THE NCAA TOURNAMENT REPORT

Network's Conference Tournament Game of the Year Goes Today

Hurley Hits at the Races Friday
Gulfstream Race 8: Nathan Ridge Won $7.80 Exacta $32.40
Daily Double races 7-8 pays $41.20
Santa Anita Race:6 Stoneside Won $8.80 & Race 7: El Martillo Won $8.80
Daily Double Pays $44.00
Oaklawn Race 2: Berry Knoll/She's An Alpha Gam Exacta $18.40

THE NCAA TOURNAMENT REPORT- IT'S RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER AND SO LET'S FILL UP YOUR COLLEGE BASKETBALL GOODY BAG WITH FORECASTS, PREDICTIONS AND MUCH MORE!!!

By Jim Hurley:

Hey, we'll keep this a little secret between just you and us but now hear this: There's only 6 or 7 teams out there that can really/truly win this year's College Basketball National Championship and you might be just a little bit surprised that we're not even including 2010 national titlist Duke among other potential champs this year- sorry, Dookies, but our short list includes (and in no specific order) Ohio State, Kansas, North Carolina, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and possibly a sleeper in Xavier.

Yup, that's about it.

Okay, so we're not saying that the other 60-plus teams soon to be "dancing"in this year's NCAA Tournament should throw in the proverbial towel even before the first jump ball is tossed up but the fact of the matter is winning six games in a row at this stage of the year is tough stuff and only a handful-plus teams in this tourney are capable of surviving this major grind (okay, so it would be seven consecutive wins for those clubs having to play in the early out-bracket games).

So, what's straight ahead?

Well, expect the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to "do the right thing"and split the field in half- that's 34 teams from the so-called power conferences (the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC) and the other 34 teams from mid-major or smaller conferences and that's not only a well-balanced plan but it is ultimately fair too.

Now, let's take a moment to get you this ultra-important reminder and then it's a full-scale, all-out hoops assault on your senses with the NCAA Tournament the one-and-only major topic at hand here:

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?
   

THE NCAA TOURNAMENT- AND HERE'S OUR BLOCKBUSTER CATEGORIES

Lots to digest when it comes to this year's NCAA Tournament and so -- to best suit our needs here and fill your mind- we'll break down the tourney into four different/distinct categories including The Heavy Hitters, The Tourney Sleepers (including the all-important Mid-Major squads), the Teams You Don't Want to Play and, finally, the Potential Tourney Duds ... so no time to waste, let's get rollin'.

 

THE HEAVY HITTERS

If you've been paying close attention this 2010-11 College Basketball Season, than you know that the likes of Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh and Duke have been at or near the top of the polls for the past couple of months each but it says here that only two of these four "heavy-hitters"could be cutting down the nets inside Reliant Stadium in Houston come the night of Monday, April 4th while the other two simply don't have the proper goods. Here's the analyses:

OHIO STATE- The Buckeyes likely will enter the "Big Dance"as the betting favorite to win it all based on the fact this club has a superstar in frosh F/C Jared Sullinger, supreme three-point shooting (especially G Jon Diebler) and ferocious defense (allowing less than 60 points a game at press time) plus it helps having high-quality head coach Thad Matta on the sidelines.

If the'Eyes have benefited from their time at/or the top of the rankings this year it's been that they've been the "hunted"for the past three months and so nothing will rattle their cages. Everyone knows that Ohio State suffered a meltdown in the final 13-plus minutes at Wisconsin but don't assume something like that is gonna happen again in March.

    
KANSAS- Let's just say the Jayhawks impose their will on the opposition each/every game they take the court, thanks to the dual presence of twins Marcus and Markieff Morris plus the in-your-grill defense that the perimeter guys play but a key sticking point as to whether or not Bill Self's gang can cop a second national title within a three-year span here is does Kansas completely trust PG Tyshawn Taylor whose at-the-moment 78 turnovers for the year had the Kansas coaches pulling out their hair.

Still, there's plenty of ammo on the Kansas side and lots of interior helpers including the revved-up F Thomas Robinson who has been an offensive board demon in recent games. Put Kansas down as the biggest favorite next to Ohio State when it comes to winning it all on the first Monday in April.

    
PITTSBURGH- Nobody's gonna crucify the Panthers for losing their Big East Tournament quarterfinal round game against Connecticut but the question remains how can you trust a Jamie Dixon-coached team at crunch time?

This Steel City side hasn't made it to a Final Four during Dixon's otherwise glorious reign and the fact that only G Ashton Gibbs (16.4 ppg) can create and make his own shot here means this club is severely limited in late-and-close games.

