Championship Previews



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

In some seasons, the NCAA Tournament selection committee has it pretty easy. Powerhouses advance to the last four championship finals that are set for 'Selection Sunday.' All the bubble teams have been dealt with. It's just a matter of tweaking the seeds, or figuring out what to order for lunch.

Then...there's THIS YEAR!

Amazingly, TWO different teams smack dab on the bubble are still alive to win automatic bids by capturing their conference tournaments. Mississippi State, seen as a longshot earlier this week, is facing Kentucky in the SEC. Their victories over Florida and Vanderbilt have lifted them up to the very borderline of possibilities. Minnesota, a team that would have to defeat Penn State and Michigan State just to get in the ballpark...defeated those two then CRUSHED Purdue Saturday afternoon to vault themselves to the bubble.

All of those squads that felt safe even though they lost earlier this week were no longer safe. Not only could Mississippi State and Minnesota win their way in to gobble up potential at-large berths...they've scored quality wins that may have pumped up their resume's enough to get them into the Dance even if they lose today.

But, if they lose BIG today, they could fall right back off the precipice. What a mess for the selection committee!

Let's run through all FOUR big championship games today. JIM HURLEY is scheduled to release his best three opinions in his annual CHAMPIONSHIP TRIPLE CROWN. Call 1-800-323-4453 for details. You can also purchase that special feature (and maybe some bonus NBA) here at the website with your credit card.

As we've done all weekend, we'll be featuring a stat we invented several years ago called 'Phantom Score.' It's simply two-point scoring plus rebounding. We've found it to be a great predictor of future success or failure. Three-pointers blow hot and cold. Free throws are at the mercy of officiating. Two-point shooting and rebounding is what teams do most consistently. Therefore they have the best predictive value.

Today's matchups are presented in rotation order for your convenience...

Early Vegas Line: Duke by 9.5, total of 137.5

Dance Ramifications: Duke is a #1 seed. Georgia Tech is currently projected for something in the 9-11 range. It's conceivable, but not likely that Duke could fall out of a #1 seed were they to lose today. Georgia Tech's result might determine where in that 9-11 range they'll get seeded. Few ACC teams have impressed in this tourney. Tech's kind of here by default. In the past, the seeding committee has NOT done a good job of noticing when the ACC is down!

What Happened Saturday:

*Final Score: Duke 77, Miami of Florida 74
*Phantom Score: Duke 72, Miami of Florida 57

*Final Score: Georgia Tech 57, NC State 54
*Phantom Score: Georgia Tech 70, NC State 59

We spend a lot of time blasting Duke, so we need to congratulate them when they play better than a score makes it look. They did win Phantom Score here handily thanks to a big rebounding edge. Of course, a top seed should dominate a #12 seed! You can see though what happens on the scoreboard when Duke isn't winning three-pointers and free throws. We've warned you about this all season (and in past years too). Miami had an extra trey. Duke had two extra free throws. Without winning those two categories, Duke was in a nailbiter on a neutral court with the worst team in their league. They will be in trouble from the second round of the Dance on once they stop playing weak ACC teams!

Georgia Tech is in a similar boat. They were strong inside, but had to sweat the ending because they were just 2 of 10 on three-pointers.

What to Expect: Underdogs have dominated the event so far, which tells you how unimpressive the best known teams are in crunch time. Duke isn't a very deep team, and is now playing its third game in three days. You're supposed to look at the dog in this sort of parity-riddled event. We'll be checking with our sources on site to make sure Tech still has some gas in its tank.

Early Vegas Line: Temple by 3.5, total of 115

Dance Ramifications: Temple could be seeded anywhere between 3 and 6 depending on how much respect the selection committee gives the A10. Richmond is currently projected to be a 5 or a 6. Both teams are safely in obviously. Today's result will determine where within those seed ranges that they'll end up. You may not have been paying much attention to the A10 this year. They're not on TV much any more. Be aware that both of these teams will likely be seeded correctly. Over the next few days we'll be talking about many teams we think are overseeded. We like what we're seeing from both of these teams late in the year, and in this tourney.

What Happened Saturday:

*Final Score: Temple 57, Rhode Island 44
*Phantom Score: Temple 56, Rhode Island 55

*Final Score: Richmond 89, Xavier 85 (in overtime)
*Phantom Score: Richmond 78, Xavier 72

Temple had a huge free throw advantage (25-9 in attempts), which is how they turned a close 'Phantom Score' into a 13-point win. They do attack the basket well. And, their defense doesn't put people on the line much except in desperation situations. If you split the difference, you probably get the better read. It wasn't as close as 'Phantom Score' made the game seem...but Temple had a battle on it hands.

