NCAA Thursday Previews

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THE NCAA TOURNAMENT REPORT - WE TAKE YOU ‘ROUND THE FOUR THURSDAY SITES AND GET YOU GAME PREVIEWS, NOTES & PREDICTIONS TOO!

By Jim Hurley:

It’s become painfully obvious – even before they toss up the first jump ball on this fun-filled Thursday card in the NCAA Tournament – that the committee folks have a whole lot of folks breathing fire these days not the least of which is a fourth-seeded Louisville crew that swings into action on Thursday night versus double-digit dog Manhattan.

Hope you read the article this week stating the ‘Ville will be a betting favorite for any/all of its tourney games it plays this year … not what one generally hears about a #4 seed, right?

Throw into the mix the fact that SMU didn’t make the “Big Dance” even though the Mustangs were a Top 25 team in last week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll (and that simply never happens, folks) and so we’ll never know if Larry Brown’s team could have been a factor in this year’s tourney.

Maybe, worse yet, there’s gonna be a batch of teams from the Midwest region that never get to sniff the Final Four even though the likes of Wichita State, Michigan, Duke, aforementioned Louisville and even eighth seed Kentucky could conceivably be better than 80-to-90 percent of the rest of this field … yes, the more we review the brackets the more we believe the committee folks really/truly botched up this whole shindig.

And that’s a crying shame.

Still, it figures to be an electrifying tourney – even if you don’t win Warren Buffet’s $1 billion prize of picking each/every game correctly! – and we’ll get this monster Thursday kick-started momentarily but first this key reminder:

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NCAA TOURNAMENT
Now let’s go through the NCAA Tournament site-by-site for this jam-packed Thursday …

BUFFALO
Maybe the most intriguing team in this bracket is a Syracuse squad that lost five of its last seven games while heading into this year’s NCAA Tournament and no doubt veteran head coach Jim Boeheim is counting on some “home cooking” in upstate New York to revive his club. The $64,000 question is can G Trevor Cooney heat up from beyond the three-point arc here against 13-point underdog Western Michigan and throughout this tourney. The ‘Cuse (27-5) really don’t have anyone other than Cooney (86 made triples this year) who can make noise from downtown and we say it’s gonna take a handful of Cooney triples if the Orange wish to nab the pointspread cover here.

EAST REGION:
#10 ST. JOSEPH’S (24-9) vs. #7 CONNECTICUT (26-8) – 6:55 p.m. ET, TBS
The UConn Huskies – back in the tourney after last year’s “hiatus” due to poor classroom work – sharpened their teeth last week while getting to the American Athletic Championship Game but by now you know the formula for Kevin Ollie’s club: Get G Shabazz Napier (17.4 ppg) to pop open behind some screens and bomb away and get smooth-stroking Niels Giffey (a 52 percent trifecta shooter) to hit big shots from the corner and the wing. Expect the St. Joe’s strategy here to include more in-the-paint touches for emotional big man Halil Kanacevic who finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds in last Sunday’s Atlantic-10 title-clinching upset win against VCU. The winner here gets the Milwaukee-Villanova victor and so plenty of Philly cheese steaks should be getting passed around should Phil Martelli’s guys keep up this roll – and note the Hawks now have won 11 of their last 13 overall.

The entire Buffalo bracket:
#11 Dayton (23-10) vs. #6 Ohio State (25-9), 12:15 ET
#14 Western Michigan (23-9) vs. #3 Syracuse (27-5), approximately 2:45 p.m. ET 
#10 St. Joseph’s (24-9) vs. #7 Connecticut (26-8), 6:55 p.m. ET
#15 Wisconsin-Milwaukee (21-13) vs. #2 Villanova (28-4), approximately 9:25 p.m. ET
   

ORLANDO
No wonder nobody’s talking about l’il old Manhattan (25-7) thanks to the hub-bub regarding Louisville’s faulty seed – yet here’s “pupil” head coach Steve Masiello looking to KO mentor Rick Pitino of Louisville in this first-round game Thursday night (9:50 p.m. ET tip) and check out the fact the Jaspers are an electric 11-1 SU (straight-up) since the beginning of February and Long Island product George Beamon (19.2 ppg) might thrive in this wide-open affair.
First team to 85 points wins? We’ll see.

SOUTH REGION:
#9 PITTSBURGH (25-9) vs. #8 COLORADO (23-11)
– 1:40 p.m. ET, TBS
We’ll ignore the idiotic comments by some scribes out there that claim a Pitt win (by virtue of the lower seed) would be an “upset” – right, the Panthers are a 6-point betting favorite at press time!
The reality of the situation is that Jamie Dixon-coached clubs have been major underachievers in this tourney for years now and there’s a degree of pressure on this new ACC gang to stifle a Colorado club that’s played without star Spencer Dinwiddie for the better part of the past two months.
If Pittsburgh’s defense – ranked 19th nationally while yielding just 62.4 points a game – can rein in G Askia Booker (20 points in the Buffaloes’ Pac-12 Tourney loss to Arizona last week), then Dixon and Company should survive-and-advance to a date versus Florida on Saturday.
The X-factor for Pittsburgh here:
Make sure PG James Robinson – who sports a 4-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio – reverts to his early March form after a so-so pair of ACC Tournament games last week.

