College Basketball Weekend Preview

THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL REPORT - TRACKING THE WEEKEND'S TOP TILTS FEATURING THE #5 MIAMI VERSUS #3 DUKE DUEL IN DURHAM

  • PLUS SUNDAY'S SHOWDOWN BETWEEN BIG 10 MONSTERS #9 MICHIGAN STATE AT #4 MICHIGAN ...
  • THE "HOT COACHES"SEGMENT IS HERE: WHAT THREE YOUNG SIDELINE GENERALS COULD REALLY STIR THE POT THIS MONTH OF MARCH IN THE COLLEGE B-BALL WORLD

By Jim Hurley:

No doubt you have heard all the jokes about being the numero uno team in the land when it comes College Basketball ... as in, no thanks, let someone else be #1 for now!

In case you've lost track, there have been seven different occasions this 2012-13 season where the team ranked No. 1 lost.

The latest being this past Tuesday night when Indiana flopped face-first 77-73 at 4-point underdog Minnesota (and surely you noticed the late Las Vegas line move in that particular Big 10 game as Indiana was a 6-point betting fav game day but had that price tag shaved down in the hours/minutes before that 7 p.m. ET tip-off) and so forgive all those wild fans that have been in storm-the-court mode after their teams have beaten visiting #1 squads!

Naturally, there is no jinx attached to being the No. 1 team in the land but the reality is hoop squads will be scrambling like heck in the next couple of weeks to secure a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament that officially tips off Tuesday, March 19th in Dayton - you've "saved the date"haven't you? - because the sheer math tells you that #1 seeds have the best shot at getting to the Final Four than any of the other seed lines.

P.S., the way we see it from here, there are about eight teams really/truly battling for the right to finish along that #1 seed line and - in no particular order - they would be: Indiana, Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan, Miami, Kansas, Florida and Michigan State.

Okay -- you ask - how come we left out #7 Georgetown?

We believe the Hoyas have to win the Big East regular-season crown and the conference tourney too in order to latch onto an NCAA Tournament #1 seed ... okay?

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers continue to bang out lots of winners these days and now we-ll get you all the College Basketball and NBA Winners every day when you check in with us either right here online or else at our exclusive 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 than anytime after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays. Sign up now for the remainder of the hoops season - get a great discount price today - and let America-s #1 Handicapper point you straight to the winner-s circle!

Editor-s Note: The College Basketball Conference Tournaments - or mini-tournies, as we like to call'em - are right around the corner and that means lots of weekday action. Keep up on the daily schedules and remember to call us after 11 a.m. ET on weekdays where there are afternoon tilts. The Horizon Conference will tip off the mini-tourney proceedings next Tuesday but please check for game times.

THE COLLEGE B-BALL SATURDAY/SUNDAY TOP GAMES

On Saturday, it's ...
#10 LOUISVILLE (23-5, 11-4 Big East) at #12 SYRACUSE (22-6, 10-5 Big East) - 12 p.m. ET, CBS
The Big East's best game on this hot hoops weekend comes from the Carrier Dome where the host Orange has won six-of-seven conference games this year - but the last time Jim Boeheim's crew played here it lost a gut-wrenching 57-46 decision to aforementioned Georgetown and that set off a little two-game losing skid.

Hey, don't look now but Syracuse is just 4-5 SU (straight-up) in its last nine games overall and maybe that re-instatement of super-sub James Southerland isn't working out quite as good as originally planned, eh?

If Syracuse is gonna gain the clean sweep over Louisville this 2012-13 regular season (see 'Cuse 70, Louisville 68 back on January 19th) than Southerland must light it up from deep and lefty swingman C.J. Fair (20 points in Monday's tough-to-stomach 74-71 loss at Marquette) must get his points in transition but do keep in mind the "Cuse nailed seven trifectas in that first go-around with oft-forgotten G Brandon Triche netting five triples en route to his team-best 23 points.

The 'Ville is considered - by many in-the-know folks - to still be the best all-around team in the Big East and so this showcase game is ultra-important for G Russ Smith who poured in a game-high 25 points in that first game against Syracuse and PG Peyton Siva must give Rick Pitino's team some points here too after going a dismal 1-of-9 from the floor in that first game versus the Orange.
 
