Saturday College Hoops Preview

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LADIES AND GENTS, IT’S TIME TO FINALLY SAY HELLO TO THE MERRY MONTH OF MARCH!

WE BRING YOU A SATURDAY SIX-PACK OF GREAT COLLEGE B-BALL GAMES ON THE 1ST OF THE MONTH THAT GETS THIS HOOPS-CRAZED TIME IN GEAR

By Jim Hurley

And you thought we’d never get here, right?

Well, the calendar page turns to say March here on Saturday but the “madness” has already begun with major free-for-alls for a batch of available at-large NCAA Tournament bids, and here’s how we see the big picture in terms of NCAA Tournament berths per major conference – feel free to disagree with us and remember there’s still a couple of weeks of basketball action before we get to Selection Sunday on March 16th but this is how we’re seeing it right now here at Jim Sez:

The American Athletic Conference will get five teams into the NCAA Tourney field – that’s Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, Memphis and Connecticut. No more, no less;

The Atlantic Coast Conference will get a minimum of six teams into the 68-team tourney field including Virginia, Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and at least one other from the pool of Clemson/N.C. State/Florida State, but don’t look for the ACC to get in more than seven teams in all;

The re-jiggered Big East Conference will likely get half of its 10-team membership into the so-called “Big Dance” with Creighton, Villanova and Xavier all locks now and Marquette on the “inside-looking-out”. It appears to be a fight to the finish for one spot among Georgetown, Providence and St. John’s;

The Big 10 will get half of its 12 teams into the field with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State “sure things”, but Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota will battle it out for the two remaining slots and we won’t slam the door shut on the possibility that the Big 10 delivers only five teams in all should these latter three squads stumble late;

The oft-discussed Big 12 (with just 10 teams, of course) will get six teams in – and no more. We know there’s been plenty of chatter about seven bids coming from this conference, but don’t bank on any league getting 70 percent of its teams into the tourney, and so Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State are in while West Virginia, Baylor and even Oklahoma State will battle it out for the sixth and final bid … you’ll see;

Folks, the Pac-12 will be a tricky league for the NCAA Tournament Committee folks ‘cause heading into last night’s action there were six teams with 9-and-6 or better league marks and they appear to be safe for an NCAA Tournament bid, but don’t ignore either Oregon or Utah should either/both turn it on late. The Pac-12 could get seven teams into the mix, but no more;

Hey, no major college conference has drawn more microscopic scrutiny from college hoops fans than the Southeastern Conference, which lists top-ranked Florida and Kentucky as mortal locks, and now Georgia’s solid 10-5 record in SEC play appears to make the Dawgs a safe bet to get in, but do not be surprised if the SEC lands only four teams in the field with a handful of clubs including LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas and even Missouri battling it out for just one spot. P.S., we will say that if any of these log-jammed teams somehow wins the SEC Tournament in Atlanta or at least gets to the championship game against Florida, then you’d have to include ‘em, but right now we’re saying four teams only from the SEC.

So, do the math and the seven major college conferences listed here will account for – give or take a spot – 39 bids in the 68-team field.

Now keep in mind there are 32 automatic bids in all going to the 31 mini-tourney champs plus – of course -- the Ivy League winner and so that leaves 36 at-large spots in all.

We’ve just chewed up some 32 spots in all (remember that the seven mini-tourney champs in the power conferences are included in the automatic bid count here) and so that leaves a mere four at-large openings for the mid-major guys – and that means March will be a time to sweat big-time for folks such as UMass, Southern Miss, BYU, Indiana State and Delaware/Towson should any of these teams get knocked off at some point in their mini tournies.

And now hear this …

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers keep rockin’-n-rollin’ through March with this College Basketball and NBA season as there are gonna be loads of winners right here online at www.jimhurley.com or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 – so go ahead and join the fun and profits today with all the hardwood action this month and remember the conference tournaments or so-called mini-tournies heat up next week with day-time action all throughout the month – we’ll keep you posted for all the important conference tourney news and notes!

Now, here’s a super Six-Pack of College Basketball game for Saturday, March 1:

#4 SYRACUSE (26-2, 13-2 ACC) at #12 VIRGINIA (24-5, 15-1 ACC) – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

Hey, won’t it be nice to finally hear the end of all this Jim Boeheim “tirade” talk and get on to a basketball game?

The post-Duke game chatter about Boeheim’s on-court antics should qualify as “old news” by now and so we’ll say farewell to that tired topic and get onto what qualifies as the real ACC Game of the Year considering these Virginia Cavaliers are sitting atop the conference standings and the proud owners of a current 12-game winning streak.

The unsung and still-underrated Wahoos “warmed up” for this tilt by battering 10 ½-point dog Miami 65-40 last Wednesday night as G London Perrantes hit all five of his field-goal tries and finished with 15 points and 4 assists, and now remember the efficient Perrantes has a 107-to-29 assists-to-turnovers ratio this year (that’s nearly a 4-to-1 rate) and let’s see if he can figure out this Syracuse zone defense here.

If the Orange has anything to fear here it’s the fact that Virginia – hardly an explosive offensive team – tends to go on major runs (see 16-5 out of the second-half starting gate against Miami) and so C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and mates can’t let this one slip away for a three- or four-minute period or it could be too much to overcome for a ‘Cuse club that’s now up against the country’s top-ranked defense that’s allowing just 54.7 points per game.

