Shockers & Stunners Highlight Thursday

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

SHOCKERS AND STUNNERS HIGHLIGHT
THURSDAY ACTION

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

It seems to happen every year. The big name teams come in to their conference tournaments ill-prepared because they're thinking too much about next week's Big Dance. That leads to upsets, near misses, and results that have the guys in the TV studio's scratching their heads.

Let's crunch some numbers from Thursday action to help you make some picks on today's card. Everyone who won Thursday plays on Friday!

We're going to focus on a stat we invented several years ago called 'Phantom Score.' That's simply two-point scoring plus rebounding. It's a 'secondary' score that often matches the actual final score. When it doesn't, the team with the edge in Phantom Score played the better game. Phantom Scores typically have better PREDICTIVE value for what's going to happen in the future.

You see, the scoreboard is strongly influenced by free throw discrepancies (influenced by officiating), and three-point shooting (often at the mercy of the basketball gods from game to game because they're so random). Two-point scoring and rebounding define a team in its most consistent areas. That's why we developed the stats. That's why we present the scores for you today!

Let's take Thursday's results in rotation order...

BIG EAST QUARTERFINALS

*Final Score: Georgetown 91, Syracuse 84
*Phantom Score: Georgetown 81, Syracuse 68
A clean win for Georgetown, as they won Phantom Score by an even bigger margin than the actual score. Syracuse was a very hot 11 of 20 from long range (well above norms), but that only got them within seven points. Very poor effort from Syracuse outside the lucky day on treys. Great result for the Hoyas. They were even better than the scoreboard suggested.

*Final Score: Marquette 80, Villanova 76
*Phantom Score: Villanova 64, Marquette 48
Here you see Phantom Score lining up with the superior team. That usually means the dog got lucky from long range, or received friendly officiating. In this case, it was a little of both. Marquette was a ridiculous 11 of 18 on three-pointers (nobody can do that on purpose!), and shot six more free throws. If these guys played again tomorrow, Phantom Score says Villanova would likely have a distinctive advantage. Keep that in mind if you're thinking about Marquette against Georgetown.

*Final Score: Notre Dame 50, Pittsburgh 45
*Phantom Score: Pittsburgh 52, Notre Dame 41
Notre Dame is playing much better at this slower tempo. But, they were still outclassed inside in this one. The announcers kept talking about how patience was helping them score inside. Notre Dame only made 12 two-pointers all night! The Irish won this one from long range thanks to a poor 2 for 10 mark on treys from Pittsburgh. We like what we're seeing with the Irish. Just be aware that they were a little fortunate to get past the Panthers in this one. Whatever the tempo, Notre Dame has to win the battle of treys to beat the most physical teams.

*Final Score: West Virginia 54, Cincinnati 51
*Phantom Score: West Virginia 68, Cincinnati 60
Cincy deserves all the credit in the world for hanging tough in their third game in three days. West Virginia had been off since the weekend! It's not exactly the Final Four the were expecting in New York...but Friday will still be full of thrills given who's still playing.

ACC OPENING ROUND

*Final Score: Virginia 68, Boston College 62
*Phantom Score: Boston College 73, Virginia 60
The media talked a lot about the upsets in New York. Both early ACC games were upsets as well. Virginia was a 5-point dog here, but managed to win outright. Phantom Score went to the superior team though (as it often does). Virginia was +9 points on treys, and +7 points on free throws. They aren't likely to win those categories against Duke Friday, even though Duke isn't playing in Cameron Indoor this time.

*Final Score: Miami of Florida 83, Wake Forest 62
*Phantom Score: Miami of Florida 79, Wake Forest 65
Horrible game for Wake, who entered the tourney as the #5 seed. How can you lose that badly to the #12 seed?! You can see it was a clean win for Miami. They were the much better side from the opening tipoff. We'll be looking to go against Wake Forest in the Dance next week. They've developed a history of running out of gas way too soon in the season. Miami will be a live dog again Friday if they keep playing like this.

*Final Score: Georgia Tech 62, North Carolina 58
*Phantom Score: North Carolina 82, Georgia Tech 72
Georgia Tech was lucky to get the victory here. North Carolina was a woeful 2 of 16 on three-pointers. You can see that the Heels were much better in the other categories. We've been down on the ACC for years. The caliber of play you saw today from Wake Forest and Georgia Tech help explain why. They have no sense of the moment, in a conference that helped invent big moments in this sport.

*Final Score: NC State 59, Clemson 57
*Phantom Score: NC State 72, Clemson 51
Yes, this is the ACC...where favorites Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Clemson all got dominated inside by the teams seeded 10th, 11th, and 12th in the brackets. It's like the bye teams got another bye! Don't put anything past Friday's favorites to disappoint either. It's the ACC...where great basketball used to be played.

