College Hoops Key Weekend Previews - NBA Report Cards

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IT MAY NOT YET BE "MARCH MADNESS" TIME BUT WE'RE KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON UNDEFEATED AND #1 SYRACUSE, THE #3 FLORIDA AT #14 KENTUCKY TILT ON SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY'S SHOWDOWN BETWEEN #4 WICHITA STATE AT EVANSVILLE

By Jim Hurley:

Here's a quickie question to come your way: Just how far can a buzzer-beating win really carry your team?

The Syracuse Orange - still the numero uno team in the land following Wednesday's thrilling 58-56 win at 1 ½-point favorite Pittsburgh - would like to know after freshman point guard Tyler Ennis drilled that 35-plus foot running jumper with no ticks left on the clock to keep the 'Cuse perfect at 24-and-oh.

Hey, we still want to know why Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon - never one to be confused with John Wooden, you know! - called a time out with Syracuse down to no timeouts in the bag and needing to go the length of the floor with just 4.4 seconds left in the game.

Dixon's brain cramp saved the Orange who set up the winning play as Jim Boeheim's crew managed to get Ennis the ball cleanly off the inbounds pass and the kid did the rest while hurling up the winning shot despite getting double-teamed at/around half court.

Let's just say we believe this buzzer-beating loss will stick with the Pitt kids for quite some time (next up is Saturday's date at now well-rested North Carolina) while it could even further fuel the Orange's attempt to be the nation's first unbeaten team since the 195-76 Indiana Hoosiers.

Okay, we know there's a long way to go for that sort of chit-chat but when you win on a wing-and-a-prayer in a game you trailed by nine points in the second half (and by a 54-48 margin with less than two minutes left) then you do begin to think there's some "divine intervention" at work.

We'll get to Syracuse's next game plus more NCAA Basketball Previews in just a moment but first this key reminder as we swing into an all-hoops weekend

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will keep on piling up the profits all this week/month with lots of NBA and NCAA Basketball winners right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - so go ahead and win with all the hardwood action today!

Now, here's what is on the weekend menu. On Saturday, it's ...

N.C. STATE (16-8, 6-5 ACC) at #1 SYRACUSE (24-0, 11-0 ACC) - 3 p.m. ET
Now that Mr. Ennis has been the toast of the town for the past two-plus days, think he'll be ready to rock-n-roll here against an N.C. State squad that ranks 12th in the ACC in team defense (allowing 69.5 points per game?

No doubt that Ennis - who finished that road win in Pittsburgh with 13 points and 5 assists while playing some really heady ball - would love to set up his teammates for more three-point chucks here as note the 'Cuse attempted just 14 of 'em (making 6 in all) in the Wednesday win and G Trevor Cooney was responsible for half of those triples.

Look for Cooney to try and bury some three-balls behind long/tall screens here while the Wolfpack game plan is to get T.J. Warren heated up after he registered a wicked 34-point game in last Tuesday's 82-67 home win/cover against 6-point dog Wake Forest.

The Orange has led a charmed life thus far in this 2013-14 hoops season - take note that four of Syracuse's last seven wins have come by six points or less - and hard to see Warren getting lots of open jumpers here against this famed zone defense.

Might Syracuse finally have a "breathing room" game on this winter weekend? Stay tuned to the happenings in the dome.

#3 FLORIDA (22-2, 11-0 SEC) at #14 KENTUCKY (19-5, 9-2 SEC) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
The glamor game for Dicky V. and the rest of the ESPN announcing crew comes from always-raucous Rupp Arena where the Kentucky Wildcats have yet to lose this year but the flip side is this: The mighty Florida Gators - who play defense like it's nobody's damn business - zips into town riding a fancy 16-game winning streak and did you know Billy Donovan's Gators held Tennessee to just 24 second-half points this past Tuesday night after the Volunteers had shot nearly 63 percent in the opening half of play in that comfy 67-58 win?

If Florida's sticky man-to-man, pressing/trapping defense is gonna get "mission accomplished" here than PG Scottie Wilbekin must be at the center of the storm against a Kentucky team that averages 78.8 points a game (second-best in the SEC) and likes to move the ball quickly on the break with brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison the keys here - but will freshman big man Julius Randle (12 points and 12 rebounds in Kentucky's 64-56 win/cover at 7 ½-point dog Auburn this past Wednesday night) get off enough shots when this game starts to be played at a frenetic pace?

On Sunday, it's ...
#4 WICHITA STATE (26-0, 13-0 MVC) at EVANSVILLE (11-15, 4-9 MVC) - 5 p.m. ET
Gee, wonder who's gonna stay unbeaten longer ... the aforementioned Syracuse Orange or these Wichita State Shockers who exited Tuesday's 78-67 non-cover home win against 15 ½-point dog Southern Illinois.