#20 BUTLER (22-6, 9-4 A-10) at VCU (22-6, 10-3 A-10) - 12 p.m. ET, espn2
It'll be quite interesting to see how many teams from the Atlantic-10 - a conference that boasts 16 teams in all - makes it to the "Big Dance"less than three weeks from now but first-place Saint Louis, Butler and VCU would appear to be lead-pipe cinches while LaSalle and Temple remain in the hunt.

Right here the battle is for seeding in the upcoming Atlantic-10 Tournament that will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the visiting Butler Bulldogs would love to get the arrow pointed up after going a mediocre 6-4 SU in their last 10 games and that includes losses to Saint Louis (twice), Charlotte and LaSalle.

Note the last time Brad Stevens' club played was last Friday night's home loss to Saint Louis when the Butler boys missed 11-of-26 free-throw tries and finished with just 11 assists. If guard Roosevelt Jones can't energize the Bulldogs here, than Stevens and Company will have lots to worry about as Virginia Commonwealth sports the A-10's best offense (77.4 ppg) and the one-two punch of G Treveon Graham (15.6 ppg) and F Juvonte Reddic (14.4 ppg) usually find ways to get to the hole.

Might we see one or both of these mid-major squads making a deep run through March?

If so, it might be the team that answers to the nickname Rams and not the other guys that played in back-to-back NCAA Championship Games in 2009 and 2010.

#5 MIAMI (23-4, 14-1 ACC) at #3 DUKE (24-4, 11-4 ACC) - 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Okay, Duke, you want your revenge ... go get it! Plenty has been made of the fact the Dookies were shellacked in South Beach 90-63 back on January 23rd when Mike Kryzewski's squad missed 19-of-23 triples and shot a sorry 29.7 overall from the floor (that would be 22-of-74) - maybe the Blue Devils didn't particularly care for the post-game celebration by the Hurricanes or their jubilant fans but now here's time to do something about it - and wouldn't you know that Duke's also coming off a stinging loss last night in Virginia when the Wahoos handed 'em a 73-68 defeat (not an upset, gang!).

Miami had major "mojo"going in that first matchup with Duke: Jim Larranaga's crew shot a wicked 33-of-58 from the floor and G Durand Scott poured in 25 points but now look for Duke's sticky man-to-man defense to get into the grill of active PG Shane Larkin (18 points, 10 rebs and 5 assists in that first Duke game) and make him face end-to-end pressure even if it means Coach K keeping his guards fresh for defense-first duty.

Two X-factors to watch for here in this key ACC clash: Miami will do its best to get Duke big man Mason Plumlee into foul trouble and so reserve C Reggie Johnson - a real-life wide-body - is a key figure here as he could gobble up minutes and room in the lane while the other X factor involves Miami's better-than-you-think defense that yields just 59.1 ppg (that's third-best among ACC teams) and Larranaga knows keeping Duke's triple tries to an absolute minimum is key.

If the Blue Devils attempt less than 20 three-balls here, than it's already a victory of sorts for the U of M 'Canes.
 
#11 ARIZONA (23-5, 11-5 Pac-12) at UCLA (21-7, 11-4 Pac-12) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
It does seem strange to check out the Pac-12 standings and see both Oregon and UCLA ahead of nationally-ranked Arizona right now but that's the deal as Sean Miller's squad has managed a mere split in its last half-dozen games and don't forget the U of A Wildcats already lost their home game against the Uclans this season (an 87-73 UCLA win on January 24th).

You might recall in that game the Bruins darted out to a 21-5 lead and rode the 23-point night of freshman star Shabazz Muhammad to the winner's circle but one big key in that Pac-12 tilt was Arizona's reserves shot a collected 4-of-17 from the field and thus didn't give Miller's crew a great opportunity at the comeback.

Two things to watch here:

Arizona must force some UCLA mistakes here as Bruins point guard Larry Drew II sported 9 assists and just two turnovers the first time these clubs clashed and, secondly, the whole 'Zona defensive mindset must be better here as USC just smashed the 'Cats 89-78 this past Wednesday night while the Men of Troy sunk 33-of-54 field-goal tries (a sizzling 61.1 percent from the floor).

Afterwards, Miller credited USC for great ball movement but clearly he was not happy with Arizona's team defense - let's see if the 'Cats can hold UCLA below 80 points here.