Are we headed for yet another Syracuse nail-biter finish? Hmmm.

LSU (17-10, 8-7 SEC) at #1 FLORIDA (26-2, 15-0 SEC) – 4 p.m. ET, CBS

Who said that one is the loneliest number?

The top-ranked Gators – proud owners of a sizzling 20-game winning streak – really had to wrestle hard for that latest “W” as Tuesday’s 57-54 non-cover win at 8-point underdog Vanderbilt upped Florida’s mark to 13-2 SU (straight-up) in single-digit game this year after Billy Donovan’s crew lost all six games decided by single figures a year ago.

If the Gators are gonna go “blackjack” on the visiting LSU Tigers here – you know, 21 in a row! – then they’ll have to shoot it better than 40 percent as the team’s 21-of-52 FG showing at Vandy was weak stuff and included a 13-of-38 FG shooting night from the five starters as reserve F Dorian Finney-Smith scored 19 points and chipped in 9 rebounds to boot.

Note that LSU has lost its last six consecutive SEC road games dating back to a Jan. 11th win at South Carolina.

MISSOURI STATE (19-10, 9-8 MVC) at #2 WICHITA STATE (30-0, 17-0 MVC) – 2 p.m. ET, ESPN

Thirty-and-oh!

Now that sounds like storybook stuff for a college basketball team – and it is as the Wichita State Shockers just became the first Division 1 team to reach 30-0 in regular-season play with Tuesday’s 69-49 victory at 12-point pup Bradley and among all the outstanding numbers that can be attached to this here-and-now Wichita State team, how about the fact the Shockers connected on 11-of-21 triples in that latest win as G Fred VanVleet nailed all three of his triples tries (not bad for a dude that connected on just nine of his previous 28 trifectas while heading into that 30th win).

This is the regular-season finale for Gregg Marshall’s Shockers, and did you know W-State has won all eight of its Missouri Valley Conference home games by twin-figure margins?

#5 KANSAS (22-6, 13-2 Big 12) at OKLAHOMA STATE (18-10, 6-9 Big 12) – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Now that the Kansas Jayhawks have wrapped up their tenth consecutive regular-season Big 12 crown, the stakes just get higher and higher as Bill Self’s crew is gunning for a numero uno seed come the NCAA Tournament, and they’d like to make a statement here against an Okie State crew that nearly won in Lawrence back on Jan. 18th when the 5-point pup Cowboys erased much of a 17-point lead before losing 80-78. The hero in that Big 12 tilt for the J-hawks was G Naadir Tharpe, who hit a key triple in the game’s final minute.

In case Marcus Smart and the O-State Cowboys wish to know how they can still sneak into the tourney, the answer is …

Win at least two of the three remaining regular-season games (home to Kansas State and at Iowa State after this) and then win at least two games in the Big 12 Tourney. ‘Nuff said!

#7 LOUISVILLE (24-4, 13-2 AAC) at #21 MEMPHIS (21-7, 10-5 AAC) – 2 p.m. ET

The Louisville Cardinals last weekend “paid back” the other American Athletic Conference club that beat ‘em this year with that scintillating 58-57 win at Cincinnati and now Rick Pitino’s club seeks to get “mission accomplished” against a Memphis team that copped a 73-67 win at the ‘Ville back on Jan. 9th as an 18-6 game-ending run for the Tigers did the trick.

Keep in mind the Redbirds shot just 39.1 percent from the floor in that first meeting (25-of-64 FGs) with G Russ Smith – the last-second hero last Saturday against Cincy – going just 6-of-15 from the floor for 19 points.

In Thursday night’s action, the ‘Ville copped an 88-66 win against 22-point dog Temple as the aforementioned Smith poured in 24 points as the Redbirds shot 53.3 percent from the floor – meanwhile Memphis didn’t enjoy its lead-in to this game with a 77-68 loss at 7-point dog Houston and how about the fact the Tigers netted just 3-of-13 three-point tries while committing 14 turnovers that led to 21 Coog points?

Louisville still is entertaining a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament – remember the Cards were the overall #1 seed last year and proceeded to win it all – and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Pitino’s guys run the table till Selection Sunday and maybe catch a few breaks en route to another top seed here.

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#10 SAINT LOUIS (25-3, 12-1 A-10) at VCU (21-7, 9-4 A-10) – 6 p.m. ET, espn2

A not-too-funny thing happened to the Saint Louis Billikens on their way to an unbeaten year in the Atlantic-10 … they stumbled and bumbled their way to a disheartening 71-64 loss on Thursday night against 13 ½-point dog Duquesne and thus snapped the team’s school-record 19-game winning streak. Another casualty of that loss where Saint Loo shot an ugly 4-of-23 from beyond the three-point line is that it prevented (at least temporarily) from clinching the A-10 crown.

Note Saint Louis roars into this road tilt now having won 19 of the last 20 games including the hang-on-for-dear-life 64-62 win against 5 ½-point dog VCU back on Feb. 15th.

NOTE: Catch more College Basketball News & Notes plus NFL Draft bits in the next edition of Jim Sez.

 

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