St. John's is For Real!



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

It's that time of year again. Visits of March Madness sugar plums are dancing in the heads of highly regarded college basketball teams. Just before their opponents slap them in the face and run off with them!

Previously #1 Ohio State lost last Saturday to Wisconsin...

New #1 Kansas lost Monday Night to Kansas State...

Destined to be #1 Texas lost Saturday on the road at Nebraska...

#4 Pittsburgh, ready to move up along with Duke lost to resurgent St. John's. Even we were on Pitt in this game, although winning the other three games we released along with it in our St. Valentine's Day Massacre--Morgan State, UL-Monroe and Boston College, an 11-point underdog that came within a bucket of North Carolina, more than made up for it.

Heck, even the #1 women's team, Baylor, was knocked off yesterday, as March Madness looms as a distraction to male and female players alike.

We start our look at Saturday afternoon action with the huge win for St. John's. As we mentioned in our preview that ran Friday (because the game was an early Saturday tip), the Red Storm are playing as well as anybody RIGHT NOW. It doesn't matter that they lost to Fordham, and a few other teams in non-conference action. If you can beat Duke...and Connecticut...and Marquette on the road...and now Pittsburgh, you're a national power. Steve Lavin's team is a force to be reckoned with.

Shooting Percentage: Pittsburgh 46%, St. John's 43%
Three-Pointers: Pittsburgh 7/18, St. John's 3/7
Free Throws: Pittsburgh 10/18, St. John's 23/32
Rebounds: Pittsburgh 28, St. John's 27
Turnovers: Pittsburgh 16, St. John's 13
Phantom Score: Pittsburgh 56, St. John's 55
Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 3, total of 133.5
: This one went right down to the wire, and Pittsburgh might very well have won it if games lasted 40:30 instead of just 40:00. Then again, maybe St. John's wins at 41 minutes. Coin flip game. And, Phantom Score (two-point scoring plus rebounding) confirms the tight nature of the contest. Pittsburgh was +12 on treys, but St. John's was +13 from the free throw line. All things considered we still have to consider Pittsburgh the slightly superior team. On a neutral court, they probably win. And, on a neutral court, they probably don't lose free throws by 13 points and 14 attempts either. Still, St. John's isn't a fluke. One upset can be a fluke. Three big name scalps like this and you're a threat to make a very serious run next month.

Seeding St. John's will be an interesting challenge if things continue in this vein. They are clearly playing over the last few weeks like a #2 caliber seed. Their pre-conference resume is so bad that you can't justify a full-season recommendation nearly that high. tough as the Big East was to begin just got tougher.

In another Saturday afternoon top five upset...

Shooting Percentage: Texas 36%, Nebraska 47%
Three-Pointers: Texas 8/19, Nebraska 4/10
Free Throws: Texas 19/28, Nebraska 18/25
Rebounds: Texas 28, Nebraska 31
Turnovers: Texas 12, Nebraska 11
Phantom Score: Texas 52, Nebraska 71
Vegas Line: Texas by 7, total of 123
Those in the know figured this would be a trouble spot for the Horns. Nebraska is a tough place to win. Nebraska hates Texas because of their football rivalry that ended up going the Horns way just as the Huskers were moving to the Big 10. Nebraska plays intense defense, which would give them a puncher's chance against the strong Texas defense. And, blessed with perfect timing, they caught Texas just as the Horns players were realizing that they were likely to be the number one team in the country after the weekend. Not so fast!

Nebraska held Jordan Hamilton to an abysmal 3 of 16 shooting day as they stormed to a Phantom Score blowout. It's tough to beat Texas inside. Nebraska did that with superior defense and rebounding. Credit Texas for cutting a late 11-point deficit down to 1-point in the final moments. Then credit Nebraska for slamming the door shut just in the knick of time.

Maybe blowing their chance to get to number one is the wake-up call Texas needed. Or, maybe it's the red flag warning that these guys weren't quite as good as they've looked in what's turned out so far to be a disappointing year for the Big 12 conference.

