Jim Sez for Wednesday, Feb. 25 …

THE COLLEGE HOOP MID-WEEK UPDATE:
HERE’S SOME TV ACTION WITH #1 KENTUCKY
AND #4 DUKE TAKING CENTER STAGE …
NFL DRAFT NEWS/NOTES:
QBs WINSTON, MARIOTA GETTING ALL THE HYPE
BUT DEFENSE COULD RULE TOP 10 PICKS

We’ll save y’all the trouble of looking it up – nine of the Associated Press Top 25 teams are in action on this final Wednesday night in February and we will pay particular attention here in today’s Jim Sez to #1 Kentucky (of course!), #4 Duke and that snazzy head-to-head Top 25 showdown between #19 Baylor at #12 Iowa State.

Yes, sir/ma’am, lots of good college hoops action to eyeball with all of the above on the “tube” – keep that remote handy -- and we’ll get you started in a moment but first this key reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers keep rockin’-n-rollin’ through this College Basketball and NBA season with 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 and remember the conference tournaments or so-called mini-tournies heat up next week with lots of day-time action all throughout the month of March!

P.S., the mini-tournies begin Tuesday, March 3rd with the Horizon League in action while Selection Sunday is set for March 15th.

Now, let’s check out the top Wednesday night games on the College B-Ball docket ….

#1 KENTUCKY (27-0, 14-0 SEC) at MISS STATE (12-15, 5-9 SEC) – 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Just listening to ESPN’s Jay Bilas chat about this 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats’ club and here’s two items that really stood out to us:

First, Bilas says this Kentucky team is “getting better” as time goes by and that they are way better than any other team out there … but Bilas also cautioned Kentucky Nation that this still-perfect team “can be beat” and, while this doesn’t appear to be a spot in which John Calipari’s squad will even break a sweat, don’t be too quick to pencil in the Lexington-based crew next to the 1975 Indiana Hoosiers just yet!
In this Southeastern Conference affair in Starkville, the visiting UK Wildcats look to crank up that defensive pressure. Note that Kentucky ranks second nationally in scoring defense at 52.6 points per game allowed this year but let’s dig a little bit deeper here and you can see the ‘Cats have allowed less than 70 points in 11 of their last 12 games with the lone exception to the rule last weekend’s resounding 110-75 triumph over outclassed Auburn.

Kentucky charged out to a 27-2 lead to start off that latest “W” and when the dust settled there was freshman F Karl-Anthony Towns (19 points) leading six players on his side in double-digit scoring while Coach Cal’s kids romped on the boards with a 44-to-18 rebound advantage … yikes!

If Miss State wishes to hang around here, than the Bulldogs must shoot their triples better than 30.7 percent – their season average – and someone’s gonna have to get hot on a team that sports four players averaging between 9.7 ppg and 10.2 ppg. We’ll say Kentucky’s main focus will be MSU’s guard Fred Thomas who owns a team-best 43 triples this year.

Spread Notes – Kentucky’s just 14-13 ATS (against the spread) overall this year and take note that the underdog side has covered eight of the last 11 games in this SEC series. On the flip side, Miss State is a dead-even but vig-losing 11-11-1 spreadwise this 2014-15 hoops season.

#4 DUKE (24-3, 11-3 ACC) at VIRGINIA TECH (10-17, 2-12 ACC) – 9 p.m. ET, espn2
Let’s face it, the Dookies will be a huge favorite here whether or not stud freshman C Jahlil Okafor plays after he missed last Saturday’s rollicking 78-56 home win against 12 ½-point underdog Clemson with an ankle injury suffered in the comeback OT victory against archrival North Carolina last Wednesday night.
Okafor removed the walking boot for practice but it’s not 100 percent sure that Blue Devils’ head coach Mike Krzyzewski would suit ‘em up here against a foe that’s won just a pair of conference games this year.

If Okafor sits (and we think that he should) then Duke might resort to some zone defense in order to “save” the wear-and-tear on this depth-shy team but keep in mind Virginia Tech averages only 65.2 ppg (that ranks 106th nationally) and Duke will be able to set the tempo here and speed things up when necessary.

No doubt that if Okafor sits the Devils will miss his team-best 17.9 ppg scoring average but how about a shout-out to unsung G Quinn Cook who is averaging 15.5 ppg and has pumped in 74 trifectas this year while shooting slightly better than 40 percent from beyond the arc? Not bad, Mr. Cook!

Spread Notes – Duke is a modest 14-12-1 versus the vig this season while Virginia Tech’s 11-10 ATS this year but the Hokies have failed to cover four of their last five games.

