Richmond-Xavier EVen Bigger

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

RICHMOND/XAVIER EVEN BIGGER
AFTER SATURDAY UPSETS

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We've been doing our best to alert you to the possibility that the Atlantic 10 has a chance to make big headlines during March Madness. Some of the results from Saturday action just reminded you how vulnerable many of the media darlings can be:

*#1 Kansas fell way behind Oklahoma State early Saturday afternoon, and failed to avoid the upset bug that was going around the nation in an 85-77 loss. Oklahoma State is currently projected for the 8-9 slot in the March Madness brackets. Both Xavier and Richmond are currently projected to go higher than that.

*#2 Kentucky dug a huge hole it couldn't get out of at Tennessee, ultimately dropping a nine-point decision (note that inconsistent Tennessee now has home wins over both Kentucky and Kansas!). Tennessee is currently projected to be near Xavier and Richmond in the brackets pending what happens the rest of the season.

*#13 Georgetown was inexplicably crushed at home by shorthanded Notre Dame. Notre Dame is barely a strong bubble team when at full strength. It wasn't that long ago that Georgetown was making a great case for a #2 seed after drilling Duke on national TV.

*#21 Texas lost again, this time to Texas A&M. Note that Richmond entered the weekend below Texas in the rankings, while Xavier isn't even in the Top 25. Evidence from the past month suggests BOTH are playing much better than Texas.

We put the whole Atlantic 10 under the SPOTLIGHT conference-wise back in our Wednesday entry in the NOTEBOOK. Today we want to spend some extra time focusing on two powers who are squaring off this afternoon. Richmond visits Xavier at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2. We know you'll want to check out some of the other TV games....and that your wife and kids may be whining that it's the final day of the Olympics and they don't want to miss anything. YOU need to make sure you spend some time watching the Spiders and the Muscateers. One (or both) of these teams may be giving somebody like Kansas, Kentucky, Georgetown, or any number of highly regarded teams all they can handle in a few weeks.

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BUBBLE BUSTER TREY

 It's been a lucrative and profit-filled week for the college basketball division of the Jim Hurley Network. We've won 13 of 17 plays, a 76 percent win rate. We're one team that's definitely not on the bubble! But several other teams are, and no one is better situated to turn that situation into profits then we are. With our conglomerate of on-scene sources, we get the vital intangible information that tell us what players will rise to meet the moment and what ones will wilt. Our handicappers know how each coach has fared against the spread in key games throughout his career. And on the top of the ladder is Jim Hurley himself, who wields that information as a sword against bookmakers everywhere! He's ready with three strong college games on Sunday that will lead you to a 3-0 day!

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Before we start breaking down our key elements, let's see where Joe Lunardi's “bracketology” report has these teams in the brackets (as of our Saturday evening publication deadline).

ATLANTIC 10 BRACKETOLOGY PROJECTIONS
Temple: 4th seed
Xavier: 5th seed
Richmond: 7th seed
Rhode Island: 11th seed
Charlotte: bubble
Saint Louis and Dayton: distant bubble

Should those projections hold up, Richmond would be favored to face a prominent #2 seed in the second round...and Xavier would have a shot to advance to face a #1 seed superpower in the Sweet 16 round were they to survive the first weekend.

Oh, Temple visits LaSalle today in a game they can't afford to take too lightly. Richmond at Xavier is our SPOTLIGHT game for Sunday!

TEMPO
Richmond is slow as molasses. They're one of the slowest teams in all of college basketball, averaging about 64 possessions per team per game. The national average is three higher than that (a shot clock, of course, keeps teams from being too much like tortoises). You can expect very deliberate basketball from the Spiders. As we've mentioned in the past, this approach helps you score one upset against a team that's thrown off by the slowdown...but makes it very hard to string together wins. You're creating nightly coin flips when you face quality opposition, and you just can't keep winning coin flips.

Xavier is about as fast as Richmond is slow. The Muscateers have three more possessions per game than the average college team...and rank just outside the top 50 in pace nationally.

We are definitely talking about opposites in this particularly affair. They haven't played each other yet...so we don't have a guide as to who will control tempo head-to-head. Generally, it's believed the home team has a stronger influence...though road teams who get an early lead can often take the crowd out of the game and keep things in control. This tempo tug-of-war will go a long way toward determining who wins and covers this afternoon.

