College Hoop Saturday 6 Pack

EXTRA, EXTRA: CATCH OUR COLLEGE BASKETBALL SATURDAY SIX-PACK OF GAME PREVIEWS INCLUDING THE BEST OF THE BRACKET BUSTER TILTS

By Jim Hurley:

When it comes to this 2010-11 College Basketball Season, we're not gonna pretend that we're the "computer" on Jeopardy - we don't have all the answers!

Still, we will say this:

The deeper and deeper we get into this month of February the more it's become obvious that there are more national championship contenders than the so-called experts claim to be.

In fact, we just heard one ESPN studio analyst - we won't "name names" but will admit we usually like what the guy has to offer - say that Kansas, Ohio State and Texas are head-and-shoulders better than the rest of what's out and that's simply an outlandish statement.

Ask us right here and right now just how many teams potentially could win six NCAA Tournament games and thus bring home the title and we'll list the three above-mentioned names along with Duke, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Louisville and, yes, even North Carolina. And there could be more but that's who comes rushing into our heads at this very moment.

Okay, so we omitted the likes of Top 10 teams San Diego State, BYU, Notre Dame and Georgetown - just don't think any of 'em right now have all the necessary ingredients to bring home the hardware - but to say that the country's #1, #2 and #3 teams in the current Associated Press rankings are far superior to the remainder of the NCAA Tourney field is preposterous.

Ahh, now we feel better!

We'll get to our Jim Sez Saturday Six-Pack of College Basketball Game Previews in just a second but first this important reminder:

Remember that Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Basketball and NBA Winners this winter week when you check in on Game Days anytime after 1 p.m. ET on Mondays-through-Fridays and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays right here online or else at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Make sure to be with America's #1 Handicapper all through this thrilling and profitable b-ball ride that lasts till June!

THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SATURDAY SIX-PACK

#4 PITTSBURGH (24-2, 12-1 Big East) at ST. JOHN'S (16-9, 8-5 Big East) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Hey, there's real-live excitement inside Madison Square Garden for this bash between the Pitt Panthers and the born-again St. John's Red Storm - and that hasn't always been the case in recent years when the Johnnies were an abysmal outfit. However, the Steve Lavin Era has been met with major applause in/around Gotham City and now we'll see if SJU can make it four wins in a row following recent road triumphs at Cincinnati and Marquette along with that key home "W" versus Connecticut.

No doubt that Jamie Dixon's Panthers are on a real roll themselves - Pittsburgh's won 14 of its last 15 games including a gut-check 67-55 non-cover win against South Florida this past Wednesday night - but you do have to wonder when/if the absence of star G Ashton Gibbs (knee/missed last three games) is gonna catch up with the Steel City gang. If G Travon Goodall (20 points and just 1 turnover in the recent wins against West Virginia and Villanova) can heat up here and also provide some defensive heat on red-hot St. John's G Dwight Hardy, than Pitt could steamroll yet another conference foe.

#2 OHIO STATE (25-1, 12-1 Big 10) at #11 PURDUE (21-5, 12-3 Big 10) - 12 p.m. ET (Now scheduled for Sunday at 1pm ET)
One week ago there were the O-State Buckeyes sitting pretty with a perfect record but than came the final 13-plus minutes in Madison and any hopes of matching the unbeaten 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers went right out the window - hey, give Thad Matta's club credit for bouncing back gamely en route to last Tuesday's 71-61 non-cover win against Michigan State as G William Buford chucked in a game-high 23 points and the Buckeyes won despite netting just 21 FGs as compared to Michigan State's 27 made field goals.

Here, the 'Eyes will look to Player of the Year candidate F/C Jared Sullinger (just 11 points and 2 rebs in that win against "Sparty") to have a bounce-back game but that means he must make some key defensive stops against Purdue's JaJuan Johnson (20.7 ppg and 7.8 rpg) and no doubt this do-it-all big man is peaking right at this precise moment. One key to watch for here: Boilermakers PG Lewis Jackson didn't register a single turnover in Wednesday's 70-62 win/cover against 5-point underdog Wisconsin plus he contributed 18 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in that tilt and anything near that sort of performance here could allow Matt Painter's guys to snag another key home win at Mackey Arena.

