More Bracket Buster Preparation

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

KEY INDICATOR STATS FOR THE BIG WEST AND WAC

Yesterday here in the NOTEBOOK, we crunched some numbers for your from four mid-major conferences that will be very prominent this weekend in college basketball's annual Bracket Busters feature. All four of those leagues (Colonial, Missouri Valley, MAC and Horizon) also had Tuesday action on the card. There are two more mid-majors from the regular board we need to spend some time with. One plays a full slate tonight. The other got smart and doesn't have ANY conference games scheduled for Tuesday or later!

We start with the Big West, where Long Beach State is currently the top team. That may not be saying much in the big picture. Ken Pomeroy's respected computer ratings don't have ANY team from the Big West in the top 100. Joe Lunardi's "Bracketology" reports at ESPN show that the Big West winner would probably be a 15th seed even if Long Beach State wins the postseason bid. If there's an upset in the Big West tourney, their representative might even be a 16th seed.

Still, we're not looking at these teams to see who might take down Georgetown or Duke. That's not going to happen. We need to study the indicator stats to find edges when they play each other tonight...and then for Saturday's Bracket Buster games.

As always, we start with the margin average in conference play. This deep in the season, these can be considered virtual Power Ratings because they give you the scoreboard differences between teams within an enclosed schedule. Everyone's playing each other, so everyone has a fairly comparable strength of schedule within this data sampling.

BIG WEST MARGIN AVERAGES
Long Beach State: +10.5
Pacific: +4.1
Cal Poly: +2.3
Cal Santa Barbara: +1.5
Cal Northridge: +0.6
Cal Irvine: -1.8
Cal Fullerton: -3.9
Cal Davis: -4.8
Cal Riverside: -6.8

The first time we checked, this was a very competitive conference. Things have spread out a bit, with Long Beach surging further ahead at the top, and Riverside sinking like a rock at the bottom. You still have a large cluster of teams between +4 and -4, and four teams within a trey of net zero.

Vegas has mostly been in synch with this league. They're not too far away geographically. Sometimes that's enough for oddsmakers to get a good enough read. Cal Poly has been the only significant money-maker, posting a 13-8 mark against the spread. Everyone else is within a few games of 50/50.

Now let's look at our favorite of all indicator stats in college basketball, two-point defense. This one stat tells you about 20 different things about each team. You know how much they hustle. You know how smart the coach is. You probably know how big they are inside. You know how consistent they are. We won't list all 20, but you get the point. Guarding the basket is the centerpiece of quality basketball.

BIG WEST TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Cal Santa Barbara: 45%
Cal Poly: 47%
Cal Riverside: 48%
Pacific: 49%
Cal Irvine: 50%
Cal Fullerton: 50%
Cal Northridge: 51%
Long Beach State: 52%
Cal Davis: 52%

Long Beach State! What happened to you?! This is part of why Long Beach doesn't crack the top 100 in some computer assessments, and why the eventual Big West winner will have a lousy seed. The quality of basketball here is very low. Most of the conference is at 49% or worse. And, that's coming against a weak strength of schedule because this is a weak conference.

Cal Poly provides some reasoning for their good cover performance this year. They're second best in the Big West at guarding the basket.

In terms of the Bracket Busters, it's hard to love bad defenses! Be cautious with this group as a whole. Only back them against weak opposition, or maybe in spots where the opponent had an awkward trip.

Wednesday's Games:
Cal Northridge at Cal Poly
Cal Riverside at Long Beach State
Cal Irvine at Pacific
Cal Fullerton at Cal Santa Barbara

Keep an eye on the results here even if you don't handicap the games. It might be a good strategy to ask top half Big West teams to bounce back this weekend from an upset loss if one happens. And, it might be a good strategy to fade any upset winners because it's hard for bad defensive teams to play well two games in a row.

We wrap up our two-day sextet with the WAC. Utah State's conference plays the Bracket Busters very smart. Nevada at Hawaii was the last conference game of the week on Monday Night. Everyone else either takes the week off or has a tune-up vs. a cupcake to get ready. That at least gives the WAC a fighting chance to impress, even if the caliber of basketball isn't as high as you'd like.

Note that Utah State is currently projected as a 9th seed by ESPN's "Bracketology." Pomeroy ranks them as the 25th best team in the country as we go to press. Nobody else in the WAC is currently on the radar. So, if Utah State wins the postseason tournament, it's a one-bid league. If Utah State is upset, they'll still get in, along with the tourney champ.

WAC MARGIN AVERAGES
Utah State: +12.5
New Mexico State: +4.9
Idaho: +4.0
Nevada: +2.3
Boise State: -0.2
Fresno State: -4.1
Hawaii: -5.7
Louisiana Tech: -7.3
San Jose State: -7.4

We're seeing a lot of conference leaders in the +12 range these last two days. That's the nature of the landscape right now in the mid-majors. The best win enough blowouts to compile very nice averages as big fish in little ponds. Or, maybe big fish in your living room fishbowl.

There are a few ATS surprises to this point in the season:
Idaho: 14-7 ATS
Hawaii:  13-7 ATS
Boise State: 9-14 ATS

Hawaii's had a string of ugly results that tricked people into avoiding them. The two Idaho schools have headed in different directions. For the most part, the market's done a good job here as well. Some seasons, there are big misses in the mid-majors because oddsmakers are so focused on the TV games. Looks like oddsmakers have fixed some of their leaks.

WAC TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Utah State: 43%
Hawaii: 44%
Nevada: 46%
Idaho: 47%
Fresno State: 48%
Louisiana Tech: 49%
San Jose State: 49%
Boise State: 51%
New Mexico State: 52%

You can see why Utah State is getting national respect. They play big time defense! Idaho and Hawaii grade out well, which is why they're covering spreads. Boise State's poor pointspread performances can be traced to bad defense...or at least a defense that's worse than the market realizes.

Again, there aren't any board games featuring WAC teams until the Bracket Busters get here this weekend.

That wraps up our Wednesday report. We'll continue conference coverage these next few days. We wanted to get the Bracket Buster leagues to you early so you could prepare for two sets of games instead of one (for five of the six conferences from the regular board anyway). Thursday we'll look at the Sun Belt and Pac 10, always staples of Thursday Night cards. Friday brings our first look at the Ivy Leagues now that they've played enough games for the stats to matter. We'll also preview Pittsburgh/St. John's in an early Saturday tip since Ohio State/Purdue has been time-changed to Sunday for TV. Saturday will bring a slew of mid major data for teams not in the Bracket Busters (like the Mountain West and Atlantic 10).

Make sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY going on in the world of sports!

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