A Chip on Their Shoulder



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

One of the first things we do when looking over the NCAA Tournament brackets is to circle all the quality teams that enter the Dance with a chip on their shoulder.

We want to know who's coming in MAD because they didn't perform to expectations in their conference tournaments.

This has many benefits:

*MAD teams will typically come out breathing fire in their first game, setting smart legal bettors up for good first half and full game bets in the opening round.

*MAD teams will usually be well rested. They left their conference tournaments earlier than expected, which allowed them extra time to get ready for this week's challenges. Anger AND energy is always a great combination!

*MAD teams will have had a result that casts doubt on their Dance hopes. The public tends to react to what they just watched on television. If a big name team doesn't play well in a promient TV game, you'll get them much cheaper the next time out than if they had won a blowout. The public LOVES betting on big name teams who are blowing people out. They'll shy away from teams who just lost.

*MAD teams will develop and “us against the world” mentality that can pay off through the whole tourney. Success breeds lethargy, adversity can bring teams together at just the right time. How often have you heard coaches say that a surprising loss in a conference tournament was the best thing that happened to their teams. Well, let's try to find some of those “best thing that happened” moments!

Here's a list of quality teams from the “Power Six” conferences who left their tournaments earlier than expected last week and should be rested and angry later this week:

*Syracuse: it's rare to get a top seed that was one-and-done in their conference tourney. It has happened before...and the energy created has launched a lot of pain on opponents! This is the single best combination of talent, rest, and anger we have on the table this year.

*Villanova: losing early can be a blessing in disguise for fast tempo teams like Villanova. They'll seem even faster now to first weekend opponents. The only thing scarier than Villanova is Villanova with fresh legs!

*Pittsburgh: this isn't a vintage Panthers team, though they did sneak into a #2 seed in the Big East tourney when nobody was looking. They've had time to think about their disappointing loss to Notre Dame.

*Maryland: The Terps had a huge celebration after beating Duke on national TV, but forgot to show up in Greensboro for the tournament. Gary Williams will consider that a “teaching moment,” and his players will be chomping at the bit to get back on the floor.

*Florida State: Very few respected seeds in the ACC showed up ready to play. Florida State will bring an aggressive defense AND a chip on their shoulder into first round action.

*Wisconsin: The Badgers can play with anybody, but had trouble getting up for a turnaround rematch with the Illini. That shouldn't be an issue this weekend. A very nice mix here of talent and anger from a physical team.

*Michigan State: Last year's national runner-up got in the way of Minnesota at just the wrong time. Coach Tom Izzo knows how to peak for the Dance. That loss will help him get his player's attention at the right time.

*Purdue: The Boilermakers qualify on paper for this angle, but we don't see any confidence at all with the group right now. If they don't believe they can win, the chip won't get anywhere near their shoulder.

BIG 12
*Missouri: The forgotten team in a killer conference. The Tigers can play, but no-showed in the opener against Nebraska. They won't make that mistake again. Put this team on your radar!

SEC and PAC 10
*Nobody: Not any clearcut qualifiers here. That's fine with us given how these conferences have performed outside of Kentucky this season.

Obviously, a few of those teams may have issues that keep you from getting too enthusiastic. Purdue has been a shadow of their former selves since the Robbie Hummel injury. We're not that high on the ACC this year...and it may not end up mattering much if somebody like Florida State or even Maryland is rested and motivated once the ball is in the air. We can assure you that some of the teams on that list are going to SPANK people Thursday and Friday!

Here's an additional list of major conference teams who have impressed us this year, but didn't reach their conference championship game. They'll come in focused in our opinion, and may have the kind of attitude that takes them far:

Texas A&M

We've talked a lot about the Big 12 this year. Baylor and Texas A&M impressed us more despite failing to reach the tourney finals than a few teams did that ended up winning their tournaments!

Let's include some mid-majors in the discussion. Here are some dangerous mid-majors who didn't match expectations in their conference tournaments:

Gonzaga (very well rested)
New Mexico
UTEP (though they may be tired)
Utah State (though they may be tired)

UTEP and Utah State both reached their conference finals before losing outright as pricey favorites. They should have a chip on their shoulders after blowing their tourneys. But, they won't have fresh legs to the same degree somebody like New Mexico, BYU, and especially Gonzaga will have.

That gives us a lot of teams to think about in terms of bring intensity to the floor Thursday and Friday. Not all will shine. Some will make headlines with VERY impressive performances. In past years, this particular exercise has always yielded teams ready to hit the ground running.

What about the other side of the coin? The teams most likely to be a little flat in the first round would be the following:

*The eight teams who finished their conference tourneys Sunday (less recovery and preparation time than anyone else).

*Anyone who won their conference tournament Saturday and spent the rest of the weekend celebrating and reading their press clippings.

*Any team distracted by injuries (like Purdue), or coaching rumors. We haven't heard many of those yet...but they often work their way into the news just as the Dance is starting. Hot young coaches see their names bandied about for openings that are created (which may be happening in Oregon where Ernie Kent is reportedly on the way out). Players don't respond well at all to rumors their coach might leave!

We'll talk more about emotional preparedness when we run through our previews Thursday and Friday. You can be sure we'll be focusing on two-point defense again (our favorite indicator stat) to get you ready for the big games. Tomorrow we'll provide some tips for handicapping the NIT, which will be front and center Tuesday and Wednesday on ESPN. Note that we'll be adding a “strength of conference” element into the mix for the tourneys so you're better equipped to evaluate some of the lesser known teams.

One man who is always well-prepared for PEAK PERFORMANCE in the tournaments is JIM HURLEY! We hope you were part of the amazing 20-7-1 run through the past week of action. That's 74% winners with a lot of action!

We don't have room to list all the plays. Here's a taste just of the underdog and pick-em games that got the money:

North Texas (+1) beat Denver 63-56
Air Force (pk) beat Wyoming 59-40
Houston (+6) beat Memphis 66-65
UCLA (pk) beat Arizona 75-69
Baylor (pk) beat Texas 86-69
UNLV (+1) beat BYU 70-66
Notre Dame (+5) covered vs. West Virginia in a 53-51 loss
Ohio (pk) beat Akron 81-75
Minnesota (+2.5) beat Purdue 69-42
Washington (+2) beat California 79-75

Oddsmakers didn't even know who the best teams were in a lot of these games!

The College Insider tournament...the NIT...and the Big Dance haven't even started yet. So, THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING!

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CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK was a lot of fun. But it's in the rearview mirror. It's time to get serious about the single biggest legal sports wagering event of the entire year. IT'S TIME TO CALL 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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