What's Important In Friday's Tournaments

WATCHING OUT FOR WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT IN TODAY'S CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ACTION

By Jim Hurley:

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Gotta love this rim-rocking Friday when it comes to college hoops, eh?

Not only do we have - drum roll, please - an old-fashioned Syracuse vs. Georgetown matchup on tonight's Big East Tournament menu but NCAA Tournament "bubble teams" abound such as Tennessee, San Diego State and Southern Miss.

Hey, all of the above have strong cases to get into next week's NCAA Tournament, to be sure - but all three could fall short too and so their games have profound importance today/tonight.

The fact of the matter is this March 15th card - which includes 34 on-the-board games in all and features conference tourney semifinal round play in Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the aforementioned Big East, the Big 12, the Pac-12, the WAC, the Mountain West and the Big West - is a hoop junkie's dream but what really are the most important games/aspects of play here?

Glad you asked 'cause we're gonna devote today's Jim Sez column to a conference tourney-by-conference tourney look at Four (5) truly interesting leagues.

BIG 10 TOURNAMENT - at United Center; Chicago, IL
Here's something you may not have known about yesterday's first-round action: All four teams that lost - that's Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue and Northwestern - have something in common and that is none of the above will be going to this year's NCAA Tournament ... that's right, 20-win Minny!

Meanwhile, the matinee card today is a real hoot here in Chitown with Illinois vs. Indiana and Michigan vs. Wisconsin on the docket - there's two teams (the Hoosiers and Wolverines) who were once-upon-a-time the No. 1-ranked squads in the land and many folks believe both have legit shots to make it to the Final Four in Atlanta next month but what intrigues us is how will the heavy-duty underdog Illini play after snagging the buzzer-beating win against mistake-prone Minnesota on Thursday.

True, guard Brandon Paul (25 points and 5 rebounds against the Gophers) was the Windy City hero with that fall-back jumper to win it but will John Groce's 22-11 club now use that win as momentum here and pull the quarterfinal round surprise as 9 ½-point pups or will the last-second winner simply satisfy the Champaign kids that their NCAA Tourney ticket indeed is "punched"?

Gotta believe Indiana comes out of the noon-time ET (11 a.m. Central time) starting gate with a major attitude following all the recent criticism of high-strung head coach Tom Crean - now let's see if Illinois has the gusto to make this another Big 10 Tourney thriller.

Michigan State - the Big 10's No. 2 seed here - headlines the final game of the night this evening against an Iowa squad that all of a sudden is 21-11 as last night's 73-59 victory against 9-point dog Northwestern was yet another starry performance by Roy Devyn Marble (see 19 points and 6 rebounds).

Whatcha gonna do to slow him down, Mr. Izzo?

ATLANTIC-10 - at Barclays Center; Brooklyn, NY
Now that the men in stripes have been taken out back and flogged for their out-of-control foul/technical foul calls at the end of Charlotte's kooky 68-63 win against 5-point fav Richmond we can only hope the rest of this A-10 Tourney has a bit more law-and-order to it and let's concentrate here on the Butler Bulldogs who snagged a 73-67 battle against Dayton on Thursday afternoon and now gets underrated LaSalle next in a 2:30 p.m. ET tilt. You might have seen where Butler head coach Brad Stevens now has more wins in his first six years on the job than any NCAA basketball coach ever (he jumped past Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon yesterday) and Stevens was quick to point out afterwards that advancing in this mini-tourney won't be easy because the Explorers often play four point guards at a time.

Butler's biggest star in that Round I win was three-point shooter Rotnei Clarke who drained half of his dozen trifecta tries and Clarke finished with a game-high 21 points but remember that the fiery guard was a DNP with a strained neck in Butler's 54-53 loss at LaSalle back on January 23rd when Ramon Galloway raced the length of the floor and scored the winning basket with just 2.7 seconds.

If Butler gets revenge for that earlier-season loss here, it'll start to get that March "mojo" in gear once again and make the Bulldogs a troublesome "out" as a likely #7 or #8 seed in the NCAAs.

