipari's UK Wildcats got their point across with the demonstrative 82-61 win against South Carolina - now that was revenge, folks - the task becomes a bit tougher here with a trip to noisy Knoxville: It's the Volunteers who are eyeballing revenge here following Kentucky's 73-62 win at Rupp Arena back on Feb. 13th.
Note that the 'Cats steamrolled the SC Gamecocks up front on Thursday night where forward Patrick Patterson (23 points) and frosh DeMarcus Cousins combined for 42 points and 19 rebounds and Calipari's club will try to establish dominance on the glass early here but it's worth mentioning that the Wildcats owned only a slight 33-to-31 rebound edge the last time these Southeastern Conference clubs collided (Tennessee's Wayne Chism had only five of those boards and needs to be heard from more here).
#1 KANSAS (27-1, 13-0 Big 12) at OKLAHOMA STATE (19-8, 7-6 Big 12) - 4 p.m. ET, CBS
You can hand the Kansas Jayhawks and NCAA Tournament #1 seed right now - Bill Self's club has earned that even if the gang from Lawrence doesn't win next month's Big 12 Tourney in Kansas City.
Still, this J-hawks club doesn't look like a team that is content as Kansas has copped 13 wins in a row and that includes conference road triumphs at Texas A&M, Texas and Kansas State (among others) and here you can expect freshman lefty Xavier Henry (a team-high 23 points in last Monday's 81-68 non-cover win against 21-point pup Oklahoma) to keep firing away until someone stops 'em.
P.S., Oklahoma State is truly one of those "bubble teams" right now and even a close loss here could help the cause - are you listening Cowboys?
#21 TEXAS (22-6, 8-5 Big 12) at #22 TEXAS A&M (19-8, 8-5 Big 12) - 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
At this rate, both the Texas Longhorns and Texas A&M Aggies could be headed to the NCAA Tournament with #6 or #7 seeds - but the winner here could upgrade that seeding a bit with a "W" in this Big 12 clash in College Station:
Round I this season went to Texas with a 72-67 overtime win against the 14 ½-point underdog A&M Aggies and the funny thing about that battle is that Mark Turgeon's grungy double-digit dogs shot just 38 percent from the field (25-of-66) and missed 10-of-23 free throws and still only lost in overtime ... on the road!
If Aggies star guard Donald Sloan (9-of-21 FGs for 21 points last time) gets hot here, then the 'Horns could be headed for their seventh loss in the team's last dozen games. And to think Texas was the nation's #1 team back when these clubs played last month.
MISSOURI (21-7, 9-4 Big 12) at #6 KANSAS STATE (23-4, 10-3 Big 12) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Maybe the Kansas State Wildcats will be one of those hoop teams that plays "second fiddle" to an in-state powerhouse all year long and then is the one to win all the goodies at the end.
No doubt that Frank Martin's club has a real mental toughness quality on its side and now the Wildcats must keep their heads while seeking payback for that 74-68 loss at Missouri way back on Jan. 9th.
In case you don't remember, the 'Cats missed 10 of their 40 free-throw tries and shot a wobbly 21-of-50 from the floor (that's 42 percent) with star guard Denis Clemente hitting on just 6-of-16 FG tries while chipping in just two assists. Ugh!
Clemente (16 ppg and 4.1 apg) is the real emotional leader of K-State and he'll have the home folks in a real frenzy - but might the 'Cats get caught up in a track meet style game at times when that's not always their style?
NBA NEWS & NOTES: THE "UNDER-THE-RADAR" FOLKS
Don't know about you but everybody - and we mean everybody - in the national media lately basically has penciled in a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Los Angeles Lakers matchup for the NBA Finals come June.
Excuse us ... but isn't that what everyone did last year and how exactly did that turn out?
