Everyone wants to know:
Just who are going to be the #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament that officially swings into action on Tuesday, March 16th -- hey, you didn't forget the #64-versus-#65 game, did you?
Obviously, you have been hearing the same answers as we have with Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse all considered veritable 'locks' to earn #1 seeds in 'The Big Dance' while the likes of Duke and Ohio State and maybe even Villanova fight for the lone remaining top seed.
And you've no doubt been hearing all the chit-chat regarding the always-popular 'bubble teams' that this year includes the likes of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's, UNLV, Mississippi State and anyone else you can think of that belongs in the mix -- but what are the so-called 'hidden stories' this month of March?
Well, we will shine the light on a couple of them in just a moment but first let's remind one-and-all that Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Basketball and all the NBA Winners too when you check in on Game Days after 11 a.m. ET for weekday College Hoops Games and then anytime after 1 p.m. ET Monday-through-Friday for all the night games and then after 10 a.m. on Saturday/Sunday here onlineor else get us at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 -- and do make sure you're with us all through this exciting and very profitable hoops ride!
Now, back to a couple of 'hidden stories' at this time of the year:
While everyone loves to talk up seeding and sites, etc. it's important to really know your stuff ... and here's what we mean:
Right now the College Basketball Conference Tournaments -- a/k/a the mini-tournies -- are in full flight and soon enough it'll be time for the NCAA Tournament and one key factor here is scheduling.
Check out what some of the mini-tourney winners have to deal with in terms of the schedule as some teams have to play as many as three games in less than 72 hours time and some even have to play a fourth game in four days -- folks, the college kids are simply not used to that sort of schedule grind and many times the more rested team is the one that rock-n-rolls its way to the wagering winner's circle. It's unbelievably rare when a team can cover the Las Vegas price tag when playing a fourth game in four days or even one that is playing three games in three days against a team with more rest.
We will be watching that this weekend ... and so should you!
When we get to the NCAA Tournament, watch for teams that have to play in a time zone far away from their own on that first full day of the NCAA Tournament (that's Thursday, March 18th). This is especially true if/when you get a team from the Western time zone playing in the Eastern time zone and playing a day game to boot -- sometimes those proverbial 'body clocks' just aren't ready to play at 12:20 p.m. ET.
One other 'hidden story' worth mentioning here is expectations:
Obviously, we all know what teams are expected to win their conference tournies and go far into the NCAA Tournament but in this case we're talking about a handful-or-so teams that have expectations put on them prior to the start of the season and now's the time the coaches/players start to feel it.
Maybe some team with high expectations will rise to the occasion and win it all this year -- you never know -- but let's count the following as teams that head into this time of the year with some heavier shoulders:
Gonzaga -- Every year folks in the great state of Washington count on the Zags getting into the Final Four and every year this annual power falls short. Could Mark Few's club play 'tight' early on in this year's NCAA Tourney?
Butler -- It's still fashionable to think of the Bulldogs as a mid-major but the fact is they've joined Gonzaga as one of the 'big boys' and there's growing belief that this team is ready to at least crack the Sweet 16 round ... will that pressure instead crack the kids from the Horizon League?
Duke -- The Blue Devils really don't have to prove anything to anybody but keep in mind they have been hearing plenty about not getting to a Final Four since 2004 and so this star-studded senior class could be getting a case of the 'yips' in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin -- The plucky Badgers have not made it to the Final Four since the Dick Bennett days and so there's been some heat cranked up on head coach Bo Ryan and his club that often finds itself with a talent disadvantage somewhere late in the Big 10 Tourney and early in the NCAAs.
And now hear this:
There have been plenty of hoop winners for Jim Hurley and his clients in the days leading up to all this 'March Madness' and here's a couple of examples:
Wednesday, March 3rd
Maryland (+ 1) 79, Duke 72 -- Jim loved the info he garnered leading up to this critical ACC game such as the fact the Terrapins were not physically worse for wear despite banging out a 104-100 double-overtime win at Virginia Tech just four days earlier. Word was Maryland was A-OK and really wanted revenge for that earlier-season blowout loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Terps (namely senior guard Greivis Vasquez) made all the big shots late and Maryland slammed the door on a Duke comeback with some ferocious defense and board work.