#8 NOTRE DAME (21-4, 10-3 Big East) at WEST VIRGINIA (16-9, 7-6 Big East) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
It's great to see/hear how many folks are endorsing Notre Dame guard Ben Hansbrough as Big East Player of the Year - but you better believe that Mike Brey's ND Fighting Irish is much more than a one-man wrecking crew.
Hansbrough (17.3 ppg and 4.1 apg) has been merely spectacular this season but underrated F Carleton Scott (11.8 ppg and 6.9 rpg) has been a consistent force and keep in mind the Irish now have had the past week to prep for this clash in Morgantown following last Sunday's epic 78-55 win at 5-point underdog South Florida - heck, that one was 41-17 at halftime as Scott's solid 13-point, 11-board effort paved the way to one of the Big East's few-and-far-between blowout games this season.

On the flip side, West Virginia blew a five-point halftime lead in last Monday's 63-52 meltdown loss at 5 ½-point fav Syracuse and the 'Neers now are getting dangerously close to blowing a potential at-large bid to next month's NCAAs. Bob Huggins' squad has dropped three of its last four games overall and this is now one of the true "got-to-have-it" games against a Top 10 club. Keep in mind West Virginia's at Pittsburgh and than at Rutgers to close out the month of February before regular-season-ending home games against Connecticut and Louisville. Yup, that's truly a brutal stretch of games.
 
WASHINGTON (18-7, 10-4 Pac-10) at #12 ARIZONA (22-4, 11-2 Pac-10) - 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
The cream of the Pac-10 crop square off in Tucson here and one thing that 'Zona head coach has on his mind is don't let any of the UW Huskies "go off" here - note that in Thursday's 79-70 win/cover versus 8-point underdog Washington State, the Cougars' Klay Thompson rattled in a game-high 30 points and that had the Wildcats worried sick before icing matters by making 24-of-26 free throws. No doubt "trips to the line" will be a key stat here as Arizona F Derrick Williams (12-of-12 from the charity stripe against Wash State en route to a 26-point outing) needs to stay super-aggressive against a Huskies team that leads the Pac-10 in scoring (85.6 ppg) and isn't afraid to unleash an all-out offensive assault starring G Isaiah Thomas (16.8 ppg) and F Matthew Bryan-Amaning (16 ppg). If Lorenzo Romar's Dawgs have their way, this game will be in the mid-to-high 90s. Stay tuned.
 
BOSTON COLLEGE (16-9, 6-5 ACC) at #19 NORTH CAROLINA (19-6, 9-2 ACC) - 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's true. Not many in-the-know folks believe that this year's all-too-young North Carolina Tar Heels could win it all this April but consider the following: The Chapel Hill crew still could win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season crown - they're a game-and-a-half back of Duke (11-1) and the Blue Devils own the tie-breaker but the archrivals meet again on March 5th and right now Roy Williams' Heels have won seven of their last eight games including five double-digit triumphs during this time. No doubt freshman F Harrison Barnes (13.6 ppg) has been steady if not always spectacular but it's oft-overlooked big man Tyler Zeller (14.5 ppg) who leads this Carolina club in scoring and his inside presence here figures to be way too much for the BC Eagles to handle in this encounter inside the famed "Dean Dome".

P.S., keep in mind that the last time these clubs collided was back on Feb. 1st when North Carolina cruised to an easy 106-74 win at Chestnut Hill as the Heels shot a blistering 39-of-68 from the field (that's 57.4 percent) and the Barnes/Zeller tandem combined for 44 points while Boston College shot just 35.3 percent from the floor and star G Reggie Jackson was a silent 2-of-10 from the floor ... ouch!

