Sunday's Elite 8 Previews

NCAA GAME OF THE YEAR WINS!
Kentucky (-1) North Carolina 76-69 WON!
Total loses by one point...

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THE NCAA TOURNAMENT - IT'S THE LAST STOP ON THE ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR AS KENTUCKY-NORTH CAROLINA COLLIDE IN NEWARK AND VCU-KANSAS SQUARES OFF IN SAN ANTONIO

By Jim Hurley:

Oh, there's a Cinderella, all right, still left in this year's NCAA Tournament in the roaring-hot VCU Rams but make no mistake about it:

The three other teams vying for spots in next weekend's Final Four in Houston are real-life College Basketball bluebloods as Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas all can add to their already-rich hoop histories by winning one more game here on the final Sunday in March.

The "appetizer" here is that VCU versus Kansas head-knocker deep in the heart o'Texas - and the $64,000 question is can VCU win its fifth straight NCAA Tournament game after kayoing the likes of USC, Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State in earlier-round games?

On the flip side, Kansas now is not only beating up its opponents in games this "Big Dance" - see wins by 19, 14 and 20 points against the respective likes of Boston University, Illinois and Richmond - but the Jayhawks are beating up their foes before the game too (or didn't you catch that pre-game skirmish with the Richmond Spiders the other night?).

The final piece to the Final Four puzzle comes in the Garden State where Kentucky and North Carolina duke it out - and when did you ever think it but it's truly the case that both the 2011 Wildcats and Tar Heels have "overachieved" already this season and now one of 'em will be heading to the Space City next weekend for a shot at all the marbles.

Good stuff, really good stuff!

And now hear this ...

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!
    
Editor's Note: Jim kayoed the Las Vegas oddsmakers in Sweet 16 action with his lopsided outright win of Arizona (+ 9 ½) over Duke on Thursday night plus he also backed that up with a totals win on the game as the Wildcats' 93-77 triumph easily went "over" the 148 ½-point price tag. Then on Friday night Jim walloped the Las Vegas and off-shore folks with his upset call of Kentucky (+ 5 ½) over Ohio State 62-60 - and there's more winners where that came from, ladies and gents!

NCAA TOURNAMENT CONFERENCE POINTSPREAD BREAKDOWN CHART

Our NCAA Tournament Conference Pointspread Breakdown Chart here reveals only the leagues/conferences that made it to the Sweet 16 round. Note that all figures below are through the games of Friday, March 25:

CONF/LG. WON LOST TIED PCT.
Horizon 3 0 0 1.000
Colonial 5 2 0 .714
SEC 6 3 0 .667
Big 10 8 5 1 .615
Pac-10 4 4 0 .500
ACC 5 6 0 .454
Big East 9 11 0 .450
Mountain West 3 4 0 .429
Atlantic-10 2 3 1 .400
Big 12 3 6 0 .333

Note: NCAA Tournament Betting Favorites entered Saturday's Elite 8 games at 25-30-2 ATS (against the spread) with 3 pick 'em games and here's the date-by-date betting breakdown:

DATE

FAVS

FAV WIN %

3-15

1-0-1

1.000

3-16

1-1-0

.500

3-17

7-7-1 (1 pick 'em)

.500

3-18

4-10-0 (2 pick 'em)

.286

3-19

7-1-0

.875

3-20

2-6-0

.250

3-24

1-3-0

.250

3-25

2-2-0

.500

TOTAL

25-30-2 (3 pick 'em)

.454

                            

NCAA TOURNAMENT - SUNDAY'S ELITE 8 MATCHUPS

NCAA TOURNAMENT - SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FINAL
Alamodome - San Antonio, TX
    
#11 VCU (27-11) vs. #1 KANSAS (35-2) - 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS
Is this a case of history repeating itself? Both in 1991 and in 2001 there were instances where teams didn't have to beat any seeds higher than a #9 to advance to a Final Four (see North Carolina and Michigan State, respectively) and now here we are in that 10-year time frame once again with the Kansas Jayhawks in that same, exact position:

Okay, so maybe head coach Bill Self doesn't want to keep hearing the fact his Rock, Chalk, Jayhawks bunch has disposed of a #16 seed, a #9 seed and a #12 seed just to get into the Elite 8 but now here's another double-digit seed lying in wait and there's more than a few questions that must be posed here:

Is Kansas just now peaking?

