Tournaments Start Tonight

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

TOURNAMENTS ARE HERE!
HORIZON, OHIO VALLEY TIP OFF TONIGHT

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Yes, it's March on the calendar, which means it's TOURNEY TIME!

The best conferences are still several days away. We have one week of regular season action left in all the major conferences, and many of the top mid majors as well (like the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West). A slew of mid major tourneys start later this week (most notably the Missouri Valley and the Colonial). Two leagues get under way this evening:

*The HORIZON league, featuring a very respected Butler squad starts first round action tonight at campus sites. Unfortunately, Butler isn't playing! The top two seeds earn a bye in this conference, meaning Butler and Wright State will be sitting back and watching everyone else play for the right to meet them down the road. Note that Butler is already a lock for the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in this event. No other team will go Dancing unless Butler suffers an upset. Maybe they're due, Butler went 18-0 in league play this season!

*The OHIO VALLEY conference also starts its first round tonight at conference sites. The format of this 10-team league is a bit different. The bottom two teams aren't invited at all, and teams 1-8 go at it. Top seeded Murray State and second seeded Morehead State are the teams most likely to survive the week. The Ohio Valley will only get one bid to the Dance, so the semifinals and finals will be extremely intense.

As we've done in past years, we'll put each and every conference on the Las Vegas board under the SPOTLIGHT as they're set to begin their postseason tournaments. That's the best way we know of to give you a big picture look at expectations without getting too specific about our planned selections for customers. We can't give away picks for free here in the NOTEBOOK. We can outline our thought processes heading into an event. If you're a do-it-yourselfer, focusing on our key stats should help you perform at a better clip. If you're a client, you'll see where we're coming from on many of our picks thanks to what you learn here.

Let's start with the HORIZON League. You regulars know are favorite college basketball stat is 2-POINT DEFENSE. It's a better indicator for quality, and future performances in tournaments than anything else we've seen.

HORIZON 2-POINT DEFENSE
Butler 46%
Wright State 47%
Detroit 47%
Loyola-Chicago 48%
Cleveland State 49%
Wisconsin Green Bay 49%
Wisconsin Milwaukee 50%
Illinois Chicago 50%
Valparaiso 50%
Youngstown State 50%

Well, defense does win championships...and a relatively mediocre (by the standards of respected seeds) defense for Butler is still good enough to be the class of this conference. You won't see many leagues where 46% and 47% are the best two marks...and those two teams get a bye! This just isn't a very good league right now...and a lack of defense is one of the notable reasons. Note that Butler is currently projected to be a #5 seed in the Big Dance by Joe Lunardi's “bracketology” report at ESPN. Butler's 46% mark adjusted for strength of schedule (probably more like a 48-49% mark in a real conference) won't likely grade out well with the other teams in that 4-5 area on the ladder.

We often look to the strong defenses to isolate darkhorse picks in tourneys. Shooting can blow hot and cold in neutral site events. Defense is more consistent...and more able to keep you competitive as an underdog against a superior seed. There just isn't anybody here that jumps out defensively. Detroit would be the closest thing to a defensive dog as a 7th seed. They're not in great form of late...and 47% isn't really great defense even if it shows up well on a chart in a poor conference!

This is Butler's tournament to win. They'll be given the usual perks that the Horizon allows its top seed. Wright State might be able to give them a game should the second seed reach the finals. Note that the top two seeds here get byes all the way to the semifinals. Tonight's four winners will match up to see who faces Butler and Wright State down the road.

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THE COLLEGE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS
Championship games start Saturday, March 6 with the Ohio Valley Conference and continue through Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, March 10, the big conference kick into action. From the Staples Center in Los Angeles to Conseco Field House in Indianapolis to Madison Square Garden in New York and several other places, the great venues of basketball will play host to all the top teams fighting for either seeding or survival.

THE MADNESS BEGINS!

