The Sweet 16 Starts Tonight!

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

THE SWEET 16 STARTS TONIGHT!

As promised we're back with our first set of Sweet 16 previews for the NCAA tournament. We'll look at tonight's four games in this report. Be sure you're back with us Friday morning to go over tomorrow evening's games.

We'll start in Syracuse, New York...where West Virginia of the Big East hopes a "home conference" crowd will show their support. That might be tough because Syracuse will be on TV playing in Salt Lake City at the same time! How many people in the Carrierdome will be watching the Orange on little TV's or listening on radio?

If you're new to the site, our postseason SPOTLIGHT coverage features two-point defense, which we think is the single best indicator stat for quality in college hoops...and a "strength of conference" adjustment that we make to remember that not all leagues are created equal. If two teams have similar defensive stats, the team from the superior conference is probably the one with the better defense. And, as we remind you often...DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS!

Here we go...starting in the East regional...

 

SYRACUSE, NY

*WASHINGTON VS. WEST VIRGINIA
Washington 46%
West Virginia 46%
Conference Edge: West Virginia by 3
Vegas Line: West Virginia by 4, total of 142

You all probably would have guessed that West Virginia had the better defense. We have to admit that Washington has picked up the pace lately. They're not as soft as you think! And, the Pac 10 may not be as soft as everyone expected either. We've already made an adjustment in our league rankings to reflect the disappointment of the Big East's postseason run in the NCAA and NIT...and the charge by Washington. West Virginia is still the better team...and will be more comfortable in terms of site and time zone. Is that enough to overcome an injury to their point guard? Our East coast sources are all over that issue. They were among the first to know about the news.

You regulars know that we can't post our official selections here at the site. We will say this about Washington/West Virginia. If Washington can force a fast tempo, then West Virginia will be in BIG trouble with a backup point guard running the show. Washington and Over would make a lot of sense because the game would get away from the Mountaineers quickly. If West Virginia can play to their normally VERY slow pace, that will frustrate the underdog and lead to a favorite/Under combination. Pace is EVERYTHING in this game. 

 

*CORNELL VS. KENTUCKY
Cornell 46%
Kentucky 41%
Conference Edge: Kentucky by 13
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 8.5, total of 147

Be very careful evaluating the Cornell defense. Everyone used to think Princeton played great defense back in the day...but they weren't adjusting for tempo. When you do that with Cornell, and also adjust for their conference...the defense is exposed as very soft. Wisconsin made two-thirds of its two-point shots last weekend. Kentucky has a shot to run over, through, and around the slower Cornell players all night long.

As usual, Cornell will have to make three's to keep up. They've done a great job of that through the tourney...and have also been very smart about working for layups and easy looks inside against defenses ill-equipped to deal with the challenge. Kentucky has the best defense left in the Dance in our indicator stat. Cornell won't score inside this time, meaning THEY HAVE TO MAKE TREYS to have a shot.

If pace is the key to the first game, Cornell's perimeter shooting is the key here. If they stay hot, then the dog and Over is a likely combination. If the pixie dust wears off, Kentucky will be able to name the score...with Kentucky's garbage time mood determining the total winner.

You may be thinking that Cornell's "brains" match up well with Kentucky. That's probably true. Just remember that John Calipari is a brainy defensive tactician (hence his tournament success), and that Kentucky had a few days to study game film and come up with a strategy. The Wildcats better hoped they solved the riddle...because Temple and Wisconsin couldn't come close!

 

SALT LAKE CITY, UT

*BUTLER VS. SYRACUSE
Butler 46%
Syracuse 46%
Conference Edge: Syracuse by 7
Vegas Line: Syracuse by 6, total of 135.5

We're seeing a lot of defenses in the 46% range tonight. That seems to be the sweep spot this year. If you're at 47% or worse, it's very hard to advance through the brackets. Teams who are at 46% from the lesser conferences have generally made up for what becomes an "adjusted weakness" with great three-point shooting. Butler probably wouldn't grade out at 46% if they played a Big East schedule. So far, they've managed to survive anyway against two mid-major opponents.

The good news for Butler is that their ideally suited to deal with the Syracuse zone. The Orangemen tend to guard the basket very well, living with trey attempts if that's all their opponents can muster. Butler loves mustering three-pointers...setting up a very interesting dynamic. The most famous zone in the land vs. some of the best zone busters!

In a lot of ways, this game is like Cornell/Kentucky. Patience and treys vs. tempo and athletes. Kentucky and Syracuse are #1 seeds with legitimate championship hopes. Butler is a #5 seed...and Cornell obviously should have been considering how easily they dispatched with the #4 and #5 seeds in their way.

Fittingly, this is a mix of the first two games in terms of side/total dynamic. Syracuse (like Washington) wants to push tempo. Butler (like West Virginia) wants to slow things way down. Butler (like Cornell) needs treys to fall to have a chance to win. Syracuse (like Kentucky) will be attacking the basket inside to try and score the easiest way possible. It's really a dream night for matchup handicappers. That makes the Vegas lines very vulnerable. Truly every single side and total we've seen so far can miss by double digits depending on the flow of tempo and trey production.

 

*XAVIER VS. KANSAS STATE
Xavier 46%
Kansas State 45%
Conference Edge: Kansas State by 4.5
Vegas Line: Kansas State by 5, total of 153

This game is not like the others...but should be a treat to watch. Both teams are very physical, and won't back down from anybody. Both teams love tempo (which is why the total is 153!). This will definitely match the style we've grown accustomed to seeing in past Final Fours...where great athletes continually attacked the basket with abandon. What you saw from North Carolina, Kansas, and Memphis the past two seasons is the way these two teams like to play right now.

We'll note that Kansas State has the better defense because that lower percentage allowed on deuces comes in a tougher conference. We've already adjusted downward a bit for the Big 12's disappointing showings from Kansas, Texas A&M, Texas, and Oklahoma State. Xavier is the last team standing from the A10 in the Dance after disappointing showings from Temple and Richmond.

Our sources in Salt Lake are helping us gauge the Kansas State mindset. Are they ready to handle the pressure of being favored this late in the Dance? It's not something the coach and players have experience with in terms of THIS much national pressure. In our view, that's the single most important factor here. If Kansas State is ready, this is a coming out party for a potential 2010 champion. If not, tournament savvy Xavier wins the game outright. Yes, ANOTHER game that could miss the spread by a mile!

This is OBVIOUSLY a great night to link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK. You're going to try and make guesses on your own with tonight's volatile influences in play? Call 1-800-323-4453 to get on board for the remaining postseason. Tonight's games by themselves can be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

Don't make a move in the Sweet 16 until you hear WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!

 

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