Conference Tournament Report

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Whether its the March To Madness Or The March To The Derby, Jim Hurley is on the scene and in the money! More tournament basketball and horse racing goes Thursday!



By Jim Hurley:

Okay, so now that the ESPN's three wise men - that's studio hosts Rece Davis, Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps -- have skewered the officials in that controversial St. John's win over Rutgers in the Big East Tournament second-round game can we all just set about the business of playing more b-ball in this wild-and-wacky week of College Basketball?

No doubt the Conference Tournaments - a/k/a the Mini-Tournies - already have been chock full of goodies including Arkansas-Little Rock winning four games in four nights to cop the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, last year's national championship runner-up Butler slugging host Wisconsin-Milwaukee by 15 points for yet another Horizon League Tournament title and let's not forget the Big 12 Tourney that already brought us a pair of first-round surprise wins by Oklahoma State over Nebraska along with Oklahoma over 6 ½-point favorite Baylor (pop goes that Baylor Bears bubble, right?) along with a near upset as Texas Tech came close but no cigar in head coach Pat Knight's final game with the Red Raiders who fell to 10-point fav Missouri 88-84.

We almost forgot - hats off to the Northern Colorado Bears (21-10) who squeezed past 3-point road underdog Montana 65-60 on Wednesday night as Devon Beitzel poured in 27 points despite the fact he missed 13-of-18 field-goal tries. So, the Big Sky Conference has itself a new hero and let's see if we'll be hearing Beitzel's name next week in the NCAA Tournament.

Hey, it's only gonna get better as the College Hoops world serves up a slew of great games right through this weekend - remember this is just the appetizer for next week's NCAA Tournament - but the $64,000 questions out there right here and right now what are the really key stories both inside the major-college conferences and outside of 'em? We'll chew on some good stuff in just a moment but first this key reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Basketball Conference Tournament play and all the NBA Winners too when you check in on Game Days anytime after 11 a.m. ET for these weekday afternoon games and then anytime after 1:30 p.m. ET Monday-through-Friday for all the night-time action. Get it all right here online or else at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - and make sure to be with us all through this business called "March Madness". Hey, you don't want to miss out on all the fun-and-games, do you?


Let's go 'round the land and discuss the hot topics in the College Basketball Conference Tournaments:
BIG EAST - Maybe you'd like us to refresh your memory: Last year when this mighty-but-bloated league held its quarterfinal round, three of the four teams that had earned their double-byes were beaten including Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh and so this year's top four seeds (that's Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville and Syracuse) better be armed with the knowledge of just what happened a year ago and, yes, everyone's still aware how much Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim detests this double-bye set-up and especially when his club is involved in the festivities.

Maybe no one expects three of these four double-bye teams to lose here but the fact remains there's high-level competition going in against 'em and it might be high time to sit up and take notice of the Cincinnati Bearcats (25-7). The seventh-seeded 'Cats shook off upset-minded (and 10 ½-point underdog) South Florida on Wednesday night 87-61 at Madison Square Garden as Cincy native Yancy Gates nailed 10-of-11 field-goal tries en route to a career-best 25 points. Gates - who was disciplined by no-nonsense head coach Mick Cronin earlier this 2010-11 season - has his head on straight these days and he's surely looking like one of the Big East's top five players

Just about a month ago the Cincinnati kids were fretting about their NCAA Tournament status - but no more. After shooting a sizzling 57.1 percent from the floor (that's 28-of-49 FGs) and holding athletic South Florida to 36.4 percent FG shooting (see 20-of-55), the 'Cats copped their sixth win in their last seven tries and duly advanced to Thursday night's quarterfinal showdown against Notre Dame and don't you just know that the fiery Cronin will be playing up the revenge angle here after the ND Fighting Irish snared a 66-58 home win against Cincinnati back on Jan. 19th.