    
DUKE- Last year's national champions had great karma and the ability to outwit/out-shoot opponents down the stretch as evidenced by the Elite 8 triumph over Baylor and the championship game win against Butler but something's missing here and it's not just the fact that star freshman PG Kyrie Irving- who has played only 8 games because of a foot injury- is still their best option at the one-guard spot.

The Blue Devils have a genuine Player of the Year candidate in G Nolan Smith (21.6 ppg) and an ultra-clutch shooter in F Kyle Singler (17.1 ppg) but all too often the rest of this Duke lineup is prone to shooting droughts. Hey, a four- or five-minute dry spell in an NCAA Tournament game usually is a recipe for elimination.
 

THE TOURNEY SLEEPERS AND ...

Let's categorize the "sleepers"here as teams that figure to be somewhere outside the top 10 teams in the most recent Associated Press rankings. Here goes ...

WISCONSIN- The Badgers entered the Big 10 Tournament ranked #13 in the land and likely will scoop up a #3 or #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament but nobody's mentioning them as potential national champs ... until now.

Bo Ryan's club has a major go-to guy in G Jordan Taylor (18.2 ppg) and plenty of talented big men including smooth F Jon Leuer (18.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg) but what really makes Wisky tick is a defensive mindset that has this club ranked eighth nationally in scoring "D"at 59.1 points a game.

Give us someone that isn't one of those heavy-hitter choices above and we'll say Wisconsin can win it all.


VANDERBILT- No doubt these "smart guys"slumbered down the stretch in regular-season play as Kevin Stallings' crew dropped three of its final four tilts prior to banging out a first-round SEC Tournament win against LSU but the Commodores have a superstar scorer in G John Jenkins (19.4 ppg) and right now is about the healthiest that Vandy's been in the past three-plus months.

Stallings remains one of the nation's more underrated and unsung coaches and Jenkins has the ammo (and the guts) to carry the'Dores far- maybe even six wins' worth!


TEXAS A&M- At last check, the A&M Aggies had completely fallen out of the AP Top 25 rankings but don't despair ... there's still plenty of players who regularly get skin underneath their fingernails with their sticky defense plus head coach Mark Turgeon knows one major not-so-secret formula is to get his club to drive to the hoop more and pile up more free throws (go ahead and look it up as the Aggies have been making fewer and fewer trips to the charity stripe in recent weeks).

If Texas A&M can play that batten-down-the-hatches defense for six games in a row, than Turgeon's team could be the power conference club that climbs out of the weeds and makes the ultimate big splash.
       

... THE MID-MAJOR SLEEPERS

Okay, so up above we mentioned the Xavier Muskeeters as a club that could well put together a six-game winning streak in this NCAA Tournament and thus win it all- or didn't you notice Butler's majestic rise a year ago?- but we'll actually include three teams here from non-power conferences that could make major runs in this year's "Big Dance":

XAVIER- The Atlantic-10's regular-season champ won 15-of-16 games in a better-than-you-think league plus they went out of conference and beat the likes of Butler and Georgia and so Chris Mack's crew is ram-tough and it doesn't hurt that leading scorer Tu Holloway is unafraid to take over a game at crunch time and that includes launching three-pointers when that's is what's necessary.

If Xavier gets a decent-enough seed in the NCAAs (let's say a #5 or better) it could be in position to rattle less-experienced competition and gotta feeling this Xavier team is just as mentally tough as last year's Butler bunch. No doubt we've all seen Xavier teams in the past make solid showings in NCAA Tournaments but this one has a different/better feel right here and right now.

    
UTAH STATE- The Aggies entered their WAC Tournament with a whopping 28 wins (against 3 losses)  and no question that Stew Morrill's squad boasted the best "Bracket-Buster"win in late February with a stirring 75-65 come-from-way-behind win at Saint Mary's.

Now, the question is whether this deep and talented Utah State can make a run for the money in this NCAA Tournament and don't discount the theory that the Aggies will be kept out West and thus possibly play a "softer"tourney schedule than folks in the other three regions. If junior PG Brockeith Payne- the lone non-senior in the Utah State starting lineup- can make enough trips to the free-throw line every game than the Aggies might be hanging around the NCAA's for a couple of weekends (or more).

    
UNLV - Maybe the fact that both BYU and San Diego State stole all the headlines inside the Mountain West Conference this year basically forced people to overlook the Runnin' Rebels in 2010-11 ... but we've been thinking about Lon Kruger's club for a long, long time.

Note that UNLV entered the MWC Tournament riding a nifty five-game winning streak and Kruger- as any hard-core college hoops fan knows- does his very best work in tournament play (see stints with Florida, Kansas State and right here with UNLV) and it's defense providing the major calling card here.
       