The entire Orlando bracket:
#9 Pittsburgh (25-9) vs. #8 Colorado (23-11), 1:40 p.m. ET
#16 Albany (19-14) vs. #1 Florida (32-2), approximately 4:10 p.m. ET
#12 N.C. State (22-13) vs. #5 Saint Louis (26-6), 7:20 p.m. ET
#13 Manhattan (25-7) vs. #4 Louisville (29-5), approximately 9:50 p.m. ET

MILWAUKEE
No question the Oregon Ducks have to qualify as one of the streakiest hoop teams in America this year as Dana Altman’s crew won its first 13 games of the 2013-14 season, then it lost eight of its next 10 and then wound up going 8-1 in its last nine games while heading into this NCAA Tournament tilt versus BYU (3:10 p.m. ET tip). The Ducks – who were blown out 82-63 by UCLA in a Pac-12 Tournament semifinal round game – are considered a dangerous #7 seed that would likely play “host” Wisconsin in the next round but we’re wondering if Oregon has the defensive muscle to slow down a BYU team that may be without second-leading scorer Kyle Collinsworth (knee) but still gets up shots in 15 seconds or less on most trips down the floor.

MIDWEST REGION:
#10 ARIZONA STATE (21-11) vs. #7 TEXAS (23-10)
– approximately 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
The Las Vegas numbers-crunchers have the Texas Longhorns listed as a slight 1 ½-point betting favorite for this clash – the tightest price on this Thursday card – and why not? This one has barnburner potential any way you look at it, folks. Arizona State is looking at this game and this tourney as a “new start” after having lost its final three tilts (and five losses in the past seven games, to boot) and it says here that do-it-all G Jahii Carson (18.6 ppg and 4.5 assists-per-game) must get off 20-or-more shots against a Texas team that holds opponents below 40 percent shooting but sports no players that average more than 14 points a game (see F Jonathan Holmes who averages just 13 ppg). If Texas can dictate tempo here, limit Carson’s looks at the hoop and just make some free throws, than Rick Barnes’ club should move on to a third-round date with Michigan.

The entire Milwaukee bracket:
#15 American (20-12) vs. #2 Wisconsin (26-7), 12:40 p.m. ET
#10 BYU (23-11) vs. #7 Oregon (23-9), approximately 3:10 p.m. ET
#15 Wofford (20-12) vs. #2 Michigan (25-8), 7:10 p.m. ET
#10 Arizona State (21-11) vs. #7 Texas (23-10), approximately 9:40 p.m. ET

SPOKANE
Is there a sleeping giant in this bracket named Oklahoma (23-9)? The fifth seed in the West Region has flown under the radar all year long and while Lon Kruger’s crew didn’t exactly distinguish themselves with a tepid 6-5 SU mark since the start of February, this second-round tourney game against North Dakota State (7:25 p.m. ET tip) could be the start of something big for the Sooners who do own 10 wins this year against fellow NCAA Tournament teams.
You might want to circle the name of Oklahoma’s soph G Buddy Hield who averages a team-best 16.8 ppg and brings a real emotional charge to his game. If Oklahoma wins here it would get the New Mexico State vs. San Diego State winner … like we said, the Sooners could be makin’ a move this spring.

EAST REGION:
#13 DELAWARE (25-9) vs. #4 MICHIGAN STATE (26-8)
– approximately 4:40 p.m. ET, TNT
Okay, so now everyone’s had a few days to digest all the Selection Sunday chit-chat that went down with everyone on ESPN’s “expert panel” snapping up Michigan State as their pick for national champion … but do you think maybe Sparty has been sitting back a bit and reading up all these so-called press clippings? If so then that could be dangerous against a gritty/gutty Delaware team that averages a haughty 79.5 ppg (that’s 17th-best in Division 1 ball) and feels more than just a tad disrespected by being placed in the role of a 14 ½-point underdog. If the Blue Hens want to hang around for much of this second-round game in the great Northwest, then it’s no secret that the three-headed scoring monster that is Devon Saddler (19.7 ppg), Davon Usher (19.4 ppg) and Jarvis Threatt (18.1 ppg) must make their shots count and we see the real key here as the game’s first 10 minutes – now who’s really gonna be surprised if Tom Izzo’s club comes out a bit flat after playing so wonderfully in that Big 10 Tournament title run against Northwestern, Wisconsin and archrival Michigan?
No doubt Sparty is feeling some hefty pressure to “win it all” now and so let’s see how veteran PG Keith Appling (12.3 ppg and 4.6 apg) handles matters after getting all this spotlight attention the past few days.
 
The entire Spokane bracket:
#12 Harvard (26-4) vs. #5 Cincinnati (27-6), 2:10 p.m. ET
#13 Delaware (25-9) vs. #4 Michigan State (26-8), approximately 4:40 p.m. ET
#12 North Dakota State (25-6) vs. #5 Oklahoma (23-9), 7:25 p.m. ET
#13 New Mexico State (26-9) vs. #4 San Diego State (29-4), approximately 9:55 p.m. ET

Note: Get more NCAA Tournament Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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Nov

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