On Sunday, it's ...
#9 MICHIGAN STATE (22-6, 11-4 Big 10) at #4 MICHIGAN (23-5, 10-5 Big 10) - 12 p.m. ET, CBS
It's one thing for the upper-crust teams inside the mighty Big 10 to "beat each other up"as has been the case history in recent weeks: But when Penn State bonked 12 ½-point road fav Michigan 84-78 this past Wednesday night you could say it sent some shock waves up-and-down the Michigan campus.

After all, John Beilein's squad - which enters this matinee tilt having lost four of its last seven games overall - somehow lost to Penn State while shooting 30-of-58 from the floor (that's 51.7 percent) and despite winning the all-important board battle 37-to-27 ... so what's wrong right now with the maize-and-blue who've already been beaten once this year by archrival Michigan State (see M-State 75-52 back on February 12th)?

Michigan's intensity level has dropped - even in last Sunday's 71-58 win/cover against Illinois the Wolverines played only 10-to-12 minutes of really sound basketball - and so we shall see what the team's "mood' is here against a Spartans squad that ranks third in the 12-team Big 10 with 59.9 points per game allowed but needs veteran PG Keith Appling to get his game in gear.

Okay, so Appling's stats include a decent 13.4 ppg average but he's not been a big factor in close-and-late situations and here must cut off Trey Burke's path to the hoop ... or else.


COLLEGE BASKETBALL NEWS & NOTES:
CHECKING OUT THESE "HOT COACHES"

It's an annual rite of early spring: You check out the smaller or mid-major teams that have a shot to make some noise in the hoops-crazy merry month of March and you focus on the head coaches making it happen:

RICK BYRD, BELMONT - The Bruins have lost all five of their NCAA Tournament games while dating back to the 2006 season (two opening-round losses to Georgetown including last year) but if this Ohio Valley Conference club (23-6, 13-2) gets the "right matchup"in this year's tourney than maybe Byrd can stuff off his stuff and become one of those "hot coaches". Byrd sports an athletic club at Belmont and getting into a race-horse game will serve 'em well - and just a single NCAA Tournament win could catapult Byrd into a prime position in a major league. Did anyone say Georgia might be eyeballing a new ball coach?

MICHAEL WHITE, LOUISIANA TECH - Talk about generating a real buzz back in a once-proud hoops program! The second-year head coach of the L-Tech Bulldogs has really lit the fuse on a big season in Ruston where the Techsters remain perfect in Western Athletic Conference play (26-3 overall and 16-0 inside the WAC) and there's rumblings that White could be exit stage left soon after this 2012-13 season ends and we'll say this: If Tech wins a game or two in the NCAAs, he could be writing his own ticket somewhere in the SEC (again, Georgia could have an opening or perhaps Auburn will be a landing spot for White).

BRYCE DREW, VALPARAISO - Okay, so no question once you hear the word "Valpo"you think of this one-time star player and his all-American family that's been such a big part of the school's hoops history but might this be the perfect time for the class of 1998 grad to grab the big bucks at a power conference school or perhaps move up a peg or two and get a better mid-major position? Drew could be one of these "hot coaches"in March - his Valparaiso team exited Tuesday's 73-64 win against Youngstown State with a snazzy 23-7 overall mark (and with a 12-3 first-place mark inside the Horizon League) but we could see a move to one of the Missouri Valley Conference's potentially vacant positions at Wichita State or Indiana State should those coaches move on or maybe he'll be in the mix at Iowa State should Fred Hoiberg get tempted by some NBA offer as was hinted at the other night by ESPN's Brent Musberger.

 

THE JIM SEZ WEEKEND HOOPS UPDATE - NCAA & NBA NEWS/NOTES

Okay, so we're now two full weeks away from Selection Sunday when this year's 68-team NCAA Tournament field will be filled and we can already see the controversies looming in the distance:

  • What happens if Gonzaga does not receive a #1 seed?
  • What power conference teams get snubbed from getting an at-large bid... and will a one-and-done deal in their respective mini-tournaments cost 'em a slot in the "Big Dance"?
  • And which teams will get shipped out of their region - and won't wind up liking it at all?

