Weekend Hoops and Grading the New NFL Coaches

JIM HURLEY'S Juice Game of the Week was part of a 2-1 Saturday for the Cashline Basketball Club as Washington (-3½) took down Oregon St., 87-81.  Jacksonville St. (+8½) also got the cover against Murray St. in their 73-65 loss.

MEMO TO THE SPORTS WORLD AT LARGE: JUST SIT TIGHT AS SUPER BOWL XLVIII WILL BE HERE SOON ENOUGH AS THIS JIM SEZ COLUMN TRACKS THREE BIG WEEKEND COLLEGE HOOP GAMES …

PLUS THERE’S A LOOK AT THE NEW NFL COACHING HIRES AS WE HAND OUT GRADES TO THE NEWCOMERS

By Jim Hurley:

Maybe the Senior Bowl on Saturday and/or the NFL Pro Bowl on Sunday will satisfy your hunger for football this weekend as we all sit patiently and await Super Bowl XLVIII at what could be a snowy MetLife Stadium on the first Sunday in February … hey, bring your mittens!

As you’ve seen, the Las Vegas pointspread has pretty much stayed put this week at the Denver Broncos minus 2 ½ points over the Seattle Seahawks (it opened in most places at Broncos minus a point) and maybe you were lucky/smart enough to play the Broncos or the Seahawks at the better-than the 2-to-1 odds to win it all at the very start of these NFL Playoffs.

Also, take note that the totals price of 47 points is right around where it opened – at 47 ½ -- but once we all get the “seven-day forecast” on Monday we could see some major movement on that particular price front – in fact, you can bank on that happening!

In any event, we’ll have to skip competitive football for a weekend here as the aforementioned Senior Bowl and Pro Bowl can be fun viewing or absolutely pathetic depending on your personal point of view but keep in mind next week we’ll cover Super Bowl XLVIII from head-to-toe, A-to-Z in these Jim Sez columns and so you don’t want to miss out!

Meanwhile, we’ll get to some gridiron chatter shortly as we examine the recent NFL head coaching hires but first let’s dabble in the hoops world with a look at three big games on this weekend’s NCAA Basketball sked:

On Saturday, it’s …

#20 PITTSBURGH (17-2, 5-1 ACC) at MARYLAND (11-8, 3-3 ACC) – 6 p.m. ET, espn2
Okay, so maybe the current Associated Press Top 25 rankings don’t mean all that much to y’all at this stage of the season but count us among the folks with a quizzical look at our face as to why the Pitt Panthers aren’t ranked better than the 20th-best team in the land. Hmmm.

Jamie Dixon’s squad – which comes off a breezy 76-43 win against 11-point underdog Clemson last Tuesday night – nailed 8-of-15 triple tries in that tilt as leading scorer Lamar Patterson (averaging 17.4 ppg) banged home three treys in that game and overall the Panthers head into this Atlantic Coast Conference clash having won seven of its last eight games since mid-December with the lone loss occurring last Saturday in a rough-and-tumble 59-54 loss at 5-point favorite Syracuse.

Pittsburgh’s already beaten Maryland 79-59 back on Jan. 6th as the aforementioned Patterson netted 19 points but the real key in that game was Terrapins’ top scorers Dez Wells and Jake Layman combined to hit just 3-of-13 field goals for 13 total points … ugh!

BYU (13-8, 5-3 WCC) at GONZAGA (17-3, 7-1 WCC) – 10 p.m. ET, espn2
Speaking of rankings, neither of these two teams are inside the AP Top 25 these days – okay, so Gonzaga is #21 in the current Coaches Poll – but this is a dynamic late-night matchup and you wonder who has more juice in their tank:

The Zags are coming off Thursday’s hard-fought 59-56 non-cover win against 17 ½-point pup San Diego as Sam Dower Jr.’s 18 points powered the way for Mark Few’s club but consider Gonzaga needed an up-and-under layup by Kevin Pangos to salt away the win after a brief late-game dry spell.

On the other hand, BYU’s off a 114-110 triple-OT loss at 4 ½-point dog Portland in which Tyler Haws poured in 48 points but somehow the Cougars blew an eight-point lead in the second overtime session and thus snapped BYU’s five-game winning streak.

Expect an up-tempo game here even if both sides don’t “have their legs” as BYU has scored 83-or-more points in each of its last six outings while Gonzaga has registered 82-or-more points in two of its last five games.

On Sunday, it’s …

UTAH (14-5, 3-4 Pac-12) at #1 ARIZONA (19-0, 6-0 Pac-12) – 8 p.m. ET, Fox1
Did you know that the Arizona Wildcats have held onto the numero uno spot in the polls now for the past seven consecutive weeks? Heck, that’s a veritable lifetime in college basketball these days as remember the past couple of seasons when #1 teams often went down like flies right after getting voted to the top spot – but holding onto #1 has not been a problem for the defensively-sound U of A Wildcats who enter this night-time tilt ranked first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (56.7 ppg) and that happens to place Sean Miller’s crew fourth nationally in the scoring “D” category … so there!

