Thursday & Friday's Sweet 16 Previews

OUR NCAA TOURNAMENT SWEET 16 GAME PREVIEWS SWING INTO HIGH GEAR AS WE CHECK OUT THURSDAY'S HARD-COURT ACTION IN BOTH N'ORLEANS & ANAHEIM

By Jim Hurley:

Much is being made over the array of upsets that happened in the first full week of this year's NCAA Tournament- and no doubt the likes of VCU, Morehead State and Butler were major storylines, to be sure- but check out the reality of the Sweet 16 matchups set for this next-to-last Thursday in March and the seeds include a #1 (Duke), two #2's (Florida and San Diego State), a pair of #3's (BYU and Connecticut), a #4 (Wisconsin) and a #5 (Arizona).

Would you not say that "form held" then for the most part when it came to both the Southeast and West regions?

No doubt the shocker is that #1 seed Pittsburgh's not around for this second weekend of "Big Dance" action- or is that really a shocker considering Pitt's rather wobbly tourney history?

The first four games in this Sweet 16 round feature four head coaches that own national championship hardware including Duke boss-man Mike Krzyzewski (four titles), Florida's Billy Donovan (two crowns), Connecticut's Jim Calhoun (also two titles) and San Diego State's Steve Fisher (the 1989 championship at Michigan) and so half of this Thursday night coaching field is no stranger to cutting down the nets on the final evening of the season.

We'll get to our Thursday Sweet 16 game previews in just a moment but first this key reminder:

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 -- so don't miss out on all the fun-and-profits as "March Madness" rolls on and remember that the 2011 Major-League Baseball Season is right around the corner -- Opening Day/Night is Thursday, March 31st with Six (6) games on the schedule including the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers. Make sure you keep rolling in the dough with Hoops and -soon enough -Baseball as Jim Hurley keeps banging out the profits!

NCAA TOURNAMENT POINTSPREAD BREAKDOWN CHART
Our NCAA Tournament Conference Pointspread Breakdown Chart here now reveals only the surviving leagues/conferences at Sweet 16 times. Then it's onto the regional semifinal Game Previews below (with regional seeds and overall records included in the mix … enjoy!):

Conference

WON

LOST

PUSH

PCT.

Horizon

2

0

0

1.000

Big 10

8

3

1

.727

Colonial

4

2

0

.667

Mountain West

3

2

0

.600

SEC

4

3

0

.571

ACC

4

4

0

.500

Atlantic-10

2

2

1

.500

Big East

8

10

0

.444

Pac-10

3

4

0

.429

Big 12

2

6

0

.250

Note that Betting Favorites sported a 6-2 ATS (against the spread) log in last year's Sweet 16 action with Kentucky and Duke nabbing pointspread "W's" in this round of play as chalk-eaters while Butler is back in the mix one year after snaring a 63-59 upset win against 6-point fav Syracuse in Sweet 16 action last March.

Once again: NCAA Tournament Betting Favorites enter this round 22-25-2 with 3 pick 'em games so far and here's the date-by-date betting breakdown:

DATE

FAVS

FAV WIN PCT.

3-15

1-0-1

1.000

3-16

1-1-0

.500

3-17

7-7-1 (1 PK)

.500

3-18

4-10-0 (2 PK)

.286

3-19

7-1-0

.875

3-20

2-6-0

.250

TOTAL

22-25-2 (3 PK)

.468

NCAA TOURNAMENT- SOUTHEAST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Louisiana Superdome- New Orleans, LA

#3 BYU (32-4) vs. #2 FLORIDA (28-7) - 7:25 p.m. ET
The "Jimmer Show" is coming to the Crescent City- but how much longer will college basketball's Player of the Year frontrunner be sticking around in this year's NCAA Tourney?

BYU guard Jimmer Fredette- who drained 7-of-12 trifectas en route to a 34-point performance in last Saturday's 89-67 demolition of Gonzaga- knows he will be facing a quick team here but one that could be slightly hobbled as Florida G Kenny Boynton (sprained ankle) has been limited in practice this week and surely won't be 100 percent here.

