College Mid-week Previews and the Best Coaching Jobs This Season

Jim Goes 3-2 on Wednesday in Baskets
Rhode Island - Maryland - Michigan Win
Oklahoma - NC State- Lose


By Jim Hurley:

Folks, please forgive us for repeating ourselves but this is what we said to our faithful Jim Sez audience last year at this very time ... and we stick by those comments exactly one year later:

We're ticking down the final days/hours in February - and sometimes that's the best time of 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 new field of 68 teams in next month's NCAA Tournament.

Here's a note for all of those folks who would like to (further) 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.

And now we'll add the following:

Okay, so it's not a terrible thing that the NCAA Tourney field has been expanded by three teams - up from 65 to 68 - but we're begging the NCAA not to expand any more. Sure, there's gonna be some quality teams left out of this year's "Big Dance" but - on the other hand - there also figures to be a handful-or-more teams that will get in and truly don't deserve an NCAA Tournament berth this year and so let's not "water down" the product any more. Got it?

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 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!



Let's get up-close and personal with the best Wednesday/Thursday College B-Ball matchups. On Wednesday, it's ...
#24 TEMPLE (20-5) at #1 DUKE (24-2) - 7 p.m. ET, espn2
Now that the Duke Blue Devils have leapfrogged four teams to climb back into the #1 spot in this week's Associated Press the $64,000 question is will Mike Krzyzewski's team stay there the rest of the way? Okay, so there's lots of hoops still to play in the regular season alone but you tell us what game the Dookies are gonna lose before we get to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Greensboro next month?

At Virginia Tech on Feb. 26th ... or will the Blue Devils be knocked from that #1 perch in the season finale at archrival North Carolina?

The fact of the matter is if Duke "runs the table" from here through the ACC Tournament than how are you gonna keep 'em from being the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (and remember what we said here last week when Kansas, Ohio State and Texas were all but awarded #1 seeds in the NCAA Tourney and Duke was all but ignored).

Naturally, it's a matter of "first things first" and so Duke must dispose of a fellow nationally ranked item here with the road underdog Temple Owls looking to snap the Blue Devils' current five-game winning streak and no doubt G Nolan Smith is continuing his run on National Player of the Year following his latest pair of outings: Smith scored 22 points with 7 rebounds and 4 assists in the 56-41 win at 13 ½-point dog Virginia last Wednesday and then he followed that up last Sunday with a 28-point, 7-rebound, 4-assist performance in the 79-57 home triumph over 19 ½-point pup Georgia Tech.

COLORADO STATE (18-8, 8-4 MWC) at #7 BYU (25-2, 11-1 MWC) - 8 p.m. ET, MTN
You might have seen the "crawl" on ESPN the other night: "Bracket Boy" Joe Lunardi announced that Colorado State - at this moment - is the "last team in" to this year's NCAA Tournament but than again that's always subject to change ... by the minute! Still, it's worth noting that the C-State Rams did get a "shout out" in a year when everyone else in/around the Mountain West Conference is devoting its attention to frontrunner San Diego State (27-1, 12-1) and the BYU Cougars and so it's quite possible the aforementioned 68-team NCAA Tourney field could be making room for the Rams who have a little revenge in mind after the Coogs copped a 94-85 win in Fort Collins back on Jan. 22nd.

Now, if Colorado State wants to return the favor then checking scoring star Jimmer Fredette (27.2 ppg) is of the utmost importance - of course -- but State also needs to clean up its act after committing 17 turnovers in last Saturday's 68-61 home loss to 1 ½-point fav UNLV.

P.S., the Rams have yet to reach the 70-point mark in their past five games.

On Thursday, it's ...
MARQUETTE (16-11, 7-7 Big East) at #14 CONNECTICUT (20-6, 8-6 Big East) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
There's a distinct Big East Conference flavor to our previews on this final Thursday of the month but make no mistake about it: Both Marquette and UConn have sprouted lots of holes each lately and it's not a stretch to claim this is a "must-win" game for the visiting Golden Eagles - and not the kind of "must-win" situation you'd like to be in with Connecticut frothing at the mouth after getting spanked by the NCAA (note that ornery head coach Jim Calhoun will be suspended for the first three Big East games next year but the Huskies are just happy they're still eligible to participate in next month's NCAA Tournament).

Meanwhile, Marquette - 7-8 SU (straightup) overall since late December - remains in a real rut despite last weekend's 73-64 home win against 7 ½-point pup Seton Hall. Buzz Williams' crew hasn't won back-to-back games since early January (see triumphs over West Virginia and Rutgers) and among the major areas of woe is the team's free-throw shooting: Marquette canned just 2-of-10 foul shots in the first half against the Pirates last Saturday night but did manage to net 14 of its final 16 charity stripe tosses but it's safe to say that two or three games could have gone the other way this year had Marquette managed a better rate from the FT line. The Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler tandem for Marquette is averaging nearly 32 ppg between 'em but here they really better step on it or the boys from Milwaukee won't even find themselves on anyone's "bubble list".