Richmond tied the game late in regulation with a driving layup, then pulled away in the extra period to take out talented Xavier. That's another team to watch in the Dance! Richmond grades out well in our indicator stats. You'll recall that from SPOTLIGHT coverage earlier this season here in the NOTEBOOK.

What to Expect: A defensive struggle at a slow pace. Temple prefers it that way, and Richmond's okay in that style of play. Vegas is anticipating that with a low total. It might not be low enough considering Temple/Rhode Island landed on 101 in that style of game. We tend to take the points in defensive struggles, because you're getting more than it seems with fewer possessions. We have a lot of respect for Temple though. Our on-site sources (with some of the NY guys coming over to Atlantic City from the Big East tourney last night to help out) will help us make a final call.

Early Vegas Line: Kentucky by 7.5, total of 135.5

Dance Ramifications: Kentucky is a #1 seed. Mississippi State is currently RIGHT ON THE BUBBLE! The Wildcats wouldn't lose a #1 even if they dropped this decision. It's conceivable that Mississippi State could fall off the bubble with a blowout loss. There are about five teams we can think of hoping for that very development. Should Mississippi State get in, they would probably be a #12 seed.

What Happened Saturday:

*Final Score: Kentucky 74, Tennessee 45
*Phantom Score: Kentucky 74, Tennessee 56

*Final Score: Mississippi State 62, Vanderbilt 52
*Phantom Score: Mississippi State 64, Vanderbilt 55

That's a quality win for Miss. State considering that Vanderbilt was in its home city. We love how this program plays defense in big games. But, we're disappointed they no-showed so badly at home against Tennessee last weekend. You just can't count on them to rise to the occasion on command. Kentucky coasted to an easy win, as they're prone to do when things are clicking.

What to Expect: To us, Kentucky's intensity determines the result. They can name the score vs. everyone else in the conference on neutral courts in our view. They're that much better. The Wildcats have a tendency to lose focus though. And, Miss. State's the wrong kind of team to lose focus against! We think the final score will miss the Vegas spread by at least 6-7 points in one direction or the other. We'll use guidance from our sources to make the final call. You regulars know we tend to look at dogs in big games. Kentucky would represent the kind of favorite where that logic has to be tossed out. They win HUGE when everyone's on the same page. Luckily for you, JIM HURLEY WROTE THE BOOK ON HANDICAPPING!

Early Vegas Line: Ohio State by 4, total of 130

Dance Ramifications: Ohio State is currently projected to be a #2 seed, though it's possible that they could steal a #1 with an impressive win here if either Duke or Kentucky loses badly in an earlier game. Best guess now is a #2, and probably the best of the #2's (meaning they'd draw the worst of the #1's in the Elite Eight). Like Mississippi State above, Minnesota is RIGHT ON THE BUBBLE! What a headache these two teams have given the selection committee today. We don't see Ohio State as worse than a #2 even if they lose this game. Joe Lunardi's projected #3's (Baylor, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Wisconsin) all failed to reach their conference championship games.

What Happened Saturday:

*Final Score: Ohio State 88, Illinois 81 (in double overtime)
*Phantom Score: Illinois 84, Ohio State 83

*Final Score: Minnesota 69, Purdue 42
*Phantom Score: Minnesota 89, Purdue 48

Ohio State was very lucky to get past Illinois, which is two days in a row they were lucky to win against opponents who just aren't very good. Michigan is having a down year. Illinois slumped to the finish. So, the Buckeyes aren't in good form at all, as 'Phantom Score' has been showing us. Minnesota OBLITERATED Purdue to such a degree that you felt sorry for the Boilermakers. It's like they turned into a high school team after somebody's magic spell wore off. Robbie Hummel was good...but this wasn't supposed to be a team of Hummel and a bunch of stiffs. Maybe they are. Minnesota sure looks like a team on a mission...a 'team of destiny' in their own minds.

What to Expect: We've had success with teams like Minnesota in the past...underdogs surging through the whole weekend. But, we don't like asking a lesser team to win four games in four days when they're matched up against the top seed on that final day. A check with our sources will help us finalize a decision.

That wraps up our previews for Sunday. Don't forget to watch the selection show this evening on CBS. Make plans to be with us EVERY DAY through this every exciting month right here in the NOTEBOOK.

If you'd like some help picking winners today...and all the way through the chills and spills of MARCH MADNESS, sign up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK by calling1-800-323-4453. We've got very special prices today that will take you all the way through the NIT and the Big Dance. Game day releases and club packages can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

Enjoy the last four days of CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK. When championships are on the line, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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