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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, February 18, 2013 at 11:04 PM

Wow! With Indiana at Michigan State and Florida at dangerous Missouri on the Tuesday Night ticket, we couldn’t pick just one game to preview. So, we’re going to crunch some key numbers from BOTH. Sports bettors and fans may be watching the next national champion in action tonight…and could conceivably be watching the two teams who will ultimately play for the national championship in ESPN’s blockbuster doubleheader.

What makes tonight so exciting is that the powerhouses on TV are largely playing up to their hype in recent weeks. This isn’t a case of a team like Duke slumping down the stretch after a great first half of the season, or Michigan running out of gas because of a brutal schedule stretch (or Arizona almost completely disappearing from view!).

*Indiana is playing like champions almost every time out…

*Florida is playing like champions except for one overconfident game at Arkansas

*Michigan State has surged past Michigan and Ohio State in recent days to join Indiana as a Big 10 co-power.

It’s true that Missouri isn’t quite like the others in this discussion. But, they are a talented team who’s particularly dangerous at home. You’ll see in a moment that the computers see them as a Top 25 team even counting some poor road results. That would suggest the Tigers are Top 15 or maybe even Top 10 caliber when playing on their home court.

Or, from the other direction, playing at Missouri will be the toughest test Florida faces before the Big Dance…and possibly until the Elite Eight round of the Big Dance. With Kentucky’s demise, Florida at Missouri is the game of the year in the SEC.

Indiana at Michigan State matches the two hottest teams in the nation’s best conference. Fasten your seat belts!

Let’s run some numbers to set the stage for this can’t miss doubleheader.

JOE LUNARDI’S BRACKETOLOGY (as of midday Monday)

Indiana projected as a #1 seed

Florida projected as a #1 seed

Michigan State projected as a #2 seed (but rising)

Missouri projected as a #8 seed (but better than that at home)

Weekend bracketology had Duke as a #1 seed before losing at Maryland. It’s possible that, by the time you read this, Lunardi of ESPN will have updated his projections in a way that lifts Michigan State up to a #1 to make it THREE of tonight’s TV teams on the top rung. We’ve talked some about Missouri’s home/road split already. It has been pretty extreme. We’d guess they’d grade out as about a #5 seed (possibly a #4 seed) if you only counted their home games. They’ve been so turnover prone on the road that they might only be a #11 or #12 seed. That means we’ll be looking to fade them in the SEC tournament and the Big Dance…but that JIM HURLEY will certainly consider them as a home dog possibility Tuesday Night.


Florida 5-2

Indiana 7-3

Michigan State 7-4

Missouri 3-4

You can’t see right there the different conference strengths. Both Indiana and Michigan State have faced double digit volume in tough games according to Jeff Sagarin’s data at USA Today, while both Florida and Missouri have only played seven. One of those teams may not make it to double digits before the Dance!

The Gators have the best percentage by a fraction over Indiana. If you flopped schedules, their positions on that list might flop too. Probably one of the best handicapping exercise sports bettors can do right now is to imagine Florida in the Big 10 and try to project how they’d do against that kind of challenging schedule. Where Florida ends up in the Dance will match what the sharpest minds determine from that exercise.

We’ll run the rest of the numbers in the game-by-game format we used a few days ago on Showcase Saturday…

7 p.m. ET: Indiana at Michigan State (on ESPN)

Indiana: 1 in Sagarin, 2 in Pomeroy

Michigan State: 7 in Sagarin, 12 in Pomeroy

Indiana (1 offense, 12 defense); Michigan State (19 offense, 13 defense)

Indiana has earned the better rankings for the full season with both Sagarin and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy. Keep in mind that Michigan State often starts slow and ends strong. Right now, the Spartans are playing better than those numbers would suggest. If you used a “last 10” or possibly “last 15” measurement, the teams would be about even. We generally guard against hype when talking about college basketball. It’s hard to find too many faults with either of these teams right now. You can find a few…but everyone else has more!

In the chess match…Indiana’s offense looks to be the difference-maker. Both teams grade out well defensively. Indiana has the best offense in the nation according to Pomeroy, who adjusts for tempo and quality of opposition. Michigan State is solid as a top 20 team, but not quite up to Indiana’s standard.

You regulars know we’ve been talking about pace factor a lot in these matchups. That could be an issue here. Indiana prefers pace (which could come back to bite their short rotation in the Dance), while Michigan State trends toward the slower side of things (not as slow as the extreme teams…but slightly below average in pace factor). You know that home teams have a better shot of forcing their preferred tempo. That could help Michigan State counteract Indiana’s offensive advantages.

9 p.m. ET: Florida at Missouri (on ESPN)

Florida: 2 in Sagarin, 1 in Pomeroy

Missouri: 19 in Sagarin, 24 in Pomeroy

Florida (2 offense, 2 defense); Missouri (17 offense, 66 defense)

We’re very interested in evaluating Florida’s defense at this tough site. Pomeroy has them as second best in the country. That could be right. Or, it could be that Florida plays in a lousy conference and has a lot of games where opponents have to resort to desperation treys to try and catch up. There won’t be a better test for this defense than what they’ll see tonight.

Speaking of defenses…you see how poorly Missouri grades out here. If you’re talking about 300-plus teams, then #66 is fine. Once you’re looking at the elite teams in the Dance, Missouri is way behind what’s needed. Their combination of soft defense and a turnover-prone offense will likely be a season killer in March (unless they get red hot on treys). TONIGHT though, assuming peak intensity, friendly terrain, and the loudest home crowd of the year, you would expect the best defensive effort of the season.

JIM HURLEY has seen a lot of “rush the court” scenarios come through already this season. But, it doesn’t always work out that way. Will the home teams thrill their crowds tonight? Or, will we see a pair of wake-up calls for the hosts that firmly establish Indiana and Florida as “the big two” in national championship discussions?

Either, or both, of those games could be part of the NETWORK mix tonight. We’re also looking at:

Virginia at Miami of Florida (huge ACC game!)

VCU at Saint Louis (don’t sleep on the Atlantic 10!)

Wichita State at Indiana State (or the Missouri Valley for that matter!)

Boston at Denver in the NBA (rematch of last week’s thriller!)

Milwaukee at Brooklyn in the NBA (playoff teams getting serious)

You can purchase the final word here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow to crunch the numbers in the huge Big 12 rematch involving Kansas and Oklahoma State. That’s the virtual regular season championship game in the conference the way things are playing out. Big games every night in WALL-TO-WALL BASKETBALL…which means BIG MONEY every night thanks to JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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