Does that mean the aforementioned Donovan will opt for more zone or gimmick defense looks here in defending Fredette?

Well, don't be surprised if Donovan- a better-than-given-credit-for defensive mind- decides to rotate players on Fredette and that could well include 6-foot-10 SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons stepping out and trying to get a hand in Fredette's face whenever possible.

On the flip side, is there someone on Florida's side that can provide perimeter points should Boynton play sparingly here or if tiny G Erving Walker (21 points in steely 73-65 win against UCLA last Saturday afternoon) is kept in check?

Gut feeling is that the Gators- who connected on 27-of-54 field-goal tries against UCLA for a neat 50 percent clip- will have to utilize their team quickness to make more trips to the foul line plus Florida has to play solid three-point defense (note the Bruins nailed just 3-of-13 triples last weekend while BYU netted 14-of-28 treys in all including Fredette's seven makes).

Current Las Vegas Line: Florida (- 3) over BYU

    
#8 BUTLER (25-9) vs. #4 WISCONSIN (25-8) - approximately 9:55 p.m. ET
Now that everyone has fully dissected the final 2.2 seconds of Butler's wild/wacky 71-70 win against Pittsburgh last Saturday night, it's finally time to "turn the page" and that brings us to an important point:

Are the Butler Bulldogs themselves over that momentous tilt?

Brad Stevens' club managed to swipe that "W" despite the fact the Horizon League champs were out-rebounded 31-to-21 and no doubt here underdog Butler must get its share of Matt Howard-like put-back baskets against one of the country's worst rebounding teams (the Badgers were ranked 300th nationally in this category at last check).

If Butler G Shelvin Mack- a 30-point scorer versus Pittsburgh- gets to dribble-drive his way to the hoop here than Wisconsin's in a heap of trouble though something tells us G Jordan Taylor (2-of-16 FG shooting in Wisconsin's 70-65 win/cover against 3-point pup Kansas State) isn't about to play another stinker game here inside the dome.

Taylor was the lightning rod player for Wisky in that dramatic regular-season comeback win against Ohio State and he can light it up at a moment's notice from downtown. P.S., Wisconsin drained nine triples last weekend versus K-State and likely needs 6-foot-9 smoothie Jon Leuer (19 points and 7 rebs against Kansas State) to step out and hit some long balls here while drawing Howard and mates away from the hoop.

One final key: Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan won't be shy turning to his bench for an instant pick-me-up and keep an eye peeled here on underrated reserve F Mike Bruesewitz who contributed 11 points, 6 boards and some stellar "D" in that third-round win against Kansas State.

Current Las Vegas Line: Wisconsin (- 4.5) over Butler

NCAA TOURNAMENT- WEST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Honda Center- Anaheim, CA
    
#3 CONNECTICUT (28-9) vs. #2 SAN DIEGO STATE (34-2)- 7:15 p.m. ET
You remember what the late/great Al McGuire used to say regarding the NCAA Tournament:  If you want to win it all than you'll more-than-likely have to snag a real "white knuckler" along the way.

Well, San Diego State won its "white knuckler" with last Saturday's epic 71-64 win against 5 ½-point pup Temple and Aztecs head coach Steve Fisher even claimed his club experienced "a bit of good fortune" there but now we're left wondering if that win against the Owls will be what everyone's looking back on when a national champion is crowned on the night of April 4th.

No doubt the Aztecs- who shot just 43.1 percent from the field against Temple (that's 28-of-65 FGs)- did do plenty of things right in that twin-OT win including the blocking of six Owl shots (including four by F Malcolm Thomas) and don't forget SDSU collected 11 offensive rebounds and that's key here 'cause F Kawhi Leonard and mates are gonna miss their fair share of shots but Thomas (four offensive boards against Temple) and F Billy White (13 rebs including five offensive boards) must be true "garbage men" here while UConn must get rebounding help from its active guards starring do-it-all Husky mega-star Kemba Walker who's fresh off a 33-point, 6-rebound, 5-assist game in last weekend's 69-58 win/cover versus 4-point dog Cincinnati.