After all, the hammer-and-tong 77-57 win in the Sweet 16 round against the 10 ½-point (and overmatched) Richmond Spiders was a puff-out-your-chest win as the Jayhawks did just about everything right while holding Richmond to 33.8 percent shooting (that's 22-of-65) and you noticed how the Atlantic-10 team never could get untracked from beyond the three-point arc (see 4-of-26).

The 'Hawks moved the ball well - see 20 assists on 30 made baskets - and a critical component in Friday night's win was the fact both G's Brady Morningstar and frosh Josh Selby combined for 7-of-12 makes from three-point land and here Kansas must dent the gritty/gutty Rams with some long bombs just to soften up the inside game starring Marcus and Markieff Morris (yes, just six FGs between 'em against Richmond).

The major question here is will Kansas be able to "step on it" and force Virginia Commonwealth to play in an all-out frenzied style for the better part of 40 minutes?

No doubt that classy head coach Shaka Smart of the Rams would like to "milk" the 35-second shot clock and limit overall possessions here though that may be easier said than done and no question VCU must be sharp from downtown one game after netting a nifty 12-of-26 triple tries but will fatigue finally be a factor? After all, the Rams are coming off that pulsating 72-71 overtime win against 4-point fav Florida State and three starters there - including high scorer G Bradford Burgess (26 points including 6-of-7 makes from trey-land) - all played 33-or-more minutes against a very physical FSU squad.

Is this path to the Final Four too easy for Kansas? We'll see.

Current Las Vegas Line: Kansas (- 11) over VCU

 

NCAA TOURNAMENT - EAST REGIONAL FINAL
Prudential Center - Newark, NJ
    
#4 KENTUCKY (28-8) vs. #2 NORTH CAROLINA (29-7) - 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Say this for the Kentucky Wildcats ... they sure have learned how to win the close ones! In a 2010-11 season that saw the 'Cats lose their first six games that were decided by 5 points or less, John Calipari's SEC champions now have won a pair of NCAA Tournament games on nearly last-second shots - thank you, Brandon Knight! - and the ability/confidence to win the close ones could be a major key here.

Naturally, Kentucky's aforementioned 62-60 victory against #1 overall tourney seed Ohio State proved to be your prototypical barnburner with 19 lead changes and with neither team sporting a lead larger than three points in the game's final 17 minutes but the hallmarks that often get overlooked on this Calipari club - fierce defense (the Buckeyes shot a woeful 19-of-58 from the floor -- that's 32.8 percent and that figure included just six made triples) and strong glass work (they out-boarded the 'Eyes just 31-30 but Josh Harrellson's 10 caroms to go along with 17 points was monstrous) - really saved the day in that Sweet 16 game.

No question it would help matters if the freshman Knight heated up earlier instead of waiting to play the last-second hero (he missed eight of his first nine FG tries against Ohio State) but if Kentucky does need something out of the ordinary here it's get off some easy shots - North Carolina held 4-point underdog Marquette to 6-of-30 FG shooting in the first half of Friday's walk-in-the-park 81-63 win - and these 'Cats must get 18-to-20 points on "gimme" hoops such as fast-break baskets or wide-open jumpers.

The Tar Heels, on the other hand, scored on plenty of layups and uncontested shots in that win against Marquette and a major key here is how lefty PG Kendall Marshall (7 assists versus the Golden Eagles) performs here with Kentucky getting up-close and personal with him once he passes the half-court line. If Marshall can sprint past Kentucky defenders here and allow big men Tyler Zeller (27 points versus Marquette) and mates some in-close hoops, than the 'Cats will exit stage left at the exact time they lost a year ago (remember the Elite 8 round loss to West Virginia?).

If there is an underlying theme here it's this: Kentucky cannot afford to withstand any of those patented 15-2 type runs for Carolina (okay, so Roy Williams' club actually went on a 19-zip first-half run the other night and that's really extreme!) because this Wildcats team simply doesn't have the overall firepower with the way they play to make up 10 or 12 or 15 points in a short period of time.

Current Las Vegas Line: Kentucky (- 1) over North Carolina

NOTE: Lots more NCAA Tournament coverage in the next Jim Sez including an early-bird look at next weekend's Final Four.

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