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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Usually on Saturdays we focus on the huge prime time game on ESPN. This week, we’ve decided to expand our coverage because there are so many big games across the slate…and because ESPN is stuck showing Texas/Kansas…a game that’s fallen off the map because Texas is so bad this year.

We’ve used our standard “indicator” resources to put together briefs for several marquee games…highlighted by computer ratings from Jeff Sagarin of USA today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy (using their publicly available numbers). We’ve also listed the adjusted offense and defensive numbers from Pomeroy to help you get a better sense of the strengths and weaknesses for each team. Those are evaluations that are adjusted for tempo and strength of schedule.

For the most part, we’re focusing on games matching teams who are dance-bound. There are some bubble teams in the mix. It will become quite clear to you quickly that Saturday is going to have a March Madness feel to it, with several games grading out to the equivalent of Round of 64 or Round of 32 matchups. Be sure you watch as many games as you can today. These are teams you’re going to be handicapping often through the conference tournaments and the NCAA’s.

We’ll take the games in order of tip-off…

12 p.m. ET: Virginia at North Carolina

Virginia: 31 in Sagarin, 19 in Pomeroy

N. Carolina: 26 in Sagarin, 43 in Pomeroy

Virginia (55 offense, 12 defense); N. Carolina (51 offense, 46 defense)

Virginia has received very little publicity in the ACC this year. ESPN is always obsessed with Duke and North Carolina. Miami has mauled its way into the news in dramatic fashion (justifiably so). Don’t lose track of Virginia! Pomeroy has them in his top 20, and well ahead of their opponent here. Interesting that the computers don’t agree. That’s a good sign that oddsmakers may not be sure what to expect from these teams either. Very important game for handicappers to monitor. Can Virginia’s defense keep Carolina from running away in Chapel Hill?

1 p.m. ET: #16 Pittsburgh at #18 Marquette on CBS

Pittsburgh: 6 in Sagarin, 4 in Pomeroy

Marquette: 23 in Sagarin, 30 in Pomeroy

Pittsburgh (7 offense, 9 defense); Marquette (20 offense, 77 defense)

This is the only Saturday game matching ranked teams. The computers have these two teams much farther apart than the polls. In fact, both sources have loved Pittsburgh for weeks! Are the Panthers the true hidden power in the Big East? A great chance to prove that on the road here against a respected opponent. If you’re a Marquette fan, you have to be concerned about that poor defensive rating. That’s likely to matter in the Big East tournament and in the Dance. Defense and rebounding win championships. Have that in mind as you study all the Saturday action.

1:30 p.m. ET: Oklahoma at #17 Oklahoma State

Oklahoma: 42 in Sagarin, 46 in Pomeroy

Okla. State: 15 in Sagarin, 16 in Pomeroy

Oklahoma (65 offense, 48 defense); Oklahoma State (41 offense, 11 defense)

Oklahoma State has a chance to rise up and earn the seed everyone had already granted to Kansas. But, they can’t afford to stub their toes anywhere along the way. Oklahoma is currently “in” the field for the Dance, but doesn’t have much margin for error. They need to stay competitive…and they might have troubles doing that because neither their offense nor defense ranks in the top 45 in Pomeroy’s numbers. “Solidly adequate” is rarely a defining characteristic of a breakout team. A lot of big name teams peaked early this year. It’s possible Oklahoma State is showing us they’re going to peak late.

6 p.m. ET: #2 Duke at Maryland on ESPN

Duke: 5 in Sagarin, 6 in Pomeroy

Maryland: 53 in Sagarin, 61 in Pomeroy

Duke (6 offense, 20 defense); Maryland (96 offense, 50 defense)

The numbers would suggest Duke should have an easy time of it. Just remember that they had an even more impressive computer spread against Boston College last week, and almost lost the game! That plus the potential letdown after North Carolina creates upset potential here for an “on the bubble” home underdog. Duke isn’t as dominant now as they were before Christmas. They can’t afford to take any game lightly. That defense and rebounding note we made a few moments ago is the key issue behind Duke failing to play to its seed so often in the Dance.

7 p.m. ET: Baylor at #10 Kansas State on ESPNU

Baylor: 19 in Sagarin, 26 in Pomeroy

K-State: 28 in Sagarin, 41 in Pomeroy

Baylor (30 offense, 34 defense); Kansas State (38 offense, 53 defense)

This is pretty amazing. The polls have Kansas State at #10 (though they’ll drop after the Kansas loss) while Baylor is unranked. Yet, both computer assessments have Baylor as the better team! And, it’s not even close. Big game here for getting a true read on both teams. Baylor has run up the score on TCU and Texas Tech this year in a way that may be inflating their ratings. Very tough road test here. One of the top sleeper games of the day. Either one of these teams could get hot in the Dance and go very deep. Again!

9 p.m. ET: San Diego State at UNLV on NBC-Sports

SDSU: 29 in Sagarin, 23 in Pomeroy

UNLV: 45 in Sagarin, 44 in Pomeroy

San Diego State (66 offense, 18 defense); Nevada-Las Vegas (84 offense, 29 defense)

The Mountain West has been extremely entertaining this year for night owls on the East Coast and residents of Las Vegas. Here, the city hosts another huge conference matchup. San Diego State will try to recover from a last second loss at Colorado State. UNLV was stunned by Air Force in a letdown spot after their home win over New Mexico. This conference should once again spice things up in the Dance. Be sure you’re paying attention to ALL the leagues likely to get at least three teams in the brackets.

9 p.m. ET: Texas at #14 Kansas on ESPN (Game Day)

Texas: 65 in Sagarin, 91 in Pomeroy

Kansas: 8 in Sagarin, 12 in Pomeroy

Texas (223 offense, 23 defense); Kansas (25 offense, 13 defense)

Texas did get their point guard back this week (finally!). That should help that horribly rated offense. Can they play enough defense to hang with Kansas in Lawrence? The Jayhawks rebounded well from their slump on Big Monday. They’d better not get complacent here because the Longhorns will be playing with a chip on their shoulder from this point forward.

JIM HURLEY has big plans for Saturday. Some of the games you just read about will surely be included in the final set of releases. But, with a monster schedule spitting out options morning, noon and night…it’s best to check our “buy picks” page before tip-off to get a full rundown. Game day releases are always available for credit card purchase. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Make today your first on the road to MARCH MADNESS. You can make enough money this weekend to pay for a seasonal package.  

Back with you Sunday to take an in-depth look at Ohio State-Wisconsin. You knew a weekend couldn’t pass without another huge game in the Big 10! Big Monday will bring Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, as WALL-TO-WALL basketball continues from now through the Dance and beyond here in the NOTEBOOK. Later in the week: Indiana at Michigan State, Kansas at Oklahoma State, and maybe even a sleeper like Saint Louis at Butler.

Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s REALLY happening in college basketball. Think link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for THE BEST PLAYS ON THE BOARD!

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