Walker- who attempted 20 FG tries in that double-digit win against the UC Bearcats- must chuck up a minimum of 20 shots here too but if Jim Calhoun's crew is gonna slip into the Elite 8 round than the on-again, off-again Connecticut bench must stuff the stat sheet columns and so F Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (10 points and 3 boards in 19 minutes against Cincy) must be a major factor here against the rather depth-shy Aztecs.

Current Las Vegas Line: Connecticut (- 1) over San Diego State

    
#5 ARIZONA (29-7) vs. #1 DUKE (32-4)- approximately 9:45 p.m. ET
The Atlantic Coast Conference has won eight national championship in men's basketball since 1988 and now the ACC sports the most teams left in this year's field with three (Duke, North Carolina and Florida State)- but we want to know whether or not this year's Blue Devils have the right stuff to win a fifth title since 1990 (see '91, '92, 2001 and 2010)?

The chemistry has not always felt right this season and now here's savvy head coach Mike Krzyzewski doing his best to indoctrinate freshman G Kyrie Irving into the mix as this tourney proceeds forward. Note that Irving played 21 minutes in Duke's hang-on-for-dear-life 73-71 non-cover win against 12 ½-point pup Michigan last Sunday in Charlotte- he finished with 11 points (9-of-10 FTs) with 2 assists and 2 turnovers and get ready for his minutes to expand immediately here should fellow frosh G Seth Curry (0-for-3 FGs against Michigan) continue to suffer from stage fright.

Meanwhile, the Dookies simply are not making enough triples these days as the 5-of-20 showing against the maize-and-blue was completely sub-par stuff plus there's this recent theme of missing some FTs in the body of games that helps allow opponents to hang around longer than they should.

The strategy here against Arizona is to have guards Nolan Smith (24 points versus Michigan) and the aforementioned Irving penetrate into the lane and look to draw fouls on the likes of Wildcats F Derrick Williams and F Solomon Hill- both of whom drew three fouls in last Sunday's controversial 70-69 win against 5 ½-point favorite Texas- as both of these front-court stars can be prone to foul woes.

If 'Zona wants to spring the big-time upset here, than Williams and Hill (a combined 33 points against Texas) must stick any/all open looks here plus off-the-bench G Jordin Mayes (16 points in 19 minutes versus the 'Horns) must shake-and-bake his way to the hoop a whole bunch of times.

Current Las Vegas Line: Duke (- 8.5) over Arizona

 

THE NCAA TOURNAMENT - HERE ARE FRIDAY'S SWEET 16 GAME PREVIEWS FROM NEWARK & SAN ANTONIO

By Jim Hurley:

This Friday night's Sweet 16 card features two head coaches who already have tucked away national championships - North Carolina's Roy Williams (2005 and '09) and Kansas boss-man Bill Self (2008) - but might this region really be settled by the three young head coaches who have made a major name for themselves this merry month of March?

VCU's Shaka Smart, Richmond's Chris Mooney and Marquette's Buzz Williams have combined to cut down the likes of Georgetown, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Xavier and Syracuse in this year's "Big Dance" - not bad, right? - and there might be bigger/better things ahead for this triumvirate.

Maybe you went into this NCAA Tournament thinking about the likes of Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough, Kansas State's Jacob Pullen and Washington's Isaiah Thomas (among others) but the names that continue to make hay instead include the likes of VCU's Joey Rodriguez, Richmond's Justin Harper and Kentucky's Josh Harrellson and all of 'em are in action on this final Friday in March ... now let's see who's the survivors/advancers!