In Thursday’s 69-57 workmanlike non-cover home win against 14 ½-point underdog Colorado, the ‘Cats held Colorado to just 20-of-52 shooting from the floor (that’s a 38.5 pct) while G Nick Johnson’s 18 points led three Arizona players with double-digit scoring totals. The problem on this night for the Wildcats was they couldn’t hit from deep – just 3-of-15 from beyond the three-point arc -- and the team’s wobbly 8-of-14 FT shooting was far below norm too.

If Arizona doesn’t get to the charity stripe more than 14 times in this game (or any game) than you have to wonder if they’re taking it hard to the hole enough.
Still, go back to just the start of the new calendar year and you’ll discover that Arizona has held its last six opponents to just 56.7 ppg while winning four of these six games by 12-or-more points – even when these ‘Cats have an “off” night it doesn’t seem to matter in terms of the all-important scoreboard.
Let’s see if Utah --  which averages a haughty 80.7 ppg (that’s third-best among Pac-12 teams and 24th-best in the country) -- can open things up here and make this is track meet with Utes F Jordan Loveridge (16.7 ppg) fresh off a 22-point game in a 79-75 loss-but-cover at 5-point fav Arizona State.

Jim Hurley will have the Sides & Totals Winners of Super Bowl XLVIII when you check with us on game-day morning plus go ahead and continue to pile up the profits all this week with loads of NBA and NCAA Basketball winners right here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 – go ahead and pound the books today!

NFL NEWS & NOTES – GRADING THE NEW COACHING HIRES

The NFL head coaching carousel never has an “off-season” and – so far – seven of the league’s 32 head coaches have been replaced in the past month (and we may not be finished either!) and so we’ll take a few minutes on this weekend-before-the-Super Bowl to hand out our grades:

CLEVELAND, Mike Pettine – The scuttlebutt ‘round the NFL is that nobody else wanted the job as apparently a handful of other candidates were offered the position but said “no thanks” and we have our doubts as to whether the one-year defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills is gonna cut it for this AFC North crew. Would have liked to see the Browns go with an offensive mind here and then land QB Johnny Manziel in the upcoming NFL Draft … just sayin’. Grade: C-

DETROIT, Jim Caldwell – Gotta admit that we were not a big fan of his during the Indianapolis Colts days but his work with reshaping the Baltimore Ravens into a pass-first team met with solid results and he’s a good fit to “shape” wild/erratic QB Matthew Stafford. Okay, so would not have been our first choice here but Caldwell’s a better-than-average hire overall and probably the second- or third-best hire for these seven NFL teams that were in the coaching market. Grade: B-

HOUSTON, Bill O’Brien – The first of the new coaching hires this winter gets straight “A’s” for his work at Penn State the past two years but like Caldwell would not have been our first choice here. O’Brien is a solid offensive mind but a spotty in-game coach and he may rub lots of Texans’ veterans the wrong way. Now, is there any doubt the Texans will draft a quarterback at #1 (probably Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater): Grade: C+

MINNESOTA, Mike Zimmer – Know what? We’re starting to believe that the “pool” of quality candidates to be NFL coaches wasn’t really great as long as the oft-mentioned likes of Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher were gonna stay in their respective broadcasting jobs and while Zimmer is a well-respected voice with years of defensive coordinator service, not sure he’s the right guy in Minny where an offensive-oriented guy would have worked better. Should Minny have pulled the trigger with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels here? Grade: C

TAMPA BAY, Lovie Smith – The $64,000 question is why did this long-time Chicago Bears head coach not get a job last year following a 10-win season in Chitown but now that’s in the rear-view mirror and the Bucs have an old hand (former TB defensive coordinator in the Tony Dungy days) who should calm down a wacked-out Bucs team left in tatters by Greg Schiano. Let’s just say we don’t want to hear any more moaning-and-groaning from Bucs CB Darrelle Revis! Grade: B-

TENNESSEE, Ken Whisenhunt – Our favorite off-season hire among NFL head coaches … no question! Whisenhunt was a good head coach with the Arizona Cardinals who took the Redbirds to SB 43 and he was a breath of fresh air as the one-and-done offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers. Maybe the single-biggest day of this winter was January 13 when Whisenhunt said no to Detroit and yes to the Titans. Grade: A-

WASHINGTON, Jay Gruden – The “hottest” offensive coordinator coming out of the 2013 NFL season was this Cincinnati Bengals’ play-caller who didn’t exactly have a good day when his team lost to San Diego in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game. Hey, it’s not that we don’t respect Gruden but would have liked the ‘Skins to have tried harder to land his big brother. Grade: B-

NOTE: More Super Bowl XLVIII coverage and NCAA/NBA Hoops comin’ your way all next week right here at Jim Sez … and make sure you catch our Super Bowl Preview late next week.

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