Okay, let's take 'em one-by-one:

If Gonzaga -- 28-2 upon entering Saturday's home game against lowly Portland (11-19) -- wins its upcoming West Coast Conference Tournament - and beating #2 mini-tourney seed Saint Mary's figures to be the Zags' only real tough test along the way - there is simply no way Mark Few's crew will be denied a #1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament but short of a WCC crown the Bulldogs will have to settle for a spot along the No. 2 seed line.

It's as simple as that and Few and Company know it better than anyone else out there - so there will be no real controversy here but let's weave in our third point above about teams getting shipped out of their respective regions and you can bet the 'Zags won't be happy if they get moved from the West and our initial gut feeling is Gonzaga will play two rounds of NCAA Tournament action in Salt Lake City and then remember the West Regionals will be played at Staples Center in Los Angeles. They'll stay put in the West.

Okay, point #2:

There's a very good possibility that more than a handful of power conference teams won't get extended an invite to this year's NCAA Tournament and amongst the list that rolls off our tongue at this very moment are the following: Maryland, Villanova, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Baylor, Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas.

Again - gut feeling time here:

No matter how these final days of regular-season play goes these clubs better go into mini-tourney play knowing they each need more than one win to secure a potential at-large bid and there might be a couple of these teams than will need to do even better than that and so it's truly put-up or shut-up time for this handful-plus power conference squads - some of which already are lobbying hard for their part in this year's tourney.

And to answer a question from above: Yes, any of them in one-and-done mode in their respective conference tournament will be cooked!

Finally, back to that "shipping out" query that we posed up above:

You heard where we stand with Gonzaga but there will be some high-profile teams that must get sent out of their area and we believe the most likely candidates to do so right now are Miami and Florida. The reason we believe Miami will be sent out West is - to some degree - to "balance out" the regions as the Pac-12 isn't real strong these days and so shipping a top 10 team out to Gonzaga's neighborhood makes perfect sense.

The reason Florida will get shipped out of the South?

First off, the lack of overall strength this year by the Southeastern Conference drops the Gators' overall power rating and so even if Billy Donovan's gang wins the SEC Tournament in Nashville he shouldn't exactly be expecting a "gift" from the NCAA Tourney folks.

Odds are the Gators will be sent to SEC-friendly Lexington for first/second-round NCAA Tournament games but something tells us even with a mini-tourney crown this Florida team will wind up playing in the Midwest Regional (those games will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis) and we'd say there's a good chance Florida would have to beat one and maybe two Big 10 powerhouse teams just to make it to another Final Four.

THE NBA WEEKEND REPORT

The NBA's Sunday menu is chock full of top-notch tilts including the defending champion Miami Heat at the New York Knicks (1 p.m. ET on ABC) along with Oklahoma City at the Los Angeles Clippers (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC) but might all eyes be riveted to the Los Angeles Lakers (29-30) until further notice?

The Lakers exited Thursday's 116-94 runaway win against 10-point underdog Minnesota just two games back of the eighth and final playoff berth in the West and - in case you hadn't noticed - that's four wins in the five games following the All-Star Game break (and Kobe Bryant's playoff guarantee).

Maybe it will be the spirit of late owner Dr. Jerry Buss that moves the Lakers back into the playoff race - they get a shot at climbing back to .500 with a Sunday night game at home against the Atlanta Hawks - and you have to wonder if Bryant's determination to be "more selfish" in the scoring department simply was what this club was missing all along.

In the five games since the break, Bryant has scored 16 points in a win against Boston, 40 points in a triumph over Portland, 38 points in a scintillating road win in Dallas, 29 points in a loss at Denver and than 33 points against the Timberwolves but even TNT's Craig Sager couldn't entice Bryant into any "MVP talk" afterwards as the Lakers' hit-man insisted all it is in LA is about winning championships.

Take a moment and look at what's ahead for the Lakers in the coming days:

Following the Hawks game on Sunday, the Lakers will play 10 of their next 14 games on the road and that includes pit stops in Okie City (this Tuesday) and Indiana (March 15th) but many of these other road affairs are eminently "winnable" and so don't be totally surprised if LAL returns to SoCal as much as a half-dozen games above the .500 mark as of the end of this month. Could happen - and wouldn't a San Antonio Spurs vs. Lakers first-round playoff matchup be a real gas than?

NOTE: We continue to gear up for March Madness with lots more College Basketball News/Notes/Previews all next week right here at Jim Sez.

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