We'll get to our Friday Sweet 16 game previews in just a moment but first this key reminder:

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 -- so don't miss out on all the fun-and-profits as "March Madness" rolls on and remember that the 2011 Major-League Baseball Season is right around the corner -- Opening Day/Night is Thursday, March 31st with Six (6) games on the schedule including the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers. Make sure you keep rolling in the dough with Hoops and -soon enough -Baseball as Jim Hurley keeps banging out the profits!

NCAA TOURNAMENT - EAST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Prudential Center - Newark, NJ
    
#11 MARQUETTE (22-14) vs. #2 NORTH CAROLINA (28-7) - 7:15 p.m. ET
This is fact, not fiction: The 2010-11 North Carolina Tar Heels are far from a polished team and more than just a little rough 'round the edges ... but where does it say that Roy Williams can't win his third national title at the school with this crew?

The Heels have more "length" than any team still alive in this tourney and evidence continues to mount that super-frosh Harrison Barnes (22 points in last Sunday's scary 86-83 non-cover versus 3 ½-point underdog Washington) is ready/willing/able to take (and hit) the big shot plus Barnes has proven he can create his own shot too and that's key here against a Marquette squad that can score plenty and can go to a half-dozen different players to get its points.

Note that the Golden Eagles - a once-upon-a-time bubble team for this year's tourney just a few weeks back - must rattle frosh North Carolina PG Kendall Marshall (14 assists and just 4 turnovers versus Washington) here or else the Heels will be getting more inside and open looks than they can count with F Tyler Zeller (team-high 23 points against the UW Huskies) especially adept at scoring with quick-release shots from the low box area.

How can Marquette keep up this tourney magic?

Well, Buzz Williams' club can't let a 12-2 or 14-5 type scoring spree by Carolina bother 'em as was the case last Sunday when Syracuse charged out of the gate quickly with a 19-9 lead - the Golden Birdies didn't blink and wound up forcing 18 Orange turnovers in all and than won on a clutch three-pointer by Darius Johnson-Odom who must get off an array of triple tries here if Marquette has serious upset designs in thee Garden State.

Current Las Vegas Line: North Carolina (- 4) over Marquette

    
#4 KENTUCKY (27-8) vs. #1 OHIO STATE (34-2) - approximately 9:45 p.m. ET
No doubt about it: Lots was made of the fact the O-State Buckeyes drilled 16 triples in last Sunday's runaway 98-66 win against 11 ½-point underdog George Mason but little fuss has been made of the fact the 'Eyes have surrendered a grand total of 112 points thus far in this "Big Dance" and now the Columbus kids must stifle a prolific Kentucky attack that's been rather stifled so far in this year's tourney (see 59 points versus Princeton and 71 points against West Virginia).

If Kentucky head coach John Calipari has his way here, than his Wildcats will be quick to move the ball around the perimeter and keep Ohio State from double-teaming star frosh G Brandon Knight (game-high 30 points in that 71-63 win/cover against 3½-point pup West Virginia). Knight - who propelled the SEC Tournament champs to that "second-round" win against Princeton with his running bank shot from the right side - has a tendency to go one-on-one too much while letting mates stand around and so one key here is how many assists will UK register as the 12 "dimes" on 24 made FGs against West Virginia simply was not enough.

Meanwhile, many of the tourney games so far have been decided or determined by put-back baskets and here's a something-to-watch bit here: Kentucky's veteran F Josh Harrellson (15 points with 8 rebounds - including 4 offensive caroms) must be a major "garbage collector" here and it won't hurt if he can draw a couple of fouls on Ohio State mega-star Jared Sullinger. If the 'Cats can score at least 10 points off offensive boards here, than Calipari's kids have a serious shot at landing this Sweet 16 upset.

P.S., if Kentucky doesn't find a way to slow down the three-point shooting of Jon Diebler and David Lighty, than it'll be lights out anyway!

