Thursday Hoop Previews and the 2014 QB Draft Class

OKAY, SO LET'S TRY THIS AGAIN - IT'S #5 DUKE AT NORTH CAROLINA TONIGHT IN RE-SCHEDULED HOOPS CLASH ALONG TOBACCO ROAD

PLUS WE'RE ALSO EYEBALLING THE BIG GAMES BETWEEN #13 MICHIGAN STATE AT PURDUE & #25 GONZAGA AT BYU ... IT'S TIME TO START EXAMING THIS YEAR'S NFL DRAFT AND WE TACKLE ALL THE QUARTERBACK TALK

By Jim Hurley

Hard-core college basketball fans just had to show a little patience when it came to Duke-North Carolina Part I this year.

The snow-out/inclement weather that kayoed the original February 12th game in Chapel Hill had everyone bummin' (even a dude named Dicky V. too!) but the fact of the matter is tonight's rescheduled game is bigger and better than what we all would have gotten a week ago ... and here's why:

Duke - now the #5 team in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll - has banged out two more wins since last Wednesday with that scary 69-67 non-cover win against 13 ½-point underdog Maryland last Saturday at a joint-was-jumpin' Cameron Indoor Stadium followed by this past Tuesday's rollicking 68-51 victory at 11-point pup Georgia Tech and so Mike Kryzewski's squad zooms into this prime-time tilt at 21-5 overall and riding a modest four-game winning streak since that Super Bowl weekend overtime loss in Syracuse.

Hey, we don't want to hear anything about Duke's four games-in-eight-days bit here - maybe some tired legs will show come Saturday's rematch against Syracuse but do not expect the Blue Devils to tire here with all this emotion runnin' through their bones.

On the flip side, there's 18-and-7 North Carolina extremely hot/hot/hot as the Tar Heels have won their last seven consecutive games and since the postponed original tilt against the Dookies you've seen Roy Williams' club crank out a 75-71 home win versus 3-point dog Pittsburgh followed by Monday's electrifying 81-75 triumph at 1 ½-point point dog Florida State - hope you noticed there that the "smart money" was all over UNC who opened as a 1 or 1 ½-point underdog and wound up being the 1 ½-point betting favorite.

So, the arrow is definitely pointing up these days for these long-time/bitter rivals and - gotta say - now we're kind of glad that Duke-Carolina Part I is this evening with a quickie reminder that they'll play again on March 8th at Duke ... so that means two games between these Atlantic Coast Conference "buddies" within a 16-day span and - who knows - maybe they'll hook up a third time come the ACC Tournament.

The long wait is over - let's hoop it up in the Dean Dome already!

#5 DUKE (21-5, 10-3 ACC) at NORTH CAROLINA (18-7, 8-4 ACC) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Toss out the fact - for a moment - that neither of these teams currently resides atop the bloated 15-team ACC as Syracuse is the head of the class right now with a glitzy 12-and-oh conference mark and surprising Virginia (13-1) is second-best but then comes Duke and then comes North Carolina and both are steamrolling towards March and getting better all the time too!

If Duke - the ACC's top scoring offense while averaging a haughty 81.2 points per game - has designs on getting "mission accomplished" here then following the recipe of Tuesday's aforementioned comfy double-digit win at Georgia Tech is essential:

Get freshman phenom Jabari Parker "involved" on both ends of the court as evidenced by his 16-point, 14-rebound outing, bang home a whole bunch of triples (see an amazing 10-of-18 three-ball shooting at G-Tech with F Rodney Hood swishing four trifectas in all) and create enough havoc on the defensive end where turnovers directly lead to made baskets.

Keep in mind the Dookies registered 16 points off 13 Tech turnovers the other night and so ball security is ultra-important for the Heels who sometimes can be a bit too loose with the pumpkin.

Meanwhile, North Carolina - fresh off celebrating Williams' 300th career win with this program - learned an important lesson in that above-mentioned win at Tallahassee as the Tar Heels rallied from down 15 points in the first half and somehow won a game in which star James Michael McAdoo didn't score a single point before fouling out.

Okay, so the Heels would like to avoid a "bagel job" from McAdoo here - remember he's averaging 14.7 points a game, second-best on the team to Marcus Paige's 17.2 ppg average - but the fact is Carolina is gaining momentum and confidence following that rather shaky 11-7 SU (straight-up) start and if freshman Kennedy Meeks (23 points at Florida State) can hit a hot streak here then Williams should net win #301 in this near pick 'em affair.
 
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!

In other key Thursday night action, it's ...
#13 MICHIGAN STATE (21-5, 10-3 Big 10) at PURDUE (15-10, 5-7 Big 10) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Is it us or has Michigan State's long-time head coach Tom Izzo appear more stressed-out on the sidelines than we've seen 'em in years? Okay, so this 2013-14 b-ball campaign has been ultra-challenging to the Spartans' boss man who has presided over an injury-filled, rhythm-less type season but - what do you know - here's Michigan State on top of the Big 10 even though Sparty has lost four of its last seven games.

Point guard Keith Appling played an ineffective 19 minutes off the bench in Sunday's hard-to-explain 60-51 home loss versus two-TD underdog Nebraska but look for him to start here as he continues to regain his legs after that wrist injury interrupted his season and center Adreian Payne - who has played just 19 games this season because of injuries - needs to step it up after producing a meager 11 points in 29 minutes against the Cornhuskers.

Purdue ventures into this nationally televised tilt fresh off its best win of the year as the 82-64 home beat-down against one-point dog Indiana last Saturday was scintillating stuff as Sterling Carter poured in 19 points including a fistful of triples - can he keep State reeling here?