Okay, so the Cavs (45-14, .763) and the Lakers (43-15, .741) are heading up the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, as we speak but don't bank on this as any lead-pipe cinch. While there may be some sentiment for the Orlando Magic to make it back to the NBA Finals or even the Denver Nuggets or Dallas Mavericks to make a run, we're going on record to state there's two "under-the-radar" teams that might just make it to the promised land even if nobody wants to pay 'em any mind.
Here's who we're talking about:
In the East ...
ATLANTA (36-20) - The Hawks may get Rodney Dangerfield-type respect 'round the league but this club is for real.
Mike Woodson's team is tied with Boston for the third-best record in the East and Atlanta can match Orlando's home brilliance as both Southeast Division teams are a sizzling 22-6 at home. While free-agent-to-be Joe Johnson leads this club averaging 21.7 ppg, there are four players averaging 13.9 ppg or better including Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith and Al Horford and this 2009-10 team has some real chemistry plus they play hard at all times.
If the Hawks make it into the NBA Finals, you'll know who was watching 'em back in the dead of winter!
UTAH (37-20) - The numbers don't lie and they say that the Jazz own the third-best winning percentage in the NBA's power-packed Western Conference and yet Jerry Sloan's club gets written off as championship caliber faster than you can say pick-n-roll!
The Jazz enter this weekend having won eight of its last 10 games and maybe - just maybe - last Sunday's come-from-way-behind 93-89 overtime win in Portland ranks as the most unlikeliest win of 'em all as this crew was dead-and-buried and yet battled back big-time.
Naturally, Utah needs star point guard Deron Williams (bruised calf) to stay in one piece. Williams is averaging 18.3 ppg and 9.9 assists per game - if he's on and everyone's getting the ball, Utah is one tough team to beat.
Throw in hard-nosed center Carlos Boozer (19.3 ppg) and then get a quality third and fourth scorer most nights and it could be an NBA Finals year for the team that everyone likes to forget about out West.
OUR WEEKEND JIM SEZ IS JAM-PACKED WITH SUNDAY COLLEGE B-BALL AND NBA PREVIEWS PLUS WE GIVE YOU OUR HERE-AND-NOW TOP 4 SEEDS IN EACH BRACKET AS WE PEER AHEAD TO NEXT MONTH'S NCAA TOURNAMENT
By Jim Hurley:
You've no doubt heard the chatter:
Kansas and Kentucky will be #1 seeds in next month's NCAA Tournament no matter what happens the rest of the way (okay, we buy that notion but neither should go completely AWOL the rest of the regular season and then right into the conference tournies) and many folks believe that Syracuse also will lock down a #1 seed NCAA Tourney seed with a win on Saturday night against visiting Villanova.
But here's the rub:
While folks talk up #1 seeds, the fact of the matter is many teams in contention for either that final numero uno seed or else one of the four #2 seeds could well be kayoed from that seed line:
Duke - ranked #5 in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll - could be one of the teams making a case for a #1 seed but the Blue Devils better stay alert with a Sunday night game in Virginia and then a Wednesday night tilt in Maryland staring 'em straight in the grill. If the Dookies lose both of these Atlantic Coast Conference clashes, they could get bounced right off that #2 seed line so the Durham bunch has its work cut out for 'em these next few days.
We'll dig a little deeper into Duke's tilt in Wahoo-land plus get your Sunday's other key College B-Ball previews - that's Xavier at Richmond and Louisville at Connecticut - plus there's a couple of NBA Western Conference games on tap Sunday that's deserving some attention (see Phoenix at San Antonio and then Denver at the Los Angeles Lakers) and that's all straight ahead along with a mock Top 4 Seeds in each of the NCAA Tournament regions but first here's another key reminder:
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Basketball and also the 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!
