Big East and Atlantic 10 Previews

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

TOURNAMENT WEEK BEGINS WITH PREVIEWS OF BIG EAST, ATLANTIC 10

From now through Thursday, we'll provide stat previews for all the board conferences who are in tournament action this week. We hope last week's analysis helped you in the Horizon, Missouri Valley, and other mid-major tournaments. This week, THE BIG BOYS come out to play.

The Big East and Atlantic 10 conferences begin their tournaments Tuesday. The first Big East game is at noon though, so we decided to deal with the Eastern-most conferences in this initial report. We'll move the MAC (starting Tuesday Night), the Big 12, and CUSA (the latter two starting very early Wednesday) in tomorrow's update.

The Big East starts first, so we'll lead with them. Step one, a look at the schedule. To make things as succinct as possible, we've broken things down in the four quadrants. Each will split a team in the Big East's Final Four. The first two teams you see listed play TUESDAY in Madison Square Garden. That winner will face the second team listed WEDNESDAY. Then, THAT winner will face a double-bye team THURSDAY in the quarterfinals. We've sent it up in bracket order...so that the winner of Pittsburgh's quadrant will face the winner of Syracuse's quadrant in the semifinals, and so on.

PITTSBURGH'S QUADRANT
DePaul (16) vs. Connecticut (9)
Georgetown (8)
Pittsburgh (1)

SYRACUSE'S QUADRANT
Rutgers (13) vs. Seton Hall (12)
St. John's (5)
Syracuse (4)

NOTRE DAME'S QUADRANT
South Florida (15) vs. Villanova (10)
Cincinnati (7)
Notre Dame (2)

LOUISVILLE'S QUADRANT
Providence (14) vs. Marquette (11)
West Virginia (6)
Louisville (3)

Now, let's crunch some numbers...

BIG EAST MARGIN AVERAGES
Pittsburgh: +9.2
Syracuse: +5.7
Notre Dame: +4.8
Louisville: +4.6
West Virginia: +2.8
Marquette: +2.4
Cincinnati: +1.9
St. John's: +1.3
Villanova: +1.0
Connecticut: +0.5
Georgetown: -0.3
Seton Hall: -1.4
Rutgers: -4.5
Providence: -7.4
South Florida: -7.6
DePaul: -14.4

We've noted in several game summaries the past couple of weeks that a few teams aren't playing to their full season form. St. John's is definitely playing A LOT better than +1.3 would suggest. Villanova and Georgetown are below their full season norms, as is Connecticut. Generally, teams play to recent form in a tournament. But, it's certainly not impossible for the slumpers to find their form again...or for St. John's to get cocky because they've been so hot and take their eye off the ball.

Probably the most important lesson from the margin averages is that this is a VERY competitive conference, and most of the logical contenders are all within a bucket of each other on a neutral court. Will this be the year St. John's actually shows some home court advantage at the Garden? That's long overdue. But, this isn't a league where "visitors"are easily intimidated.

You regulars know we place a lot of weight on two-point defense. Let's see how the Big East stacks up in this vital indicator stat.

BIG EAST TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Pittsburgh: 43%
Connecticut: 43%
Syracuse: 44%
Notre Dame: 44%
Louisville: 44%
Rutgers: 44%
Cincinnati: 45%
Villanova: 45%
Georgetown: 45%
Seton Hall: 46%
South Florida: 46%
West Virginia: 47%
Marquette: 48%
St. John's: 48%
Providence: 50%
DePaul: 54%

There's just no way we can comment on all 16 teams. Our best advice is to print out today's article and keep the numbers handy all week. Frankly, you should do that with ALL of our tournament previews this week. And, do additional research at the fantastic college basketball site designed by Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com). That's where were grabbing many of our category statistics (though, you have to get conference margin averages here in the NOTEBOOK!).

This is a league that emphasizes defense. Anyone at 45% or worse would have to be seen as vulnerable given the power and depth of the Big East. St. John's has been better than 48% for awhile, but they can't afford to slack off. Marquette and West Virginia look particularly vulnerable amongst the group of Dance-bound teams (Marquette still looks safe in the Bracketology stuff for now). Villanova and Georgetown have been slumping, and aren't in the true elite in terms of inside defense in the numbers above.

BIG EAST ADJUSTED PACE FACTORS (slowest to fastest)
South Florida: 63.0
Pittsburgh: 63.6
West Virginia 63.8
Cincinnati: 64.1
Rutgers: 64.1
Rutgers: 64.2
Notre Dame: 64.7
Georgetown: 64.9
Connecticut: 66.0
Syracuse: 66.5
Villanova: 66.6
Marquette: 67.9
Louisville: 68.0
DePaul: 69.0
Seton Hall: 69.1
Providence: 72.7

We like looking at pace factors because playoff style basketball tends to slow down. Smart handicappers will emphasize teams who are already comfortable with that pace. It's also worth noting that it's very difficult for fast teams to stay fast in a series of back-to-backs. They wear themselves out. If somebody like Seton Hall or Providence gets some Cinderella notions, they may run out of gas before they can get to the ball.