And in the top Bracket Buster game on Saturday, it's ...

#25 UTAH STATE (24-2, 12-0 WAC) at SAINT MARY'S (22-5, 10-2 West Coast Conference) - 9 p.m. ET, espn2
Count us among the folks generally disappointed in the matchups the College B-Ball folks hand us on Bracket Buster Weekend but not this year: This is no doubt the pick of the litter on a Saturday that also includes George Mason at Northern Iowa and Missouri State at Valpo but here's the coup-de-grace game in prime time no less and it comes with a little extra spice now that Saint Mary's is fresh off Wednesday's resounding 74-66 loss at 16 ½-point home underdog San Diego.

Now, the WCC gang must re-gather its forces and get ready to play one of the most patient teams in America - no doubt Utah State's careful offensive sets helps along the way in making the Aggies one of the better points-per-game teams on defense (seventh nationally while allowing 58.6 ppg) but if the road folks are gonna get win #25 here than freshman PG Brockeith Pane must stay composed in this hostile setting and so let's see if he can keep his turnover total under a handful here.

 

THE NBA ALL-STAR GAME IS HERE AND SO IT'S BREAK TIME FOR THE PRO HOOPSTERS BUT THERE'S PLENTY OF KEY COLLEGE TILTS ON TAP FOR SUNDAY

By Jim Hurley:

Just as things are cooling down for a few days in the NBA, they sure are heating up in the world of College Basketball.

Let's face it ... there are "must-win games" all over the map when it comes to the college kids and in today's weekend edition of Jim Sez we'll delve into a few key battles and we'll go coast-to-coast while doing so (that's ACC action all the way out West to the Pac-10).

It's time to head into the final week of February and that's like polishing off your appetizer before getting to a huge and delicious entrée called March ... party time!

We'll preview a batch of key Sunday games below plus chuck in some College Basketball News too but first this ultra-important reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Basketball and NBA All-Star Game Side & Totals Winners this winter weekend when you check in on Game Days anytime after 10 a.m. ET and than after 1 p.m. ET on Monday-through-Friday right here online or else at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Make sure to be with America's #1 Handicapper all through this thrilling and profitable b-ball ride that lasts till June!

SUNDAY'S TOP COLLEGE BASKETBALL TILTS

#14 FLORIDA (20-5, 9-2 SEC) at LSU (10-16, 2-9 SEC) - 1 p.m. ET, espn2
Don't look now but the Florida Gators own a two-game lead over Vanderbilt in the chase for top spot in the Southeastern Conference East Division and one major key for Billy Donovan's gang has been the ability to win the close ones - the mighty Gators are 6-3 SU (straightup) in games decided by 5 points or less but the two-time national champion head coach is hoping his guys don't have to go down to the wire to handle lowly LSU.

The fact of the matter is Florida's won its last four in a row and seven of its last eight games but not everything's perfect for the Gainesville gang as Florida committed 10 first-half turnovers leading to 13 Tennessee points in last weekend's nip-and-tuck 61-60 non-cover win against the 5-point underdog Vols and now junior G Erving Walker - the hero in the win against Tennessee, thanks to a driving layup with 14 seconds left - and Company must steer clear of committing mental mistakes in this clash in the Bayou.

P.S., the LSU Tigers enter this contest on a nine-game losing skid - the Bengals last won a game way back on Jan. 12th (a 56-53 triumph over Arkansas) and so that's a long time between drinks!

N.C. STATE (14-11, 4-7 ACC) at MARYLAND (16-10, 5-6 ACC) - 5:30 p.m. ET
Here's a question: Have the Maryland Terrapins been on the NCAA Tournament "bubble" all year long? Okay, so it may only seem that's the case but Gary Williams' guys have indeed ridden a roller-coaster of sorts for the better part of the past two months and all you need to know is the hot-and-cold Terps have split their last 10 games overall and have not enjoyed a winning streak longer than three games (and that's happened three different times this 2010-11 season).