Note that the College Basketball Conference Tournaments - a/k/a the mini-tournies - get underway on Tuesday with the Horizon League and the Ohio Valley Conference getting things jump-started and by the end of next week there's other leagues/conferences getting into the fray, so make sure you're all aboard and soon there will be loads of weekday afternoon action and then Jim and Co. will be with you by 10 a.m. ET on those weekdays.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL REPORT: THE HERE-AND-NOW TOP 4 SEEDS IN EACH BRACKET
The NCAA Tournament Selection Show is set for Sunday, March 14th and so there's still plenty of time for movin'-and-shakin' when it comes to seeding but here's how we see it as we get ready to flip the calendar page. Note that we've listed the regions below and where the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games will be played:
MIDWEST REGION - at Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO
#1 - Kansas
#2 - Villanova
#3 - Michigan State
#4 - Tennessee
SOUTH REGION - Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
#1 - Duke
#2 - West Virginia
#3 - Purdue
#4 - Butler
EAST REGION - at Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
#1 - Kentucky
#2 - Ohio State
#3 - Georgetown
#4 - New Mexico
WEST REGION - at Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
#1 - Syracuse
#2 - Kansas State
#3 - Vanderbilt
#4 - Gonzaga
Editor's Note: We'll update our Top 4 Seeds in each Bracket in the very near future here at Jim Sez.
SUNDAY'S COLLEGE KEY HOOP TV CARD
#5 DUKE (24-4, 11-2 ACC) at VIRGINIA (14-12, 5-8 ACC) - 7:45 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Network
The figures don't lie and they say that Duke's only won four of its last seven away games since Jan. 7th and so that ranks as a concern both here and down the road for coach Mike Krzyzewski and Company - but first things first and that means Duke must get in sync on offense where the Blue Devils were a tad erratic in Thursday's funky 70-52 non-cover win against 18 ½-point underdog Tulsa.
The Dookies never could get any real rhythm - especially from beyond the three-point arc - in the first 20 minutes (led just 34-30 at halftime) but just cracked things open in the final 20 minutes as the "Big Three" of Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer combined for 50 points while 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek continued his sparkling play of late with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Now, Zoubek will be a key force here against a Virginia squad that skids into this prime-time tilt on a six-game losing streak and note the Cavaliers' collective offense has gone south ever since a 75-point outing in a win at North Carolina at the end of January. In Virginia's latest loss - a 74-62 setback against Miami last Tuesday night - the Cavs' star sophomore Sylven Landesberg (17.4 ppg) poured in 27 points but the rest of Tony Bennett's team was lost in space while shooting a combined 12-of-43 from the floor.
Duke put on a 26-6 scorching run against Tulsa in the second half of that aforementioned non-league win on Thursday - and nobody should be surprised here if the Blue Devils have one of those runs in 'em against a Virginia team that's a bit mentally whipped these days.
#23 RICHMOND (22-6, 11-2 Atlantic-10) at XAVIER (20-7, 11-2 Atlantic-10) - 1 p.m. ET, espn2
Forgive us for not giving the Atlantic-10 all that much attention in our recent Jim Sez columns - the non-power conference really has enjoyed a splendid 2009-10 hoops campaign although we don't agree with the bracketologists who are calling for the A-10 to get six teams into next month's NCAA Tournament ...ain't gonna happen!
Still, Richmond and Xavier are lead-pipe cinches to be part of the 65-team NCAA Tourney field and there's good reason to believe that the Spiders could be as high as a #6 seed in the "Big Dance" providing Chris Mooney's club keeps rolling along. Richmond zooms into this clash on an eight-game winning streak and it's defense and a very disciplined offense that's keyed the way to this big year - the Spiders are allowing only 60.2 ppg and veteran guards Kevin Anderson (17.5 ppg) and David Gonzlavez (13.6 ppg) seem to play their best ball at crunch time.
If Xavier is gonna defend its home floor here than soph guard Jordan Crawford (26 points in that 73-71 non-cover win against 4 ½-point underdog Saint Louis last Wednesday night) must be a serious stat-sheet stuffer and he must limit his turnovers to a handful or less here.
LOUISVILLE (18-10, 9-6 Big East) at CONNECTICUT (17-11, 7-8 Big East) - 2 p.m. ET, CBS
In case you were wondering, there are five Big East teams currently setting up shop in this week's AP Top 25 but none of 'em are Louisville or UConn.