Plus, the first evening game on the A-10 Tourney card tonight should be a major blast with underdog St. Joe's taking on VCU - and can the Hawks have any miracles stashed away after stealing last night's 58-57 verdict against Xavier?

No doubt you've all seen the highlight of that poor Muskeeter kid missing the bunny off the backboard (the craziest in-bounds pass we've ever seen!) at the buzzer but did you happen to realize that Phil Martelli's reserves were outscored 21-to-8 and still managed to win a game in which the Hawks shot 40 percent from the floor?
 
BIG EAST TOURNAMENT - at Madison Square Garden; New York, NY
Now, didn't we strongly suggest last week in one of our Jim Sez columns that we hadn't seen the last of Syracuse vs. Georgetown?

The Orange - who set all kinds of records for offensive futility in last week's ugly 61-39 loss at Georgetown - almost blew a 13-point halftime lead in yesterday's hang-on-for-dear-life 62-59 triumph over Pittsburgh and most in-the-know folks believe that if the 'Cuse can win here and make it to tomorrow night's Big East Championship Game than it will seal up no worse than a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament while the significance for the Hoyas is this:

Simply put, win here (which would make it three in a row this season over Syracuse) and than cop the Big East crown tomorrow evening at MSG and John Thompson III's club would land a No. 1 seed in the "Big Dance" - and damn all the Andy Katz/Joe Lunardi talk that may not include Hoya Saxa as a #1 should they win in NYC!

Meanwhile, the other less-heralded half of this semifinal night is Notre Dame versus Louisville and somebody on the Cardinals must get in the grill of Irish sharp-shooter Pat Connaughton who scored 18 points last night on six more triples. P.S., it would behoove the Irish not to start off so slowly tonight - Mike Brey's club connected on just two of its first 17 field-goal attempts in the eventual 73-65 mild upset of 2 ½-point fav Marquette. Oh, yes, Marquette ended last night's quarterfinal round loss missing 14 of its last 17 FG tries.

Hey, so much for the double-bye again as two of those double-bye teams - that's Pittsburgh and Marquette - are now bye-bye from this mini-tourney in Manhattan.

You know the drill: If Louisville winds up winning this conference tourney and gets some help with either Indiana or Duke losing a game in their tournies - than Rick Pitino's guys will get a top NCAA Tourney seed but we can't say for absolute certainty that the 'Ville be a #1 otherwise.

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT - at Thomas & Mack Center; Las Vegas, NV
Hats off to the MWC folks who planned it out to have a day off between Wednesday's rollicking quarterfinal round tilts - all of which were won by the high seeds but not without some major agita - and tonight's stirring matchups that include San Diego State vs. New Mexico and than Colorado State vs. host team UNLV.

Simply put, save for the home court factor, these two tilts are your basic dead-even games - note how New Mexico is just a 1-point betting fav right now over the SDSU Aztecs while UNLV's a 4 ½-point choice over Colorado State (which means on a strict neutral floor the UNLV Runnin' Rebels would be a 1-point fav or it might even be pick 'em).

It's safe to say that UNLV (24-8) is in the NCAAs and ditto for rebounding-strong Colorado State (25-7) but the major intrigue here comes with the two teams facing one another in the MWC Tournament opener:

New Mexico (27-5) has a real-live shot of grabbing hold of a No. 4 seed in the NCAAs if Los Lobos can win their mini-tourney here and than have a few power conference folks bite the dust - off the top of our head we're thinking teams such as Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and/or Arizona.

Meanwhile, San Diego State either needs a "W" here or - worse case scenario - can't have a had loss here and note the Aztecs did earn a split with New Mexico this year including a 55-34 home win back on January 26th when UNM shot a putrid 11-of-44 from the floor.

NOTE: Lots more College Basketball Conference Tournament action in the next edition of Jim Sez and remember to get all our NCAA Tournament goodies beginning with our Sunday column!

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Aug

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