TWO-POINT SHOOTING
Richmond is one of the two-point stars in the nation defensively this year. They're only letting opponents hit 43% of their shots inside the arc...which puts them in the top 30. This is very much a classic slowdown team...keep things in check and guard the basket with a passion. Remember when you hated Big 10 basketball? Richmond plays like THOSE teams! Offensively, the team is hitting 50% on two's...good enough to rank in the top quarter nationally. If you're looking at the whole sport, that's a good sign. If you're looking just at tournament caliber teams, it's a relative weakness compared to others who will be Dancing. Richmond will be trying to win low scoring games with defense once we get to the tourney.

Xavier's relatively weak on two-point defense this year, allowing 46% to this point. The don't even crack the top third nationally, and will be well behind most major conference teams that make the tournament. It's possible to have a deep run at this level, but you HAVE to shoot well every time out. There's no margin for error when you're letting the other guys shoot that well inside the arc. Xavier's offense is a bit better than Richmond inside, shooting 51% for the season. Edge Richmond in this category.

THREE-POINT OFFENSE
Xavier really jumps to the fore in this area, so we're going to start with them. Xavier is hitting 38% on treys this year...which is the equivalent of 57% on two's. They rank about mid-level nationally in terms of the percentage of points that come on treys. It's hard to find combinations that are much superior than that. Teams who rely too much on treys don't hit 38% from the floor. Teams who hit better than 38% often only have a couple of guys who ONLY shoot when they're wide open. Xavier really hits a sweet spot. And, they DEFEND the three fantastically. Opponents are only hitting 28% from behind the arc this year, putting Xavier in the top 10 nationally. Though we prefer emphasizing two-pointers at the expense of three's...Xavier backers can make a very good case that their emphasis in this area overcomes the weaknesses on two's. A difference of 38% to 28% is really a big deal when the baskets are worth three each.

Richmond only shoots 34% from behind the arc, though that can get the job done in low tempo games. That's the same as 51% on two's remember. Like Xavier, Richmond defends the three very well. This is really a great defensive squad, at least against the schedule they've played. We'll see soon if they can keep it going against high quality opponents. Edge Xavier in this category.

BENCH PLAY
Neither team is particularly deep. Xavier ranks near the middle nationally in terms of the percentage of minutes that goes to its bench. Richmond, like many slow down teams, is way below average. Often a slow tempo is out of necessity for college teams! Richmond is ideally suited for a slow down game that can keep their top players on the floor all night. They're in deep trouble if the game speeds up and a bunch of fouls get called.

Clearly tempo and officiating styles will have a big impact in today's game. This one could blow up in either direction. Richmond is surely capable of a road upset in a game that crawls to its conclusion. If Xavier can force it's preferred pace, and get the refs to blow their whistles, they can run away and hide.

Come tournament time, both have issues. We like Xavier's depth and talent...but that two-point defense could prove to be a problem. Teams like Richmond are famous for scoring March upsets. They're NOT famous for going the distance though...slowdown defensive teams eventually lose a coin flip ending, or run into an opponent that can force them out of their tempo.

Who will JIM HURLEY be taking here? That information is for paying customers! Richmond/Xavier is one of many games on our radar today:

Phoenix at San Antonio in the NBA on ABC
Denver at the LA Lakers on ABC
Miami at Orlando on ESPN
Louisville at Connecticut on CBS
Clemson at Florida State on FSN
Duke at Virginia on FSN

Call 1-800-323-4453 to get today's big slate. We have great rates for the rest of the season in our PRIVATE LINE CLUB, or BLUE RIBBON CLUB, and the vaunted CASHLINE. Game day selections and packages can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

Don't forget that some tournaments start THIS WEEK! In fact, almost all of the mid majors get under way Tuesday or Friday. Here's a quick outline of this week's SPOTLIGHT coverage:

Monday: Georgetown at West Virginia on Big Monday
Tuesday: The Horizon and Ohio Valley conferences because their tourneys start that night!
Wednesday: Duke at Maryland in a huge ACC showdown
Thursday-Friday: Looks at the Colonial, Missouri Valley, Southern, Metro Atlantic, and West Coast conferences to get you ready for those imminent tournaments.

Hey...tomorrow is MARCH 1ST...which means MARCH MADNESS IS HERE! Time for YOU to link up with WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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