College TV Previews and Early Bubble Teams

THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL MID-WEEK REPORT IS CHOCK FULL OF GOODIES INCLUDING THE TOP WEDNESDAY/THURSDAY TV PREVIEWS, PLUS WE TAKE AN EARLY PEEK AT THE NCAA TOURNAMENT'S "BUBBLE TEAMS"

By Jim Hurley:

Who says February is a "dead month" when it comes to the sports world?
     
The shortest month of the year already has produced a sparkling Super Bowl - tell us if you've had enough Aaron Rodgers sightings in the past 48 hours - as the Green Bay Packers did indeed return the shiny Vince Lombardi Trophy back to "Titletown, USA" with that 31-25 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers but February also promises to be a thrill-a-minute month in the College Basketball universe as folks jockey for the premier seeds in next month's NCAA Tournament and more than a few "name teams" try to scratch-and-claw their way into the 68-team tourney field (see our early-bird "bubble teams" below including the likes of Kansas State and Maryland).

COLLEGE B-BALL'S TOP MID-WEEK TV TILTS

On Wednesday, it's ...
#20 NORTH CAROLINA (17-5, 7-1 ACC) at #5 DUKE (21-2, 8-1 ACC) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
The greatest college basketball rivalry in this day-and-age is renewed here in Durham as the Tar Heels and Blue Devils play - easily - the marquee matchup of this second week in February but it's North Carolina that comes in the hotter side. Roy Williams' crew has won five in a row and note the average margin of victory in these last five games is a whopping 17 points a game.

The UNC Heels are fresh off their Super Bowl Sunday 89-69 win against 7-point underdog Florida State as freshman PG Kendall Marshall had the home folks chanting his name after dishing out 16 assists - the most by any Carolina player in an Atlantic Coast Conference game, by the way - and now here Marshall and fellow frosh F Harrison Barnes (17 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes against FSU) look to pull the shocker here against a Duke team that poured in 53 points in the first half against N.C. State last Saturday and than managed only 23 second-half points en route to that Jekyl-and-Hyde 76-52 win.

Keep in mind no freshman PG Kyrie Irving (toe) for Mike Kryzewski's club here but remember that the Dookies have enjoyed a 20-point (or better) scorer in each of its last 18 consecutive games with G Nolan Smith notching a 20-point game against N.C. State.

What's the under the radar key here?

The Tar Heels must be able to withstand the early-game and early second-half attacks by Duke (see first four minutes in each half) - the Blue Devils have won 32 straight home games including 16 in succession since North Carolina's last visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium - and so if UNC can avoid any 12-2 or 14-4 type runs here than they might be standing with a shot to win at game's end. Get that voice ready, Dickie V!

#16 LOUISVILLE (18-5, 7-3 Big East Conference) at #8 NOTRE DAME (19-4, 8-3 Big East) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Okay, so here's the first of two Big East slugfests on this mid-week night with four ranked teams involved in the action but has anyone nation-wide been more overlooked this 2010-11 season than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish? Mike Brey's bunch - which is averaging 75 ppg and allowing less than 65 ppg - rolls into play here on a five-game winning streak and that includes the oh-so-tight 56-51 triumph on Jan. 24th at Pittsburgh and now star G Ben Hansbrough (25 points in last Sunday's 76-69 non-cover win against 11 ½-point dog Rutgers) looks to carry the baton against a Louisville crew that presses and traps opponents the minute they hit the floor.

If Hansbrough (averaging 17.2 ppg) - who some folks are starting to talk up as the Big East Player of the Year - can be an iron-man here (played 39 minutes against Rutgers) than the Irish could close the gap on conference-leading Pittsburgh (10-1 in league play). Hmmm.

#11 GEORGETOWN (18-5, 7-4 Big East) at #12 SYRACUSE (20-4, 7-4 Big East) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's your call as to which of these two Big East games you want to watch - or maybe you'll spend a couple of hours switching back and forth between Louisville-Notre Dame and Hoyas versus Orange but do keep in mind this game's a bit more important to the 'Cuse who must go down to D.C. for Round II on Feb. 26th ... so circle your Big East calendar!

The Orange snapped out of its recent funk - a season-worst four-game losing streak - with back-to-back road wins at Connecticut and South Florida and one thing Jim Boeheim's crew accomplished in last Saturday's easy 72-49 win at the 8 ½-point underdog USF Bulls is that F Rick Jackson 21 points and 12 rebounds in 38 minutes in Tampa) appears ready to regain his earlier-season form and so don't be shocked if Georgetown's big men pile up the fouls here should the "zebras" call this tight.

One major key: Syracuse must hold off the Hoyas' three-point shooters Austin Freeman (18.7 ppg) and Chris Wright (12.8 ppg) here just as it did last weekend when South Florida flubbed its way to 2-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc.

COLLEGE MARQUEE MATCHUPS

What a great night of college basketball with the marquee showdowns of Georgetown-Syracuse and North Carolina-Duke on tap. And with the Jim Hurley Network winning at 60.8% we're your best bet to make sure you not only watch these games, but win them too! In the first game, our basketball experts have studied the personnel matchups to see whether the Orange's edge in the frontcourt should count for more, or if the versatile three-guard Hoya attack will make the difference. In the nightcap, our sources are advising us how North Carolina's young and surging team will react to their biggest test yet in Cameron Indoor Stadium. It's two Marquee Matchups and for Jim Hurley its two more chances to get the money! Make sure you're with us Wednesday!

