Mountain West, Pac-10 & Big West

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK CONTINUES WITH PREVIEWS
OF MOUNTAIN WEST, PAC 10, AND BIG WEST

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

You saw last week how VITAL it was to know which teams in tournaments play defense, and which fall apart defensively at the first sign of big game pressure.

That will only be MAGNIFIED this week in some of the bigger events, which is why we want you paying very close attention to the two-point defense numbers we're posting for you. Our focus is out West today, with previews of the Mountain West (now THE premier basketball conference West of the Mississippi), the Pac 10 (potentially down to just one bid this year, but hoping for as many as three), and the Big West.

Tomorrow, we finish off our CHAMPIONSHP WEEK previews with the ACC, SEC, Big 10, and the WAC. Friday through Sunday, we'll do our best to keep you updated on developments as they unfold. If you want to find out who the winners are going to be BEFORE the games start, sign up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK by calling 1-800-323-4453!

MOUNTAIN WEST

This nine-team league has a play-in game tonight with numbers eight and nine playing for the daunting honor of facing top seed New Mexico tomorrow. As always, we'll prevent the two-point defensive stats (our favorite indicator number in college hoops for projecting quality in a playoff atmosphere) in bracket order.

(9) Air Force 53%
(8) Wyoming 52%
(1) New Mexico 49%

(5) Colorado State 47%
(4) San Diego State 43%

(7) TCU 54%
(2) BYU 44%

(6) Utah 44%
(3) UNLV 44%

What jumps out to us in this group is the very poor number for top seed New Mexico. You've read enough of these previews now to now that the best teams simply aren't that bad defensively. Steve Alford still hasn't learned how to coach top quality defense! Be very careful asking them to go far in the Dance. It's tough to play perfect on offense every single time out, particularly on neutral courts in pressure situations. We're very interested to see how they handle the challenges of this tournament the next few days. We're sympathetic to anyone picking BYU or UNLV as an upset winner from the bottom half of the brackets. Those teams defend with much more passion and authority than New Mexico does. Right now four teams are projected to make the Big Dance from the Mountain West Conference. San Diego State is right on the cusp though. Let's see if they rise to the occasion with the pressure on.

PAC 10

Only nine teams are playing this year because USC is in detention for some very bad behavior. That means we have a play-in game tonight as well with eight and nine battling for the right to lose to number one!

Entering the postseason, regular season champion California is considered a lock to make the Big Dance. Arizona State and Washington are both getting some media hype as deserving darkhorses. We heard a few TV pundits talk about how hard-closing Washington might be a handful for anyone in the first round of the Dance. They have to get there first. The projected semifinal between Washington and ASU could be a defacto play-in game for the NCAA Tournament.

(9) Washington State 50%
(8) Oregon 51%
(1) California 49%

(5) UCLA 48%
(4) Arizona 49%

(6) Oregon State 49%
(3) Washington 47%

(7) Stanford 50%
(2) Arizona State 44%

As we discussed during the regular season, DEFENSES HAVE DISAPPEARED from the Pac 10! It's amazing how bad this league has gotten on that side of the bal. Cal is very poor for a major conference champion. That's how you can tell this isn't a major conference any more. There's just no way 49% could win the Big East or the ACC. UCLA's past defensive history got thrown out the window...but 48% is actually in the upper half of the league this year! Just abysmal!

If you're into defense, you'd have to give the edge to Arizona State in that projected play-in game with Washington. And, we wouldn't be surprised if that winner took out California or anyone else representing the upper half of the brackets. Washington's 47% mark would be best in the upper half! Who thinks of Washington as a defensive team?

You can see why the Mountain West has passed the Pac 10 this year. Even if Air Force and Wyoming are worse than what you see in the Pac 10, the top four of the Mountain West are clearly better than the top four of the Pac 10 this season. Maybe they'll fade under postseason pressure. Or, maybe this is the year the Mountain West embarrasses the Pac 10 in both basketball and football!

BIG WEST

We have very tricky brackets here. But, we have to say we like the format.

*The Big West has a stepladder approach similar to what we saw last week in the Horizon League and West Coast Conference. This rewards regular season play, and gives the best teams the best chance to avoid bad luck in their battle to win the league's automatic berth.

*The Big West re-seeds after each round, so the best team playing will face the worst seed left. You can't even make brackets out of that! This conference really takes care of its regular season champ the best way possible.

Tonight's Games:
(8) Cal Northridge 47%
(5) Cal Fullerton 46%

(7) Cal Irvine 48%
(6) Cal Poly 50%

Byes into the Quarterfinals:
(4) Cal Davis 53%
(3) Long Beach State 50%

Byes into the Semifinals:
(2) Pacific 44%
(1) Cal Santa Barbara 50%

Very soft defenses considering how weak everyone's strength of schedule is. Santa Barbara sure looks vulnerable with that 50% mark on two-point defense. Many respected voices are picking Pacific to win this event as a result. Pacific is really the ONLY team in the Big West that plays defense. And, that mark would be much worse if they played in a major conference. We're not optimistic about the eventual champ here doing much in the Dance.

That wraps up our look at the Western Conferences getting started today. There are other events in action of course. We previewed those yesterday! Please check the archives if you missed that earlier report. It's very hard to pick tournament winners on your own if you don't know who can play defense and who can't!

Among the big storylines today:

*Second round action in the Big East brings Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, and Louisville to the court against yesterday's Opening Round winners. This league is so deep you can be certain we'll see some great games today. Wouldn't it be great to get a dime every time an ESPN announcer used the word 'bubble' today?!

*The Big 12 tournament gets started in Kansas City with Missouri and Texas hoping to start hot runs that could take them deep in this event. The math suggests this is the best conference in American right now (at least, high quality math!). We may find out different come Dance time. Do your best to follow the Big 12 tournament the next few days. We believe several teams will be part of important storylines in the coming weeks.

*Conference USA debuts today in Tulsa, with the host school highlighting the four-game card. There won't be much media coverage of this one...which makes it the ideal spot to find an overlooked key that will beat the Vegas number! Think back to how many big covers there were last week in mid-major events that weren't getting much TV coverage.

If you haven't signed up already, the number to call is 1-800-323-4453. You can also link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK here on the web. You can purchase our BLUE RIBBON or CASHLINE selections with your credit card by making a few clicks. Game day releases are also available if you want to get your feet wet.

Back with you tomorrow as more of the Big Boys prepare to take the floor. We'll be previewing the ACC, SEC, Big 10, and the WAC. Make the most of CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK by signing 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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