First Look at the Final Four - NIT Previews

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THE NCAA TOURNAMENT REPORT - IT'S THE VERY FIRST LOOK AT THE FINAL FOUR AS WE GET UP-CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH WICHITA STATE, LOUISVILLE, MICHIGAN & SYRACUSE ...

  • PLUS THE NIT SEMIFINALS TAKE SHAPE AND WE HAVE TUESDAY NIGHT'S QUICK-HITTER GAME PREVIEWS FROM NYC ...

  • HEY, WE DIDN'T FORGET IT'S TIME TO "PLAY BALL" AS IT'S OUR FEARLESS FORECASTS FOR THE 2013 BASEBALL SEASON

By Jim Hurley:

When the NCAA Tournament finally settled on its Final Four teams as to just whom was heading to Atlanta this weekend, it came up with a #1, a #9 and a pair of #4 seeds to fill out the field ... right, not quite what you (or any of the basketball experts out there) thought just two short weeks ago.

Okay, so mighty Louisville - the major domo betting favorite to win it all - is still standing and now playing for its injured/fallen teammate Kevin Ware and there are three teams with major positive "mojo" that believe this can be their year too but who among Wichita State, Syracuse and Michigan can swipe two games in Hot-lanta and pull off the upset?

We know you'll be stayin' tuned!

The matchups are set for this Saturday - it's Louisville vs. Wichita State (6:07 p.m. ET) followed by Michigan vs. Syracuse (8:49 p.m. or thereabouts) - and there's lots to say about all the Final Four teams and so here's to the past weekend winners and their respective regional seeds ...

MIDWEST

#1 LOUISVILLE (33-5) - If anyone wanted to accurately sum up what this U of L Cardinals team is all about than all they needed to do was watch that 20-4 scoring spree that Rick Pitino's club ran up on Duke in Sunday's 85-63 rout in the Midwest Regional Final.

Not only did the 'Ville connect on 9-of-11 field-goal tries during a seven-plus minute time span but it held mighty Duke to 0-for-10 shooting from the floor and that was game, set, match as that Easter Sunday tilt never did get real close the rest of the way.

The Cards were playing with heavy hearts after watching the aforementioned Ware snap his leg while trying to defend a three-point shot and so you'll be hearing plenty about Louisville's crusade to "Win One for Kevin" all this week/weekend long but even without the added emotional fuel this Big East bunch has been super-special lately and G Russ Smith (game-high 23 points versus Duke) has proven to be the best single player in this man's tournament.

Check it out: Louisville has held its four NCAA Tournament foes to 48, 56, 69 and 63 points (or 59 ppg) and that kind of "D" is gonna win you lots of championships - and hats off to the Cards for holding Duke to 4-of-16 shooting from beyond the three-point arc on Sunday.

WEST

#9 WICHITA STATE (30-8) - It's hard to believe that the Shockers even lost eight games this year when you consider Gregg Marshall's club seemingly hits every crunch-time shot it takes (see Tekele Cotton's gotta-have-it triple with 2:20 left to help doom 4 ½-point fav Ohio State 70-66 in last Saturday's West Regional Final) and when you see the stepped-up defense this Missouri Valley Conference squad plays against some of the country's top guns. In the aforementioned win against the Buckeyes, there was Wichita State getting in the grill of PG Aaron Craft who managed to drain a measly 2-of-12 FG tries and how about holding Ohio State to 31.1 percent shooting overall? Wild!

There are a slew of key storylines on this Wichita State team but the best of 'em could well be lefty PG Malcolm Armstead (14 points and 7 rebounds to along with that classic defense against the 'Eyes) who - as we suggested in our Jim Sez Preview the other day - was the best point guard on the floor last weekend but can he win the mano-a-mano deal with Louisville's Peyton Siva come Saturday evening?

Throw in veteran F Carl Hall who blocks shots, defends and hits that medium-range jumper on a consistent basis and this Valley gang is ultra-dangerous and especially in the underdog role.
 
