Big East, A-10 & CUSA

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK BEGINS WITH PREVIEWS
OF BIG EAST, A10, BIG 12, AND CUSA

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We have A LOT to get to today, so we're going to jump in very quickly.

Just like last week, we've gathered up regular season totals in our favorite college basketball indicator stat for everyone playing in their conference tournaments. That stat: two-point defense. Hopefully you're a regular by now, so we don't have to go in-depth with the explanation. In short for you newcomers, nothing equates to quality in this sport better than two-point defense. The top teams guard the basket. The pretenders don't. When you're trying to handicap neutral court playoff style games, you need to be able to tell the top teams from the pretenders!

Two conferences begin their action today, with the Big East and Atlantic 10 taking the floor. The Big East is running split sessions today and tonight at Madison Square Garden. That Atlantic 10 is playing its opening round games at campus sites tonight, with the winner's advancing to Atlantic City for the round of eight and beyond.

Two other conferences begin their tournaments early Wednesday with daytime tips. We wanted to give you those reports TODAY so you'd be ready for the morning starts. So, the Big 12 and Conference USA are also included TODAY.

Wednesday's report will feature the Mountain West, Pac 10, and Big West tournaments, all of which get underway Wednesday Night. Thursday we'll be back with the ACC, SEC, Big 10, and WAC. What a busy week!

Let's start with the Big East. There are 16 teams in the tourney this year. We've structured the information to fit the brackets. The teams from all four quadrants are grouped together. The first two teams in each group play today...today's winner plays the third team in tomorrow's second round...and THAT winner plays the fourth team in the quarterfinals.

BIG EAST TWO-POINT DEFENSES

(10) DePaul 47%
(9) South Florida 48%
(8) Georgetown 46%
(1) Syracuse 45%

DePaul plays South Florida today...the winner gets Georgetown tomorrow...and THAT winner faces Syracuse in the quarterfinals. You can see that Syracuse is the best of the group defensively. And, there defense is actually better than this grading because many opponents only take two-pointers when they get in close for dunks and layups. It's tempting to give up and just launch treys all day against this killer Orange zone. Georgetown needs to work on consistency. Their defense fell apart in a few late losses. We have to admit we're very surprised that the Georgetown team that bombed Duke fell all the way down to an eighth seed in the Big East. They're capable of a big win this week...but probably not a big weekend given that inconsistency.

(13) St. John's 46%
(12) Connecticut 42%
(5) Marquette 50%
(4) Villanova 45%

Marquette jumps out as a pretender. They have a very soft defense for a respected seed. They'll have to stay red hot if they want to string together some wins this weekend. They're surrounded by good defenses in this half of the draw! Connecticut is always one of the kings of our stat projections. They just don't have an offense this year that compliments their killer defense. It's very tough to hold opponents to 42% in a talented league like the Big East.

(15)Providence 52%
(10) Seton Hall 46%
(7) Notre Dame 48%
(2) Pittsburgh 43%

Pittsburgh very quietly snuck into the #2 seed despite all the media hype given other programs. Amazing that a team that lost to Indiana could finish second in the Big East! Notre Dame is coming on strong lately, and is playing better defense than that season mark suggests. You saw the tussles with Connecticut and Marquette that ended their regular season. Definitely a darkhorse part of the bracket.

(14) Rutgers 47%
(11) Cincinnati 45%
(6) Louisville 47%
(3) West Virginia 47%

We had a lengthy review of why we think West Virginia doesn't have championship hopes in the Big Dance. You can see here that 47% doesn't stack up well against the likes of Syracuse, Villanova, and Pittsburgh. Coach Bob Huggins does have a decent history in conference tournaments though. His flame-outs were in the Big Dance most of the time. Cincinnati has some darkhorse hope given their defense. That's a team everyone's forgotten about.

We just don't have time or space today to go in depth regarding all four tournaments. You can bet JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will be all over the BIG EAST though thanks to our in depth handicapping approach and our well-respected New York sources who will be at the Garden for every game.

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ATLANTIC 10 TWO-POINT DEFENSES

(9) Duquesne 46%
(8) St. Bonaventure 49%
(1) Temple 43%

In this brackets format, the first team will be on the road tonight at the second team...with the winner playing the third team later this week in Atlantic City. Temple is the top seed, and earned that prime spot with a killer defense. As long as they don't relax off the regular season title, they shouldn't have trouble in this quadrant.

(12) St. Joseph's 50%
(5) Rhode Island 51%
(4) Saint Louis 44%

Rhode Island is getting a lot of media attention for being on the bubble, even though they're not playing that well lately and they have a horrible defense. Saint Louis is getting no media attention even though they're a better seed, and they play the third best defense in the A10 behind Temple and Richmond. Obviously we'll be looking at Rick Majerus's group in this hunk of the brackets.