If the 25th-ranked Bearcats can be one of the team(s) that beats a double-bye squad, than the Bearcats would get into the Big East Tournament semifinals and probably be looking at nothing lower than a #5 seed in the NCAAs ... now who would have thunk it!

Oh, yeah, nice of last year's Big East Tournament champ (West Virginia) and runner-up (Georgetown) to be one-and-done in this year's mini-tourney in New York City ... don't forget to scoop up your parting gifts, guys!

SEC TOURNAMENT - Speaking of bye teams, the Southeastern Conference handed out single byes to Florida, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi State but would anyone really be shocked if someone slipped through the weeds and made it to Sunday's Championship Game while being forced to play the extra game?

No doubt one such candidate is the Tennessee Volunteers (18-13, 8-8) who are listed as a healthy 6-point betting favorite versus Arkansas in a Thursday night clash (7:30 p.m. ET) at the Georgia Dome. The Vols - to put it mildly - truly staggered to the finish line with six losses in their final nine regular-season games and the team's lack of offensive pop (averaging 54.6 ppg in just the past five games alone) could come back and haunt 'em here or, Tennessee optimists might declare that G Scotty Hopson (17.7 ppg), frosh F Tobias Harris (14.7 ppg) and mates are "due" for a breakout game or two.

For the record, Tennessee did enjoy one three-game winning streak inside SEC play this year (granted the "W's" came against LSU, Ole Miss and Auburn) but at least it serves as proof that the Volunteers are capable of running off three consecutive league wins and we'll say the orange-and-white gang is "in" the NCAA Tournament if it can simply prevail in back-to-back affairs here but the flip side is Tennessee would play Florida in Friday's SEC quarterfinals and that's a tall task.

Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl - who truly let down his team this year while serving an eight-game SEC suspension earlier this season - knows full well that his school has not won an SEC hoops championship since way back in 1979 and than since that time every team in this league has won the SEC Tournament save for South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Just thought you'd like to know that!

MOUNTAIN WEST TOURNAMENT - Here's a news flash (we say tongue-in-cheek) ...
The MWC may not be considered one of the "super six" power conferences in the land but if #7 San Diego State gets to play #8 BYU in this league's Championship Game come Saturday night (7 p.m. ET on Versus) and things are real close at the finish line and there's some major-college conference upsets than the Aztecs and Cougars might well be filling out two of the country's top eight overall seeds with the champ still quite possible of landing a numero uno seed in next week's NCAA Tournament.

Did you follow that bouncing ball?

Okay, so first-things-first and that means San Diego State must dispose of 16-point underdog Utah in a Thursday night game at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas and BYU must dunk TCU (Thursday at 3 p.m. ET) which won only one regular-season game this year but smacked 2-point dog Wyoming 70-61 in Wednesday's out-bracket game.

No doubt that BYU (28-3, 14-2) has a whole lot on its plate these days while entering this mini-tourney with center Brandon Davies suspended till further notice because he violated the school's honor code and with reserve C Chris Collinsworth - no, not that Chris Collinsworth - out since January with a blown knee yet head coach Dave Rose offers no excuses as the Mountain West's #1 seed looks to rock-n-roll its way to a mini-tourney crown.

Rose believes his top players/leaders G's Jimmer Fredette (the nation's scoring leader who's averaging 27.9 ppg) and Jackson Emery will shine brightly here this week/weekend and Emery - for one - believes the team chemistry without Davies (11.1 ppg and 6.2 rebounds-per-game) has not been ruined in any way. "It's brought us more together," said Emery who averages 12.7 points an outing. "We've always been a unified team ... we've all stuck by each other."

If BYU sticks together all weekend long and the Coogs are able to win the MWC crown - and maybe beat San Diego State for a third time in the process - than the Provo gang could well snatch up one of the NCAA Tournament's #1 seeds and our guess is BYU would be playing first- and/or second-round games in either Denver or Tucson (remember that the Coogs must avoid playing on Sundays and so would be placed in the Thursday/Saturday bracket).

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


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