#25 GONZAGA (23-4, 13-1 WCC) at BYU (18-10, 10-5 WCC) - 11 p.m. ET, ESPN
Note that this game was pushed back two hours from the original 9 p.m. ET tip so that ESPN could bring you Duke-North Carolina at that time - now let's see if either/both of these West Coast Conference front-runners will bring the juice for this important clash.

Hey, Gonzaga's an absolute lock for the upcoming NCAA Tournament but the Bulldogs' "signature wins" are few and far between this year with Mark Few's club having lost to the non-league likes of Memphis, Kansas State and Dayton and the fact of the matter is a win here isn't gonna elevate Gonzaga's seeding status but a loss would be deadly (we could even forecast a full line or two drop in the seeds should the 'Zags lose any more WCC games this season).

So, Sam Dower, Jr. - who registered 25 points and 15 rebounds in Gonzaga's 86-67 win/cover against 16 ½-point point underdog Loyola-Marymount last Saturday night - must be a stat-sheet stuffer again here while BYU counters with high-scoring G Tyler Haws who comes in here averaging a nifty 24.1 ppg but keep in mind that even a 23-point game by Haws was not enough the last time these clubs clashed back on Jan. 25th when 8 ½-point host Gonzaga snared an 84-69 win/cover behind the 24-point showing by G Kevin Pangos.

BYU has zero margin for error if it entertains NCAA Tourney hopes - and so let's just say the heat's on both sides here.

THE NFL DRAFT REPORT

Folks, we're gonna spend plenty of time/space in the Jim Sez columns these next few weeks with NFL Draft coverage and no place better to get things started than at the all-important Quarterback position:

The consensus out there is that there will be three quarterbacks snagged in the top five selections of May's NFL Draft (don't look for another signal-caller to be taken till late in Round II or even later) but the $64,000 question is who's gonna get drafted first and by whom?

It's no lead-pipe cinch that the Houston Texans - "on the clock" as we all like to say - will gobble up a quarterback even though we'd say there is an 80 percent chance that the AFC South will go in that direction.

Okay, so the NFL Combines are on the horizon and lots more may be uncovered there in Indianapolis but here's how we see things at this stage:

TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, LOUISVILLE - There has not been a mock draft that we've eyeballed in days that has this U of L Cardinals mega-star picked No. 1 but his overall arm strength, his ability to extend plays with his legs and overall strength and his "coach-ability" likely will make him the Texans' top choice unless they happen to not know where to go with a QB and instead opts for South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney (that's the other 20 percent we talked about). Gut feeling? Bridgewater - who is listed at 6-feet-2, 205 pounds - will become the "new face" of the Texans with brand-new head coach Bill O'Brien giving this pick his personal blessing.

BLAKE BORTLES, UCF - Most draftniks believe that this 6-foot-3, 230-pound star of the most recent Fiesta Bowl will be the numero uno slinger picked but we'll disagree and think some of his weaknesses will get exposed come the aforementioned NFL Combine. Bortles is a tough nut who can gain big-time yards with his legs but not sure he owns the rifle right arm needed to succeed in this league and, sorry, but we're not buying the comparisons out there with current Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck who's head-and-shoulders better than any quarterback in this draft. Gut feeling? Bortles won't slide out of the top five but probably drifts down to #4 and the Cleveland Browns.

JOHNNY MANZIEL, TEXAS A&M - No doubt the most exciting player the past two years in all of college football is also the most intriguing pick of this spring's NFL Draft. "Johnny Football" - who is somewhat generously listed at six-feet tall and 210 pounds (he's neither that tall nor that heavy) - has some NFL folks worried that he is too much a diva and his off-the-field antics/nightlife could be a major negative but hard to explain away his accuracy (especially when on the move) and his leadership but he does have a lot of Brett Favre in 'em meaning he throws some dangerous into-coverage passes and often while chucking it off the wrong foot. Gut feeling? We believe Manziel won't get his "dream job" of being picked right at the top of the draft by the home-state Texans but he'll inch ahead of the aforementioned Bortles and wind up in Jacksonville with the No. 3 overall draft pick.

However, let us toss this scenario out there and say the Jags - who really need to stock their shelves - could trade the pick and get a major haul of current/future draft picks with the likes of the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders in the mix.

Might we see the Raiders trade the draft's No. 5 overall pick to Jacksonville for the right to draft Manziel and then still the Jags get a high-profile quarterback here should either Bridgewater or Bortles be available? Hmmm.
 
DEREK CARR, FRESNO STATE - Most projections have this 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior as a second-round choice but count us among the folks who don't love the fact that he played inferior competition and was a no-show in his team's lopsided 45-20 loss to USC in the Las Vegas Bowl when Carr threw for just 217 yards. Gut feeling? Carr likely will come off the board sometime between picks No. 35-to-50 and our early-bird forecast is he could land up in Oakland or perhaps in Tennessee if the Titans have fears that Jake Locker will remain injury-prone in his pro career.

JIMMY GAROPPOLO, EASTERN ILLINOIS - Most draft boards have this 6-foot-2, 220-pounder ahead of Alabama's A.J. McCarron and he's genuinely listed as a late-second round pick who could drop to Round III. What you need to know is Garoppolo - who hails from the same school as Dallas Cowboys' QB Tony Romo - sees the field well and has plenty of experience in a pro-type offense. Could be a sleeper pick at this position. Gut feeling? We'll say he goes late Round II with New England keeping its eyes on this prize.

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