SOUTH

#4 MICHIGAN (30-7) - Go ahead and raise your hand if you thought the maize-and-blue would be in this position down double-digit points to Kansas with just a couple of minutes left to play in last Friday's Sweet 16 tilt.

The Wolverines were a dead-in-the-water item until PG Trey Burke started bombing up out-of-the-zip-code triples and that momentum from the win over the Jayhawks truly carried over into Sunday's electric 79-59 win against 3 ½-point fav Florida. Again, we shall take a bow here 'cause we strongly suggested in that last Jim Sez column that Michigan G Nik Stauskas needed to perk up his shooting game after a sluggish start to this NCAA Tournament and the Canadian kid banged home all six of his three-point shots en route to a 22-point performance plus Burke was super-duper again (despite a 5-of-16 FG game) with 15 points, 8 rebs and 7 assists.

John Beilein's crew may have gotten over the hump with the grand Sweet 16 comeback win against Kansas but smashing Florida to bits - note the Gators shot just 41.1 percent from the field and never did get untracked with F Erik Murphy missing all 11 FG tries - will keep the lone Big 10 survivors grinning the next couple of days but you better start watching video to see how one attacks the Syracuse zone defense ... don't you think?

EAST

#4 SYRACUSE (30-9) - Let's just say that the Orange has been firmly in charge of their games this tourney while beating the quartet of teams named Montana, Cal, Indiana and Marquette by a combined 78 points ... but should Jim Boeheim's club be cocky while heading into its first Final Four since that championship team back in 2003?

The fact of the matter is the 'Cuse has "toyed" with all these NCAA Tournament opponents at various times in these games as they've been unable to solve the puzzle that is the Orange 2-3 zone and so don't blame Michigan for getting sweaty palms while thinking about scoring here as the Orange held Marquette to 39 points and 12-of-53 FG shooting (that's 22.6 percent) in the East Regional Final last Saturday.

The air-tight defense is one thing but the Orange has to be psyched that frosh PG Michael Carter-Williams (12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and only 2 turnovers against Marquette) is getting better with time and about the only thing that sour-puss coach Boeheim can worry about is his team's free-throw shooting ... but than what else is new?

Two keys for this Big East bunch while heading into the Final Four this weekend:

The Orange needs someone to make a big "three" should James Southerland not have his touch from deep - he connected on just 3-of-9 trifectas against Marquette and had a bevy of wide-open shots - and someone off this 'Cuse bench is gonna have to make some plays against Michigan and maybe that's G Trevor Cooney who's been a tad nervous in this tourney so far.
 

NCAA TOURNAMENT POINTSPREAD BREAKDOWN CHART
As per our usual Jim Sez custom, below we run all the College Basketball Conferences/Leagues that have a minimum of two ATS (against the spread) verdicts during this NCAA Tournament. Here's the lowdown while heading into Saturday's Final Four:

CONF/LG

WON

LOST

PUSH

PCT

Atlantic Sun

3

0

0

1.000

Colonial Athletic

2

0

0

1.000

Missouri Valley

5

1

0

.833

Pac-12

8

2

0

.800

Atlantic-10

8

4

0

.667

Big East

9

8

0

.529

Big 10

10

9

0

.526

Conference USA

1

1

0

.500

Ivy League

1

1

0

.500

Sun Belt

1

1

0

.500

ACC

4

6

0

.400

Big 12

3

5

0

.375

SEC

3

5

0

.375

Mountain West

2

5

0

.286

West Coast

1

3

0

.250

MEAC

0

2

0

.000

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have roared through this 2013 College Basketball post-season with NCAA Tournament, NIT, CBI and CIT winners and there's more to come in all of these post-season tournies plenty there's plenty of NBA and Major-League Baseball Winners on tap too when you sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winning selections. Note that the check-in times are anytime after 1 p.m. ET for all the NBA and College Basketball weeknight action and after 12 noon ET for all the weekday Baseball. We'll have Final Four Side & Totals Winners this Saturday after 10 a.m. ET and get all weekend winners after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday/Sundays.