The Shockers - or maybe you still like to call 'em the Wheatshockers - were extra-sloppy in that win but were rescued by Ron Baker's 19 points and Cleanthony Early's 18-point performance but one key here is Evansville has a stat-sheet stuffer on its side that could make this one scary as D.J. Balentine (averaging 23.2 ppg) comes off a 38-point showing in Wednesday's 104-98 overtime win against 1-point road fav Illinois State.

Will a Balentine blast - or two - knock Wichita State out of the ranks of the unbeaten here?

IT'S TIME FOR THE NBA MID-TERM REPORT CARD GRADES -- AND WE PROMISE TO BE HARD MARKERS!

The NBA's 2013-14 season is surely all about transition: After all, following 30 years - exactly - on the job, David Stern has said bye-bye as the Commish and Adam Silver is running the show these days while the face of the game is changing too with Oklahoma City mega-star Kevin Durant the "top dog" these days over that Mount Rushmore guy named LeBron James.

Deal with it, King!

Okay, so James still has a stranglehold on the championship trophy having won the past two years with the Miami Heat but might we be crowning a new champ come June? Hmmm.

First things first and that means - of course - our annual Jim Sez NBA Mid-Term Report Card Grades and we'll get to them in a moment but first a key reminder ...

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will keep on piling up the profits all this week/month with lots of NBA and NCAA Basketball winners right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - so go ahead and win with all the hardwood action today!

NBA MID-TERM REPORT CARD GRADES

GRADE: A+

OKLAHOMA CITY (43-12) - The NBA's model franchise for the first half of this current campaign digs down deep to win games (you have to keep reminding yourself that All-Star PG Russell Westbrook has been gone since late December) as the aforementioned Durant (31.2 points per game) has the MVP locked up unless something terribly drastic happens but kudos to those key role guys like G Reggie Jackson and kid Jeremy Lamb who rescued Scott Brooks' club plenty on that recent West Coast swing.

PHOENIX (30-21) - Maybe all that preseason talk of the Suns having a "flawed roster" has been forgotten as head coach Jeff Hornacek has melded these young parts together and stat-sheet stuffer G Goran Dragic (20.3 ppg and 6.2 apg) should be getting some MVP votes after the usual suspects. The Suns were supposed to be battling for a lottery pick but instead could be a playoff trouble-maker come May.


GRADE: A

INDIANA (40-12) - The truth of the matter is the Pacers have shown a tiny bit of slippage the past few weeks (just 6-4 in their last 10 games) but nobody's brings the lunch-pail attitude to their jobs like Frank Vogel's crew starring Paul George and big man Roy Hibbert - will Danny Granger be a better "fit" as we move on?

LA CLIPPERS (37-18) - Good for the TNT/NBA Network folks the other night to come right out and say the Clippers have been a better team without oft-injured PG Chris Paul but gotta believe Doc Rivers knows getting Paul back in the mix and soon is key for post-season success. Are you aware F Blake Griffin is averaging 24 ppg (and he sits out lots of fourth quarters in home blowouts)?

PORTLAND (36-17) - The Blazers would have shown us something if they could have beaten Okie City off that long road trip but short of that pitfall this club has been brilliant with last year's Rookie of the Year PG Damon Lillard (20.7 ppg and 5.7 apg) the real stud of this squad and the bench has been great more often than not.
 
CHARLOTTE (23-30) - Goes to show you that an NBA team doesn't have to be playing .600-or-better ball to get an "A" here as Bobcats have been a major feel-good story with big man Al Jefferson a steady 20-and-10 guy while G Kemba Walker (18 ppg) has All-Star credentials too.


GRADE: B+


SAN ANTONIO (38-15) - Not often that a team playing .717 ball gets something less than an "A" but gotta say the Spurs have been only average lately (see 5-5 mark in last 10 games) and recent lineup disruptions have caused for Gregg Popovich's crew to play sub-standard ball. Did you know just lost half of its six games lately to Eastern Conference squads and none of them were named Indiana nor Miami?

WASHINGTON (25-27) - Don't know why these young-and-frisky Wizards don't play better in their own backyard (see 13-13) but there's lots to like about this cub and PG John Wall (19.8 ppg and 8.5 apg) is just starting to show the pro hoops world that he should be ranked among the league's 10-best players.

TORONTO (28-24) - Hats off to the Raptors who continue to get major efforts from DeMar DeRozan (22 ppg) and underrated PG Kyle Lowry (7 assists a game) but this is clearly a case of the sum being better than the parts and who would have believed this North of the Border club would be the third-best team in the East at this unofficial midway stage?


GRADE: B


HOUSTON (36-17) - The addition of Dwight Howard (18.8 ppg and 12.5 rpg) sometimes has caused Kevin McHale's club problems ... like when the Rockets need him to hit late-game free throws. The seven-game winning streak heading into the break might be enough to bolster this grade to a "B+" but we'll stick with what we've got here.

