Stage Is Set For Super Weekend

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

STAGE IS SET FOR SUPER WEEKEND

We continue our coverage of college basketball conference tournament action with a look at the "Phantom Scores" from Friday action. As most of you know, that's a stat we invented many years ago that emphasizes the inside game. If you'd like to figure it out yourself on the fly in the coming days, it's simply two-point scoring plus rebounding. This total provides a "secondary" score that's often a better assessment than the final score in terms of evaluating teams.

We'll take Friday's results in rotation order. Please consider what you see in the numbers when making your decisions in Saturday action!

 

ACC QUARTERFINALS

*Final Score: Duke 57, Virginia 46
*Phantom Score: Duke 72, Virginia 71
Like many top seeds this week, Duke was sleepwalking in the first half before turning on the jets. The game was tied 27-all at the break. Maybe "turning on the jets" is too strong considering it was only a 30-19 second half score! Duke did control the key elements of the game, as a top seed should against a mediocre seed that had been slumping. To their credit, they avoided sweating the ending to the same degree teams like Ohio State and Kentucky were doing at the same time. Not an impressive set of openers for top seeds Thursday or Friday.

*Final Score: Miami of Florida 70, Virginia Tech 65
*Phantom Score: Miami of Florida 84, Virginia Tech 65
Yes, ANOTHER misdeed team from the ACC loses a first round game in ugly fashion. Virginia Tech was a #4 seed with a bye. Miami took out the fifth seed Wake Forest a day earlier. Clemson dropped a game it was supposed to win. You can see why we're not impressed much with this league! You don't often see a 1-12 matchup in the semifinals. Duke-Miami will make that happen Saturday. Miami does have a strong inside game, and could make it interesting if Duke no-shows mentally. Tough to ask a 12th seed to play three good games in three days though.

*Final Score: Georgia Tech 69, Maryland 64
*Phantom Score: Georgia Tech 70, Maryland 70
Just when you thought that you'd seen as many favorites lose as was possible in this event, Maryland ruins its recent hot run with a dismal loss to Georgia Tech. That's the same Georgia Tech team that was lucky to get by horrible North Carolina the night before. In terms of preparing for the Dance, it's a washout weekend in the ACC. And, this was a league that washed out last year except for superpower North Carolina. The demise of this storied league continues.

*Final Score: NC State 58, Florida State 52
*Phantom Score: Florida State 73, NC State 47
It's only fitting that Florida State continued the trend. Favorites just can't win in this league! Underdogs swept the board 8-0 ATS in the first two rounds winning six of eight. You can see FSU's dominance in Phantom Score though. They were the better team (it was a 3-11 game after all in the seedings). State picked up 12 points from behind the arc, four more at the free throw line, and eventually gained possession in spots where FSU grabbed offensive rebounds but still couldn't score. Saturday's semifinals will include an 11 and a 12 seed. Duke couldn't have imagined an easier path to the trophy.

 

ATLANTIC 10 QUARTERFINALS

*Final Score: Temple 69, St. Bonaventure 51
*Phantom Score: Temple 82, St. Bonaventure 50
Here's a top seed who showed up and played well. That's been fairly consistent this week. Mid major teams like Temple, UTEP, or Utah State show up with something to prove. All the marquee powers from the big leagues act like they'd rather go home and hang out with the cheerleaders. Note that Phantom Score was an even bigger blowout. Dominant inside performance from a Temple team the media should be paying more attention to. The A10 is in an up-year...and Temple's their top seed.

*Final Score: Rhode Island 63, Saint Louis 47
*Phantom Score: Rhode Island 70, Saint Louis 49
One of the few bubble teams to post a huge result, Rhode Island was dominant here from start to finish. Not only did they win Phantom Score huge, they also won turnovers and free throws. Remember that Saint Louis plays such a slow pace that a 16-point decision is more like 22-25 in a real game! Temple and Rhode Island will be a great game if they both play at today's level.

*Final Score: Xavier 78, Dayton 73
*Phantom Score: Xavier 69, Dayton 58
Dayton led much of the night, but faded in the final minutes against the superior squad. Dayton was on the wrong side of the bubble coming into this game, and didn't help their cause with the loss. If Joe Lunardi's bracketology is right, Dayton's behind teams who have already lost. There's not much help left for anyone to give them. The A10 could drop down to having only three teams in the Dance, after threatening to get as many as five in not too long ago. Phantom Score shows the right teams have been winning so far today.