Friday, March 5th:
Kent State (+ 3) 74, Akron 61 -- Jim doesn't only cash in with the 'big boys' as he's quite adept at knocking home winners with the mid-majors as evidenced by this runaway triumph in the Mid-American Conference. The thought process here was Kent State's pressure would get to Akron's guards -- and Jim was correct as the Zips committed 17 turnovers and Kent State turned 'em into 25 points.
The Golden Flashes led by 12-or-more points after an early 12-2 second-half run and it was a comfortable romp with a rod dog that really came to play.
Now, make sure you're all aboard for all the College Basketball Tournament Winners!
NCAA 'MARCH MADNESS' PICKS & PREVIEWS
Jim Hurley's NCAA 'MARCH MADNESS' PICKS & PREVIEWS are based on information obtained prior to press time -- to get all the firmed-up Game-Day College Basketball Conference Tourney Winners and NCAA Tournament/NIT/CBI Winners, remember to check with us every day here onlineor call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 after 11 a.m. ET Monday-through-Friday for the day games and then anytime after 1 p.m. ET for the evening action and also after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays.
Now, let's take the time to delve into the College Basketball Conference Tournaments 'round the land this week/weekend and note our down-the-road NCAA Tournament Overview ... enjoy!
THE CONFERENCE MINI-TOURNIES
ACC -- As folks know by now, Duke (26-5, 13-3) landed the top seed in this tournament over Maryland (23-7, 13-3) based on tie-breakers but nobody will be surprised if Blue Devils-Terrapins is the ACC Tournament Championship Game on Sunday afternoon in Greensboro.
No question that HC Krzyzewski's club sent a major-league message to one/all with last Saturday's 82-50 win against North Carolina and -- even though we're among a minority of people who believe Duke can win it all this year -- laying prices with the Dookies this week is not on our agenda unless they get to lay a short number versus Maryland in the title tilt.
Meanwhile, consider Florida State and Clemson -- two defensive-minded squads -- to be worth your wagering attention whenever in the underdog role against anyone other than Duke and look for Virginia Tech and Wake Forest to play 'tight' here even though we fully expect the Hokies to be in next week's NCAA Tournament.
It's ultra-strange to see North Carolina listed as a #10 seed in this tourney but the mighty have fallen indeed and don't look for any mini-tourney miracles from 'Roy's Boys' who waved the white flag big-time in that game in Durham last weekend ... ugh!
P.S., if you expect any of the other lower-level ACC teams to do something here -- we're talking about Virginia, Miami and N.C. State -- don't get your hopes up as all of 'em are offensively-challenged units at this stage of the 2009-10 season. Maybe Boston College could make you a few bucks as a first- or second-round underdog but let's not go hog-wild here.
BIG EAST -- There's a slew of questions regarding this week's mini-tournament in New York City (one that runs five days and will include some 15 games!) and they are as follows:
How many Big East teams will make it to the NCAA Tournament?
What seeds with Villanova and/ore West Virginia get in the NCAAs if they happen to win this thing?
And are there any 'sleepers' that can win a couple of games and then still be standing by later in the week?
Okay, here's the best-possible answers we can get for you ...
Sorry, Big East, but we don't believe that half your league is gonna make it into the 65-team NCAA Tournament field. Look for seven Big East teams to make it with either Georgetown or Notre Dame getting kayoed from the mix -- both of these clubs better win their opening-round games or else they'll be on the outside looking in.
On the flip side, while Syracuse will be getting a #1 NCAA Tournament seed unless it losses in quarterfinal round play here, both 'Nova and West Virginia could sky to a #2 seed if they just get to the mini-tourney championship game and Pittsburgh could also be as high as a #3 seed in the NCAA's by making it into the championship game.
Many in-the-know folks believe this is the best Big East Conference in 25 years -- since that golden 1984-85 season when Villanova, Georgetown and St. John's all reached the Final Four before the 'Nova Wildcats shocked the mighty Hoyas -- but the truth is the bottom half of this league is rotten and we cannot see any of the teams playing in the opening round making it into Thursday's quarters ... and that includes sky-diving UConn!