MID AMERICAN QUARTERFINALS

*Final Score: W. Michigan 69, C. Michigan 60
*Phantom Score: W. Michigan 65, C. Michigan 49
Dog Day Thursday in early action continued with seventh seeded Western Michigan dominating second seeded Central Michigan. Western was even more impressive than the final score made it look. Give the oddsmakers credit for ignoring the seeds and making Western a small favorite. They still didn't get it right though!

*Final Score: Akron 97, E. Michigan 89 (in double overtime)
*Phantom Score: E. Michigan 86, Akron 73
This could have been an early upset too. Our condolences to anyone who lost their underdog bets in that second overtime! We thought Akron would come in with more energy than this after losing the league title on their home floor to Kent last week. They'll still have a chance to earn a bid to the Dance after surviving this one. Phantom Score is suggesting they'll have to pick up their pace dramatically in Friday's semifinal against Western Michigan.

*Final Score: Ohio 81, Kent State 64
*Phantom Score: Kent State 73, Ohio 69
The top seed got routed! How many top seeds are going to play horrible in their quarterfinals? Kent won the regular season title last Friday Night in Akron, but that got them NOTHING Dance-wise because the MAC will only get one bid. That won't be going to Kent State after this debacle. Phantom Score suggested a tight win, but Kent's 3 of 20 effort from long range cancelled out the inside edges.

*Final Score: Miami of Ohio 73, Buffalo 59
*Phantom Score: Miami of Ohio 59, Buffalo 54
Big edge at the free throw line helped Miami pull away. Somebody seeded third or worse is going to win the automatic bid! Akron and three and Miami at four will be favored in the Friday's semifinals.

BIG 12 QUARTERFINALS

*Final Score: Kansas 80, Texas Tech 68
*Phantom Score: Kansas 76, Texas Tech 72
Kansas wasn't very impressive here, but survived the upset bug that was going around. Note how close Phantom Score was, against a Texas Tech team that Kansas should just crush inside. At least they didn't get knocked out in their first game this year. Still, Kansas sure treats the Big 12 tourney with less intensity than the rest of their schedule.

*Final Score: Texas A&M 70, Nebraska 64
*Phantom Score: Nebraska 57, Texas A&M 46
Look at Phantom Score! Texas A&M was +6 points from long range, and +8 from the free throw line...and that could only get them a tight victory against a #12 seed that was in a letdown spot off a Wednesday upset. Hope you had some daytime underdogs! Kansas and Texas A&M played a classic in College Station not too long ago. Let's hope the teams find that intensity again for Friday Night's meeting.

*Final Score: Kansas State 83, Oklahoma State 64
*Phantom Score: Kansas State 79, Oklahoma State 47
This is what motivated favorites should do in a conference tournament. Kansas State was fired up after losing their season finale to lowly Iowa State. We wouldn't be surprised to see the success continue for the Wildcats in an event that other top programs don't seem to be taking as seriously as they are. Dominating win from start to finish.

*Final Score: Baylor 86, Texas 67
*Phantom Score: Texas 78, Baylor 76
About the only time Phantom Score is misleading is when a losing team gets a bunch of offensive rebounds but keeps missing their shots. That's what happened here, as Texas won rebounding on the night because they kept grabbing their own misses, then missed again against the lethal Baylor defense. The final score tells the story better. Baylor and Kansas State play Friday, and we're going to love the LOSER of that game in the first round of the Dance. They'll be mad, fresh, and much better than Vegas realizes.

CONFERENCE USA QUARTERFINALS

*Final Score: Houston 66, Memphis 65
*Phantom Score: Houston 77, Memphis 70
Yes, the Dog Day Afternoon continued even in CUSA. In fact, it was even more dramatic here because everyone was expecting a Memphis/UAB elimination game for a second bid to the Dance from this league. Instead, BOTH teams fell. Memphis played even worse than the final score made it seem, losing rebounds badly and forcing only seven turnovers.

*Final Score: Southern Miss 58, UAB 44
*Phantom Score: UAB 50, Southern Miss 43
UAB won Phantom Score at least, not that that's any solace to them. UAB fell behind early, and made a minimal run for a few minutes in the second half. You just have to perform when your season is on the line. Or, you end up performing in the NIT.

*Final Score: Tulsa 80, Marshall 64
*Phantom Score: Tulsa 86, Marshall 67
Tulsa's taken full advantage of their home court edge. After a poor first half vs. Rice in their opener, they've just been crushingly dominant. They draw top seed UTEP in the semifinals. That could be one of the best games of the day given how those teams are playing right now.

*Final Score: UTEP 76, Central Florida 54
*Phantom Score: UTEP 76, Central Florida 46
UTEP has some players. They've stayed off the radar all year, but fully deserve a Dance bid even if they lose to Tulsa in Tulsa in the semifinals. Great to see a top seed take a game by the throat. That mostly seems to happen in the mid majors now...where the top seeds know they need to keep winning, and the lesser teams in the league have vulnerable throats!