The NCAA Tournament begins with the play-in game on Tuesday, March 16 and then kicks into high gear on Thursday, March 18. The Network's stat guys have the numbers no one else does. We've been monitoring the mid-majors and the small conferences as close as we have Duke or Syracuse! And our computer guys have the formulas for taking those stats and adjusting them for non-conference play, as teams step outside their own for the first time in three months. Then top it off with the fact that the public bets these games HUGE, and our Vegas connections can find edges all over their board, with free points for sharp players less interested in betting on their alma mater or their office pool picks and more interested in making money. The NCAAs are a cash cow! You can get 2-3 best bet plays each day--and 4-5 on those coveted two days of the first-round with wall-to-wall action and releases for both the afternoon and evening sessions

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NIT MEANS NO IDLE TIME
The National Invitational Tournament schedules its games on nights the NCAA is off, meaning we can keep you in action and not let up. Because our team is so deep we're on top of all the teams in the NIT, and our on-scene sources know which ones are taking this tournament as a second chance and which ones are disgusted at not being in the Big Dance and just ready to go on spring break.

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It doesn't draw a lot of attention, but talk about a moneymaker! The final days of the NBA regular season offer HUGE opportuniteis to sharp players. Who's resting for the playoffs and who's fighting to make it? The NBA lines in this timeframe are the softest of the year and all we have to do is find the 2-3 ripest each night to make a lot of money FAST!

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TONIGHT'S SCHEDULE (seeds in parenthesis)
(10) Youngstown State at (3) Wisconsin Green Bay
(7) Detroit at (6) Valparaiso

(9) Illinois Chicago at (4) Wisconsin-Milwaukee
(8) Loyola Chicago at (5) Cleveland State

Tonight's winners play Friday in the quarterfinals. The semifinals featuring Butler and Wright State will go Saturday. We won't have a chance to revisit today's numbers later in the week because of the heavy schedule in other leagues. Take your notes today!

Moving to the Ohio Valley Conference...

OHIO VALLEY 2-POINT DEFENSE
Murray State 41%
Eastern Illinois 45%
Morehead State 48%
Jacksonville State 48%
Austin Peay 48%
Eastern Kentucky 50%
SE Missouri State 51% (did not qualify)
Tennessee Tech 52%
Tennessee Martin 52% (did not qualify)
Tennessee State 54%

We have a big range in defenses here...with Murray State storming to the top seed because they're the only group that knows how to guard the basket. And, given how awful this conference is in the national scheme of things, Murray probably wouldn't strike you as having a good defense if they played in a real conference. Just a very poor quality of basketball through much of this group.

Eastern Illinois is just a fourth seed, but jumps out as a clear darkhorse because of that relatively strong defense. It's to bad they line up in Murray's half of the brackets...because that 45% mark would have been positioned to do some damage against all the 48's and worse on the other side.

TONIGHT'S SCHEDULE (seeds in parenthesis)
(8) Tennessee State at (1) Murray State
(5) Eastern Kentucky at (4) Eastern Illinois

(7) Jacksonville State at (2) Morehead State
(6) Tennessee Tech at (3) Austin Peay

Tonight's winners will meet Friday at the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tennessee (games televised by ESPNU). The finals are Saturday Night on ESPN2. Murray State is the clear favorite here. Unlike Butler in the Horizon, they just can't afford a loss. Only one bid in struggling conference.

The “bracketology” stuff at ESPN currently shows Murray State as a decent #13 seed should they earn the bid. Morehead State is more likely to be a #14 if they sneak in instead. Anyone else would probably be #15 or #16, depending on how many upsets happened in the other lesser leagues.

That wraps up our look at tonight's tourney teams. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK may or may not be involved with this octet. It depends on what we hear from our sources and what our computer simulations are showing for projected margins. Along with tonight's tourneys, other games of interest include:

Boston at Detroit in the NBA
Villanova at Cincinnati on ESPN2
UTEP at Marshall in Conference USA
Vanderbilt at Florida on ESPN
Georgia Tech at Clemson in the ACC
Louisville at Marquette on ESPNU

Call 1-800-323-4453 right now to sign up for MARCH MADNESS. We'll take you all the way through championship night in early April at a very affordable rate. Pro basketball will be included in your package during that time frame. Don't forget that game day selections and packages can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card. We talked yesterday about the VERY HOT streaks recently for the PRIVATE LINE CLUB and the vaunted CASHLINE. Don't you dare miss tonight's BIG WINNERS!

Back with you tomorrow to put Duke/Maryland under the SPOTLIGHT. That will be Duke's most dangerous outing until the Big Dance since it's a road game against a tough opponent. Thursday we'll pick up with more tournament coverage. Getting under way soon are the Colonial, Missouri Valley, Southern, Metro Atlantic, West Coast, Sun Belt, Big Sky, and Mid American tournaments. Yup...all of those will begin between Thursday and Sunday!

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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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