Saturday NCAA Elite-8 Previews
HURLEY GOES 2-1 IN FRIDAY SWEET-16, WINNING WITH TENNESSEE & DUKE - SIDE/TOTAL ELITE-8 SCORE GOES TODAY!
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
WV/KENTUCKY, BUTLER/K-STATE BATTLE FOR FINAL FOUR BERTHS
Though the 2010 NCAA Tournament will go down in history because of a string of upsets, there aren't really any BIG surprises amongst the four teams in action today.
KENTUCKY was a #1 seed, and has been playing that way so far.
WEST VIRGINIA was a #2 seed that many thought had earned a #1 by winning the Big East tournament. The Mountaineers are certainly playing as good as a #1 so far.
KANSAS STATE was a #2 seed who could well have jumped to a #1 had they defeated Kansas in the Big 12 championship game. The Wildcats have certainly lived up to expectations so far.
BUTLER comes from a bit off the radar...but how "off the radar" can you be when you have the longest winning streak in the country and established yourself as the "best of the mid majors" several weeks ago. If "Cinderella" is being played by a gorgeous actress, it's not really much of a Cinderella.
All four teams scored impressive victories Thursday Night to advance to the Elite Eight. Let's look at the Phantom Scores from those outings (two-point scoring plus rebounding) to see if there are any hidden factors that the final scoreboards might have overlooked. You regulars know we use Phantom Score as a "secondary" score because it often has better predictive value for future outcomes.
Time to preview Saturday's games by looking back at what happened Thursday Night!
THURSDAY'S GAMES IN SYRACUSE
*Final Score: West Virginia 69, Washington 56
*Phantom Score: West Virginia 84, Washington 63
*Final Score: Kentucky 62, Cornell 45
*Phantom Score: Kentucky 78, Cornell 48
Both teams were very impressive...much more impressive than the final score makes it look. We talk all the time about defense and rebounding winning championships. West Virginia held Washington to 39% shooting while winning the rebound battle 40-25. Kentucky held Cornell to 33% shooting while winning the rebound battle 38-26.
The scoreboard showed victories of 13 and 17...but in "real" basketball terms they were even bigger blowouts. Kentucky was just 2 of 16 on three-pointers, or we would have seen a replay of the Wake Forest slaughter. West Virginia had turnover issues (23!) as they dealt with the loss of their point guard.
We ran article a few weeks back expressing skepticism about West Virginia's chances to go the distance. Bob Huggins doesn't have a great Dance history. He can put an end to that with three more victories. In terms of everything else, West Virginia has kicked things up a notch (or two, or three) from the time of that article. They really are the best Big East team right now by a good bit. It could turn out that doesn't mean what everyone thought it would. West Virginia is the ONLY Big East team left in the brackets.
*KENTUCKY VS. WEST VIRGINIA
TODAY'S LINE: Kentucky by 4, total of 134
We'll be working very closely with our on site sources regarding this matchup. West Virginia simply CAN'T keep committing turnovers and have a shot at beating Kentucky. The great athletes of Kentucky turn those into easy baskets! Washington turned them into bad passes, missed shots, and assorted garbage. Kentucky won't. West Virginia has to protect the ball better today than they did Thursday. We'd argue the whole win/cover dynamic comes down to that one variable.
And, if it doesn't, Kentucky may have an edge anyway thanks to coaching! John Calipari knows how to win tournament games. He's established that everywhere he's been. His teams attack on both sides of the ball, and challenge opponents to hang with them. Few can. Bob Huggins has shown a tendency for passivity with his past powerhouses. They start to play not to lose rather to win. It's a tribute to this collection of talent that we haven't seen that yet. And, being an underdog may help them avoid that here.
If this game were being played last year (though it would be Memphis/West Virginia instead), we'd be looking at Calipari over Huggins. We must concede that West Virginia's improvement has us less skeptical about their overall hopes. They are for real. Kentucky does have stretches where they lose their focus, which will give a smart dog a chance to hang around. That's why what we learn from our sources is so important.
*If West Virginia has turnover troubles, it's Kentucky by double digits.
*If West Virginia protects the ball, they can definitely win outright.
The Over/Under is in play here as well. West Virginia plays slow, so protecting the ball yields an Under most likely. Turnovers give away easy points that could drive an Over.
This has the potential to be a great game. And, arguably, it's a "Final Four" game already because West Virginia has established in the minds of many they should have been a #1 seed to begin with.
THURSDAY'S GAMES IN SALT LAKE CITY
*Final Score: Butler 63, Syracuse 59
*Phantom Score: Syracuse 61, Butler 56
*Final Score: Kansas State 101, Xavier 96 (in double overtime)
*Phantom Score: Kansas State 94, Xavier 76
You can see that Butler was a bit fortunate to take out Syracuse. We would have thought it would have taken three-pointers for Butler to pull the upset. They actually lost that stat 7-6 in makes...but made up for it with an astounding 7-18 victory in turnovers. They passed the ball around the Syracuse zone without losing it! Syracuse was constantly making bad passes and dribbling into traffic ill-advisedly.
The bad news for Butler is that Kansas State has great guards who probably won't make those same mistakes. Kansas State only had 12 turnovers in an up tempo double overtime game! They're going to self-destruct against Butler? Actually, that's still a possibility:
*Kansas State could be very tired off the most intense game played thus far in the brackets. Xavier-K-State was a true war. We hope you got to see most of it because it truly was an instant classic.
*Kansas State could find Butler's slow down disrupting. That's why many of the mid-majors prefer the slowdown game, it encourages "unforced errors" from teams used to playing at faster speeds. A lot of Syracuse's mistakes Thursday Night came from impatience as much as anything else.
*Butler is due to make some treys after going just 6 of 24 vs. Syracuse. When the underdog makes treys, the favorite will sometimes get into a long distance war when they're better served attacking inside. Kansas State almost fell victim to this Thursday Night. The Wildcats shot 51% on two-pointers...but launched 19 treys anyway in an effort to keep up with Xavier (12 made treys). More focus inside might have prevented one or both of those overtimes.
*KANSAS STATE VS. BUTLER
TODAY'S LINE: Kansas State by 4, total of 135
To us, the potential fatigue of Kansas State is the big issue here. If they're drained, than this is a true pick-em. Maybe Butler's even the favorite if Kansas State has lost its legs. But, if Kansas State still has enough gas in the tank...you're looking at a team that won Phantom Score 94-76 over Xavier...laying just four points to a Butler team that lost that stat 61-57 to Syracuse.
Our sources are finding out what they can about the Kansas State preparation here. This is an athletic team with depth...and that means they're better suited to physical challenges than most others. Teams with short rotations would have trouble bouncing back from a war so quickly. That being said...this is still a group that played three games in three days in the Big 12 tourney...and now is in its third straight weekend of high pressure hoops.
We talked about volatility in our Thursday previews...and we ended up seeing pointspread covers of 10, 9, and 9 points in three of the four games (with the other missing by 5 in regulation). That volatility is still in play today, which means it's a BETTOR'S MARKET in Las Vegas!
JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK is vary confident it has today's winners. We might be talking sides...we might be talking totals...but we ARE talking BIG MONEY!
Call 1-800-323-4453 for complete details. You can also purchase today's slate here at the website with your credit card. BIG JUICY WINNERS ARE JUST A FEW CLICKS AWAY!
Back tomorrow to preview the last two Elite Eight matchups. We're to the point where we can start talking more about the NBA...and there's some MLB just around the corner. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!
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