(10) George Washington 45%
(7) Dayton 44%
(2) Xavier 46%

Killer quadrant, with bubble team Dayton having a chance to make a case for itself in a second round game against respected Xavier (assuming Dayton wins tonight). Dayton's another team getting a lot of bubble coverage even with an unimpressive seed. How can the 7th place team in the A10 be lobbying for inclusion in the Big Dance? We'll take a closer listen if they beat Xavier.

(11) Massachusetts 47%
(6) Charlotte 48%
(3) Richmond 43%

We have a lot of respect for Richmond this year. Nobody's talking about them...but they've posted impressive results thanks to a defense that's just as good as Temple's. They're clearly the class of this quadrant if they keep their eye on the ball.

Championship weekend could be a lot of fun in the A10 if the superior seeds advance. We'll have guys on seen too in New Jersey for this one. You've noticed this year that we just own Northeast basketball. That's been true since NETWORK started a couple of decades ago!

BIG 12 TWO-POINT DEFENSES

(9) Texas Tech 48%
(8) Colorado 52%
(1) Kansas 40%

This tournament is being held in Kansas City, which has historically meant that the North schools have an edge over the South schools in terms of crowd support and travel. Colorado could use the boost because their defense is so bad! Obviously we're following the standard 12-team format in this league. The first two teams battle in the opening round Wednesday...with the winner facing Kansas in the quarterfinals Thursday.

(12) Nebraska 47%
(5) Missouri 45%
(4) Texas A&M 44%

We'd like A&M's shot better if the tournament was in Dallas. They do play strong defense though (44% is a good mark in a shooter's conference...not that anyone can compete with the spectacular 40% mark of Kansas!). Missouri is a nice darkhorse in this half of the draw thanks to their local drawing power. If the Jayhawks decide to rest up for next week instead of making a statement this week...Missouri or A&M could find themselves in the finals.

(10) Oklahoma 49%
(7) Oklahoma State 45%
(2) Kansas State 45%

The stage is really set for a nice run from Kansas State. They're coming off a weekend loss that should get the players' attention. They're playing in Kansas City, which will make them the crowd favorites by a mile in the bottom half of the draw. And, they've got a quality defense that will help them overcome an off shooting night if that comes up.

(11) Iowa State 46%
(6) Texas 43%
(3) Baylor 41%

We shouldn't have to tell you to pay attention to Baylor by now. They've been doing a lot of things right this year. That 41% defense is fantastic. They are legitimately better than fading Texas, and will advance here unless they get overconfident from their spanking of the Longhorns this past weekend. Actually, nothing would surprise us with Texas. They could drop their opener to Iowa State. They could run the table. Tough draw for this survivor with Kansas State in the semifinals.

CUSA TWO-POINT DEFENSES

(10) East Carolina 49%
(7) Houston 52%
(2) Memphis 46%

This tournament is being held in Tulsa this year...after seeming like it was in Memphis for about 20 seasons. Memphis actually grades out as one of the better defenses in CUSA with that 46% mark. The legacy of John Calipari is still hanging around for awhile, even if the man himself is in Kentucky now.

(11) Tulane 52%
(6) Southern Miss 47%
(3) UAB 45%

Birmingham has been playing like a team that wants some respect lately. A chip on your shoulder AND defense is a nice combination in a tournament! We'll be keeping a close eye on the Blazers. Their projected semifinal with Memphis might end up being for a Dance bid. The winner will surely have a shot to earn the automatic berth in the finals.

(12) Rice 51%
(5) Tulsa 42%
(4) Marshall 44%

Tulsa is the host school, which puts them in rout position in the first round against Rice, and upset position (at least according to the seeds) in the quarterfinals against Marshall. We love defense, so you know we REALLY love a 42% defense that gets to host the tournament!

(9) Central Florida 48%
(8) SMU 47%
(1) UTEP 43%

The CUSA is a great conference for showing you the value of defense. UTEP made huge strides this year because they've gotten so stingy in the paint. It's not quite a perfect match...but, as a general rule...the CUSA standings are a standings of the defenses. We hope UTEP earns an at-large bid if they don't win this tourney. Bad luck to be in Tulsa's half of the brackets when the game is in Tulsa! Even if UTEP survives the semifinal, they'll be drained for the championship game.

That wraps up our look at the first four conferences in action this week. Back tomorrow and Thursday for more previews. Over the weekend we'll do our best to keep you up-to-date on key developments.

If you'd like some BIG JUICY WINNERS, sign up for JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK right now by calling 1-800-323-4453. You can also purchase game day releases, or our full postseason packages in the BLUE RIBBON CLUB or CASHLINE here at the website with your credit card.

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