Showdown Saturday Stat Previews

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

SHOWDOWN SATURDAY FEATURES SEVERAL MARQUEE MATCHUPS

There were a few upsets on Thursday. But, potential Cinderella's Morehead State and Richmond are matched up against EACH OTHER...which means power programs who avoided upsets are also matched up against each other in a way that creates a very entertaining card.

The early tip is Kentucky-West Virginia, which is a rematch of an Elite 8 game from last year. UCLA-Florida is a rematch of a national championship game from a few years ago. Connecticut-Cincinnati is a rematch of a Big East game from a few weeks ago!

We're going to provide brief previews for all eight of today's games...keyed by relevant boxscore data from Thursday action. It's going to be another long NOTEBOOK entry, so let's get started.

GAMES IN TAMPA

KENTUCKY (4) vs. WEST VIRGINIA (5)
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 3.5, total of 132

West Virginia took out Kentucky last year in the Elite Eight...at a time when Kentucky was seen as National Championship material and West Virginia was a good team that had supposedly run its course. Kentucky settled for a million three-point attempts, and couldn't make anything. There's been a lot of talent turnover since that game. Let's see what Thursday's results might suggest about the matchup.

KENTUCKY 59, PRINCETON 57
Shooting Percentage: Princeton 46%, Kentucky 51%
Three-Pointers: Princeton 3/14, Kentucky 5/11
Free Throws: Princeton 6/7, Kentucky 6/11
Rebounds: Princeton 27, Kentucky 25
Turnovers: Princeton 6, Kentucky 9
Phantom Score: Princeton 69, Kentucky 63
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 13, total of 133
Notebook: The good news for Kentucky fans is that they finally figured out how to win a close game away from home. The bad news is that the close game came as 13-point favorites against a team that they really shouldn't have troubles with. Kentucky suddenly looked very young again, with several players taking a step backward from the big weekend at the SEC tournament. That's means this was either a letdown, and Kentucky will go back to being dangerous again. Or, it means the SEC is as bad or worse than skeptics thought, and Kentucky will be going home before the Sweet 16. Note that Kentucky lost Phantom Score and rebounding to an Ivy League team, which shouldn't happen in a big neutral court game.

WEST VIRGINIA 84, CLEMSON 76
Shooting Percentage: Clemson 43%, West Virginia 49%
Three-Pointers: Clemson 5/21, West Virginia 5/13
Free Throws: Clemson 21/26, West Virginia 25/31
Rebounds: Clemson 29, West Virginia 32
Turnovers: Clemson 9, West Virginia 11
Phantom Score: Clemson 69, West Virginia 76
Vegas Line: West Virginia by 2, total of 124
Notebook: Clemson looked great against UAB in their play-in game, and for much of the first half here. But, West Virginia righted its ship and dominated the rest of the way. Phantom Score shows it was a clean win. Typically when West Virginia reaches a high number like 84, you'd have figured they drained a lot of treys. That's not what happened. Trey scoring was a wash. West Virginia was very aggressive inside. The Over/Under for the game was 124. It went Over by 36 points!

There's been a lot of debate within NETWORK'S team handicapping approach about Kentucky-West Virginia today. Our sources will provide the tie-breaker based on their read of Kentucky's mental readiness for this event. The Wildcats lose their swagger under pressure. West Virginia sure looked like the better team on Thursday. Maybe that was the wake-up call Kentucky needed.

FLORIDA (2) vs. UCLA (7)
Vegas Line: Florida by 5, total of 130.5

The SEC didn't exactly sparkle on Thursday. But, Florida sure did. They crushed Cal-Santa Barbara in a way that made you hide your eyes. UCLA was doing the same to Michigan State for a long while. You'll see how they blew that big lead in a moment.

FLORIDA 79, CAL-SANTA BARBARA 51
Shooting Percentage: UCSB 36%, Florida 55%
Three-Pointers: UCSB 5/19, Florida 8/23
Free Throws: UCSB 12/18, Florida 13/17
Rebounds: UCSB 22, Florida 34
Turnovers: UCSB 17, Florida 13
Phantom Score: UCSB 46, Florida 76
Vegas Line: Florida by 12.5, total of 130
Notebook: USCB was a surprise winner in the Big West. They really looked like they didn't belong anywhere near the Dance from the opening minutes. They had no hope of guarding Florida's weaponry, and the offense consisted mostly of crossing their fingers and hoping something went in. Good result for the Gators who went for the jugular early and took care of business.

