Saturday's Eight NCAA Previews

THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
HERE'S YOUR SATURDAY GAME PREVIEWS

By Jim Hurley:

Okay, so what did we all learn about the winners in Thursday's NCAA Tournament "Second-Round" games?

For starters, we learned that all three of the teams seeded either #1 or #2 in their respective regions really flexed their muscles as #1 Pittsburgh (Southeast), #2 Florida (Southeast) and #2 San Diego State (West) won their games by an average of 23 points plus we learned that every second on the clock counts as evidenced by last-second or close-to-last-second game-winning shots by the likes of Butler's Matt Howard, Temple's Juan Fernandez and Kentucky's Brandon Knight all mesmerized day-time viewers of this spectacular tournament.

Plus, we learned that while the Big East - with a record 11 teams entered into this year's "Big Dance" --  is potent but it ain't perfect as both Louisville and St. John's bit the dust in the same building in Denver and, in case you're keeping track, the only outright upset winners on the Thursday card included UCLA (+ 1) over Michigan State 78-76, Cincinnati (+ 1) over Missouri 78-63, Butler (+ 1 ½) over Old Dominion, Richmond (+ 3) over Vanderbilt 69-66 - all small stuff - plus the whopping win by 10-point pup Morehead State over in-state "rival" Louisville as the Eagles soared to this next round with a 62-61 victory that they'll be talking about in/around the Bluegrass State for a long, long time ... and will that be Louisville head coach Rick Pitino's farewell song?

We'll get to the Saturday matchups in this wild/wacky NCAA Tournament - that's all Eight (8) of them - in just a moment but first this key reminder:

Extra, extra: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are all over the NCAA Tournament along with the NIT, the CBI and College Insider Tournament, too - and don't forget the NBA -- and you can snap up all the Game-Day Winners from here thru June. Call us at the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or check us out right here online -- get in on the fun-and-profits right from the start of the thrilling College Basketball Post-Season. Editor's Note: The NCAA Tournament Games on this Saturday/Sunday are available after 10 a.m. ET both days here online and at 1-800-323-4453.

 

NCAA TOURNAMENT - SATURDAY'S MATCHUPS

EAST

#5 WEST VIRGINIA (21-11) vs. #4 KENTUCKY (26-8) - 12:15 p.m. ET; at Tampa
No doubt that Kentucky head coach John Calipari remembers the date - March 27, 2010 - as that's when his 4-point favored Wildcats club had national championship dreams dunked thanks to a 73-66 loss to West Virginia in an Elite 8 game played in Syracuse.

Okay, so there's barely anyone around from that Kentucky club as all the key 'Cats went pro last summer but this is still revenge for the SEC squad that needs plenty of blue-collar work here from inside banger Josh Harrellson (see 15 points and 10 rebounds in the opening-round win against Princeton) in order for Calipari's kids to make it back to Sweet 16-land.

Note that West Virginia - once down 10 points before rallying to top Clemson 84-76 on Thursday afternoon - is never afraid to mix it up down low but can the Mountaineers rely on shooting at such a hot clip here as Bob Huggins' club drilled 27-of-55 FGs for 49.1 percent?

And how about the fact that two WVU reserves - that's F Deniz Kilicli and G Dalton Pepper (who also had two key late-game steals/hoops) - combined for 21 points, 5 boards and 4 steals in 36 game-minutes?


WEST

#6 CINCINNATI (26-8) vs. #3 CONNECTICUT (27-9) - approximately 9:40 p.m. ET; at Washington, D.C.
It's not exactly the NCAA's "master plan" to have two teams from the same league play each other on the first week/weekend of the tourney but whatcha gonna do when there are some 16 percent of the teams in this field hailing from the Big East Conference?

From a historical perspective, take note that the Cincy Bearcats and UConn Huskies played against one another just once this year with Kemba Walker and Company striking up a 67-59 road win back on Feb. 27th. In that clash, Walker shook off the taunts of a courtside fan to score 11 of his 16 points after intermission while frosh star Deron Lamb dumped in 17 points and one real key there was the fact Cincinnati attempted just 8 free throws and here Mick Cronin's club must get more to-the-hoop action going ... or else.

#7 TEMPLE (26-7) vs. #2 SAN DIEGO STATE (33-2) - 6:10 p.m. ET; at Tucson, AZ
Here's the $64,000 question in these weekend tournament games: Just how much does momentum carry over from game-to-game following one of those last-second shot game-winners?

No doubt the Temple Owls are banking on that momentum here as the aforementioned Fernandez jumper from the right of the foul line gave this school its first NCAA Tournament win since 2001 and now Fernandez and G Ramone Moore - each of whom scored 23 points against Penn State on Thursday - have to be in stat-sheet stuffing moods here against a San Diego State squad that's lost two games all year long and both of 'em were to archrival BYU.

