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     It’s safe to say that being the #1 team in the country hasn’t always been a safe spot in the polls this year in the world of College Basketball:

     The top-ranked teams have fallen at almost a seemingly weekly rate – last Saturday night it was #1 Michigan getting whacked on the noggin at Indiana – but the $64,000 question is who will be sitting there at #1 when all the dust settles after this year’s Final Four/Championship Game?

     There are more than a few in-the-know hoop folks who believe that – yes indeed – this is the year a so-called mid-major team such as Gonzaga or Butler or maybe Creighton will win it all with six consecutive victories in this year’s NCAA Tournament and no doubt there are arguments to be made for all three squads as we delve deeper into this here-and-now 2012-13 hoops season.

      In today’s Jim Sez, we’ll examine what’s possibly in store for these mid-major clubs and we’ll give you an early-February update on just where you’re likely to find them in terms of NCAA Tournament seedings next month … so let’s get right to it:


     #6 GONZAGA (21-2, 8-0 West Coast Conference) – As per usual, the ‘Zags have taken on any/all comers this season and that includes wins against the likes of West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State along with those loess versus Illinois and Butler.

     Meanwhile, the truth of the matter is if Butler doesn’t get its steal-and-hoop at the buzzer in that wild 64-63 triumph back on January 19th than Gonzaga might just be sitting there at #2 or #3 in this week’s Associated Press poll – and no doubt the loss at the Hinkle Fieldhouse is gonna damage the Gonzaga seed in next month’s NCAA Tourney as we see Mark Few’s club getting no higher than a #4 seed even if these Bulldogs “run the table” and win yet another WCC crown.

     Keep in mind this is one of the country’s most explosive offensive outfits – the Zags average 78.7 points per game to rank eighth nationally in scoring offense – and big man Kelly Olynyk (17.9 ppg and 7.0 rebounds-per-game) is one of the game’s true stars but whether or not Gonzaga wins its final eight regular-season games and than the WCC mini-tourney likely depends on how PG David Stockton performs at crunch time.

     Is there enough talent/firepower/reserve strength for Gonzaga to finally win it all?

     The answer is a resounding “yes” but count us among the folks who don’t believe Few is a prime-time game/bench coach and running through a batch of elite teams from the Sweet 16 through the NCAA Championship Game is probably a bit too much for these Zags to handle this year.

     The Likely Destination – A loss in an Elite 8 game.


     #14 BUTLER (18-4, 5-2 Atlantic-10) – Remember that old Rudy Tomjanovich mantra after his Houston Rockets copped back-to-back NBA championships in the mid-1990s:

     “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion!”

     Well, we tend to think about that when talk of the Butler Bulldogs arises.

     Consider that this program made it to back-to-back NCAA Championship Games in 2010 and 2011 (losses to Duke and Connecticut, respectively) when absolutely nobody gave ‘em a fighting chance and now here’s a nationally-ranked Butler bunch that does all the so-called little things well under brilliant head coach Brad Stevens (he’s one of the country’s three-best coaches and yet he still doesn’t always command that nation-wide respect – don’t ask why!) and has really taken on a rough/tough non-league schedule this year that includes aforementioned Gonzaga, North Carolina and Illinois.

     No doubt that the first-year A-10 team won’t be aided/abetted by playing in this league that rarely commands any real respect but we could see Butler – with 28-or-so wins – gobbling up a #5 NCAA Tourney seed or so and that might even be a touch higher should they beat mighty VCU on March 2nd in Richmond.

     Now that star shooting G Rotnei Clarke is back from his shoulder injury, Butler is – once again – an ultra-dangerous team at tourney time and we give Stevens’ squad the best shot of all the mid-majors to have designs on winning it all.

     The Likely Destination – Yes, we could see another Final Four in Butler’s immediate future but simply don’t think this team can beat all the hoop bullies along the way. Our crystal ball right now says Butler makes it to the Final Four but can’t climb into the championship game.


     #16 CREIGHTON (20-3, 9-2 Missouri Valley Conference) – Hey, what’s not to like about this year’s Bluejays who sport the best pro prospect of any of the mid-major teams as senior F Doug McDermott – the coach’s son – entered last night’s tilt at Indiana State averaging a haughty 24 points per game and did you realize he’s actually netting better than 56 percent of his field-goal attempts?

    Still, Creighton is far from a proverbial one-man gang as center Gregory Echenique is a polished performer who averages 10 points and 7 rebounds per outing and PG Grant Gibbs (5.8 assists per game) gives head coach Greg McDermott the type of floor leader who won’t crack late in close games and it helps matters this team takes everyone’s best shot inside “The Valley”.

     Put it this way: If Creighton can beat out Wichita State for the regular-season MVC title and than take the mini-tourney to boot, the ‘Jays should be somewhere on the #4 seed line come Selection Sunday.

    Still, the current sked is no bargain with conference road games after tonight at Northern Iowa, at Evansville and at Bradley and – of course – there’s that high-profile ESPN BracketBuster game at Saint Mary’s two-and-a-half weeks from now. Even the country’s seventh-best offense – averaging 79 points a game – can’t be considered a lock to win all of these tilts but here’s one mid-major that could ride the shoulders of a prolific scorer right through March Madness.

     The Likely Destination – Lots of pressure on Creighton this winter/spring and wouldn’t expect the Bluejays to navigate their way past the Sweet 16 round. 



     It’s never too early to look ahead in the National Football League and that’s what the folks at NFL Network were doing early Wednesday morning while discussing who will serve as the Baltimore Ravens’ season-opening opponent next year.

     As per usual, the team that is sitting there as defending Super Bowl champs host the Kickoff Game to start Week One – always on a Thursday save for last year when Dallas at the New York Giants was played on a rare Wednesday night because of President Barack Obama and the Democratic convention (remember?) – and keep in mind the Ravens’ non-conference foes this year will be the teams from the NFC North.

     Hey, we need a Green Bay Packers versus Ravens prime-time bash to jump-start the 2013 season – forget that talk of the twice-a-year rivalry game between Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore and save those meetings for November/December and get us the no-brainer game we offer up here.

    Meanwhile, the NFL Week 1 card always sports a major hoedown on the NBC Sunday Night Football game and for that clash we’d like to see the league give us an NFC West rivalry game – how about Seattle at San Fran to start the final season ever in Candlestick Park? – and than the Week One Monday Night Football twin-bill would be wise to get us the following:

     The 7 p.m. ET opener would be the New Orleans Saints at the New England Patriots followed at 10:15 p.m. by the Washington Redskins at the Denver Broncos.

     Don’t you think we’ve all seen enough of the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers in the season-opening MNF “late game” … right?

     Down the road we tackle the Thanksgiving Day tripleheader and this is the matchups we’d like to eyeball while chowing down on our turkey legs and stuffing:

     Keep in mind the Detroit Lions this year must host a fellow NFC opponent (they hosted the Houston Texans from the AFC last year on the holiday) and so let’s have the New York Giants play at Ford Field against the Lions;

     The Dallas Cowboys would than host the Denver Broncos at 4:15 p.m. ET;

     And the night game would be San Francisco at Washington at a rollicking nation’s capital. Not bad, right?

     They’re all on the schedule to play one another and at the sites listed above – some football to look forward to many moons from now.

     Extra, extra:

     Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you wall-to-wall College Basketball and NBA Winners each and every day when you check in with us either right here online at or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453.

    Note that the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for all the Monday-through-Friday weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays.


     NOTE: More College Basketball goodies comin’ your way this weekend right here in Jim Sez plus we’ll have some NBA News/Notes too!





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