Another top 10 team falling, though it wasn't a pointspread upset...

Shooting Percentage: Notre Dame 35%, W. Virginia 41%
Three-Pointers: Notre Dame 8/27, W. Virginia 8/20
Free Throws: Notre Dame 8/13, W. Virginia 20/27
Rebounds: Notre Dame 37, W. Virginia 35
Turnovers: Notre Dame 10, W. Virginia 4
Phantom Score: Notre Dame 63, W. Virginia 63
Vegas Line: West Virginia by 4, total of 131
You heard a bunch of media guys saying 'and Notre Dame was upset by West Virginia 72-58.' It's not an upset when the favored team wins!

Be aware that Phantom Score was a nailbiter, and that West Virginia won free throws by a big margin on their home floor. If there's a neutral court rematch in the Big East tournament, all of that favors the Irish. They're going to get more even-officiating. Though, you really have to be concerned about any big time team who can only force four turnovers in a big game. Notre Dame's defense still has a tendency to get soft at bad times.

Ranked Villanova from the Big East just missed suffering the embarrassment of the season!

#14 VILLANOVA 77, DEPAUL 75 (in overtime)
Shooting Percentage: Villanova 40%, DePaul 42%
Three-Pointers: Villanova 5/15, DePaul 13/30
Free Throws: Villanova 20/31, DePaul 8/13
Rebounds: Villanova 44, DePaul 32
Turnovers: Villanova 13, DePaul 10
Phantom Score: Villanova 86, DePaul 60
Vegas Line: Villanova by 11, total of 140.5
This was almost a replay of St. Mary's/San Diego the other night (fitting since Villanova and St. Mary's will forever be linked after last year's Dance upset). DePaul has been awful this season, very slow to respond to the offseason coaching change. Villanova plays like a top five team some nights, and unranked on others. It's tempting to say this was a debacle. But, Phantom Score was still a slaughter. DePaul happened to nail a bunch of a fashion that's very unlikely to repeat itself vs. a top opponent. Villanova established an edge in the stats that matter most. But, they also showed why you can't really trust them to go deep in the Dance. They barely got by Robert Morris last year. Performances like this occasionally jump up and bit them in a way that just doesn't happen to other contenders. Sure, contenders can lose. But, not to somebody like DePaul!

Shooting Percentage: San Diego State 35%, Air Force 39%
Three-Pointers: San Diego State 6/24, Air Force 4/18
Free Throws: San Diego State 24/33, Air Force 16/22
Rebounds: San Diego State 49, Air Force 22
Turnovers: San Diego State 11, Air Force 7
Phantom Score: San Diego State 77, Air Force 52
Vegas Line: San Diego State by 11, total of 121
: We haven't had many chances to check in on San Diego State this season. They've earned that #6 ranking with results. But, if they played in a tougher conference, they'd have more losses and probably wouldn't rank that high. This boxscore shows both the good and the bad. SDSU shot horribly most of the game, and didn't do much to force any turnovers from a disciplined host. Yet, they attacked the basket aggressively to earn a free throw edge on the road...they won rebounds by an extreme margin...and they posted a Phantom Score blowout. All of that points to success in better circumstances. So, you can see that SDSU is a real threat in the Dance. But, you can also get a sense of the issues that will probably derail them sooner than they were hoping for.

That wraps up our look at Saturday afternoon basketball. Sunday's schedule is highlighted by Ohio State at Purdue in a nationally televised game on CBS. Duke will get a chance to make it's case for #1 on the road at Georgia Tech this evening on Fox Sports Net. And, if you love a great show, you'll surely check out the NBA All-Star game as well this evening on TNT.

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The top college teams may keep handing the #1 ranking back and forth over these next few weeks. The man who will NEVER give up his crown as #1 HANDICAPPER is JIM HURLEY!

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