The Aztecs -powered by the 21-point and 10-board game by mega-star Kawhi Leonard in Thursday's workmanlike 68-50 win against 14 ½-point dog Northern Colorado - were not always super-sharp in that opener and one key here is boardwork as SDSU sported a solid 42-31 rebs advantage the other day.


SOUTHWEST
    
#12 RICHMOND (28-7) vs. #13 MOREHEAD STATE (24-9) - 5:15 p.m. ET; at Denver, CO
Here's your proverbial "bracket buster" game as both of these teams overcame second-half deficits to pull out opening-round surprises but now Morehead State board-banger Kenneth Faried (17 caroms collected in Thursday's wild win against Louisville plus the game-saving blocked shot on Mike Marra) has to keep himself on the floor here after yanking himself on and off the court (foul problems, asthma woes and that Mile High air) for much of that victory.

If Richmond decides to go right at Faried here than we ask if that changes the strategy of making sure star G Kevin Anderson (25 points in the win against Vanderbilt) gets off at least 24 or 25 shots here - the wild card could well be the Spiders' bench that chipped in 23 points against Vandy with relative unknown Francis-Cedric Martel kicking in 12 points and 5 rebounds in 27 efficient minutes of play.


SOUTHEAST

#1 PITTSBURGH (28-5) vs. #8 BUTLER (24-9) - 7:10 p.m. ET; at Washington, D.C.
No doubt the here-and-now Pitt Panthers have heard the rumblings ... get to the Final Four in a somewhat compromised Southeast Region or risk never getting there at all.

Jamie Dixon's team didn't mess around in Round I with that no-nonsense 74-51 victory against UNC-Asheville but can this Big East regular-season champ play with all the necessary moxie to eliminate gritty Butler?

The Bulldogs won't scare you with stats - the aforementioned Howard finished Thursday's win against Old Dominion with just 15 points and 5 rebounds -- but consider the Butler defense that held ODU to 16-of-45 FG makes (granted, many of the Monarchs' in-close misses were a tad inexplicable) and now must keep Pittsburgh's perimeter guys from heating up here.

P.S., it sure looks as if Pittsburgh G Ashton Gibbs - following a three-game injury absence weeks ago - is back in mid-season form following his 26-point showing in Thursday's win.

     
#5 KANSAS STATE (23-10) vs. #4 WISCONSIN (24-8) - approximately 8:40 p.m. ET; at Tucson, AZ
Maybe the most competitive matchup of 'em all on this Saturday card and it's truly a case of might versus flight ... will Wisky's rock-hard defense/rebounding mantra overcome a hot K-State club that needs G Jacob Pullen (game-high 22 points in Thursday's 73-68 win/cover against 1 ½-point dog Utah State) to elevate up, up and away with the prediction here that Pullen must make at least a dozen FGs here after going just 6-of-13 against U-State.

Wisconsin was listed beforehand as a 30-to-1 choice to win it all this year and surely has all the components to go far but Bo Ryan's squad needs to put the hammer down on "D" - note Belmont shot just 18-of-49 (that's 36.7 percent) in Thursday's 72-58 Badgers win/cover - and here's another forecast:

If the plucky Badgers hold Kansas State to sub-40 percent shooting here, than this Big 10 team starring Jon Leuer (22 points versus Belmont) should move on.

    
#11 GONZAGA (25-9) vs. #3 BYU (31-4) - approximately 7:45 p.m. ET; at Denver, CO
Have you noticed that this is the third game on this Saturday card pitting a pair of non-power conference teams against one another? Okay, so nobody really thinks Gonzaga is a mid-major anymore - a term that Zags boss-man Mark Few detests, by the way - and it's hard to find anyone more impressive than this West Coast Conference champion who demolished #6 seed St. John's 86-71 on Thursday night while shooting an electric 53.8 percent (that's 28-of-52 FGs).

Just about everyone on Gonzaga ripped the cords big-time in that clash but G Marquise Carter (career-high 24 points) is the major threat here in an open-court that begs the question whether or not BYU guard Jimmer Fredette (32 points and 7 assists in 74-66 win against Wofford) will be getting off 25-or-more shots here.

    
#7 UCLA (23-10) vs. #2 FLORIDA (27-7) - approximately 2:45 p.m. ET; at Tampa, FL
Funny thing how the first half of the games involving these teams the other night were nearly identical: Florida charged out to a stirring 43-19 lead en route to its 79-51 over UC-Santa Barbara while UCLA charged out to a 42-24 halftime lead in its hang-on-for-dear-life 78-76 win against Michigan State ... now who can dash out of the gate quickly here?