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On Thursday, it's ...
ALABAMA (15-7, 7-1 SEC) at #23 VANDERBILT (16-6, 4-4 SEC) -- 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Alright, so maybe the Southeastern Conference is gonna make some noise in the NCAA Tournament (or maybe not!) but the here-and-now says that the league that's produced the last five consecutive football national champions only have three teams in this week's Associated Press Top 25 - there's #17 Florida, #18 Kentucky and #23 Vandy ... and that's it!

Here, the aforementioned Commodores - actually locked in a last-place tie in the SEC East along with Kentucky and South Carolina - must find the answer to slowing down a 'Bama bunch that sports a three-game lead in the SEC West and keep in mind the Crimson Tide's won its last five consecutive games. The truth is Alabama's shaky work on the glass is bound to catch up with 'em one of these days as the Tide was out-boarded 48-to-33 last Saturday and still managed to carve out a 65-60 overtime win at 5-point fav Tennessee.

One last thing: Alabama heads into this prime-time battle from Nashville last in the SEC in three-point goals made (just 96 triples on the year) and last in three-point shooting percentage (only 31 percent) and so in-the-paint points here by F JaMychal Green (15.6 ppg) becomes even more important for head coach Anthony Grant's club.

SAINT MARY'S (20-4, 8-1 WCC) at SANTA CLARA (15-10, 5-3 WCC) - 11 p.m. ET, ESPNU
No need to ignore college basketball's so-called "mid-majors" - not after what the likes of Saint Mary's and Butler accomplished in last year's NCAA Tournament - and now here you can check in with the Gaels who still has San Francisco (6-2 inside the West Coast Conference) breathing down their necks in a battle for first place.

If Randy Bennett's club wants to make a statement at the start of this three-game conference road trip, than spanking Santa Clara is a must (note games at San Fran and at San Diego are immediately on deck) and so Matthew Dellavedova (game-high 23 points in last Saturday's 79-70 non-cover home win against 17-point dog Loyola-Marymount) must stay hot after enduring a rotten recent three-game shooting slump plus three-point bomber Mickey McConnell (16 points and 10 assists versus Loyola) must find the range and not allow the home dog Broncos to think they can snag the "W" here.

P.S., Saint Mary's blitzed Santa Clara 84-59 in the first meeting this year back on Jan. 15th.
 

COLLEGE BASKETBALL REPORT - IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY TO TALK "BUBBLE TEAMS"

The NCAA Tournament's Selection Sunday Show is still more than a month away (see March 13th) but it's not too soon at all to speculate as to what College Basketball "name teams" will be sitting squarely on the proverbial bubble in the days leading up to 3-13-11. Now, here's a sampling of who we're talking about:

KANSAS STATE (16-8, 4-5 Big 12 Conference) - How the mighty have fallen! Last year's K-State Wildcats were right on the brink of getting into the Final Four before Butler bounced 'em in a thrilling Elite 8 game but Frank Martin's club has bungled its way through the 2010-11 campaign so far and no PG Denis Clemente has been the biggest blow of them all as last year's senior playmaker has been sorely missed.

No doubt that G Jacob Pullen struggled plenty in his roles without old sidekick Clemente but maybe the 'Cats can pick up the beat following on the heels of last Saturday's 86-85 win at Iowa State when Pullen's layup with 2.6 seconds left saved the gang from Manhattan. Now, we'll see if a recently-installed four-guard lineup can be the right pick-me-up for a team that's fallen way back in the Big 12 pack and way off the national hoops map.

WASHINGTON STATE (16-7, 6-5 Pac-10) - Keep in mind that last year the Pac-10 produced only two NCAA Tournament teams (only one at-large bid) and so this conference is fighting an uphill battle these days for respectability.

The W-State Cougars - who enter Thursday's home game against Stanford having won six of their last nine games - have a bit of momentum on their side here but no doubt star G Klay Thompson (21.2 ppg) must stay hot and the Coogs have to finish with a winning league mark in order to be considered for an at-large bid. Prediction time: If Wazzau sweeps Bay Area rivals Stanford and California this week/weekend than the Pullman gang will have an inside track on a bid no matter what the power ratings say!

MINNESOTA (16-7, 5-6 Big 10) - The Minny Golden Gophers may be the ultimate "bubble team" (although some will argue) as Tubby Smith's squad has some solid wins including triumphs over Purdue, West Virginia and North Carolina but you simply cannot ignore the fact that Minnesota's arrow is pointing down these days thanks to a three-game losing skid while heading into Thursday's home clash versus Illinois.

No doubt that Smith - wink, wink - might get the benefit of the doubt come Selection Sunday over a lesser-known team/coach but a Big 10 team cannot be below the .500 mark in conference play and expect to get an invite to the "Big Dance".

MARYLAND (15-8, 5-4 ACC) - The Terrapins could be kicking themselves at season's end for not playing a more challenging non-league schedule as wins against the likes of Seattle, Maine, Elon and New Jersey Tech won't exactly bolster this team's power rating and so it's essential that Gary Williams' crew finish out this 2010-11 regular-season with a major push.

The hard-to-figure Terps - who host Longwood on Wednesday night (there we go again!) - absolutely have to sweep remaining home games against N.C. State, Florida State and Virginia and probably needs to steal at least one of those remaining ACC road games at Boston College, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami.

NOTE: Get more College Basketball News & Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.

21
Aug

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