CHICAGO (27-25) - From the what-else-is-new department, PG Derrick Rose goes down for the year and the gritty Bulls just keep on punching the time clock with ferocious defense (we think Tom Thibodeau is Coach of the Year material every year!) and F/C Joakim Noah just keeps going double-double on everyone in his path.

MIAMI (37-14) - Call it business as usual in South Beach as James is right there getting his 26 points, 7 boards and 6-or-so assists per game and the always-balky knees of Dwyane Wade already has caused him to miss 15 games but this club is pacing itself (no pun intended) for a long run in May/June and so don't blame head coach Erik Spoelstra for allowing his guys nights off to breath.

DALLAS (32-22) - The Mavs closed the unofficial first half on 7-3 SU (straight-up) run and good to see Dirk Nowitzki has a real-live running mate in G Monta Ellis as this dynamite duo is averaging 41 points a game. Yes, the Mavs have feasted off the East (15-7) ... but so what!

GOLDEN STATE (31-22) - The buzzer-beating loss to James and the Heat was a rotten way to head into the All-Star Game break but truth is G-State hasn't put nearly enough teams away at home (the Warriors are just 16-10 in their own yard) and when three-ball shooters Stephen Curry (24.6 ppg) and Klay Thompson (18.3 ppg) are not "making it rain" than Mark Jackson's club stumbles/bumbles along to the finish line.


GRADE: C+


ATLANTA (25-25) - Sorry, we're not of the camp that these Hawks have "overachieved" despite the season-ending injury to F Al Horford as check the facts and you'll see Atlanta enters the break on a five-game losing streak.

MEMPHIS (29-23) - Gotta admit we didn't know what to expect in the post-Lionel Hollins Era but the Grizzlies are just 2-11 in divisional play and Marc Gasol (he's missed 23 games) has proven to be too valuable to lose.


GRADE: C


NEW ORLEANS (23-29) - Everyone's missed some game action for the Hornets but second-year stud Anthony Davis (a true 20-and-10 man) can be counted on to deliver and good for him that he's part of the All-Star Game in the Crescent City this weekend.

DETROIT (22-30) - So, GM Joe Dumars fired yet another head coach (surprise!) and maybe he's right that his club has more talent than a ninth-place team with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe both studs up front but we'd like to see more consistent play from G Brandon Jennings. One hot streak and the Pistons will make the playoffs!

BROOKLYN (24-27) - At least the Nets showed some life after that rotten November/December that nearly got first-year head coach Jason Kidd fired but there's too many night when a few of the veterans on this "name" team simply don't show up and starting to think that Kevin Garnett is finished.

PHILADELPHIA (15-39) - The "T" word as in "tanking" has reared its ugly head again in the City of Brotherly Love and note the Sixers enter the break on a league-worst eight-game losing skid.

UTAH (19-33) - If you watched the Jazz this year then you know Ty Corbin's club gets awfully careless with the ball and the effort level isn't always there ... shame, shame.

BOSTON (19-35) - Rebuilding was the buzz word in Beantown this year and give credit to rookie head coach Brad Stevens for absorbing so many body blows but this team can't score (95 ppg for 12th place in the East) and PG Rajon Rondo is not showing much interest in sticking around.


GRADE: D


LA LAKERS (18-35) - Make no mistake about it: This has been a grade-A disaster in Hollywood with Kobe Bryant having played just six games and Pau Gasol answering trade questions every two minutes ... ugh!

DENVER (24-27) - The latest injury woe for the Nuggets is a fractured rib suffered by PG Ty Lawson who remains the team's heart-and-soul guy.

ORLANDO (16-38) - Not exactly a "who's who" list here although Arron Afflalo is averaging a better-than-you-think 19.4 points a game.

SACRAMENTO (18-35) - The overtime win in New York right before the break was a boon as Jimmer Fredette had a coming-out party (career-best 24 points) but why doesn't this club play harder/smarter for a full 48 minutes?

MILWAUKEE (9-43) - Go ahead and name three players on the Bucks and we'll give you a gift basket!

MINNESOTA (25-28) - The Timberwolves' shoddy defense (9th-best in the West) keeps costing this club games and you do have to wonder whether Kevin Love (25.8 ppg and 13.2 rpg) can stand up to the rigors of physical play in the post for 40-or-so minutes a night.

GRADE: F

NEW YORK (20-32) - We've heard some national TV voices "alibi" a bit for the Knicks while mentioning injuries to C Tyson Chandler and F Amar'e Stoudemire (10.1 ppg) but don't buy any of that bunk as the Knicks have lost 18-of-30 home games and fallen flat at crunch time in many close games - isn't that right, Carmelo Anthony?

CLEVELAND (20-33) - The rumors have floated around for the past few weeks that the Cavaliers are a highly dysfunctional team with lots of personal conflicts but put that aside and we wonder why PG Kyrie Irving doesn't make the guys around him any better.

NOTE: Catch our NCAA Basketball and NBA All-Star Weekend Wrap-up in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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