The mighty Gators - powered by F Chandler Parsons' 10 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds in Thursday's runaway win - want this game to be more baseline-to-baseline with fast-break points a key here and so look for Bruins' boss-man Ben Howland to try and pull the plug on an up-tempo game while the Pac-10 team needs F Reeves Nelson (12 points but just 3 FGs against Michigan State) to be more active in the low box here.

 

NCAA TOURNEY UPDATE: HERE ARE THE SUNDAY MATCHUPS WITH #1 SEEDS OHIO STATE, KANSAS AND DUKE ALL PART OF THE FUN-N-GAMES

By Jim Hurley:

Rack 'em up ... there's Eight (8) more NCAA Tournament "Third-Round" games on this first day of Spring and so let's get to it following this key reminder:

NCAA Betting Favorites went 13-18-2 against the odds (with three pick 'em games too) for a lowly .419 winning rate through Friday night's games and now let's see if that dog trend holds up through the weekend's games and right throughout this tourney.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are all over the NCAA Tournament along with the NIT, the CBI and College Insider Tournament, too - and don't forget the NBA -- and you can snap up all the Game-Day Winners from here thru June. Call us at the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or check us out right here online -- get in on the fun-and-profits right from the start of the thrilling College Basketball Post-Season. Editor's Note: The NCAA Tournament Games on Sunday are available after 10 a.m. ET here online and at 1-800-323-4453.


NCAA TOURNAMENT - SUNDAY'S GAME PREVIEWS

EAST
    
#8 GEORGE MASON (27-6) vs. #1 OHIO STATE (33-2) - 5:15 p.m. ET, Cleveland, OH
Note that the Ohio State Buckeyes were one of three power conference teams that copped their respective mini-tournies to win/cover their NCAA Tournament openers along with Connecticut and Duke (while Kansas, Kentucky and Washington all failed to cover the Las Vegas lines in their initial forays into this year's NCAA Tournament) but what really made 'Eye boss-man Thad Matta feel good about his club's 75-46 win versus 25-point pup UT-San Antonio was that his team collected 26 assists on 29 made baskets ... wow!

If Ohio State PG Aaron Craft (game-high 7 assists this past Friday night) and mates can continue to swing the ball to open shooters, than overmatched and 11-point underdog George Mason won't stand a chance. No doubt the Patriots - 61-57 come-from-behind winners against 2-point favorite Villanova in second-round action - took full advantage of some missed 'Nova free throws late and then sore-shouldered Luke Hancock (18 points) drilled a critical three-pointer with 21 seconds left and something tells us the Buckeyes will be defending the three-point arc to the hilt!

    
#11 MARQUETTE (21-14) vs. #3 SYRACUSE (27-7) - approximately 7:45 p.m. ET, Cleveland, OH
Here we go again ... yet another Big East Conference showdown here in these "third-round" games and so it's time to dig into the 2010-11 history books and inform you that these clubs played one another just once this season - a 76-70 home win for Marquette back on Jan. 29th and the key in that regular-season clash was the Golden Eagles' do-it-all guy Jae Crowder who poured in 25 points and the 'Cuse lost despite shooting a silly 57.1 percent from the floor (that's 28-of-49 FG makes).

Okay, so that happened to mark the end of a funky four-game mid-season losing streak for Jim Boeheim's Orange but what's different here is PG Scoop Jardine (13 points and 13 assists back in late January) hurt his left/non-shooting wrist badly on a freak fall with three minutes left in Friday's easy-as-pie 77-60 win/cover against 13-point dog Indiana State and there's some real concern on the Syracuse side here.
  
    
#7 WASHINGTON (24-10) vs. #2 NORTH CAROLINA (27-7) - 12:15 p.m. ET, Charlotte, NC
Let's not get into the whole geography bit here - no doubt that higher-seeded teams such as North Carolina "earned" its right to play close-to-home games but the UW Huskies royally get screwed here 'cause the Pac-10 guys - in the first place - had the longest venue-to-venue trip of any of the 68 NCAA Tournament teams (and that was after copping the Pac-10 Tournament Championship as stated above) and now have to play your basic Tar Heels home game here.

Let's see if/when Huskies boss Lorenzo Romar spouts out some ugly feelings here should the 3 ½-point underdogs lose this battle along Tobacco Road.

No doubt that Washington lefty G Isaiah Thomas (19 points, 7 assists and one major deflection late in that 68-65 non-cover win against Georgia late Friday night) is the single-most important player on the floor here 'cause he has to keep Washington from going too helter-skelter against a Heels bunch that never takes its foot off the gas pedal.

Game plan for the Huskies?

Make sure long-armed UNC freshman Harrison Barnes - who scored 24 points and chipped in 16 rebounds in Carolina's 102-87 win against LIU the other night - doesn't get total freedom on the court here.

Hey, the Heels are gonna get their points in the paint but if Barnes is able to float around without any real resistance than Roy Williams' guys will be putting up another hundred-plus points here.