WEST VIRGINIA (17-9, 8-6 Big East) at #4 PITTSBURGH (24-3, 12-2 Big East) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
The "Backyard Brawl" - hoops-style - is renewed in the Steel City and the home folks are looking to make it a clean sweep following the 71-66 win (in a pick 'em affair) at Morgantown back on Feb. 7th. You might recall in that Pitt victory G Ashton Gibbs (knee) did not play and yet the Panthers still survived as four players hit double digits led by F Nasir Robinson's 15-point performance.

Well, Gibbs is back here and - dare we say - he may be better than ever following his recent three-game absence. The smooth-stroking Gibbs gave St. John's fits in last Saturday's 60-59 Red Storm wire-job win as Pittsburgh's star scored 26 points and drilled an array of triples from all angles. If Gibbs gets his 20-plus points here than he'll certainly have to work for them against a skin-under-the-fingernails WVU defense.

The Mountaineers are no longer an absolute lead-pipe cinch to get into the NCAA Tournament (note that the 'Neers have split their last 10 games overall and still have remaining regular-season clashes at Rutgers and then home games versus Connecticut and Louisville). One thing fiery West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins wants to see here is more cracks on the offensive glass - believe it or not Notre Dame out-boarded the Mountaineers 14-to-9 on the offensive backboards in last Saturday's 72-58 WVU win.


We know.

Whenever anyone in the media starts to rank coaching jobs it becomes a lightning rod for controversy but in this subjective look here, we've mapped out the Top 5 Coaching Jobs (yes, so far) in America and we're glad to spell out the reasons why.

Unlike conventional wisdom that often claims a head coach is doing his best work when he allegedly has little to work with our Jim Sez Top 5 Ranking takes into consideration those coaches at high-profile places who are doing a bang-up with "Grade A" talent.

So - without further ado -- 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 MACK, XAVIER (20-6, 11-1 Atlantic-10): Last year we nominated Richmond boss Chris Mooney as the top coach of the year at this exact time and now we offer up a round of applause for another coach from this oft-underrated conference. No doubt Mack has worked wonders while putting the Musketeers into first place in the A-10 and his gritty crew has survived last year's losses of G Jordan Crawford and C Jason Love. Note that the X-men have won 13 of their last 14 games including Tuesday night's 100-62 walloping of LaSalle and non-league wins at Georgia and Butler have to count for something.

#2 - SEAN MILLER, ARIZONA (23-4, 12-2 Pac-10): Hey, wasn't the U of A Wildcats current coach Mack's predecessor at Xavier? Sure was and now Mr. Miller is carving out quite a career on the left coast where this 2010-11 'Zona club owns a two-game lead over UCLA in the battle for first place in the Pac-10 and the fact of the matter is Arizona was predicted to finish third or fourth in the league. The pieces have fit neatly in the desert and an offense that averages 78.4 ppg (15th-best in the land) keeps pressure on enemy folks from the get-go. A salute to Miller who most folks believe right now has the National Coach of the Year edge.

#3 - JIM LARRANAGA, GEORGE MASON (23-5, 14-2 Colonial Athletic): Maybe this "old-timer" has been taken for granted in recent years by the folks in the Commonwealth ... but not by us! The former New York City school-boy star is having a grand year on the sidelines with his Patriots sporting a 13-game winning streak while heading into Thursday's CAA tilt versus Northeastern. Hey, can George Mason have a 2005 repeat performance in the NCAA's - don't put anything past Larranaga!

#4 - STEVE LAVIN, ST. JOHN'S (17-9, 9-5 Big East): You didn't think our Top 5 Coaching List was gonna leave out New York City's brightest sideline star, did you? Lavin and the Johnnies have shown an utter mastery over highly-ranked teams at Madison Square Garden this year with the aforementioned win last weekend against Pittsburgh the latest highlight but the bottom line here is Lavin's convinced a team that includes nine seniors that "their time is now" and too bad if predecessor Norm Roberts has his feelings hurt!

#5 - STEW MORRILL, UTAH STATE (25-2, 12-0 WAC): Last but not least is another overlooked veteran coach who's been at his school forever (like Larranaga) and hats off to the Aggies' 13th-year head coach who masterminded last Saturday's sterling "Bracket Buster" 75-65 upset win at Saint Mary's and keep in mind Utah State was down twin figures late in the first half. Morrill called that one of the "funner wins" in his illustrious career and no doubt this is his best single-season job of 'em all with his WAC crew already having beaten Utah, Long Beach State and Saint Mary's in out-of-conference tilts. Hip-hip-hooray!

NOTE: Catch more College Hoop News & Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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