A QUICK REVIEW OF LESSONS FROM CONFERENCE FINALS AS YOU PONDER THE BIG DANCE BRACKETS

As you’re reading this, you already know who will be playing who later this week in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. And, you’ve already mapped out potential Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four scenarios. It’s important before you think too far ahead that you take serious stock of the lessons learned this past weekend in conference tournament action.

Some quick takeaways…

*KENTUCKY really is the class of the national field. It remains to be seen how much better than other league champs they are on a neutral court. It’s certainly not a range that makes another Bluegrass championship a foregone conclusion. Longtime fans remember games like Villanova over Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown and NC State over Phi Slamma Jamma. There are a few teams who re closer to Kentucky in Power Ratings than those Cinderella stories were. Still, on paper, it’s Kentucky’s tournament to lose. They come closer to reflecting the inevitability of excellence from John Wooden’s UCLA teams than the sport has seen in a long, long time. And, they certainly have a relatively friendly path to the Final Four with vulnerable Kansas at the #2 seed in their region, over-seeded Notre Dame at #3, and “can’t win way from home” Maryland at #4.

*ARIZONA was being priced as second best in the nation down the stretch no matter what the polls or Bracketologists were saying. They sure lived up to that while coasting to the Pac 12 championship. There were a few sloppy minutes vs. UCLA in the semifinals. Otherwise, these western Wildcats made it clear they’re a legitimate threat to Kentucky. It’s a crime they were put in the brutal West with Wisconsin, Baylor, and North Carolina seeded to reach the Sweet 16 win them. Brutal!

*WISCONSIN was on that short list of teams as well who could scare Kentucky, until a surprising struggle with Michigan State Sunday in Chicago. As we’ve talked about all season, Wisconsin’s soft defense (by Dance standards) makes them vulnerable to upset when facing quality. Sparty has WAY too easy a time of it scoring inside the paint. The Badgers needed a good day from long range just to salvage their #1 Dance seed. Wisconsin’s “peak” can play with Kentucky or Arizona. They may have to survive North Carolina just to get to Arizona...on the way to the Final Four.

*THE ACC once again showed off its vulnerabilities. Both Duke and Virginia were lobbying all week for #1 seeds in the Dance, yet neither could even make the Finals of their own tournament! Duke disappears in the brackets because they have a soft defense (by Dance standards), and lose the help they usually get from officials. Virginia’s slow pace keeps opponents within striking distance. And, their offense has gotten sluggish down the stretch. Frankly, it’s hard to see either battling Kentucky for 48 minutes unless you get an outlier from one side of the equation or the other. Duke was given a #1 seed anyway thanks to a resume that has legitimate highs. Possibly a gift regional here as well with vulnerable Gonzaga at #2 and overseeded Georgetown at #4.

*VILLANOVA impressed in the Big East. That doesn’t mean what it used to. They go on the list with Duke and Virginia as a team that’s capable of playing at championship level here and there, but can’t be assured of doing so when needed in the later rounds. A fun team to watch…and they’ll cover for you when the shots are falling. Hard to believe they got a #1 seed over Arizona. The market would have them an underdog of at least three points head to head. Heck, they market would have them as an underdog in a 1-2 matchup with Virginia in the elite Eight.

*KANSAS failed to win the Big 12 tournament, as Iowa State got the job done for the second year in a row. It’s true that Kansas has been dealing with injuries lately. But, the Big 12 this season has managed to be deep yet unimpressive. It’s almost as if all the eligible teams are about a #4 or #5 seed by past standards in the NCAA’s. Any could get hot and reach the Sweet 16. Any could fall earlier. In fact, this Kansas team is probably less talented than some of Bill Self’s other teams that fell early. Somebody from this league will go deep. Kansas could be in real trouble this weekend if they and Wichita State survive their openers.

Last year Connecticut rose up to cut down the nets from a #7 seed. Something like that is extremely rare, and even less likely this season given the power at the top. This year’s composite computer ratings show the elite on a Mt. Olympus relative to the field…which wasn’t the case last season (remember, Kentucky was a #8 seed in a down year, though they eventually reached the Finals). A Cinderella or two may find some time in spotlight…but probably not on the first Monday of March.

Everyone here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK is very excited about the start of the NCAA Tournament. You can purchase the best bets on the board every day through MARCH MADNESS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours Monday through Wednesday, or before the early games tip off afterward. It’s best to take care of business early!

Back with you Tuesday to begin TV previews for the “First Four” and then the Rounds of 64 and 32. We’ll fill in the blanks more specifically in our next report.

Tuesday: BYU vs. Ole Miss in a battle of #11 seeds from Dayton
Wednesday: Boise State at Dayton in a battle of #11 seeds
Thursday: Best prime time showdown in Round of 64
Friday: Best prime time showdown in Day Two of the Round of 64
Saturday: Best of the later tips in the Round of 32
Sunday: Best of the later tips in Day Two of the Round of 32

Make plans to be with us every day this week for stat handicapping tips. And, be sure you link up with the office for BIG, JUICY WINNERS. It’s time to crown a national champion. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley
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