Of the Dance-bound teams, Marquette and Louisville may have the most concerns with stringing together solid performances because of their faster paces.

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS FROM TREYS
Louisville: 35%
Notre Dame: 32%
Georgetown: 29.9%
Cincinnati: 28.3%
Seton Hall: 26.6%
West Virginia: 26.3%
Connecticut: 26%
Villanova: 26%
Syracuse: 25.4%
Providence: 25.3%
Rutgers: 24.7%
Pittsburgh: 23.5%
South Florida: 23.1%
DePaul: 22.7%
Marquette: 20.7%
St. John's: 18.4%

Generally speaking, a focus on treys might help you score a big upset or have a great game (live by the three), but it's hard to stay hot over a series of games from long range (die by the three). It's best to be inside heavy, or at least balanced when you approach the challenge of a tournament. This makes St. John's a serious threat as long as they've fixed their defensive woes. This is already an inside league to begin with. Notre Dame, Louisville, and Georgetown look to be the teams who should be most concerned about finding a way to win when the treys aren't falling.

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP POTENTIAL

  • Pittsburgh probably has the best composite of power, pace, and talent. Of course, picking the top seed is always easy. And, this league is so competitive that an upset here is more likely than in other leagues. Still, just be aware that Pitt probably has the best mix of ingredients in terms of what wins in postseason play.
  • St. John's will get some consideration from us because they've been playing so well down the stretch. They could really make this a storybook season by winning the Big East tourney on their home floor. We are concerned that they peaked too early. They do have a good mix of ingredients though.
  • In terms of the rest, it wouldn't be a stunner if any of the Dance-bound programs made a deep run. We will point out that Notre Dame may be too trey heavy...and Louisville may have issues with pace and too much of a focus on treys to ask them to win three in a row. In big events like this, the weak link in a chain suddenly becomes very visible. Vulnerabilities get attacked. Sharp handicapping means finding the vulnerabilities that opposing coaches are going to attack.

This week we'll provide the "in depth stat data for the major conferences. But, we'll only have room for margin averages and two-point defense for the mid majors. Today's mid major under discussion is the Atlantic 10. Let's post those numbers before calling it a day.

First, the schedule:

TUESDAY'S FIRST ROUND
Dayton (9) at Massachusetts (8)
St. Joseph's (12) at George Washington (5)
LaSalle (10) at St. Bonaventure (7)
Saint Louis (11) at Rhode Island (6)
(Note that these games are played at the home sites of the superior seed. Also, Charlotte and Fordham finished 13th and 14th in the Atlantic 10, and didn't qualify for the 12-team postseason tournament).

FRIDAY'S QUARTERFINALS
Xavier (1) vs. 8-9 winner
Duquesne (4) vs. 5-12 winner
Temple (2) vs. 7-10 winner
Richmond (3) vs. 6-11 winner
(These games, and the rest of the brackets will be played in Atlantic City)

Full conference margin averages...

ATLANTIC 10 MARGIN AVERAGES
Xavier: +14.3
Temple: +9.9
Duquesne: +8.2
Richmond: +7.4
Saint Louis: +0.9
George Washington: +0.6
Rhode Island: -0.3
St. Bonaventure: -0.4
Dayton: -1.4
Massachusetts: -2.9
LaSalle: -4.3
Charlotte: -7.6
St. Joe's: -7.6
Fordham: -15.4

Xavier was obviously the head of the class. But, Temple has a great history in tournaments and deserves a lot of respect as well. The top four are so far ahead of everyone else that it's very difficult to see a Cinderella story developing here. Tough to lift your game about eight points for a few games in a row.

ATLANTIC 10 TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Temple: 43%
Xavier: 44%
Richmond: 45%
Massachusetts: 45%
Duquesne: 46%
Saint Louis: 46%
George Washington: 46%
Dayton: 47%
St. Joseph's 47%
St. Bonaventure: 48%
Fordham: 48%
Rhode Island: 49%
LaSalle: 49%
Charlotte: 51%

Again, the top teams shine. The best defenses have owned this conference. Duquesne is most vulnerable of the final four based on this stat. The math says Xavier and Temple are best positioned to play in the finals and crank out a champion.

Conference previews still ahead this week:
Tuesday: Big 12 (plus mini-reports on CUSA and the MAC)
Wednesday: ACC and Pac 10 (plus mini-reports on the WAC and Mountain West)
Thursday: Big 10 and SEC (plus a mini report on the Big West)

Today we've outlined action that begins Tuesday (early Tuesday in the Big East!). There are, of course, big games TONIGHT in the colleges as the Colonial, West Coast, Metro-Atlantic, and Southern Conferences crown their champions. It's also a big night in the NBA as pro hoops has really heated up the past few weeks. You can get BIG JUICY WINNERS this afternoon from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK here at the website. Or, sign up for the full season and get locked in all the way through March Madness. If you have any questions call 1-800-323-4453.

Who will be the BEASTS OF THE EAST this year? Hey, JIM HURLEY HAS BEEN THE BEST OF THE BEST FOR 25 YEARS! That's all you need to know!

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