Big 12, MAC, CUSA Previews

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

STAT PREVIEWS CONTINUE WITH
BIG 12, MAC, AND CONFERENCE USA

We continue now with our stat previews for this week's conference tournament action. The Big 12 starts bright and early Wednesday morning, so we're running those numbers for you today. The MAC begins this evening with four prime time opening round games at campus sites. We had room to squeeze in another mid major, so we've included Conference USA too because of their early Wednesday starting times.

This week we'll have expanded previews for the six major conferences. You saw the Big East report yesterday. The ACC and Pac 10 will run tomorrow, with the Big 10 and SEC on Thursday. Mid majors will stick with margin averages and two-point defense or else every NOTEBOOK entry would turn into “War and Peace.” The major conference in the NOTEBOOK spotlight today is the Big 12. Here's this week's schedule for games played in Kansas City.

Wednesday's First Round
Oklahoma State (9) vs. Nebraska (8)
Iowa State (12) vs. Colorado (5)
Oklahoma (10) vs. Baylor (7)
Texas Tech (11) vs. Missouri (6)

Thursday's Quarterfinals:
Kansas (1) vs. 8-9 winner
Kansas State (4) vs. 5-12 winner
Texas (2) vs. 7-10 winner
Texas A&M (3) vs. 6-11 winner

Matchups will follow that bracket order through the semifinals and finals Friday and Saturday.

BIG 12 MARGIN AVERAGES
Texas: +12.7
Kansas: +12.1
Missouri: +3.2
Kansas State: +3.1
Texas A&M: +1.1
Colorado: -0.4
Nebraska: -1.2
Baylor: -2.6
Oklahoma State: -4.8
Texas Tech: -6.6
Oklahoma: -8.3
Iowa State: -8.6

It's odd to see two teams separate themselves from the pack in such an extreme way in a major conference. But, we'll come across it again in the ACC. And, the Big Ten had three teams pullaway instead of two, but in the same general fashion. Let's note that Texas isn't playing as well lately as those rankings would suggest. Did they peak too early? Time will tell on that one. The defense has taken a step back in losses to Kansas State, Colorado, and Nebraska.

Should one of the powers stumble, there are certainly a few teams in the middle there who could step up and make some headlines. Let's also keep an eye on Texas Tech, who fired coach Pat Knight this week. He'll stay on the sidelines through the tournament. Will his players rise up to defend his honor? They've been playing better lately than they had earlier this season.

BIG 12 TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Texas: 41%
Nebraska: 42%
Kansas: 45%
Kansas State: 45%
Oklahoma State: 45%
Texas A&M: 46%
Baylor: 46%
Iowa State: 46%
Missouri: 48%
Colorado: 49%
Oklahoma: 49%
Texas Tech: 50%

Texas and Nebraska were head and shoulders above the field for the full 16-game campaign. Kansas and Kansas State are far from embarrassing though, which is likely to put one of them into the finals in the upper half of the bracket. Kansas State has closed well, making them a good darkhorse for anyone who likes to emphasize recent form entering a conference tournament. Note that Colorado and Missouri have disappointing defenses for teams seeded 5-6. They'll have to shoot very well to string together some wins.

BIG 12 ADJUSTED PACE FACTORS (slowest to fastest)
Texas A&M: 62.6
Nebraska: 63.9
Oklahoma: 65.4
Baylor: 66.2
Oklahoma State: 66.6
Texas: 67.3
Kansas State: 68.1
Colorado: 68.4
Kansas: 69.9
Iowa State: 70.4
Texas Tech: 70.6
Missouri: 71.1

We look at this to see which teams are most comfortable with playoff style basketball. Kansas is a fast team who is capable of forcing their tempo on opponents. But, it's not really smart to run at 70 possessions per game three days in a row. Texas A&M looks like somebody who might be positioned to surprise based on this stat. You don't hear the mainstream media talk much about tempo's. The Big 12 is one of the faster conferences in the nation top to bottom. That may serve them better in the Big Dance when there's time between games to rest your legs a little.

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS FROM TREYS
Iowa State: 34.7%
Kansas State: 29.2%
Oklahoma: 28.3%
Missouri: 26.8%
Kansas: 26.7%
Texas A&M: 23.4%
Nebraska: 23.4%
Baylor: 23.3%
Colorado: 23.1%
Texas Tech: 22.6%
Texas: 22.5%
Oklahoma State: 18%

We emphasize inside play in our handicapping. Long range stuff may help you pull one upset, but it's hard to base a full weekend on hopes that all the bombs will keep falling. Champions attack the basket in this sport, particularly in the best conferences. If you've been reading this stat the past several days, you'll note that the Big 12 is very much an inside conference. The league pushes pace and flies at the basket when they can. That may end up being a strike against somebody like Kansas State eventually. Texas grades out best of the contenders in terms of this style preference.

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP POTENTIAL

*Kansas has to get the nod based on their great season, and how well they draw locally when playing in Kansas City. They're not automatic by any means. But, they certainly have the most going for them given that big head start in margin average.

*Texas has the style and defense to run the table. And, they're facing teams they have defeated in their half of the brackets. We're concerned about their recent fade though. This isn't a team playing with peak confidence. If they can avoid long offensive dry spells, they could easily be the team cutting down the nets Saturday Night.