UCLA 78, MICHIGAN STATE 76
Shooting Percentage: Michigan State 40%, UCLA 48%
Three-Pointers: Michigan State 10/26, UCLA 4/10
Free Throws: Michigan State 16/21, UCLA 30/47
Rebounds: Michigan State 27, UCLA 34
Turnovers: Michigan State 14, UCLA 16
Phantom Score: Michigan State 57, UCLA 70
Vegas Line: Michigan State by 1, total of 129
Notebook: UCLA had a HUGE lead in the second half, and managed to choke almost all of it away thanks to 17 missed free throws. You can never count Tom Izzo out. But, you should have been able to that here when the margin was around 20 points! The Bruins win rebounding comfortably and Phantom Score impressively. You can still see the sloppiness that might derail the Bruins against Florida. Sixteen turnovers and 17 missed free throws. That means no lead is safe...and it's far from guaranteed of course that UCLA will even be in position to protect a lead against Florida.

We've been skeptical about both the SEC and Pac 10 this year. So, it's hard to buy Florida as this big a favorite at first glance. But, it's also hard to trust a Pac 10 underdog vs. a quality team. If you only get 38 good minutes from the Bruins, they still might not cover the spread! This could be a pass for us. If you see a release, it's because our on site sources found something good.

GAMES IN WASHINGTON

PITTSBURGH (1) vs. BUTLER (8)
Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 7.5, total of 128.5

No seeding upsets in Washington. #8 Butler scored a tip-in at the buzzer to survive feisty #9 Old Dominion. We decided going in that we would take a look at the Butler-ODU winner as a dog against Pittsburgh. This coaching Pitt regime has a way of getting panicky in the Dance. That carried over to the Big East tournament this year too. Heck, the first half vs. NC Asheville wasn't all that great! We know fate usually doesn't smile on the same Cinderella two years in a row though. Has Butler advanced beyond being a Cinderella?

PITTSBURGH 74, NC ASHEVILLE 51
Shooting Percentage: NC Asheville 31%, Pittsburgh 42%
Three-Pointers: NC Asheville 3/19, Pittsburgh 8/19
Free Throws: NC Asheville 14/19, Pittsburgh 16/25
Rebounds: NC Asheville 24, Pittsburgh 44
Turnovers: NC Asheville 10, Pittsburgh 12
Phantom Score: NC Asheville 52, Pittsburgh 78
Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 17, total of 135
Notebook: We're not going to devote a lot of space to obvious blowouts that were supposed to be blowouts. Kind of a textbook 1-16 game, even with the good reputation Asheville had for a 16-seed.

BUTLER 60, OLD DOMINION 58
Shooting Percentage: Old Dominion 36%, Butler 39%
Three-Pointers: Old Dominion 5/15, Butler 7/27
Free Throws: Old Dominion 21/27, Butler 9/11
Rebounds: Old Dominion 27, Butler 29
Turnovers: Old Dominion 14, Butler 15
Phantom Score: Old Dominion 49, Butler 59
Vegas Line: Old Dominion by 1.5, total of 123
Notebook: This was the defensive battle everyone expected. Phantom Score is even lower than the scoreboard. Old Dominion did some good work earning free throws to make up for a disadvantage on two-point baskets. Butler's +10 in Phantom Score suggests the right team won. Tough draw for both, as either would have been well positioned to win an 8-9 game involving overrated opponents from major conferences.

Pittsburgh doesn't mind playing slow, so a stylistic replay of Butler-ODU could be in the offing. That could keep the underdog within striking distance the whole way. Pittsburgh is most dangerous when taking opponents out of their comfort zone. Butler's coach sure keeps his composure in the postseason, doesn't he?

CONNECTICUT (3) vs. CINCINNATI (6)
Vegas Line: Connecticut by 3, total of 129.5

A shame two Big East teams are meeting so early. At least it's two HOT Big East teams! Both scored impressive results on Thursday.