*Final Score: Richmond 77, Massachusetts 72
*Phantom Score: Massachusetts 74, Richmond 65
We're seeing a lot of reversals today, where the Phantom winner didn't advance. That tells you a lot of teams were overachieving in areas where it's hard to string together success. Keep that in mind as you handicap. Asking teams to get lucky two days in a row isn't a recipe for success!

 

BIG TEN QUARTERFINALS

*Final Score: Ohio State 69, Michigan 68
*Phantom Score: Ohio State 61, Michigan 55
Ohio State had to hit a buzzer miracle to survive. They'll have a chance to make up for that today and tomorrow. Will they bring any fire. So few top seeds do these days in the major tourneys that you have to wonder. Michigan played their hearts out. Phantom Score says they really didn't deserve a better fate though. Ohio State should have won a tight one, and did. They just made it as dramatic as possible. We still like the Buckeyes chances to impress in the Dance. Seems like most top seeds are going at three-quarter or 80% speed this week.

*Final Score: Illinois 58, Wisconsin 54
*Phantom Score: Illinois 64, Wisconsin 46
Great to see the Illini show up with some fire after their recent slump. Wisconsin apparently thought it was going to be easy. Or, they thought they were as good as many of the #1 seeds around the country who were coasting through their games. Actually, they are! Wisconsin beat Duke earlier this season, and will hold its own with anybody when they bring fire. They didn't here, getting waxed in Phantom Score. The Badgers only made eight two-point baskets all day. They managed to stay close thanks to a 16-5 edge in turnovers. Illinois should be in the Dance safely now, but their recent problems will still be an issue. Wisconsin joins the long list of danger teams who will look better next week than they did this week.

*Final Score: Purdue 69, Northwestern 61
*Phantom Score: Purdue 58, Northwestern 45
Purdue led 62-61, then scored the last seven points of the game to vulture a push. Phantom Score shows that Purdue had the better inside game, which isn't much of a surprise. The loss of Hummel has hurt them badly. This is Northwestern we're talking about after all. It will be interesting to see how much the selection committee penalizes them (if at all) for the injury. If they keep winning this weekend, they're going to be overseeded next week.

*Final Score: Minnesota 72, Michigan State 67 (in overtime)
*Phantom Score: Michigan State 67, Minnesota 60
Minnesota entered the event knowing they had to turn the table to go Dancing. They kept those hopes alive in an overtime thriller. Phantom Score shows they were a bit lucky, needing a 10-5 edge in treys to sneak by. The bad news is that they probably won't have that size an edge in Saturday's semifinals. The good news is that Purdue is vulnerable right now. It would be just like this tournament to have an Illinois/Minnesota championship game on Sunday!

 

SEC QUARTERFINALS

*Final Score: Kentucky 73, Alabama 67
*Phantom Score: Kentucky 80, Alabama 80
Kentucky followed the same early drama as we were seeing with other top seeds. They fell behind early, and had to rally to avoid embarrassment. We don't get many Phantom Score ties. That tells you Alabama was playing very hard here. Tough to hang with Kentucky in this stat in a game that has some tempo to it...and it takes tempo to get to 80-all in Phantom Score.

*Final Score: Tennessee 76, Mississippi 65
*Phantom Score: Mississippi 65, Tennessee 61
Tennessee always grades out poorly in Phantom Score. That ends up telling the story most seasons when they fail to play to their seed in the Dance. They're much like Duke, in that homecourt blowouts create the illusion of greatness that doesn't hold up on neutral courts. The SEC is so weak this year that few have made them pay. Kentucky might in the semifinals Saturday. Somebody surely will in the Dance down the road. We'll concede that the Vols aren't as soft as they used to be. They're still not as good as their press clippings.

*Final Score: Mississippi State 75, Florida 69
*Phantom Score: Florida 62, Mississippi State 56
Florida looks like they're in the Dance even with this loss. Lunardi even had Ole Miss making it at last report. It's no secret that most of the SEC is going to be on our go-against list next week. Florida allowed 57% shooting in this one. No amount of Phantom Score can make up for that!

*Final Score: Vanderbilt 78, Georgia 66
*Phantom Score: Vanderbilt 75, Georgia 71
The only game in the SEC where the favorite won Phantom Score! Vandy will have a hometown crowd motivating them again Saturday...as both Tennessee teams will be in position to exploit some home cooking.

 

CONFERENCE USA SEMIFINALS

*Final Score: Houston 74, Memphis 66
*Phantom Score: Memphis 77, Houston 60
Tom Penders has always had a history of playing very soft inside, and trying to overcome that with long range shooting and playing a style that takes opponents out of their preferred game. It can work in tournaments if the other coach doesn't react well. It worked here! You can see that Memphis won Phantom Score huge (which is common for opponents of Penders, and has been since his days at Texas). Houston was plus 12 in made free throws though because they attacked the basket well, and they only turned the ball over six times. Houston will have to play even better than this to have a shot at UTEP in Saturday's championship game.