THE TEAMS YOU DON'T WANT TO PLAY

Folks, we're gonna throw a curveball at you here and not list the likes of St. John's or Kansas State or Florida State (all teams being mentioned prominently when it comes to teams that others are trying to avoid playing). Instead, here's our mini-roll call:

OAKLAND- The Summit League champions played a veritable plethora of "name teams"this year including Ohio State, West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan and Tennessee (the Golden Grizzlies beat the Vols but none of the others) and no doubt those experiences have toughened the hide of veteran head coach Greg Kampe's club and nobody should be completely shocked if/when Oakland wins a couple of games in this year's NCAA Tournament.

Note that Summit League Player of the Year Keith Benson (18 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 124 blocked shots) is a dominant force at any hoops level- ohm you'll hear his name in the coming days for sure!

    
WASHINGTON- Perhaps the Huskies have faded from view when it comes to the national level but keep this factoid in mind: UW is the only Pac-10 team to have won at least one game in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments and no doubt that Lorenzo Romar's crew can "out-athlete"98 percent of the teams in this NCAA Tourney field.

Okay, so the Dawgs need G Isaiah Thomas (16.6 ppg and 5.6 assists per game) to stay under control but this club scores 84 points a game- that's third-best on the Division I level- and that makes Washington a major threat to win two or three games in this field ... they're trouble.

    
VIRGINIA TECH- No doubt that Seth Greenberg's club will finally be on the right side of the "bubble"and now that the pressure's off we expect big things from the 2010-11 Hokies. The Blacksburg bunch sports four double-digit scorers including star G Malcolm Delaney (18.8 ppg) and V-Tech is not afraid to get out and go and make you fend for yourself.

The grind of having to play hard in the ACC Tournament will help to fine-tune matters for the Gobblers plus it always helps your general confidence level when you own a win against Duke. Don't look now but the Techsters could well deliver a second-round KO to someone big and they may not simply stop than at the Sweet 16 round.
     
   
THE POTENTIAL TOURNEY DUDS

Okay, so we hate to "bad-mouth"anyone that made it into the NCAA Tournament field of 68 teams but here's three "name teams"that figure to fall flat on their faces right away or prematurely at some point:

TEXAS - The free-fall started following a swift 23-3 start and now the Longhorns figure to get their horns twisted in this tourney that hasn't always been kind to the kids from Austin (or much-maligned head coach Rick Barnes).

No doubt Texas has had problems maintaining large leads and that's due to concentration lapses, bad coaching and ill-timed free-throw misses and something figures to go very wrong in either first- or second-round play. Hey, maybe the'Horns have simply run out of gas.

    
SAINT MARY'S- Funny thing is last year's Gaels gang won two games in the NCAAs (including a second-round shocker over Villanova) but the vibes just don't feel right here for Randy Bennett's bunch.

The 75-63 loss to 2-point fav Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference title tilt wasn't a big surprise but Saint Mary's showed little grit in the game's final six or seven minutes and that was disturbing stuff. If they ain't hitting long-range triples here, they're history in a heartbeat.

    
CLEMSON - Let's admit it ... the Tigers never bring their "A game"into the NCAA Tournament and now first-year head coach Brad Brownell won't be able to squeeze much from a team that lost five-of-six regular-season tilts against the likes of North Carolina, Duke, Maryland and Florida State.

Word to the wise here: If you see Clemson's a first-round betting favorite, take the rubber-band off and go against'em with plenty of passion.
 

THE NCAA TOURNAMENT NOTEBOOK - HERE'S EVERYTHING WE'D LIKE TO SEE FROM THE SELECTION COMMITTEE COME SUNDAY EVENING

By Jim Hurley:

Let's get it out on the table right away:

We don't want to be called "kings of the second guessers" -- and so here below we've compiled our little laundry list of what we'd like to see the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee folks do come Sunday night (remember that the Selection Sunday Show airs on CBS at 6 p.m. ET).

Folks, this Jim Sez edition isn't simply the fodder/drivel you hear day-after-day on ESPN and the other networks that televise the wonderful sport of College Basketball - how often can you hammer into everyone's heads this "#1 seeds" bit plus all the conjecture about just how many teams from each conference/league should be heading to the "Big Dance" - no, we're getting ahead of the curve here.

Note that we've got a few topics on our agenda here regarding this year's NCAA Tournament and so we'll go on the attack in just a moment but first this important reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have all the College Basketball Conference Tournament Championship Game Winners on this mid-March weekend - that's in the ACC, the SEC, the Atlantic-10 and the Big 10 -- plus we've got all the NBA Winners too when you check in with us on game days after 10 a.m. ET either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453.

Editor's Note: We will have all the Tuesday & Wednesday "early-round" NCAA Tournament games plus remember all the day-time NCAA Tournament action this Thursday/Friday anytime after 10 a.m. ET with the night games than released sometime after 1:30 p.m. ET - so make sure you're all aboard for this next stage of "March Madness"!
  