WEST
    
#1 DUKE (31-4) vs. #8 MICHIGAN (21-13) - approximately 2:45 p.m. ET; Charlotte, NC
Conventional wisdom states that the Duke Blue Devils have all the advantages here such as this is a basic home game for Mike Krzyzewski's squad and frosh guard Kyrie Irving is ready/willing/able to make a real contribution after playing 20 minutes in the Blue Devils' 87-45 win against 24 ½-point pup Hampton. Irving kicked in 14 points and 4 rebounds in that breeze-job win on Friday but may be asked to deliver meaningful points/boards/assists here against a Michigan bunch that simply scorched Tennessee 75-45 as lefty G Zack Novak was a double-double maestro (see 14 points and 10 rebs) and the Vols shot a putrid 15-of-43 from the field (that's 34.9 percent).

It's no secret that Michigan head coach John Beilein is one of the best tournament minds around but he is smart enough to stop Irving, F Kyle Singler and Player of the Year candidate G Nolan Smith here? Stay tuned.


#5 ARIZONA (28-7) vs. #4 TEXAS (28-7) - 6:10 p.m. ET; Tulsa, OK
Now that the U of A Wildcats have "lived to see another day", the $64,000 question is will Friday's 77-75 hang-on-for-dear life non-cover win against Memphis propel the Pac-10 guys past a Texas team that never - ever - plays to its overall potential come tourney time?

Sure, the Longhorns toasted their financial backers in Friday's never-really-that-close 85-81 non-cover win against 10-point dog Oakland as Jordan Hamilton powered the Texas way with 19 points and 11 rebounds but how come Texas didn't win by a margin when you consider it bottled up C Keith Benson (see 15 points on 15 FG tries) while 'Horns reserve G J'Covan Brown was a big factor with 21 points in 24 minutes?

Maybe the oft-clueless Texas head coach Rick Barnes won't be able to figure out how to stop Arizona's Derrick Williams (22 points and 10 boards against Memphis) or the fact that the 'Zona transition defense wasn't good in that second-round win.

 

SOUTHWEST
    
#1 KANSAS (33-2) vs. #9 ILLINOIS (20-13) - approximately 8:40 p.m.; Tulsa, OK
Now that President Obama has picked the Kansas Jayhawks to win it all - yes, he did so last year and Bill Self's club got conked in second-round play by frisky Northern Iowa - the nation's "second #1 seed" is getting more microscopic looks than ever before.

Hey, nothing wrong with Rock, Chalk, Jayhawks in that 72-53 win against Boston University on Friday night as the Big 12 team held the Terriers to just 24 second-half points while the Morris Twins banked in 31 points and collected 17 rebounds and here both Markieff and Marcus Morris must steer clear of foul woes (they had only four personals between 'em in the Friday win) here.

If Illinois is gonna be more than just a one-hit wonder in this NCAA Tournament, than Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey - who combined for 39 points in the rollickingly easy 73-62 win against UNLV - must be stat-sheet stuffers here and must get some mileage from the three-ball too (the Illini shot 7-of-13 beyond the arc versus the Runnin' Rebels).


#11 VCU (25-11) vs. #3 PURDUE (26-7) - 7:10 p.m. ET; Chicago, IL
The Purdue Boilermakers may be a legit contender for this year's national crown - but the VCU Rams are the real story heading into this game at the United Center.
    
Shaka Smart's club - no doubt still emotionally raw over all the criticism it faced when chosen for an at-large bid in this year's 68-team field - continues to stun the hoops world first with a win against USC and than Friday's electric 74-56 win against 5 ½-point fav Georgetown - and here the question is whether or not active PG Joey Rodriguez (17 points and 7 assists against the Hoyas) can be a make-it-happen guy against a Purdue team that scorched St. Peter's 65-43 while holding the Peacocks to 29.3 percent shooting from the floor (that's 17-of-58).


#10 FLORIDA STATE (22-10) vs. #2 NOTRE DAME (27-6) - approximately 9:40 p.m. ET; Chicago, IL
The ND Fighting Irish celebrated St. Patrick's Day one day late with that resounding 69-56 triumph over Akron as Big East Player of the Year G Ben Hansbrough stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds but might life get a little tougher on Mike Brey's club here?

After all, defensively-sound Florida State has major momentum following on the heels of that brilliant 57-50 come-from-behind win against Texas A&M on Friday afternoon as the Seminoles held the Aggies to 16-of-51 FG shooting (that's 31.4 percent) and blocked 10 A&M shots to boot.

One of Notre Dame's major strengths is ball movement and spotting the open shooter but Hansbrough and Company may have to put a little extra spice on the ball here to stay one step ahead of Florida State's defenders.

NOTE: Get more NCAA Tournament News & Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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