CONNECTICUT 81, BUCKNELL 52
Shooting Percentage: Bucknell 31%, Connecticut 49%
Three-Pointers: Bucknell 7/20, Connecticut 9/23
Free Throws: Bucknell 13/15, Connecticut 8/9
Rebounds: Bucknell 20, Connecticut 41
Turnovers: Bucknell 7, Connecticut 5
Phantom Score: Bucknell 38, Connecticut 87
Vegas Line: Connecticut by 10, total of 133
Notebook: Wow...this is what a 1-16 should look like rather than a 3-14 game. Well, hardly any 1-16 games look like this any more! A Phantom Score slaughter for Connecticut, who continues to play like championship material since the start of the postseason. It was over early. Maybe UCONN won't get tired until cutting down the nets in Houston.

CINCINNATI 78, MISSOURI 63
Shooting Percentage: Missouri 37%, Cincinnati 53%
Three-Pointers: Missouri 6/19, Cincinnati 4/11
Free Throws: Missouri 9/13, Cincinnati 16/22
Rebounds: Missouri 27, Cincinnati 35
Turnovers: Missouri 7, Cincinnati 10
Phantom Score: Missouri 63, Cincinnati 85
Vegas Line: Pick-em, total of 138
Notebook: Concerns that Missouri couldn't be counted on to play well away from home were certainly realized here. This was supposed to be a coin flip game. But, Cincinnati led comfortably the whole second half despite not having a huge game on treys and not marching to the free throw line all night. Phantom Score was a slaughter. The Big East took some hits elsewhere on the card (namely with Louisville and St. John's). Cincinnati joined Connecticut, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh in the winner's circle.

Connecticut has done such a great job of exceeding pointspread expectations lately that you have to give them some thought at this number. The "due theory" will probably get them eventually. People have been expecting that for 3-4 games! We will say this. The winner of UCONN/Cincy will surely be a threat to go much deeper given their strong inside form Thursday night. Either could take out #2 San Diego State or #1 Duke if those teams avoid earlier upsets. Remember what St. John's did to Duke?

GAMES IN DENVER

RICHMOND (12) vs. MOREHEAD STATE (13)
Vegas Line: Richmond by 4, total of 126

This was a bracket buster to be sure. How many of you had one of these playing in the Sweet 16? The winner probably gets Kansas in the next round. Some prize!

MOREHEAD STATE 62, LOUISVILLE 61
Shooting Percentage: Morehead State 36%, Louisville 46%
Three-Pointers: Morehead State 9/19, Louisville 10/25
Free Throws: Morehead State 11/18, Louisville 7/16
Rebounds: Morehead State 36, Louisville 27
Turnovers: Morehead State 18, Louisville 16
Phantom Score: Morehead State 60, Louisville 51
Vegas Line: Louisville by 10, total of 132
Notebook: The big stunner of the early slate, with Morehead owning the boards and grabbing the win with a late trey. Morehead won Phantom Score, which is a credit to them and a strong indictment of Louisville's preparation for this game. Regardless of pointspread stuff, we expected Louisville to have learned from last year's first round debacle against Cal. They didn't. They fell behind early, then relaxed in the second half once it had looked like they were going to dodge a bullet. That bullet hit them in the foot, shot from their own gun. In most years, you could expect a team like Morehead State to fall back to earth on a Saturday. In this bracket, they drew a non-scary opponent.

RICHMOND 69, VANDERBILT 66
Shooting Percentage: Richmond 46%, Vanderbilt 50%
Three-Pointers: Richmond 12/24, Vanderbilt 6/13
Free Throws: Richmond 5/12, Vanderbilt 14/23
Rebounds: Richmond 24, Vanderbilt 36
Turnovers: Richmond 2, Vanderbilt 7
Phantom Score: Richmond 52, Vanderbilt 70
Vegas Line: Vanderbilt by 2.5, total of 136
Notebook: We told you before the tourney started that three-point heavy teams can win one game with a great long range performance, but it's hard to string together victories. Richmond had their great game here, winning treys by 18 points in a game they only won by three. But, instead of running into Louisville in the cool down spot though, they get Morehead State. Big break! Turnovers are prone to collapse in some matchups because patient teams don't throw bad passes...they just "turn the ball over" with bad shots late in the shot clock. So, very god ballhandling from Richmond, and not enough defensive aggression from Vanderbilt.