SEC OPENING ROUND

*Final Score: Alabama 68, South Carolina 63
*Phantom Score: South Carolina 78, Alabama 73
South Carolina jumped to a big halftime lead, and maintained an inside edge the whole way. It wasn't enough to make it to the next round in this evenly matched battle. Alabama's reward? A quarterfinal matchup with Kentucky. Given how flat top seeds have been, that might be an actual reward!

*Final Score: Tennessee 59, LSU 49
*Phantom Score: LSU 66, Tennessee 65
Tennessee was a huge favorite here. They immediately fell way behind, then spent the rest of the afternoon grinding out a tight win. The game had more tempo than the final score made it see. LSU was 3 of 16 on treys, Tennessee 4 of 23. It's an annual tradition that Tennessee posts ugly Phantom Score numbers in the postseason. A traditionally overrated program in terms of REAL basketball and serious March potential. The Vols face Ole Miss Friday.

*Final Score: Florida 78, Auburn 69
*Phantom Score: Auburn 79, Florida 68
Almost a reversal here. Florida was +9 in points from long range, and +8 in points from the free throw line. That pretty much explains the reversal! Rested Mississippi State is up next. The Bulldogs showed little life in a home loss last weekend to Tennessee.

*Final Score: Georgia 77, Arkansas 64
*Phantom Score: Georgia 85, Arkansas 61
Very strong outing for the Bulldogs, who have a history of waiting until this tournament before playing their best basketball! They draw Vandy Friday Night.

BIG TEN OPENING ROUND

*Final Score: Michigan 59, Iowa 52
*Phantom Score: Iowa 67, Michigan 54
Michigan won free throws 15-3, which is how they could win this game with that Phantom Score loss. They're very unlikely to do that against Ohio State Friday. If the Buckeyes show up, that Phantom Score you see probably understates the blowout potential. Are we going to start seeing some top seeds show up?

*Final Score: Northwestern 73, Indiana 58
*Phantom Score: Northwestern 61, Indiana 56
Took the Wildcats a while to get focused. They trailed much of the way, then exploded in a quick burst during the second half. Phantom Score says it should have been closer than it was. Northwestern better not fall behind today's opponent by a bunch right away.

*Final Score: Minnesota 76, Penn State 55
*Phantom Score: Minnesota 62, Penn State 52
Minnesota played here like a team on a mission. They know that the Big Ten tourney can get crazy when the superior seeds don't bring everything (which has happened in the past here just like it did today all over the map!). They draw Michigan State in the quarters, and will have a shot at an upset if they keep playing like this.

PAC 10 DAY ACTION

*Final Score: UCLA 75, Arizona 69
*Phantom Score: UCLA 70, Arizona 64
Phantom Score was right on the margin here, which was less common today than normal. Much of that was because so many favorites were flat. When favorites aren't flat, they dominate people in a way that shows up in both places. Good outing for the Bruins, who have had success against California already this year. That's who's on deck today in the semifinals.

*Final Score: California 90, Oregon 74
*Phantom Score: California 72, Oregon 60
Poor Oregon had to go overtime late Wednesday Night, then come back for a day game against the top seed. We have nothing wrong with giving perks to the regular season champion. Why punish the 8-9 teams like that though? Just have an eight team tourney and let the dog get some sleep!

Again, we can't do the night games out West. We hope you'll check the late boxscores and calculate Phantom Score on your own. Remember, it's two-point scoring plus rebounding. Very easy to figure in a snap!

MOUNTAIN WEST DAY ACTION

*Final Score: New Mexico 75, Air Force 69
*Phantom Score: New Mexico 63, Air Force 60
Another top seed sleepwalking through a day game, as New Mexico trailed most of the way...and had the Air Force bench players holding hands late in the game because of the drama. Air Force is TERRIBLE. A real team should beat them by a lot more than this on the scoreboard and in Phantom Score.

*Final Score: San Diego State 72, Colorado State 71
*Phantom Score: San Diego State 78, Colorado State 68
San Diego State almost choked away their season! They're on the bubble. They desperately need a win. Colorado State has a key player ejected in the first half for throwing an elbow. And, SDSU almost lost the game! That strong Phantom Score might suggest an upset shot against New Mexico in the semi's though.

WAC DAY ACTION

*Final Score: Utah State 84, Boise State 60
*Phantom Score: Utah State 90, Boise State 56
Utah State was a #1 seed who showed up and played like it. They showed some mercy on the scoreboard based on how dominant Phantom Score was.

*Final Score: Louisiana Tech 74, Fresno State 66
*Phantom Score: Louisiana Tech 71, Fresno State 69
Tight one. Tech will have its hands full with fired up Utah State in tonight's semifinals. Utah State knows they have to win the event to ensure a bid to the Dance. Nobody in this league matches up well with a fired up Utah State!

That wraps up our lengthy look at Thursday's results. Friday's going to be another huge day! Call JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK right now to sign up for the blockbuster bombshells going today and tonight. Game day releases and packages are always available here at the website for credit card purchase.

It's CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK in college hoops. When championships are on the line, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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