Now, here's what we'd like to see from the NCAA Tournament Committee come Sunday evening ...

#1 - DON'T GO OVERBOARD IN PUNISHING THE TOP TEAMS FOR THEIR SLIP-UPS IN THE CONFERENCE TOURNIES:
Hey, we've seen it happen a gazillion times and that's someone who sat among the top four or five teams in the country from early January through early March gets whacked for losing a one-and-done conference tourney game. Not right!

Case in point here, of course, is Pittsburgh who entered this past week ranked #3 in the land in the Associated Press Top 25. The Panthers earned a double-bye but then lost their Big East Tournament Quarterfinal Round game to Connecticut and suddenly there were cries to kayo Pitt from the #1 seed line in the NCAA Tournament ... pure poppycock!

Pittsburgh's proverbial "body of work" was sensational in the 2010-11 campaign and included a dazzling 15-3 mark in regular-season play, thus earning Jamie Dixon's crew the outright title. Heck, isn't that enough of an accomplishment to remain a #1 seed in the NCAAs when everyone and his brother-in-law agrees the Big East was far-and-away the best league in the land this year?

No matter what happens in the other conference tourney games this weekend, if Pitt's dropped from the top seed line than shame on the Selection Committee folks - and naturally that goes with high-to-medium seeds for the likes of Xavier (Atlantic-10), UCLA (Pac-10), Kansas State (Big 12) and Georgetown (Big East) - and that's don't severely punish any of 'em over and above the call of duty seeds-wise just because of their early exits in their respective  mini-tournies.


#2 - DON'T REWARD ANYONE THAT IS A #3 SEED (OR LOWER) JUST BECAUSE OF GEOGRAPHY:

In short, check out the first-round NCAA Tournament sites and you see that the Thursday games will be played in Tampa, Washington D.C., Denver and Tucson while the Friday tourney games will be played in Charlotte, Cleveland, Chicago and Tulsa.

What we're saying here is let's not see the likes of Colorado, Illinois or Virginia Tech get any sort of geography aid here 'cause all of the above will be middling seeds (likely somewhere between #7-thru-#10's in all likelihood) and why should they get the benefit of a home court or semi-home court/home crowd advantage when they simply didn't earn it during this season?

Let's go on record to state that we have zero problem with either/both North Carolina and/or Duke playing their first- and second-round games in Charlotte - they earned it, right? - or if the committee folks decide to let the likes of San Diego State and BYU stay out west (again, their body of work this year earned them the right not to have to travel 3,000 miles away and play a first-round game in Tampa).

Admittedly, the selection committees in the recent past have done a better job with this than was the case eight or nine years ago but please let's not have an Eastern power shooting out West or vice versa unless it's absolutely necessary in terms of "balancing out" the regions. Got it?

    
#3 - LET'S HAVE THE MIDDLE-OF-THE-RUNG CONFERENCE TEAMS PLAY THE MID-MAJORS IN ROUND I:
Folks, count us among the people that didn't care for some of the NCAA Tournament first-round matchups a year ago when the 2010 tourney paired up Saint Mary's versus Richmond, Northern Iowa versus UNLV, UTEP versus Butler and Cornell versus Temple.

Okay, so maybe we could have lived with one said mid-major vs. mid-major matchup but that volume of head-to-head clashes was too much - in short, let's see more of the following (for example):

Indiana State vs. Texas A&M or VCU vs. West Virginia and/or Butler vs. Alabama - let's go ahead and see how these power conference teams fare versus the mid-majors and maybe it'll give the "little guys" a couple of days/nights to really puff out their chests should they strike up a winning pose (or two).

    
#4 - FINALLY, DON'T LET "REPUTATIONS" OR "NAME COACHES" RULE YOUR HEART:
Simply put, if there is an at-large team (or two) that is gonna wind up with a #11 or #12 seed please don't let what these teams did last year or years ago influence your decision and the same goes true with marquee name coaches ... let's say there is a grueling decision to be made regarding whether or not Maryland or UAB gets the final at-large spot, don't reward the Terrapins just for the above-mentioned reasons.

If anything, our motto is we always would rather have "new blood" in the tourney than some power conference slug that finished .500 or worse in its own league and didn't really pile up many "signature wins".  

  • Lastly, it's always fun to predict who fits where in all the NCAA Tournament brackets but let's take a moment to predict a few first-round matchups that we think would be real dandies: How about some of these matchups in the #8 versus #9 seed games ... Michigan vs. USC, Clemson vs. Missouri State and Saint Mary's vs. Marquette ... sounds good to us!

NOTE: We'll dig deep into this year's NCAA Tournament News & Notes - like who's in and who's not and why - in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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