Basketball Barrage Continues



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We have a NEW conference tournament starting tonight, as the Mid American Conference gets rolling at campus sites. That means another SPOTLIGHT preview for us here in the NOTEBOOK. We'll also run some Phantom Score notes from Saturday afternoon action as we continue our very best to keep you updated during this week's BASKETBALL BARRAGE.

Let's start with the MAC. Much like the Horizon and Ohio Valley conference tourneys that started last Tuesday, opening round action begins at campus sites this evening...before moving to a centralized spot for the remaining rounds. Quarterfinal action will begin Thursday in the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland with tonight's winners facing four bye teams.

We've structured our look at two-point defenses (our favorite indicator stat in college basketball) in bracket order. The first two teams in each pairing play tonight on the home court of the superior seed. That winner plays Thursday against the bye team in Cleveland.

Here we go!

(8) Ball State 45%
(9) Ohio 47%
(1) Kent State 48%

Kent State won the top seed with that road victory in Akron Friday Night you may have watched on ESPN. They've overcome a very soft defense (by the standards of top seeds!) with other strengths. That shaky defense might derail them in Cleveland when they have to win three times in three days. Note that the MAC will only get one NCAA berth this year, so the final rounds will be packed with drama.

(12) Toledo 51%
(5) Buffalo 49%
(4) Miami of Ohio 46%

Miami will provide quite a test for Kent Should the favorites keep winning. Toledo is a special kind of horrible this year. Believe it or not, that 51% defense is actually one of their strengths!

(6) Eastern Michigan 49%
(11) Northern Illinois 48%
(3) Akron 46%

Akron has to be disappointed to have blown their shot at top seed. Maybe they'll channel that revenge into a good weekend. Or, maybe the fact that they couldn't win as a home favorite in a big game means that they're not ready to shine this weekend. It's good they had the extra time to recover from their disappointment. The home crowd was dying to cheer their champions, instead of giving a golf clap to Kent.

(7) Western Michigan 46%
(10) Bowling Green 48%
(2) Central Michigan 46%

Central Michigan got the second seed because they won their division. That Akron/Kent game was to determine who would be one, and who would be three. Note that the bye teams other than Kent all grade out at 46% on two-point defense, creating a multi-way coin flip for that final weekend.



 It's the last day of the regular season in the big conferences, and there's a few good games going on national television, including Florida-Kentucky (Noon ET, CBS). The tournaments march on in the small conferences, offering some excellent betting opportunities there. The stat handicappers of the Jim Hurley Network are in the zone right now, with our Hotline having won 24 of the last 32, and they've crunched all the numbers, run all the data and studied all the trends of Sunday's college card. One of these games is a perfect moneymaker to close out the week and build bankroll for March Madness!

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As we've said all through the mid majors, it's hard to know in advance where JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will be striking. BIG PLAY MONSTERS can come up at any time, in any place. We wanted to present two-point defensive numbers for everyone so you can have some background information when we do release a big one...and to use for your own handicapping purposes. There are very few reasons to EVER heavily invest in bad defenses. Defensive dogs can be the best plays on the board. It's time for you to start paying attention to defense!

Our previews for the remaining conferences will begin Tuesday with the Big East, Atlantic 10, and a couple of early bird reports for leagues that have early tips on Wednesday. We'll take you day-by-day through the week as MARCH MADNESS continues to develop before our very eyes.

The rest of today's report will be devoted to stat briefs from Saturday afternoon action. You regulars know we invented a stat called 'Phantom Score' many years ago that serves as a 'secondary' score in any game. It's simply two-point scoring plus rebounding, and will either confirm the story the actual final score told...or will tell you what REALLY happened if the final score is misleading. Let's run through some of the marquee results and see what happened.

*Final Score: West Virginia 68, Villanova 66 (in overtime)
*Phantom Score: West Virginia 58, Villanova 57

Big win for West Virginia, who had to rally from a big early deficit. We have to say though we weren't impressed with either side in terms of making big plays in crunch time. Both are popular darkhorse picks for pundits asked to move past the most obvious 4-5 teams. We don't consider either to be as good as the hype their getting from those pundits. We talked about West Virginia's potential issues in a recent NOTEBOOK entry. Big win for them today though. We can't take anything away from that. Tough to beat Big East quality on the road.

*Final Score: Georgetown 74, Cincinnati 47
*Phantom Score: Georgetown 81, Cincinnati 60

Georgetown got its star back, and got its mojo back. Just in time too, because things had been looking pretty bleak. This will help solidify their Dance seed, and will help remind the players that they have to play DEFENSE if they want to win anything!

*Final Score: Maryland 74, Virginia 68
*Phantom Score: Maryland 61, Virginia 52

This was a great result for Maryland because they were in a monster letdown spot after the upset of Duke. Nobody would have thought a thing about a road loss in a spot like this. Phantom Score confirms that it was a clean win. Maybe Maryland deserves to go on some of those darkhorse lists!

*Final Score: Kansas 77, Missouri 56
*Phantom Score: Kansas 89, Missouri 65

If there's any doubt about how great Kansas is...they scored a blowout slaughter on the road against a huge revenge-minded rival in front of a rabid crowd. Phantom Score confirms the carnage. Kansas laid their egg at Oklahoma State, and have played great ever since. Very few in the nation can play with Kansas when they're at this level of intensity. Missouri's a good team that's going to get a quality seed. Yet, they were squashed in their home finale.

*Final Score: Louisville 78, Syracuse 68
*Phantom Score: Syracuse 79, Louisville 76

Syracuse finally had their bad road game...after watching Kansas State and Kentucky lose last weekend, and Duke lose a few days ago. Fitting finale for Freedom Hall. Maybe the gods of basketball wanted that historic site to go out a winner. Note that Syracuse won Phantom Score. That's why we love the stat. It shows you quality when the final scores are a bit of a surprise. Louisville sweeps the season series, but now has to learn how to impress against other teams.

*Final Score: Notre Dame 63, Marquette 60 (in overtime)
*Phantom Score: Notre Dame 70, Marquette 62

Notre Dame continues to win without their alleged 'superstar' player...and may have locked themselves into the Dance with this recent host streak. Marquette has been a disappointment this year. Note that Phantom Score makes it even more one-sided for the visitors.

*Final Score: South Florida 75, Connecticut 68
*Phantom Score: Connecticut 83, South Florida 75

Connecticut was barely in the Dance according to the 'bracketology' stuff at ESPN before this loss. They definitely need to do something impressive in the Big East tournament now if they want another invitation. Phantom Score has always loved the Huskies. They need to something extra this year though. They were just 2 of 17 on treys in this one, more than cancelling out their inside edges. Just no sense of rising to the occasion for this particular squad.

*Final Score: Baylor 92, Texas 77
*Phantom Score: Baylor 90, Texas 71

Texas is another team that can't rise to the occasion when needed. All that's left is crushing very bad teams in Austin. That won't get you very far in a tough conference. Great result for the Bears, who impressed in front of Pat Riley and a bunch of NBA scouts. ESPN showed Riley about 50 times because the game had so little to offer! Amazing how far Texas has fallen since their rise to #1 early in the season.

That wraps up our look at early Saturday baskets, and the MAC tournament. For BIG JUICY WINNERS on the Sunday slate, call JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK at 1-800-323-4453. You can also purchase game day releases here at the website with your credit card.

Load up on those energy drinks...MARCH MADNESS IS JUST GETTING STARTED!

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