The top couple of plays to be made here are as follows:
Take any available points with both Pitt and Marquette and play Syracuse if somehow the Orange gets a third shot at Louisville after the Redbirds swept 'em in the regular season -- now than we will go hog wild with HC Boeheim's bunch!
BIG 10 -- Only four of the clubs in this 11-team league are locked into NCAA Tournament bids (that's Purdue, Ohio State. Michigan State and Wisconsin) but beware of the likes of Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan as any/all of these squads could be stealing a couple of wins here and will be 'live' as underdog sides against all comers. No doubt that Minny boss-man Smith and Michigan coach Beilein are top-notch tournament coaches and both will get our 'Best Bet' stamp of approval if taking more than a handful of points in any of their mini-tourney games.
But back to the big boys here:
The jury is still out some with Purdue minus do-everything forward Hummel and Wisky's lack of offensive explosiveness makes us leery of backing the Badgers as betting favorites of more than a triple here -- but both Ohio State and Michigan State have go-to guys in F Turner and PG Lucas, respectively, and both can hammer the boards with the best of 'em.
Gut feeling is that either Ohio State or Michigan State will win this free-for-all at the Conseco Field House in Indianapolis -- but not before some real tight fits along the way -- and if the Buckeyes and Spartans do collide at any point here, we'll ask no questions and simply take any/all available points.
BIG 12 -- Five teams in this league sported double-digit regular-season conference wins including mighty Kansas (29-2, 15-1) and five teams suffered through double-digit conference losses but it's those teams in between (that's Texas and Oklahoma State) that really make this an intriguing mini-tourney straight ahead in Kansas City. The late-season swoon by the Longhorns (23-8, 9-7) likely won't cost 'em an NCAA Tournament berth but if they ever get blown out in Round One there could be questions. Meanwhile, Okie State (21-9, 9-7) likely has locked up a berth but steering clear of a one-sided loss certainly is in the Cowboys' best interests.
If the price tags on the Kansas games here are too rich for your taste -- and they will be for us! -- than cast your orbs on both Baylor and Texas A&M as these are well-coached outfits that play defense, hit the boards and never quit. In fact, we'll make pro-Baylor and pro-A&M wagers when they're pups against anyone other than HC Self's Jayhawks.
The K-State Wildcats (24-6, 11-5) are in a something-to-prove mode after ending the regular season with back-to-back losses last week -- including that hard-to-explain 85-82 OT loss against 15-point underdog Iowa State -- but we'll likely take a pass on HC Martin's guys who may be a bit worn down by the rigors of the Big 12 campaign.
Please don't be tempted into thinking Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado or Texas Tech are gonna win you more than one play here -- if this quartet can just break even spreadwise in the early going than they should consider themselves fortunate!
PAC-10 -- Has any major-college conference had more dirt shoveled on 'em in one year than this 2009-10 edition of the Pac-10?
Okay, so the league didn't have a single Top 25 team all winter long and only California (21-9, 13-5) had five-or-fewer conference losses but that doesn't mean this won't be a great mini-tourney as there are probably five teams that have legit shots at winning this thing including the aforementioned Golden Bears along with -- in this order -- Washington, Arizona, Arizona State and, yes, UCLA.
No doubt the Bruins (13-17, 8-10) ain't what they used to be but boss-man Howland is a tremendous tourney coach and there are enough three-point shooters here to make the Uclans a threat and so keep them under advisement whenever taking points here (and remember this tourney's held at the Staples Center in LA). Ditto for Washington and 'Zona who both have players that can cleverly break down enemy defenses (see Washington's Pondexter and Arizona's Williams) and we will be all-too-happy to gobble up points with these squads if they get a crack at a vulnerable Cal club.
None of the Pac-10's lower echelon teams excite us -- Washington State's proven it cannot hold late-game leads and Oregon's just a downright enigma (again!) -- but we'll have some interest when it comes to President Obama's favorite Pac-10 team: Oregon State HC Robinson just inked a contract extension and his kids play hard for him at all times and plus a bunch of points might be tempting.