Typically the biggest surprise winners fall back to earth over the weekend. That would point to a bad game for Morehead State. Richmond is on a nice run lately given their Atlantic 10 tournament performance. Can they keep their heads on straight now that they're SUPPOSED to win? Against a team their players have never heard of?

BYU (3) vs. GONZAGA (11)
Vegas Line: BYU by 1, total of 149

This game was hopping between pick-em and BYU -1 as we wrote these up. That may seem odd for a 3-11 matchup in the seedings. But, BYU hasn't looked like a #3 since the suspension of a key player. And, Gonzaga has frankly been playing more like a #5 for a few weeks now. We were down on them earlier in the season. They definitely clicked at the right time, with a style that's well suited for tournament play.

BYU 84, WOFFORD 76
Shooting Percentage: Wofford 39%, BYU 39%
Three-Pointers: Wofford 4/19, BYU 6/22
Free Throws: Wofford 18/24, BYU 20/24
Rebounds: Wofford 35, BYU 39
Turnovers: Wofford 13, BYU 10
Phantom Score: Wofford 71, BYU 75
Vegas Line: BYU by 8.5, total of 147
Notebook: An ugly game to watch, with the teams combining to go 10 o 41 on treys. There were long stretches that felt much sores. BYU sure forces up a lot of bad three's for a team that supposedly knows what it's doing. Those two extra makes proved to be most of the difference. Bad news if you're talking about a game against a 14th seed, and you're more experienced at altitude than they are. They did get the win though. And, Jimmer Fredette scored enough to keep himself in the headlines the way Adam Morrison used to. Fitting that BYU runs into Gonzaga next!

GONZAGA 86, ST. JOHN'S 71
Shooting Percentage: Gonzaga 55%, St. John's 47%
Three-Pointers: Gonzaga 9/15, St. John's 7/15
Free Throws: Gonzaga 21/26, St. John's 10/15
Rebounds: Gonzaga 41, St. John's 17
Turnovers: Gonzaga 16, St. John's 10
Phantom Score: Gonzaga 79, St. John's 57
Vegas Line: Pick-em, total of 135
Notebook: Wow...the rebounding category says it all. Gonzaga...a team with a much bigger inside presence than the media gives them credit for, absolutely CRUSHED St. John's on the boards with a 41-17 edge. That led to a Phantom Score slaughter. Both teams shot well from long range. Only one team was chasing down any misses that happened. St. John's peaked too early, which was a concern we voiced several days ago. A key injury sure didn't help. Gonzaga obviously peaked at the right time. They seem more dangerous now than St. Mary's did last year when they took out Big East team Villanova. Given the recent form of Gonzaga and BYU, it would be a surprise at all to see the 11th seed sneak into the Sweet 16.

In terms of recent form, and Thursday play, Gonzaga looks to be the better team overall. We won't sell Jimmer Fredette short though. He's likely to keep BYU in the game even if the rest of the team continues to clank shots off the rim. Oddsmakers have done their best to limit anti-BYU money with this very low line. We may have to pass or focus on the total.

GAMES IN TUCSON

SAN DIEGO STATE (2) vs. TEMPLE (7)
Vegas Line: San Diego State by 5.5, total of 124.5

Very interesting game. You never want to run into Temple in a tournament! Though, opponents have managed to survive the past few seasons until Penn State lost late on Thursday. We don't think SDSU is a true #2 seed in terms of talent and big game moxy. They are better than Temple though. Are they 5.5 points better?

SAN DIEGO STATE 68, NORTHERN COLORADO 50
Shooting Percentage: N. Colorado 34%, SDSU 41%
Three-Pointers: N. Colorado 8/22, SDSU 9/22
Free Throws: N. Colorado 4/8, SDSU 5/8
Rebounds: N. Colorado 31, SDSU 42
Turnovers: N. Colorado 8, SDSU 3
Phantom Score: N. Colorado 53, SDSU 78
Vegas Line: San Diego State by 14.5, total of 129
Notebook: Phantom Score was an even bigger blowout thanks to a big rebounding edge. If you're looking to nitpick, SDSU didn't earn many free throw attempts, and didn't shoot well vs. a team they outclassed badly. But, of course, only THREE turnovers is terrific...and could foreshadow effective play late in close games. SDSU will have to handle the ball well against the Temple defense in the next round.