Maryland now enters this Sunday clash off back-to-back losses - road setbacks at Boston College and Virginia Tech - and so it's become now-or-never time for a team that right now is on the wrong side of the bubble and the onus here is on Jordan Williams (a team-leading 17.1 ppg) to riddle an N.C. State team that has perked up recently with back-to-back wins at Wake Forest and versus Clemson in the past few days. Note that the Wolfpack rode the coat tails of talented freshman C.J. Leslie (18 points and 10 rebounds) to Thursday's 69-61 victory against 2 ½-point road fav Clemson.

GEORGIA TECH (11-14, 3-8 ACC) at #5 DUKE (24-2, 11-1 ACC) - 7:45 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Network
More ACC action and - while the Duke Blue Devils hardly find themselves in a "must-win" mode here - the fact of the matter is Mike Krzyzewski's squad would like to notch as many runaway wins as possible so as to stay in the hunt for one of those precious NCAA Tournament #1 seeds next month. One thing about this Duke attack - which is averaging 83.2 ppg to rank 'em first in the league and sixth nationally, by the way - is that freshman G Seth Curry has really stepped up his play and it's not just been limited to the offensive end of the court as Curry (45 total points in his last three games) has disrupted the rhythm of enemy backcourts too in recent weeks and here getting a grip on Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert (17.4 ppg) is critical.

UCLA (19-7, 10-3 Pac-10) at CALIFORNIA (13-13, 6-8 Pac-10) - 10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Network
Folks, don't sleep on these UCLA Bruins who entered this next-to-last weekend in February sitting in second place in the Pac-10 and winners of their last six consecutive games. In Thursday's impressive 69-65 win at Stanford (a pick 'em affair), the Bruins relied on the Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt combo that scored a total of 34 points but head coach Ben Howland was almost flipping out when his Uclans failed to contest many Stanford triples late in this game. Note that the Cardinal drilled nine trifectas and so look for better perimeter "D" here ... or else surging UCLA won't be getting its Bay Area sweep.

One note on the Cal Golden Bears: They rank a dismal 117th nationally in total defense while allowing 72.1 ppg and they come off Thursday's 78-75 home loss to two-point underdog USC despite the 23-point showing by Markhuri Sanders-Frison.

In other College Basketball News & Notes ...

When you begin to look at some teams that have fallen off the map this year, don't forget to include the Providence Friars (14-12, 3-10 in Big East play following Thursday's79-76 loss to 11 ½-point underdog DePaul).

Maybe having the Blue Demons snap their 25-game Big East losing streak against your team isn't bad enough but there's all sorts of problems abounding here for Keno Davis' team as freshman G Gerard Coleman has missed time due to academic reasons and PC has not won a single road game this year and that's only happened two other times in school history (1982 and 1988) ...

On the other coast, the Oregon State Beavers (9-15 overall and 4-9 in Pac-10 play while heading into Saturday's game at archrival Oregon) were not supposed to be this bad but Craig Robinson's club has won just once since Jan. 15th and G Calvin Haynes - who was expected to score somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-to-18 points a game this season - instead is averaging just 9.9 ppg while making only 16 triples all year long.

Could President Barack Obama's brother-in-law be in trouble in Corvallis? ...

Finally, if you're looking ahead to what small schools could provide a first-round - and maybe even first-weekend - upset than keep in mind both Belmont (24-4 overall and 16-1 inside the Atlantic Sun Conference) and Coastal Carolina (25-3 overall and 15-1 inside the Big South Conference at press time). In fact, you might have spotted Coastal Carolina's name in this week's Associated Press "Others to Watch" list following the Top 25.

Both Belmont and Coastal Carolina are well-coached outfits and it might well be a mistake should the NCAA Tournament Committee folks place either of these clubs with a #15 or #16 seed.

NOTE: Get our complete weekend College Basketball and NBA wrap-up report in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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