SEC -- It will be extremely interesting to see how these Kentucky freshmen handle the role of heavy-duty favorite to win this SEC Tournament in Nashville as (naturally) this is their first go-around in tourney play and so you might see HC Calipari's kids a tad flustered in their opening game.
Overall, we don't consider Kentucky (29-2, 14-2) to be either a good bet or a bad bet in this mini-tourney simply because the 'Cats have an NCAA Tournament #1 seed all locked up already and not sure if flexing their collective muscles here is all that important to 'em. If G Wall, C Cousins and mates do get a crack at either South Carolina or Tennessee (the two teams that beat Kentucky this year) then we might be tempted to just 'lay it' for a medium-sized play.
Meanwhile, there will be plenty of intensity throughout this SEC Tournament even though we firmly believe that five teams are 'in' when it comes to the NCAAs and that's Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Both the M-State Bulldogs and Mississippi Rebels might be heading into this tourney believing they each need a 'W' to be a lock for an at-large invitation and so they could be a bit jittery here -- go against both of these teams if/when laying first-game prices.
As far as Vandy and Tennessee, these teams will enjoy a home-state and home-crowd advantage here but, in truth, that may cost 'em a couple of points in the Las Vegas pointspreads and we'll be quick to advise anti-Vandy and anti-Tennessee plays if/when laying a handful-or-more points against the likes of gritty South Carolina and/or Arkansas.
Folks, let's take a pass on any Florida games in this mini-tourney as not sure HC Donovan's crew has great chemistry although we do give the Gators a 'thumbs-up' for hanging tough in last Sunday's 74-66 loss-but-cover at 11-point favorite Kentucky.
Now, here's some thumbnail sketches on a few of the other conferences that will be playing their mini-tournies into this weekend:
ATLANTIC-10 -- Note that this mini-tourney really heats up when it gets to quarterfinal round play at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Friday and then you're apt to see show wild hoops action with Temple, Xavier and Richmond the favorites to win this shindig -- still, don't be totally shocked if Saint Louis or Rhode Island steals this sucker.
In fact, if/when Saint Louis and Rhodie are in the point-grabbing role this week, then go ahead and jump in feet first and also consider Dayton if taking more than a triple against those aforementioned tri-favorites ... got it?
BIG WEST -- No matter what yapping you hear from the coaches here, this is a 'one-bid league' and so co-favorites Pacific and UC-Santa Barbara (both 12-4 in conference play) have no margin for error. The UCSB Gauchoes won both head-to-head regular-season meetings against Pacific but we'd be tempted to take HC Thomason's Tigers to gain some revenge if it came down to 'Round III'. Note that this mini-tourney is played in Anaheim.
CONFERENCE USA -- Please don't tell us you think the Memphis Tigers (23-8, 12-3) are gonna win the C-USA mini-tourney the year after HC Calipari left town? The Tigers seem like they've won the last gazillion Conference USA Tournaments and this time they would have to win in Tulsa where dodging the likes of UTEP, UAB, Marshall and host Tulsa appear too tall a task for Memphis this time around.
If UTEP coach Barbee -- a former player and assistant coach under Calipari -- can get big-man Caracter (14.3 ppg) to score the ball in the painted area, then the Miners would be our pick to click here but be careful laying more than a fistful with these regular-season champs (14-1).
MID-AMERICAN -- Odds are this will be a 'one-bid league' when the NCAA Tournament Committee folks figure out the 'Big Dance' landscape although both Kent State (-23-8, 12-3) and Akron (22-9, 12-3) could sneak in as an at-large squad should get they beat in a close one in the mini-tourney title game.
Look for Kent State to click at least till the championship game and feel free to lay it with HC Ford's club while keep an eye peeled on Ohio now that the Bobcats survived their first-round tourney game against 5-point pup Ball State with an 85-77 overtime win.
MOUNTAIN WEST -- Expect three teams from this conference to wind up in NCAA Tournament play and so that means New Mexico and BYU are in and UNLV and San Diego State are fighting for this 'Big Dance' lives.
It could simply come down to who survives longer here between these two teams and we'd rate better-coached UNLV Rebels the slight edge over the athletic SDSU Aztecs. Regular-season champ New Mexico (28-3, 14-2) has superstar Hobson (15.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 4.6 apg) on its side and boss-man Alford has proven to be National Coach of the Year material this season but Los Lobos will be laying prices all tourney long and we'll pass.
