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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 1, 2013 at 8:00 PM

It seems that college basketball has already been racing at a fever pitch given a February full of thrillers, shockers, and hard-to-believe upsets. But, things get kicked up another notch on the first weekend of March with a blockbuster schedule featuring many major and mid major teams sports bettors will be watching and handicapping throughout the upcoming tourneys.

We already previewed the early Big East tipoff between Louisville and Syracuse in yesterday’s edition of the NOTEBOOK. Please check the archives for that detailed preview. Tomorrow we’ll have another detailed preview of Michigan State at Michigan, the biggest game this weekend in the nation’s toughest conference…the Big Ten. Today? Today…there are so many important games that we’re going to provide spotlight coverage of those that are most important in terms of shaping the postseason.

We’ll take them in the order they’ll be played during the day and night Saturday…

12 p.m. ET: #20 Butler at Virginia Commonwealth

Butler: 47 in Sagarin, 52 in Pomeroy

VCU: 28 in Sagarin, 21 in Pomeroy

Butler (52 offense, 56 defense); VCU (24 offense, 42 defense)

Against Sagarin Top 50: Butler 4-3, VCU 1-4

Because Butler scored dramatic non-conference wins over Indiana and Gonzaga that most everyone watched on TV, the polls have rated the team much higher than the computers throughout the season. In fact, Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy would both have Butler as a BUBBLE team based on those ratings. If you’ve been following the A10 closely, you know that Butler was swept by Saint Louis. VCU had its own problems with the Billikens, and now wants to make up for that with a big home victory over a ranked team. It’s not often you see the computer composite have an unranked team 25 spots higher than a ranked team. Important meeting for both of these Cinderella hopefuls…teams (and coaches) who have worn glass slippers already in recent memory. JIM HURLEY isn’t afraid to tell you now that he believes at least one of these teams or Saint Louis will go deep for the Atlantic 10.

2 p.m. ET: #21 Notre Dame at #22 Marquette

Notre Dame: 25 in Sagarin, 45 in Pomeroy

Marquette: 16 in Sagarin, 24 in Pomeroy

Notre Dame (12 offense, 117 defense); Marquette (13 offense, 66 defense)

Against Sagarin Top 50: Notre Dame 6-3, Marquette 6-6

The Irish looked relatively dead in the water in terms of having a great season a couple of weeks ago. But, that overtime thriller over Louisville and the road shocker at Pittsburgh have put them back in the discussion for March drama. We’re still skeptical because of the team’s weaknesses (as is Pomeroy). Can’t argue with t heir recent success. Marquette grades out as the better team in both computer assessments. Yet, it’s the Irish who have the better record vs. quality opposition. Challenging game for handicappers because Marquette’s getting respect on its home floor now thanks to that great home record this season. You’ll note that a recurring theme today will be question marks on defense. We haven’t seen any impressive rankings yet in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive rankings (tweaked for tempo and strength of schedule). Make a point to study those units in today’s TV action. Defense wins championships…but this isn’t a day for great defense once you get past Louisville/Syracuse.

2 p.m. ET: Wichita State at Creighton

Wichita State: 50 in Sagarin, 35 in Pomeroy

Creighton: 20 in Sagarin, 20 in Pomeroy

Wichita State (64 offense, 30 defense); Creighton (6 offense, 88 defense)

Against Sagarin Top 50: Wichita State 3-1, Creighton 2-2

The winner claims the regular season Missouri Valley crown. The computers say Creighton is the better side…but the computers have been overrating the Blue Jays for weeks after their great start. They cooled off in a week conference, and should have been punished more than they have been (which was clear in last Saturday’s loss at St. Mary’s). Note the HORRIBLE defense by Dance standards from Creighton. Wichita State is better on that side of the ball…but will be trying to win on the road with an offense that comes and goes. That 3-1 record vs. the Sagarin Top 50 should give the Shockers confidence to be competitive here.  

6 p.m. ET: #5 Miami at #3 Duke

Miami: 14 in Sagarin, 13 in Pomeroy

Duke: 5 in Sagarin, 7 in Pomeroy

Miami (39 offense, 9 defense); Duke (5 offense, 24 defense)

Against Sagarin Top 50: Miami 6-1, Duke 7-3

America was already looking forward to this game before Duke was knocked off by Virginia Thursday Night. Coach K is in a foul mood, which could signal a huge bounce back…or an implosion depending on how his players handle the challenge. Miami absolutely CRUSHED Duke at home earlier this season in a game that had even Dick Vitale questioning Duke’s toughness. This is arguably the biggest revenge scenario of the season. Is Duke too soft inside to gain the victory? Miami’s the only top 10 defense we’ll see in the rundowns today. They’ll have to play to that to score a victory at Cameron Indoor. A good sign for the ACC’s hopes in the Dance that these teams are 13-4 vs. the Sagarin Top 50…which improves percentage-wise to 12-3 if you take out the game they played against each other.

8 p.m. ET: #11 Arizona at UCLA

Arizona: 24 in Sagarin, 19 in Pomeroy

UCLA: 42 in Sagarin, 48 in Pomeroy

Arizona (20 offense, 40 defense); UCLA (35 offense, 64 defense)

Against Sagarin Top 50: Arizona 4-4, UCLA 4-4

Both of these teams may have been caught looking ahead to this ESPN GameDay appearance. UCLA had to go overtime to survive Arizona State Wednesday Night as a home favorite. Arizona was badly outplayed that same evening at USC as road chalk. You’ll recall that UCLA won big in Tucson in the first meeting. So, Arizona and Duke are both in huge revenge spots. The computers have gradually been dropping Arizona back to the pack after having them in the top 10 when league play began. UCLA’s inconsistency has provided headaches for all ranking models this season. The lack of defense (by big game standards) should create a fun game for fans to watch. Both teams will be Dancing in a highly publicized way in a couple of weeks. Pace yourself during the busy day so you have energy to properly evaluate this nightcap!

JIM HURLEY has been looking forward to this huge Saturday card all week. He’s gone over these games and the rest of the schedule with a fine-toothed comb to find the best bets on the board. He knows you want to win the TV games. But…sometimes it’s the off-the-radar options that provide the best value. You can purchase the final word for Saturday right 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 your tomorrow for expanded coverage of Michigan State at Michigan. Monday brings Cincinnati at Louisville. Tuesday it’s Ohio State at Indiana. Well…it’s going to go like that all the way through the end of the regular season. Make sure you’re with us here in the NOTEBOOK so you know what’s really going on down the road to MARCH MADNESS. And link up daily with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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