#19 BAYLOR (20-7, 8-6 Big 12) at #12 IOWA STATE (20-6, 10-4 Big 12) – 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Safe to say that the Iowa State Cyclones have “righted their ship” after slogging through a 3-3 SU (straight-up) period between Jan. 24th through Feb. 9th as Fred Hoiberg’s bunch has strung together back-to-back-to-back wins against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas and might we remind you that the ‘Clones won those last two tilts on the road!

The Big 12’s numero uno scoring offense – averaging a hefty 79.8 ppg – would like to step on the gas here and get a little revenge against a Baylor bunch that prevailed 74-73 back on Jan. 14th in Waco. In that tilt last month, Iowa State’s free-throw shooting woes (see 11-of-19) absolutely killed ‘em as the Bears won on a Kenny Chery jumper with just 4.7 seconds remaining after I-State had crawled back from a 14-point deficit in the game’s final 8-plus minutes.

Chery nailed just 4-of-16 FG tries in that tilt but he hit the biggie and in this rematch game the Cyclones are counting on star F Georges Niang to get heated up after he connected on just 4-of-13 FGs in that last clash.

Right now the “experts” seem to think Iowa State’s a #3 seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament and it could go as high as a #2 seed with a Big 12 Tournament title while Baylor’s right around the #4 seed line – note Iowa State’s RPI is 10 and Baylor is 14 but dare we ask if the entire Big 12 if a tad overrated? Just wonderin’!

Spread Notes – Iowa State’s just 13-10 against the odds this hoops season but the Cyclones are 9-0 ATS in their last nine home games against the Bears. Note that Baylor (11-9-1 ATS this season) enters this conference bash must also face the news that home teams have covered 13 of the last 16 games in this rivalry.

NFL DRAFT NEWS & NOTES
The 2015 NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis just finished up and there was plenty of media yapping when it came to where/when QBs Jameis Winston (Florida State) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon) would go in the early portion of Round I of the upcoming NFL Draft.

But here’s something that all football fans should realize:
At least half of the draft’s top 10 picks will be defensive players – mostly defensive linemen with pass rush skills -- and it could very well be the case that Winston and Mariota get selected somewhere in the top six picks while the other four players inside the top six are all defenders namely USC DT Leonard Williams (generally regarded as the top prospect at any position in this whole draft), Nebraska DE Randy Gregory, Washington DT Danny Shelton and Missouri DE Shane Ray.

In fact, the top picks in this draft might appear very different from what the Mel Kipers and Todd McShays of the world are feeding you right now as the Tampa Bay Bucs at #1 might just pass on Winston because of his off-the-field baggage and make DT Williams or DE Gregory their guy and it’s almost assured that the Tennessee Titans at #2 will go defense with Williams or Gregory or even Ray their pick.
So, consider what that would mean – hypothetically speaking – if Winston AND Mariota both drop out of the top two picks:

At #3 the Jacksonville Jaguars are not in the market for a quarterback with second-year pro Blake Bortles their man and so unless you see a trade with Philadelphia (the Eagles want Mariota badly) or maybe Buffalo (the Bills would love to tab Winston) than it’s quite possible that defensive players would make up the first three players on this draft board with whoever’s left from the above-named players falling in the Jaguars’ laps.

In other NFL Draft News & Notes …
Right now the highest-rated wide receiver on the board is Alabama’s Amari Cooper who is forecast to go in the top six picks but watch for West Virginia WR Kevin White to climb the draft board – White’s 6-foot-3, 215-to-220 pounds and very physical in the manner of current Carolina Panthers’ WR Kelvin Benjamin – and there’s some scuttlebutt that White could go top seven picks with the New York Jets at

#6 in the mix …
In terms of this year’s top prospects at cornerback, the general pecking order right now is Michigan State’s Trae Waynes, Washington’s Marcus Peters and Miami (Ohio) star Quinten Rollins but none of the above are expected to go inside the top 20 picks and that’s fairly unusual considering pass rushers and pass defenders are always right there at the top of teams’ hit lists …

Finally, looking for a player with mid-to-late good value?
Try Minnesota TE Maxx Williams who is a stud at 6-foot-4, 250-plus pounds. Williams is generally being placed in the #35-to-50 area of players being picked but he’s physical, makes big plays happen after he catches the ball and is just scratching the surface on his overall potential – maybe Kansas City at pick #18 opts for this somewhat under-the-radar guy.

NOTE: More College Hoops goodies in the next edition of Jim Sez.

 

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