Maybe look at BYU if laying half-a-dozen points or less to anyone not named UNLV.
WAC -- Fully expect Utah State (25-6, 14-2) to be get invited to the NCAA Tournament if it does not capture this mini-tourney crown but HC Morrill's club likely won't be taking any chances and not likely that you'll find us in anti-Utah State mode here.
If you would like to find a pesky team that could cash a couple of WAC Tournament bets, then look at underrated Louisiana Tech (22-9, 9-7) with high-scoring stud Gibson (19.1 ppg) leading the way.
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT OVERVIEW:
WEIGHING IN ON KEY TEAMS, PLAYERS & COACHES
One thing we know for sure ... there will be no repeat national championship this April.
The woe-be-gone edition of the 2009-10 North Carolina Tar Heels saw to that and so hope springs eternal for the 65 teams that will enter this year's NCAA Tournament that this can be 'their year'.
In reality, there are probably no more than 8-to-10 teams that can 'win it all' this season with Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse -- in no particular order -- the most serious candidates to wear the crown come the night of Monday, April 5th at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis but keep in mind this could be one of those years when a power conference team that didn't get all the regular-season ink winds up stealing the show.
Is that you Maryland or maybe you Tennessee? Hmmm.
Let's dig a little deeper into the upcoming NCAA Tournament with a look at Three (3) Teams, Three (3) Key Players and Three (3) Coaches who could become major headline-stealers for the next month:
TEAMS TO WATCH --
KENTUCKY -- No doubt the Wildcats are the most fascinating bunch in this field when you consider all these freshmen who hijacked the '09-'10 regular season and made it their own. Now, the moment of decision truly has arrived for guard John Wall and center DeMarcus Cousins (and others) and the key to success will be twofold here:
Just how does coach John Calipari's crew handle the zone defenses that will be thrown its way here and how does Wall -- in particular -- handle all the talk that he's a one-and-done player on the college level?
It's hard to see nerves getting in the way 'cause these kids have shown no fear all along but don't necessarily make the leap of faith that because those Michigan 'Fab Five' teams made it to back-to-back national championship games in the 1990s that this Kentucky crew is a sure thing to be playing on April 5.
NEW MEXICO -- It's happened before, you know.
One of these oft-forgotten teams from the hinterlands gets hot and just keeps on rolling right into the championship game (see the 1998 Utah Utes) and this could be the case with the here-and-now Lobos. There is no doubt that head coach Steve Alford has masterfully guided this club to great heights (28 wins and a place inside the Top 10 at last check) and who's to say that the magic carpet ride won't last into April?
The Lobos have a major marquee star in transfer Darington Hobson and the rest of the team knows its roles very well -- plus that late-season contentious win at BYU really allowed New Mex to feel good about itself. Odds are the Mountain West Conference club is gonna have to stand-to-toe with a power conference guy in Round II play but get past the first weekend of NCAA Tournament and this better-than-you-think team could have 'mojo' on its side.
MICHIGAN STATE -- Is it us or has just about everyone 'round the land stopped talking about the M-State Spartans?
Last year's national championship game runners-up -- yes, they were humbled badly by the UNC Tar Heels -- are back for another crack at the brass ring and note Tom Izzo's team won 24 regular-season games and played .778 ball in Big 10 regular-season action (that's 14-4).
There's plenty to suggest that Sparty will make a real run for it again now that point guard Kalin Lucas (ankle) is healthy and note there are four double-digit scorers on this team and the green gang rebounds with ferocity as do all Izzo teams throughout the years.
Maybe the folks that like to fill out their brackets might wind up passing on Michigan State as a national title threat -- but we wouldn't advise it!
PLAYERS TO WATCH --
JEROME RANDLE, G, CALIFORNIA -- Could the hopes of a Pac-10 team going deep into this year's NCAA Tournament rest of the shoulders of a 5-foot-10, 160-pound guard from Chicago?