*Kansas State is peaking at the right time, but is a bit too reliant on the trey for our taste. Still, if you HAVE to pick an outsider, who would be better suited to go the distance than this group who reached the Elite 8 of the Big Dance last year?

*Texas A&M and Nebraska make sense in terms of pace/defense combinations. They also have the same low rate of trey reliance. Tough to see either sweeping through the weekend (and Nebraska would have to go 4-0 and take out Kansas in the quarterfinals). Stylistically, they're better suited to playoff basketball than Missouri and Colorado are.

Let's move to our quickie reports on the Mid American (that starts tonight) and CUSA (that starts early in the day Wednesday).

Mid American schedule:

Tuesday's First Round (games played at campus site of superior seed)
Northern Illinois (10) at Bowling Green (7)
Eastern Michigan (11) at Akron (6)
Central Michigan (9) at Buffalo (8)
Toledo (12) at Ohio (5)

Thursday's Quarterfinals (Cleveland)
Western Michigan (2) vs. 7-10 winner
Miami of Ohio (3) vs. 6-11 winner
Kent State (1) vs. 8-9 winner
Ball State (4) vs. 5-12 winner

Semifinal and Final action will be Friday and Saturday in Cleveland on the home floor of the NBA's Cavaliers.

MID AMERICAN MARGIN AVERAGES
Kent State: +5.5
Western Michigan: +5.1
Buffalo: +4.3
Akron: +4.1
Ohio: +2.8
Ball State: +2.2
Miami of Ohio: +1.1
Bowling Green: -3.1
Central Michigan: -3.4
Northern Illinois: -3.4
Eastern Michigan: -3.8
Toledo: -11.9

Remember in the mid majors that upsets are less common because the best teams know they're not likely to get an at-large bid. There are still a few, but you typically won't see the brackets ravaged by stunners. Only the tourney winner will get a Dance bid this year. The four teams at +4 or better are in best position obviously. Maybe Ohio deserves some thought with the fifth best margin average since the tourney is in Cleveland. Kent State and Akron could also get some home crowd support.

MID AMERICAN TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Buffalo: 44%
Kent State: 47%
Western Michigan: 47%
Akron: 47%
Ball State: 47%
Eastern Michigan: 47%
Miami of Ohio: 48%
Ohio: 49%
Central Michigan: 49%
Northern Illinois: 49%
Bowling Green: 50%
Toledo: 53%

What a horrible conference! Only Buffalo plays defense...and this is a conference that doesn't hace many good shooters. Normally a big edge like that would have us on Buffalo as a team to beat. But, they showed a noticeable home/road split this year, and the quarterfinals and beyond won't be in Buffalo.

All in all, this is very much a “pull a name out of a hat” tournament amongst the top contenders. We probably won't get involved unless our on site sources come up with something very good.

Finishing off today with Conference USA...

CUSA schedule:

Wednesday's First Round (all games in El Paso)
East Carolina (8) vs. Central Florida (9)
Southern Miss (5) vs. Tulane (12)
Marshall (6) vs. Houston (11)
SMU (7) vs. Rice (10)

Thursday's Quarterfinals
Alabama-Birmingham (1) vs. 8-9 winner
Memphis (4) vs. 5-12 winner
UTEP (3) vs. 6-11 winner
Tulsa (2) vs. 7-10 winner

Semifinal and Final action will be Friday and Saturday in El Paso following the standard bracket order.

CONFERENCE USA MARGIN AVERAGES
UTEP: +5.6
Alabama-Birmingham: +4.6
Tulsa: +3.4
Marshall: +3.1
Southern Miss: +2.0
SMU: +0.7
Memphis: -0.7
East Carolina: -2.2
Rice: -2.4
Central Florida: -4.3
Houston: -4.9
Tulane: -4.9

UTEP gets a nice boost here because of home court. You should probably consider them as +8.6 or +9.6 in that light. For many years Memphis was the best team and got to host. UTEP isn't the number one seed because UAB beat them out for that. But, the Miners do have the best margin average and home court. That puts them in the favorite's chair.

We've mentioned a few times this year that CUSA isn't very good, but is very balanced. It's rare indeed to see the WORST team in a conference only at -5.0 in margin average. This will set the stage for some “seeding” upsets at least since everyone is so tightly bunched together.

CONFERENCE USA TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Central Florida: 43%
Alabama-Birminghan: 45%
Memphis: 45%
UTEP: 46%
Tulsa: 46%
Southern Miss: 46%
SMU: 46%
Houston: 47%
Rice: 48%
Marshall: 48%
East Carolina: 50%
Tulane: 51%

UAB is second in the league in defense, and the top seed. That certainly deserves your respect. UTEP is tied for fourth defensively, and must still be considered the favorite now that we've run through our indicator stats. Home court plus defense plus a good margin advantage is a nice combination to have obviously! Tough to pick a darkhorse because it's kind of a dice roll as to who amongst all of those even teams may get hot.

That wraps up our Tuesday report. Conference previews still ahead this week:
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)

BIG JUICY WINNERS in tournament action are available right now online. Game day releases will go up early all week because of the afternoon schedules. You can also sign up for the rest of the season at a great rate. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

We've already won our Championship Parlay last night, with Old Dominion and St. Peter's. In last year's conference tournaments we went 20-7-1. Hey...it's only Tuesday...that means THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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