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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 8, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Yesterday we previewed Syracuse/Georgetown for you here in the NOTEBOOK to give you an early taste of the thrills in store for this final Saturday of regular season action. Today, we’ll run through FIVE more important games that will be featuring Dance-bound teams…or squads on the bubble who are in desperate need of a signature win,

Handicappers and sports bettors better plan on parking themselves in front of the TV all weekend because of this tremendous scouting opportunity. Recent form matters so much in the tournaments…as do confidence, maturity, healthy, and freshness. You should be evaluating every team you watch today (and Sunday) for their tournament readiness. That will pay off for you time and time again through the major conference tournaments and the Big Dance.

We’ll take the matchups in the order they start. The first tip is early…so let’s jump right in.

12 p.m. ET: #12 Florida at Kentucky

Florida: 3 in Sagarin, 1 in Pomeroy

Kentucky: 34 in Sagarin, 44 in Pomeroy

Florida (4 offense, 2 defense); Kentucky (32 offense, 64 defense)

Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy still have Florida as a Final Four caliber team, even if the AP pollsters only have the Gators down at #12. It may be hard to know for sure who’s right until the Dance given Florida’s inconsistent health…and they’re tendency to either win huge blowouts or lose close games when they play quality. We can assume a bad result here in Lexington would be a bad sign. Kentucky is fading badly, and probably won’t make the tournament given their form since Nerlens Noel was hurt. An upset of Florida could change some minds. Note that Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive ranking is down on Kentucky even though Noel played most of the season.


1:30 p.m. ET: #9 Kansas State at #13 Oklahoma State

Kansas State: 19 in Sagarin, 36 in Pomeroy

Oklahoma State: 17 in Sagarin, 15 in Pomeroy

Kansas State (23 offense, 77 defense); Oklahoma State (57 offense, 9 defense)

Don’t forget about the Big 12! The Big 10 is making headlines every day because their high end teams are so high up in the rankings. And, the Big East gets a lot of coverage too because of the East Coast media bias. The Big 12 has a few teams who could either knock off a superpower, or go deep amongst wrecked brackets. Two of those teams square off here in Stillwater. The computers agree that Oklahoma State is roughly a Sweet 16 caliber team…but they’re far apart on Kansas State. That makes this a HUGE test for the Wildcats. Will they be as high as a #5 seed…or will they fall back to the dreaded 8-9 slot? Pomeroy’s defensive rankings suggest Kansas State doesn’t have the toughness to stay strong through a tournament gauntlet. Oklahoma State’s offense has trouble vs. quality. This is why Big 12 teams are best classified as “spoilers” rather than championship threats.


4 p.m. ET: #24 Notre Dame at #8 Louisville

Notre Dame: 21 in Sagarin, 32 in Pomeroy

Louisville: 1 in Sagarin, 3 in Pomeroy

Notre Dame (14 offense, 88 defense); Louisville (20 offense, 1 defense)

These teams played a true classic in South Bend a few weeks ago. Of course…that’s because Louisville gagged the final minutes…and because Louisville as the superior team was the visitor. Now they’ll be playing at home…making it less likely we’ll have an overtime rematch. The computers absolutely love Louisville…basically linking the Cardinals with Florida and Indiana as the trio most likely to win the title this year. The polls only have the Cards at #8. You longtime readers know we love the Louisville defense. Pomeroy’s adjusted rankings that account for pace and schedule strength say the Cardinals currently have the best defense in the whole sport. Notre Dame’s defense has been a problem, generally only shining when opponents are cold on open looks. Good revenge spot for the Cards. Has the line fully taken that into account with today’s number?

6 p.m. ET: #4 Kansas at Baylor

Kansas: 4 in Sagarin, 5 in Pomeroy

Baylor: 40 in Sagarin, 53 in Pomeroy

Kansas (24 offense, 4 defense); Baylor (41 offense, 79 defense)

Like Kentucky, Baylor finds itself, on the bubble, playing at home, against a team many consider a potential #1 or #2 seed in the Dance. Also like Kentucky, both teams have been unimpressive in recent outings to a degree that basically makes today a MUST WIN situation. The Bears are capable of playing with anybody…but they’re also capable of falling apart because of a soft internal defense and an offense that tends to slow down dramatically against quality. On paper, this is a Kansas win. Of course, on paper, Kansas was supposed to win at TCU and Oklahoma too.

9 p.m. ET: #3 Duke at North Carolina

Duke: 6 in Sagarin, 6 in Pomeroy

North Carolina: 14 in Sagarin, 26 in Pomeroy

Duke (5 offense, 30 defense); North Carolina (31 offense, 34 defense)

This is the GameDay special in prime time on ESPN. Apparently the network figured they hadn’t ranted and raved enough about Duke and North Carolina over the years so they should give them a special season finale spot! What’s interesting here is that North Carolina is actually playing well enough recently to deserve attention that they hadn’t been getting. An early slump took them off the radar. Sagarin’s computer has them all the way back up to #14 in the country. Pomeroy has a slower trajectory…but they would now be seeded in the upper half of the draw within his approach too. This is Duke’s first true road test since Ryan Kelly returned. They lost at Virginia, Maryland, NC State, and Miami in earlier road challenges…and almost lost to lowly Boston College. This is probably the game that will tell you how serious a challenge Duke is for the national title. If they blow and go here in Chapel Hill…then we can see endorsing this full strength team as a legitimate #1 seed. If they fall back to earth (remember that they barely beat slumping Miami at home even when Kelly was having a career game!), then we’ll plan on fading the Blue Devils vs. quality in the ACC tournament and the Dance.

JIM HURLEY has been working through these games all week with his scouts, his sources, his statheads, his computer programmers, and his Wise Guy connections to make sure clients score big on this final Saturday of the regular season. Of course…it’s a HUGE schedule, which means the play of the day could come from elsewhere on the card. And, his sources on site at the early mid major conference tournaments have often reported in with hidden gems on this particular weekend in past years.

You can purchase the final word Saturday morning before tipoff right here at the website with your credit card. If you’d like to talk to a live person, call the office at 1-800-323-4453 Saturday morning to discuss this weekend’s slate and our full postseason package. Stop procrastinating and take care of business!

Back with you tomorrow for a look at Indiana/Michigan in the Big 10. Indiana’s already clinched a share of the Big 10 championship but Michigan could forge a tie with a victory in Ann Arbor. Then we’ll have tournament coverage all through the next week with some mid-major championships right off the bat…then wall-to-wall basketball once the majors begin their events.

Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s really happening in college basketball through the glorious month of March. And, link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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