Randle is one of the nation's best-kept secrets -- he exited regular-season play averaging a team-leading 18.7 points per game and also chipped in 4.5 assists per outing and he can be simply electric at times.
LACEDARIUS DUNN, G, BAYLOR -- If the so-called experts are right, than the NCAA Tournament is all about guard play and here's one of the best in the business This 6-foot-4 junior not only fills up the hoop with regularity (he's averaging a haughty 19.2 ppg at press time) but he can board too (4.7 rebs per game) and he also can defend and Scott Drew's club can always count on great floor leadership from Dunn too. If Baylor can zip through their first two opponents, suddenly he will become an 'overnight sensation'.
DA'SEAN BUTLER, F, WEST VIRGINIA -- There are plenty of ways that this 6-foot-7, 230-pound junior helps the Mountaineers (see 17.2 ppg and 6.3 rpg) but don't lose sight of the fact the ever-active Butler averages nearly 36 minutes a game. Now, West Virginia boss-man Bob Huggins wants/needs Butler to log major minutes in the NCAA Tournament and he'll look towards the Mountaineers' leading scorer to stop an enemy's scoring run and hit the big hoop when it matters. If Butler steers clear of foul trouble, then the 'Neers could go a long, long way.
COACHES TO WATCH --
GARY WILLIAMS, MARYLAND -- This has been the best single-season coaching job done by the Terps' boss-man but can he keep star guard Greivis Vasquez from taking some wacky shots at crunch time? Folks, this might be all that separates this ACC team and still-long hopes of getting into this year's Final Four.
THAD MATTA, OHIO STATE -- The Buckeyes won 24 regular-season games despite a slow start and a mid-season injury to star swingman Evan Turner and now this might be the year it all comes together for this Big 10 bunch. Hey, Matta made it to the title game a few years back in the short-lived Greg Oden Era and he's quite capable of stealing a game late all by himself.
MARK TURGEON, TEXAS A&M -- This scrappy former point guard quickly has become one of the best in-game coaches in the land and his Aggies always go full tilt. Now, his experienced crew could be on the verge of a very special NCAA Tournament run ... you have been forewarned!
NCAA TOURNAMENT SITES
Here are the NCAA Tournament sites or venues for all three weeks of play. We've inserted pertinent comments for each of the locales:
Thursday March 18 & Saturday March 20 --
Dunkin Donuts Center -- Providence: No doubt any Big East teams playing here have some advantage in knowing the floor, etc. plus look to see if any Western time zone team has to play the early game here as that could help doom 'em.
New Orleans Arena -- New Orleans: It's SEC country here and if either Ole Miss or Mississippi State gets to play in the tourney than they'll enjoy a home-crowd flavor, for sure.
Ford Center -- Oklahoma City: The feeling going around is that Kansas will get to play in this region but will that actually heap more pressure on the Jayhawks? The Big 12 team will be double-digit betting favorites for both first-round and second-round action.
HP Pavilion -- San Jose: It's always interesting to see what West Coast teams are allowed to 'stay home' during the NCAA Tournament and gut feeling here is that Gonzaga is more apt to be shipped here instead of getting the major state advantage of playing in Spokane.
Friday, March 19 & Sunday, March 21 --
HSBC Arena -- Buffalo: Don't expect Syracuse to land a spot in this region even if that's what the Orange fans are craving for but odds are you'll get a couple of Big East teams sent here plus a couple of other East Coast-area squads (see Siena and maybe Quinnipiac).
Veterans Memorial Arena -- Jacksonville: We'll just about bet our bottom dollar that either Kentucky or Tennessee (or both) will wind up playing their early-round games here at this site plus there will be some ACC representation here too.
Bradley Center -- Milwaukee: This is really the only Big 10-related site on the map and you will see at least two teams from that conference playing here and the mini-tourney champ better be one of 'em!
Spokane Memorial Arena -- Spokane: Don't know what the NCAA Tournament folks will be thinking but the Pac-10 Tournament champ should get rewarded with a spot here in this locale and a West Coast Conference club (either Portland or Saint Mary's, if either gets in) should land here too and have some region/crowd advantage in Round I play.
JIM HURLEY'S COLLEGE
BASKETBALL TOP 10
- OHIO STATE