FINAL FOUR POINTSPREAD STANDINGS
Here's a look at how the NCAA Tournament's Final Four teams stack up spreadwise in this year's "Big Dance":

TEAM WIN LOSS PUSH PCT
Michigan 4 0 0 1.000
Wichita State 4 0 0 1.000
Louisville 3 1 0 .750
Syracuse 3 1 0 .750

Pointspread Note - Last year's Final Four quartet of Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas entered the ultimate hoops weekend with a composite 12-4 ATS (against the spread) mark and everyone considered them true "heavyweights" but how about the fact that this year's Final Four teams are a combined 14-2 versus the vig in this year's "Big Dance" ... a stunning .875 winning rate and that includes a whopping 7-and-oh spread mark when these teams have been taking tourney points.


NIT SEMIFINAL GAME PREVIEWS

The NIT semifinals come to Madison Square Garden in New York City on Tuesday night and here's our quick-hitter previews:

BYU (21-11) vs. BAYLOR (18-14) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
This figures to be a real run-up-the-floor affair in New York City as this BYU bunch starring Tyler Haws (21.6 ppg) and Brandon Davis (17.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg) isn't afraid to play at 78 rpm and ditto for the Baylor Bears who will ask speedy PG Pierre Jackson (19.7 ppg and 6.9 apg) to "step on it" and so the first team to 80 probably wins/cashes in here. 

Keep in mind that Baylor didn't have to go on the road in the first three rounds of NIT play - home wins against Long Beach State, Arizona State and Providence -- while BYU had to beat host Southern Miss to get here.

MARYLAND (22-12) vs. IOWA (24-12) -- approximately 9:30 p.m. ET
Both of these power conference clubs turned up on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament "bubble" but at least the Maryland Terrapins - who have beaten Niagara, Denver and host Alabama in NIT games to get here - have taken flight of late but can seven-footer C Alex Len (11.8 ppg and 7.8 rpg) be a big factor here should this get to be an real up-tempo affair?

Keep in mind Maryland G Dez Wells is averaging 17.1 ppg in his team's 16 non-home games this year ... just sayin'!

On the flip side, Iowa's road to get to MSG has included a 16-point win against Indiana State, a 12-point win against Stony Brook and a 75-64 triumph last Wednesday at Virginia and so the Hawkeyes have played their best ball of the year lately and keep an eye peeled on smoothie swingman Roy Devyn Marble who is averaging a team-high 15.1 ppg but doing so many "little things" for Fran McCaffery's born-again club.

Note that Baylor and Iowa have been installed (as of press time) as 3-point betting favorites in these NIT semifinal showdowns.
 

THE 2013 BASEBALL PREDICTIONS

Okay, so we'll have lots of time to digest all the Major-League Baseball happenings soon enough - and don't get any kooky ideas following Houston's season-opening 8-2 win against Texas in the MLB opener on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball as the Astros at a gazillion-to-one ain't winning it all this season! Now, here's our fearless predictions for 2013 beginning with the playoff teams  ...

NATIONAL LEAGUE
East - Atlanta; Central - Cincinnati; West - San Francisco. The Wild Cards - Washington and St. Louis.

Manager of the Year - Dusty Baker, Cincinnati
Cy Young - Matt Cain, San Francisco
MVP - Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati

AMERICAN LEAGUE
East - Tampa Bay; Central - Detroit; West - Los Angeles Angels. The Wild Cards - Kansas City and Chicago White Sox.

Manager of the Year - Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
Cy Young - Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
MVP - Prince Fielder, Detroit

The World Series Prediction - Cincinnati Reds over Detroit Tigers in 6 games

NOTE: Lots more NCAA Tournament Final Four coverage all week long right here at Jim Sez.

19
Nov

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