*Final Score: UTEP 75, Tulsa 61
*Phantom Score: UTEP 79, Tulsa 63
We alerted you to UTEP many weeks ago now in our first CUSA SPOTLIGHT report here in the NOTEBOOK. They were strong then, and seem to be playing their best ball of the year in recent days. Remember, this tournament was in Tulsa! The Miners grabbed the game by the throat early, and never let up. They're not as good as Memphis was in the Calipari years of course, but they are the heir apparent to leadership in the league. Very solid team all the way around. Note that UTEP won this game handily despite shooting just 3 of 15 on treys. That tells you how great they were at everything else.

 

BIG EAST SEMIFINALS

*Final Score: Georgetown 80, Marquette 57
*Phantom Score: Georgetown 89, Marquette 46
Marquette shot lights out from long range in the prior round to overcome a Phantom Score debacle. They still did okay in this one (6 of 12), but their overwhelming inside weakness was abused throughout the second half as Georgetown ran away and hid. You don't often see Phantom Scores like that when major teams play each other. Marquette has little hope of doing much in the Dance unless they shoot lights out every round. Georgetown is feeling it since getting their lineup back in order. They'd better remember to save some mojo for next week. Most everyone else from the Big East is going to be well rested.

*Final Score: West Virginia 53, Notre Dame 51
*Phantom Score: West Virginia 70, Notre Dame 35
The Irish still managed to cover, as this new slow style keeps them competitive with superior teams. Phantom Score shows the magnitude of their weakness though. They're just getting nothing inside. They were outrebounded very badly here, and only made eight two-pointers all night. West Virginia couldn't pull away because of a 3 of 19 night on treys. You can assume most Irish opponents will shoot better than that from this point forward. Amazing that the oddsmakers have been so slow to adjust their ND totals. They keep going Under by a mile! Interesting Saturday Night final with Georgetown and West Virginia both coming off Phantom Score routs.

 

BIG 12 SEMIFINALS

*Final Score: Kansas 79, Texas A&M 66
*Phantom Score: Kansas 65, Texas A&M 61
This game was much closer than the final score makes it sound, and is more in line with the Phantom Score. It was nip and tuck for three-fourths of the game. Kansas made a little run. Then, A&M panicked and started forcing up too many bad shots. The Aggies were just 5 of 20 on treys, while Kansas was a sharp 10 of 18. That's plus 15 points right there in a game Kansas only won by 13. For now, we have to assume the Big 12 is loaded, and is going to make some waves in the Dance. We'll let early day action next week change our minds if they need to be changed.

*Final Score: Kansas State 82, Baylor 75
*Phantom Score: Baylor 74, Kansas State 68
Both of these teams are solid as a rock. We'll be looking to take Baylor in the Dance. This game was basically a toss-up, but K-State won three-pointers 8-4 for a 12-point advantage. That trumped Phantom Score for the night. Interesting championship matchup, with Kansas State entering with double revenge. Expect a rabid crowd in Kansas City!

 

MAC SEMIFINALS

*Final Score: Akron 66, Western Michigan 64
*Phantom Score: Akron 62, Western Michigan 51
This is the tournament nobody wants to win! Top seed Kent got knocked out in the quarterfinals. So was second seeded Central Michigan. Akron, the third seed, had to go overtime in their debut...and trailed much of the night here. Somebody's going to win the event...and that somebody is very likely to get waxed in the Big Dance! The MAC has faded badly from their glory days a few years ago. Nothing we've seen this week has changed our minds about that. To its credit, Akron was better at Phantom Score than the actual score, which means they're doing well in the fundamentals.

*Final Score: Ohio 54, Miami of Ohio 42
*Phantom Score: Ohio 53, Miami 51
Ugly shooting night for both teams, in a classic grinder game. Ohio ended up winning big because of free throws. They probably won't have a 19-4 edge in that category Saturday against Akron. Look for both Ohio schools to draw well in the Cleveland Cavalier's home arena on championship night.

Publication deadlines prevent us from running the numbers from the West coast conferences.

That wraps up our look at Phantom Scores from Friday action. Saturday is destined to be HUGE at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

Saturday's Semi-Final Rounds:
SEC
Atlantic 10
ACC
Big 10

Saturday's CHAMPIONSHIP games:
Conference USA
Big 12
Pac 10
MAC
Mountain West
Big West
Big East
WAC

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

 

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