Big Monday's Preview

BIG MONDAY'S BLOCKBUSTER TWINBILL WILL HAVE NCAA TOURNAMENT IMPLICATIONS

Some Monday's have been disappointing this season. ESPN guessed wrong about a few Big 12 contenders (namely Texas and West Virginia), and has had trouble getting any momentum going for their annual Big Monday TV feature.

But, THIS WEEK, college basketball fans and sports bettors are in for a real treat because all four teams look to be Dance-bound, and at least two of the four teams are popular picks to reach at least the Elite Eight and possibly the Final Four.

And, oh...by the way...the two best teams are playing on the ROAD tonight in front of loud, hostile crowds who would love nothing better than to cheer for two hours before storming the court after an upset win!

Syracuse at Marquette
Kansas at Iowa State

Both of the Big East teams are coming off Saturday losses, as the Orangemen were stunned at home by Georgetown while Marquette fell to Villanova. Kansas is playing two days after a big revenge win over TCU...but has shown vulnerability on the road several times this year. They were lucky to win at Oklahoma State last week when they only made one basket in TWO overtime periods! They weren't so lucky at TCU and Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago. Iowa State is always dangerous as home with their three-point heavy attack.

Before looking at key stat rankings for all four BIG MONDAY teams, let's check the latest (as of midday Sunday) from Joe Lunardi's Bracketology at ESPN.

BIG MONDAY BRACKETOLOGY
Kansas: projected #2 seed
Syracuse: projected #3 seed
Marquette: projected #5 seed
Iowa State: projected #10 seed

The second rung is getting kind of crowded...so a loss knocks you down to #3 temporarily. That's what happened to Syracuse. It had happened to Kansas earlier before they rose back up to #2. Each of those teams would like to think they're deserving of an Elite Eight seed. Both are aware that losses tonight could find them both at #3 in a few weeks. Tonight will provide an interesting test for both Kansas and Syracuse because the national media is on the verge of ruling them out as true title threats. Time to send a message!

Marquette has been solid, but off the radar this season. If you're in the middle of the pack in a killer conference like the Big East, you can be very good while not getting much attention. That may position them to spring a surprise tonight or next month.

Iowa State has shown a disturbing home/road split from a handicapping perspective. They're capable of the occasional great road game. But, they typically flounder away from home and shine at home. Put that in a neutral court sequence, and it doesn't last very long. Iowa State could get hot and surprise somebody next month. They're best chance to grab national headlines comes in their biggest home game of the season Monday vs. the Jayhawks.

Stat rankings now from the publicly available computer ratings posted by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy. The offense and defense numbers reflect "adjusted" rankings that take into account pace factor and strength of schedule.

7 p.m. ET: Syracuse at Marquette
Syracuse: 10 in Sagarin, 9 in Pomeroy
Marquette: 16 in Sagarin, 23 in Pomeroy
Syracuse (17 offense, 8 defense); Marquette (15 offense, 58 defense)

In the raw rankings, Syracuse gets the nod as the superior team...but it's not by much in the big picture. Throw in home court advantage for Marquette, and you can see why tonight's game is supposed to be a nailbiter. Will Syracuse come out strong after their surprisingly bad home loss to the Hoyas? We'll learn a lot about the team's mental toughness this evening. Pomeroy's adjusted category rankings show that the weakest link on the floor will be Marquette's defense. Syracuse can shine by attacking that weak spot, but won't be able to take advantage if they're passive or down in the dumps.

In terms of the Big Dance, that poor defensive ranking for Marquette (by Dance standards) is something you'll need to remember. Defense wins championships. Most of the real threats to cut down the nets will be top 10 on defense (like Syracuse) or top 20 at worst.

JIM HURLEY has been working with his Big East sources to gauge the mindset of the Orange entering this quick turnaround. What he learns from his guys will be the key for determining this play.

9 p.m. ET: Kansas at Iowa State
Kansas: 5 in Sagarin, 10 in Pomeroy
Iowa State: 35 in Sagarin, 36 in Pomeroy
Kansas (28 offense, 6 defense); Iowa State (10 offense, 105 defense)

Kansas is a tough team for computers to deal with. They don't have the offensive potency to run away and hide from opponents the way you'd expect from a team rated so well. That means they're constantly sweating second halves. But, their strong defense allows them to win more than their share of grinders. If none of the shots are falling, they can lose to even somebody as bad as TCU. If some are going in, they can play with and beat anybody in the nation, including Indiana or Florida.

Iowa State is definitely in a slightly lower class overall. That being said...they play better than 35-36 in the rankings when they're on their home floor...and they're better than the TCU and Oklahoma teams that Kansas already lost to outside of Lawrence. The obvious concern with this host is also defense. And, in this case, it's a huge problem. Marquette was vulnerable at #58. Iowa State is almost twice as bad!

That's going to create a fairly clear gameplan in Monday's nightcap. Kansas will try to attack the soft underbelly for 40 minutes.  Iowa State will try to make up for that inside softness by raining down three's from the sky. That scenario always creates volatility...meaning that either team could cover by double digits depending on who wins the tug of war.

JIM HURLEY has been running computer simulations around the clock to account for all possibilities...and to find the area of highest probability to compare to the Vegas line.

You can purchase the final word for BIG MONDAY right here at the website with your credit card. In addition to those two games, NETWORK is also looking at two important NBA games involving playoff hopefuls.

LA Lakers at Denver
Boston at Utah

That's a killer spot for the Lakers, in a back-to-back at altitude. But they know they can't give anything away given the current Western Conference standings.

If you have any questions about service, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. A light schedule night like this provides you with the perfect opportunity to work out your plans for the rest of college basketball or NBA coverage through the playoffs.

BIG MONDAY kicks off a huge week in the baskets. Here's this week's Notebook schedule:

Tuesday: Indiana at Minnesota
Wednesday: San Diego State at New Mexico
Thursday: Duke at Virginia
Friday: Louisville at Syracuse (preview of an early Saturday tip)
Saturday: Showcase coverage of HUGE conference games like Miami/Duke, Michigan State/Michigan, Butler/VCU, Arizona/UCLA, Wichita State/Creighton, and Notre Dame/Marquette. That's the first Saturday in March...and it's truly going to be MARCH MADNESS!

The best teams from the majors...and many of the best teams from the mid-majors will be battling it out this week. February was intense already...but the handoff to March is going to be intense!

Back with you tomorrow for Indiana's danger spot on the road against talented but confused Minnesota. Be with us every day for the handicapping information you need to succeed...and link up DAILY with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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