Sweet 16 Continues Friday Night

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

SWEET 16 CONTINUES FRIDAY NIGHT

As promised, we're back with our second set of previews. We hope you enjoyed Thursday Night's games. Let's see what our key data suggests for tonight's games in St. Louis and Houston.

If you're new to the site, we look at two-point shooting percentage allowed, which we think is the single best indicator stat in college basketball. It's been true throughout the history of the sport that defense wins championships. Far too few handicappers pay attention to defense when making their picks. We also provide a conference rating adjustment you can compare to the Vegas line. It's very easy to lose sight of the fact that not all conferences are created equal when you're handicapping tournament games.

The other key element of our postseason coverage has been "Phantom Scores." We'll look at those results from Thursday and Friday Night action when we preview the Elite Eight games set for Saturday and Sunday. Note that we ran a full listing of Phantom Scores (two point scoring plus rebounding) from last weekend's action in our Monday edition of the NOTEBOOK. Please check the archives for a review.

 

ST. LOUIS, MO

TENNESSEE VS. OHIO STATE
Tennessee 46%
Ohio State 45%
Conference Edge: Ohio State by 1
Vegas Line: Ohio State by 4.5, total of 134

These two teams played a wild game not too long ago in the Dance. Tennessee raced to a big lead, but managed to blow the whole thing and lose outright in a high scoring shootout. Both teams have changed a lot since then. Tennessee seems to have better chemistry this year, as some bad apples have been kickoff the tree. Ohio State plays a slow deliberate style that allows Evan Turner to work for a good shot. You can see from the Vegas total that this isn't expected to be a wild shootout.

Ohio State has the better defense in our view. As we always discuss with Tennessee, they tend to post GREAT numbers when running up the score on lesser teams, but play well below expectations when they have to step up in class. Maybe this year's soap opera helped get everyone's heads on straight. They did play extremely well in home wins over Kentucky and Kansas. Time for a neutral site breakthrough victory to establish Bruce Pearl as the real deal. We've been skeptical of his approach in big time basketball. Maybe this weekend he changes our minds.

We've been working very closely with our sources on this one. Much of the stat and computer simulation work suggests oddsmakers have done a good job with the line. Ohio State is better, but not "run away and hide" better unless Tennessee self destructs. Can the Vols hang tough for 40 full minutes? Our read of the Tennessee mindset will ultimately determine any side or total selection here.

 

NORTHERN IOWA VS. MICHIGAN STATE
Northern Iowa 45%
Michigan State 45%
Conference Edge: Michigan State by 5
Vegas Line: Michigan State by 1.5, total of 121.5

Very tough handicapping situation here in terms of the intangibles. Northern Iowa is in the monster letdown spot of all time after upsetting Kansas in the last round. They also hit a late three to barely survive UNLV in the tourney opener. It's very tough to ask a team to keep hitting clutch shots to barely win!

Michigan State on the other hand is dealing with injuries. They blew most of a big lead while shorthanded this past weekend vs. Maryland, only advancing on a buzzer three-pointer. A full collapse actually did happen, but one shot bailed them out.

Our key stats show even defenses, but Michigan State doing that in a superior conference. You have to adjust down though for injuries, which puts you fairly close to the number. We talked about Phantom Score a minute ago. It's worth nothing here that Northern Iowa lost that stat 68-53 to Kansas last Saturday, while Michigan State beat Maryland 79-61 in two-point scoring plus rebounding. Michigan State has the better inside game, meaning Northern will have to keep hitting treys to advance.

We will think about the Under. Expect a slow tempo, with potential issues on long range shooting because the game's being played in a football dome. Our sources have been watching all four teams in St. Louis to see how they handle the backdrop. Sometimes three-pointers determine who wins and covers...and sometimes it's three-point MISSES that do that!

 

HOUSTON, TX

ST. MARY'S AT BAYLOR
St. Mary's 46%
Baylor 42%
Conference Edge: Baylor by 10
Vegas Line: Baylor by 4, total of 145

If you're the kind of fan who loves watching hockey fights, MMA battles, or Wrestlemania (which goes up against the tourney Saturday!), you're going to love St. Mary's vs. Baylor.

Both teams have quality big men. You saw St. Mary's absolutely crush Villanova inside this past Saturday. But, you've also seen highlight reels of blocked shots and dunks from Baylor. That's what Baylor's known for...inside play! Think of the battle where the St. Mary's attack tries to score in the paint against that 42% two-point defense of the Bears. That's second best of the remaining teams by the way, trailing only Kentucky.

That Vegas total of 145 suggests an up and down game, with offenses constantly challenging defenses and vice versa. That's going to make for exciting basketball. We're also hearing from our sources that Baylor fans will be turning out in full force in Houston. Waco is just a four hour drive...and Texans will rally around the local Cinderella story even if they didn't attend the university. The Baylor players have looked a bit lost emotionally in neutral court action so far. This may inspire more intensity.

Vegas has priced that in to a degree with a line of Baylor -4. Is that too much for teams that are hard to tell apart through two tournament games? Or, is Baylor's inside defense the perfect antidote for St. Mary's strengths? Don't make a move until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!

 

PURDUE AT DUKE
Purdue 42%
Duke 44%
Conference Edge: No edge
Vegas Line: Duke by 8, total of 129

How many points is Robbie Hummel worth? Purdue had the better defense this year when healthy. There's no edge in the conferences. But, Duke is a whopping 8-point favorite on the assumption that Purdue can't keep playing THIS well without Hummel.

We should note that Duke went to Purdue and spanked them this year during the Big Ten-ACC challenge...and that was when Hummel was playing! Was that a preview of tonight? Or, just another reason for Duke to get overconfident. Note that Duke LOST at Wisconsin in another road battle against the Big 10. That's the Badgers team you saw get crushed by Cornell after barely getting by Wofford.

Let's note that Duke is playing top notch defense this year. We've scolded them in the past for not matching the other powers inside the paint. They basically are this year outside of Kentucky, Baylor, and a healthy Purdue. We're still skeptical they can run the table with their poor inside offense. They need treys and free throws to win big games. Maybe that will matter tonight. Maybe it won't matter until Sunday's game against the St. Mary's/Baylor winner.

In yesterday's previews, we talked about the potential volatility because of clashing styles in the Thursday Night games. Whoever's "style" controlled the flow of the game was going to cover the spread...possibly by a lot. Friday's games are less extreme. The favorites aren't in true blowout position unless the dogs play horribly. The dogs don't bring anything to the table that could utterly throw off the favorite in terms of tempo or a matchup edge. This means LINE VALUE is a really big deal, as is INFORMATION!

Nobody's better informed than JIM HURLEY, nobody has a better read of what's happening with the WISE GUYS on game day than JIM HURLEY. He has connections in Las Vegas and offshore that let him to know what the smart money is doing, and what the dumb money is doing. You know what YOU should be doing? Running to the phone to call JIM HURLEY!

The number is 1-800-323-4453. You can sign up for the rest of the postseason or just tonight's top releases. Game day selections and club services can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card. We don't want to tip our hand too much...but we will say that one of our biggest releases of the entire season will go between now and Sunday afternoon!

Back tomorrow to preview Saturday's Elite Eight games in Syracuse and Salt Lake City. Enjoy the rest of the Sweet 16. BE SURE TO DANCE WITH THE HANDICAPPER WHO BRUNG YA'!

 

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