Current Las Vegas Line: Ohio State (- 6) over Kentucky

 

NCAA TOURNAMENT - SOUTHWEST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Alamodome - San Antonio, TX
    
#12 RICHMOND (29-7) vs. #1 KANSAS (34-2) - 7:25 p.m. ET
There will be more than a few David vs. Goliath mentions here on this telecast but be sure of this: The heavy-duty dog Richmond Spiders won't be shaking in their high tops when they do take to the floor against the tournament's second-rated #1 seed. In fact, Richmond - 69-66 winners against 3-point favorite Vanderbilt in "second-round" play and than easy 65-48 winners against 5-point pup Morehead State - have toughened their hide this year with victories against the likes of Purdue, VCU and Duquesne and bound into this Round of 16 clash armed with the knowledge that they just beat a tourney team without a major contribution from G Kevin Anderson (see 4-of-11 FG shooting for 14 points against Morehead State).

Still, Anderson - averaging a hefty 16.7 ppg in this 2010-11 season - must gear it up here and F Justin Harper (19 points on 9-of-18 FG shooting versus Morehead State) must steer clear of foul woes and make the Morris twins - that's Marcus and Markieff - really have to work for their points here.

In many of the Kansas wins this season, the Morris Brothers were able to carve out space in the low box area and score at will - note they were a composite 16-of-26 from the floor for 41 points in last Sunday's 73-59 win/cover against 8-point underdog Illinois - and it says here that Richmond must keep this dynamic duo under 50 percent shooting and must now allow the Jayhawks to get heated up from behind the arc where rainbow-shooting G Brady Morningstar could be called on to get sizzling-hot after netting just one triple in last Sunday's win against the Illini.

Two coaching items here: Kansas boss-man Bill Self loves to open up the game into a 94-foot affair but Richmond head coach Chris Mooney will be counting on his team milking the 35-second shot clock as often as possible - a game in the 60s means the Spiders have a shot.

Current Las Vegas Line: Kansas (- 10.5) over Richmond

    
#11 VCU (26-11) vs. #10 FLORIDA STATE (23-10) - approximately 9:55 p.m. ET
Don't let anybody tell you differently: The VCU Rams have been the numero uno story of this year's NCAA Tournament thanks to wins against USC, Georgetown and Purdue - and Shaka Smart's guys say they ain't finished yet!

Point guard Joey Rodriguez (12 points, 11 assists and 0 turnovers in last Sunday's epic 94-76 triumph over the 9-point favorite Boilermakers) can deflate an opposing team with his quickness and his smarts and no doubt this is the key to this Sweet 16 battle - the FSU Seminoles have to unnerve Rodriguez and make him cough up the ball plus Virginia Commonwealth must not allow this game to get too physical 'cause the ACC guys are bigger/stronger/tougher.

In fact, in last Sunday's convincing 71-57 win against 5-point favorite Notre Dame, the 'Noles bottled up the finesse-like Irish while allowing just 7-of-30 three-point makes but did you see how all those wine-colored jerseys converged on ND players in the paint?

The stat sheet hardly did Leonard Hamilton's team any real justice as Florida State blocked nine shots and changed the trajectory of another handful-plus attempts and here you can expect more minutes for defensive stalwart Chris Singleton (10 minutes of game action against the Irish) who might get some up-close and personal time with VCU's Jamie Skeen.

Keep in mind that Florida State sports the stingiest defense in the land while holding opponents to a measly 31 percent accuracy rate but the killer about last Sunday's win against Notre Dame is that the Sems' three-point shooting was clicking (see 9-of-19) and G Michael Snaer (three triples against ND) could be one of those under-the-radar players that greatly influences this contest.

Can the magic continue for VCU - and won't this provide more anti-Jay Bilas and anti-Dick Vitale fodder - or is the magic carpet ride gonna finally come to an end against the best slam-shut defense in the country?

Current Las Vegas Line: Florida State (- 3.5) over VCU

NOTE: Lots more NCAA Tournament coverage in the next Jim Sez.

22
Nov

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