Okay, so both of these teams have been battered and bruised at various times this hoops season but now here come the Connecticut Huskies roaring down the stretch with a neat little three-game winning streak (triumphs over Villanova, Rutgers and West Virginia) while on the flip side is the U of L Cardinals who have notched three wins in their last four games (victories versus Syracuse, Notre Dame and DePaul) and so no wonder that NCAA Tournament talk has heated up for both sides.
Hey, press us for an answer right now and we say UConn's "in" and Louisville is "out"!
As you'll recall, the 'Ville bopped UConn 82-69 as 6 ½-point home favorites back on Feb. 1st as Cardinals' veteran guard Edgar Sosa contributed 15 points and 8 assists while the Huskies committed 18 turnovers - now if Jim Calhoun's crew is gonna flip the script here than G Kemba Walker (only 5-of-15 FG shooting back on Feb. 1st) must steer clear of making the bad pass and/or bad decisions and forward Stanley Robinson (14 points and 11 rebounds in that first game against Louisville) must heat up with his perimeter game that's run hot-and-cold this year.
SUNDAY'S NBA KEY TV GAMES
PHOENIX (37-23) at SAN ANTONIO (32-24) - 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Part I of this pro hoops twin-bill on the final day in February should be a dandy from the Alamo City:
You know that the San Ant Spurs don't want this to be a "lost weekend" after Gregg Popovich's crew suffered a 109-104 loss at 3 ½-point home underdog Houston on Friday night. The Spurs dug themselves a big-time hole there (down 31-14 after the first quarter) and only when George Hill drained a three-point shot with eight seconds remaining did San Antonio look alive as that bucket trimmed the lead to 105-102. Call it a case of too-little, too-late.
Now, Hill (a team-leading 26 points in that tilt) must contend with Phoenix point guard Steve Nash in this go-around and this "Skills Challenge" champ only managed one field goal (but 11 assists) in Friday's 125-112 win/cover against the 9-point underdog Los Angeles Clippers. Look for Nash to be more aggressive going to the hoop here and expect a major hoedown in the paint as Phoenix's Robin Lopez is fresh off a career-best 30-point game - this one could come down to whether or not Lopez makes his free throws as he drilled only half of his eight foul shots against the Clips.
Note that Phoenix shot 57 percent (that's 48-of-84) from the floor in that Friday night win in the Valley of the Sun - and something tells us the Spurs won't be allowing Nash, Lopez and Company to get all that many open looks here.
DENVER (39-19) at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (44-15) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
The Denver Nuggets have struck it rich in their two head-to-head meetings against the Lakers this year: George Karl's club whipped up on the LA-LA team 105-79 back on Nov. 13th as Carmelo Anthony dumped in 25 points in that home win and then on Feb. 5th the Nuggets pounded out a 126-113 road win as 8-point pups as guard Chauncey Billups "went off" with 39 points to go along with his 8 assists.
Think Phil Jackson's guys need to be reminded about those two double-digit losses?
As it is, the Lakers are "whole" again with Kobe Bryant getting in gear recently after missing five games (plus the NBA All-Star Game) and the former MVP had 19 points and 8 assists in Friday night's 99-90 non-cover win against 11-point dog Philadelphia. Still, for the Lakers to bang out the "W", Bryant will indeed need some help and maybe that comes here in the form of ever-improving young center Andrew Bynum who registered 20 points and 13 boards against the Sixers the other night just hours after he was hit with a $25,000 league fine for criticizing the officials.
Now, that's getting fired up!
This is more than just an important game in the NBA Western Conference standings for the Lakers:
This is a message game and a message must be delivered or then folks really will be talking up the Nuggets as legitimate championship stuff heading into the playoffs.
Whatcha gonna do about it Kobe?
NOTE: Get our College Hoops and NBA Weekend wrap-up in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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