TEMPLE 66, PENN STATE 64
Shooting Percentage: Penn State 48%, Temple 46%
Three-Pointers: Penn State 8/19, Temple 5/18
Free Throws: Penn State 4/6, Temple 13/15
Rebounds: Penn State 25, Temple 25
Turnovers: Penn State 9, Temple 9
Phantom Score: Penn State 63, Temple 63
Vegas Line: Temple by 1, total of 118
Notebook: The selection committee and Vegas oddsmakers projected a nailbiter. That's exactly what happened. Neither team could shake the other. That might have gone on for 80 minutes, or 120 minutes. Very evenly matched teams. Even Phantom score was a tie! Temple survived, and will prevent defensive challenges to San Diego State. It's true that Temple hasn't exactly gone deep in this event in recent years. They at least know how to cause headaches. And, if San Diego State is an overrated pretender who played a soft schedule...an upset certainly isn't out of the question.

That's the issue we're dealing with as NETWORK'S exclusive team handicapping approach tries to pick a winner. Based on what we've seen NOW from the Western teams in the Dance, how good is San Diego State? Does this Vegas line capture reality?

WISCONSIN (4) vs. KANSAS STATE (5)
Vegas Line: Wisconsin by 2.5, total of 127

Both teams survived dangerous dogs in the first round. Wisconsin looked a lot better in doing so, which is why they're favored by almost a trey on the early number.

WISCONSIN 72, BELMONT 58
Shooting Percentage: Belmont 37%, Wisconsin 50%
Three-Pointers: Belmont 6/22, Wisconsin 12/22
Free Throws: Belmont 16/22, Wisconsin 20/25
Rebounds: Belmont 17, Wisconsin 29
Turnovers: Belmont 7, Wisconsin 12
Phantom Score: Belmont 41, Wisconsin 45
Vegas Line: Wisconsin by 4, total of 126
Notebook: Notice that Phantom Score looked a lot like the Penn State-Wisconsin game that was so embarrassing last week! Wisconsin shot very well from long range (and the free throw line too) to create production. They only made 8 two-point baskets on the night against a team of midgets. Belmont sure looked overbilled once they had to face a major conference team. Some computers had Belmont as a top 20 squad. Congrats to the oft-maligned (by us) selection committee for putting them down at 13th.

KANSAS STATE 73, UTAH STATE 68
Shooting Percentage: Utah State 46%, Kansas State 41%
Three-Pointers: Utah State 6/18, Kansas State 5/17
Free Throws: Utah State 16/21, Kansas State 24/28
Rebounds: Utah State 26, Kansas State 29
Turnovers: Utah State 12, Kansas State 9
Phantom Score: Utah State 60, Kansas State 63
Vegas Line: Kansas State by 2.5, total of 128
Notebook: Neither team played particularly well. The grumpy Kansas State coach felt his team was lucky to win given their second half inconsistency. If you watched the game, you had to agree! But, Utah State didn't really start hitting shots until the final moments when they were trading two's with K-State free throws. Phantom Score was on the Vegas line, which as surprisingly uncommon on the day overall. You can see why Kansas State lost three straight to Colorado. And, while they will be in trouble against Wisconsin if they don't do a better job of finding good shots down the stretch.

The Kansas State team that beat Kansas and Texas a few weeks ago is capable of reaching the Elite 8 in the Southeast brackets. Maybe more. That Kansas State team hasn't been seen for awhile though, meaning Wisconsin is the legitimate favorite here. Can the Badgers go deep in a soft regional? If they keep making treys, they're going to be hard to derail.

Thanks for reading today's lengthy NOTEBOOK entry. Saturday WINNERS are available from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK online or at 1-800-323-4453. Back tomorrow as we use this format to look at Sunday's games with Friday's boxscores. See you then!

24
Sep

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