St. Mary’s vs. Arizona Preview for Saturday

IS ST. MARY'S A CINDERELLA? IS ARIZONA AS GOOD AS ITS RECENT HYPE? ANSWERS SATURDAY!

One of the most compelling games on the Saturday "Round of 32" card in the 2017 NCAA Tournament is the St. Mary's/Arizona showdown in the West Region brackets. Not only could the game loom very large over the whole event. But, both teams played their conference tournaments in Las Vegas...which means the BETTING handle could be huge.

The locals want to get involved after watching both last week. Each team has a meaningful following in terms of market support this season (Arizona always does, St. Mary's does THIS YEAR because they're playing so well and cashing tickets).

And, we can't leave out the fact that the state of Arizona is hosting the Final Four. The Arizona Cardinals football stadium in Glendale will be the site. Arizona has a very real shot of surviving the West and being a true host for the event.

If you're watching the game (and, who wouldn't be?!), you very well could be watching the 2017 National Champ in action. But, you could also be watching a very dramatic Cinderella story unfold involving a St. Mary's team that thinks it should have been seeded a lot better than #7.

We start JIM HURLEY'S preview with a look at Thursday's boxscores...

Arizona 100, North Dakota 82
2-point Shooting: N. Dakota 47%, Arizona 63%
Three Pointers: N. Dakota 10/22, Arizona 4/11
Free Throws: N. Dakota 8/16, Arizona 24/28
Rebounds: N. Dakota 31, Arizona 40
Turnovers: N. Dakota 6, Arizona 7
Phantom Score: N. Dakota 73, Arizona 104

For you first timers, Phantom Score is a handy stat that estimates what a final score "should" have been based on key fundamentals that loom large in tournament basketball. It's simply the sum of two-point scoring plus total rebounds. Here it's suggesting Arizona should have won even bigger. You can deduce that from the three-point category. North Dakota had to shoot almost 50% on high volume trey attempts just to lose by 18. Pencil in a normal percentage...and Phantom Score would have been almost right on the money.

Of course, Arizona is supposed to crush a team like North Dakota. So, nothing learned there.

St. Mary's 85, Virginia Commonwealth 77
2-point Shooting: VCU 52%, St. Mary's 68%
Three Pointers: VCU 2/13, St. Mary's 6/17
Free Throws: VCU 17/26, St. Mary's 29/39
Rebounds: VCU 29, St. Mary's 37
Turnovers: VCU 9, St. Mary's 15
Phantom Score: VCU 83, St. Mary's 75

Tricky one to analyze because St. Mary's shot great inside when they could avoid turnovers...but they couldn't always avoid turnovers! It took an awful 2 of 13 performance on treys for VCU to make this a game. But, St. Mary's does deserve credit for earning free throws and owning the boards. Since Arizona isn't exactly a three-point juggernaut themselves, this gives Saturday's dog a chance to stay competitive. The Gaels have to keep attacking and bringing the game to Arizona. Phantom Score shows some vulnerability for the St. Mary's side of Saturday's coin.

Computer Rankings
St. Mary's: #14 at Kenpom, #24 at Sagarin
Arizona: #19 at Kenpom, #18 at Sagarin

Wait a second, college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy has St. Mary's as the better team? He sure does! That's mostly because Arizona missed a key player for half the season. He's back and leading the team now...so Arizona should be considered more like #10-12 in Pomeroy and Sagarin. Though, that's still not as good as where the tournament has them seeded. The computers (which also includes Jeff Sagarin of USA Today) don't see Arizona as championship material. They do see St. Mary's as better than a #7 seed. Bottom line...the math here suggests a competitive game.

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
St. Mary's: 119.2 per 100 possessions (#14 in the nation)
Arizona: 118.1 per 100 possessions (#18 in the nation)

Since Pomeroy has St. Mary's as the better team, we can't be surprised when they grade out better on both sides of the ball. That gets taken away when both teams are at full strength. The key to remember here is that both offenses have a lot of weapons. You'll see in a moment that slow tempos has helped hide that from the national media. Some offenses that run-and-gun strike the eye as more dynamic than these two. But, both St. Mary's and Arizona are extremely efficient with their possessions. That shows up best when you adjust for pace and schedule strength, as Pomeroy does. And, they must have good offenses if they just scored 85 and 100 points Thursday night!

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
St. Mary's: 94.8 per 100 possessions (#26 in the nation)
Arizona: 95.4 per 100 possessions (#32 in the nation)

Both teams are good enough on this side of the floor to do damage, even if neither is quite championship material in terms of shutting people down. Probably a good time to mention here that St. Mary's math may be inflated in Pomeroy's numbers because the West Coast Conference is so bad that it's hard to make proper adjustments. The Gaels were consistently outclassed when they played Gonzaga. Maybe that means they'll only have trouble if they run into Gonzaga again. Or, maybe it means that they'll get outclassed by all elite teams, including the likes of Arizona.

Pace Ranking
St. Mary's: #350
Arizona: #273

This is what we mean about slow tempos. St. Mary's is one of the slowest teams in the country. Slower than Princeton! How you used to think of Princeton is how you should think of St. Mary's now. Arizona is slower than average, and doesn't mind this kind of pace at all. They have the athletes to steal a few fast breaks here and there, while otherwise out-executing you in slow basketball. This may hurt upset potential for the dog because their extreme tempo won't mess up this opponent.

Against the Spread
St. Mary's: 17-11-2
Arizona: 18-14-3

Both teams have been moneymakers...with Arizona surging lately...and St. Mary's really sparkling when not playing Gonzaga! As we said at the top, this is likely to be a very heavily bet game in Las Vegas because local backers are making money, and local college basketball fans got a great look at both teams in the postseason tourneys.

We've prepared this preview for you on Friday to give you a head start handicapping. JIM HURLEY will make the final call Saturday morning for the eight second round games involving Thursday's winners. Throught fthe first week of the postseason tournants Jim Hurley is a sizzling 9-1, after sweeping 3-0 in Wednesday's NIT and 3-0 in Thursday's NCAA's! You can purchase NETWORK'S BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card on game days. If you have any questions about this weekend or extended service, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 Saturday morning before the action gets started.

It's still early in the Big Dance, so THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING! Be sure you get all the BIG, JUICY WINNERS throughout the college basketball postseason from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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