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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 29, 2013 at 9:00 PM

When the NCAA Tournament brackets were announced on Selection Sunday, it was assumed that Indiana was going to have a pretty easy trip in the East. And, if for some reason the Hoosiers fell, it would be ACC champion Miami that would be there to take full advantage.

Well, neither Indiana nor Miami could do much of anything right vs. opponents from the Big East this past Thursday Night when both suffered double-digit losses at the hands of Syracuse and Marquette respectively. Fitting that a team from the Big East will with the East!

Marquette won the only regular season meeting between the two by a tight three-point margin. But, that was played at home…and Marquette had a strong home floor this season. The bad news for Warriors fans is that they won’t get home cooking and a huge free throw edge this time around. The good news is that the guards are familiar with the Syracuse zone…a tenacious, tricky defense that has derailed many an offense on first-looks this season.

Indiana never did figure out how to score on it. Marquette scored 74 points in the regular season meeting!

Let’s run this exciting rematch through our gauntlet of indicator stats to see who may have an edge this time around…

 

WON-LOST RECORDS

Syracuse: 29-9 (11-7 in the Big East)

Marquette: 26-8 (14-4 in the Big East)

You’ll find it interesting that some elements of the prediction process show that Marquette is the superior team….while the most respected computers in the public domain are convinced that Syracuse is the better team. In the Big East standings, it wasn’t close. Marquette finished a full three games better through 18 games. Even if you assume a meeting in Syracuse (none was scheduled) would have gone to the Orange…that wouldn’t have been enough to make up the difference. Versus 18-game league slates that were very similar, Marquette made a very strong case that they were the better team.

 

COMPUTER RANKINGS

Syracuse: #9 with Sagarin, #9 with Pomeroy

Marquette: #17 with Sagarin, #24 with Pomeroy

Jeff Sagarin of USA Today, and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy aren’t buying it. They both have lifted Syracuse into the top 10 after their recent hot streak (reaching the finals of the Big East tournament then winning their first three in the Big Dance). They both have Marquette well off the pace…not even seeded for a Sweet 16 spot (they were actually seeded #3 and have made it to the Elite Eight!). Why the differences? It’s not schedule strength (which you’ll see in a moment). Syracuse posts bigger victory margins when things are going well. And, it has to be said that Marquette didn’t look very good vs. Davidson and Butler in the first rounds of the Dance, which prevented them from climbing the ladder much even though they were winning.

 

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS

Syracuse: #16 with Sagarin, #13 with Pomeroy

Marquette: #12 with Sagarin, #10 with Pomeroy

See what we mean. Marquette had the better won-lost record vs. the tougher schedule! Yet, they still rank way behind Syracuse in the computers…and in the Las Vegas betting market given the posted pointspread in this game. That Syracuse defense REALLY shuts people down when it’s on fire. Can it be assumed they’re going to shut down Marquette in a second look?

 

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50

Syracuse: 8-9

Marquette: 9-7

Here we go with more pointing to Marquette. They were over .500 vs. top 50 teams in Sagarin’s rankings, while Syracuse’s recent hot streak still doesn’t have them back to the .500 mark. Remember…they went deep in the Big East tournament and just took out Indiana…yet they’re still not back to .500 vs. quality opposition. Once again scoring margins are influencing the computer programmers. Is that justified?

 

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS

Syracuse: #22

Marquette: #19

Now we move to the chess match statistics, and you’ll see where a case for Syracuse starts to form. These teams are virtually identical on the offensive side of the ball. The margin for error is such that a difference of three spots over 300-plus teams is meaningless. Both teams can score. Both teams are capable of running into dry spells vs. quality (some very good teams reach the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 obviously). Both teams go about things a little differently. It all adds up to the same level of production once you adjust for pace factor and strength of schedule according to Pomeroy.

 

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS

Syracuse: #8

Marquette: #49

This is where Syracuse surges ahead in data-driven approaches. They have a top 10 defense, while Marquette barely cracks the top 50. If you believe that defense wins playoff style basketball (which it does!), then Syracuse gets a big nod here. The trick for handicappers is determining where Syracuse ranks in second looks. Remember that they struggled down the stretch against teams who had seen them already. Then, they needed to shoot lights out on three-pointers in the Big East tournament to keep advancing. If Syracuse is a legitimate #1-5 defense in a first look, but only around #40-50 in second looks…then they fall right back into a dead heat with Marquette.

 

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS

Syracuse: #228

Marquette: #219

A rare meeting of late where two teams play the exact same pace. Syracuse is actually fast on offense, but slow on defense because teams take a long time throwing the ball around the zone. Marquette is fast on offense because their most dynamic scorers are their fastest players. So, we’ll still have an interesting mix of a fast Marquette offense vs. a defense that tends to slow people down.

 

BEST EXPECTATION

This is about as simple as it gets. If Marquette isn’t destined to have many problems with the Syracuse zone, then the Vegas line is way out of whack. The wrong team might be favored (which it arguably was when both of these teams took the floor Thursday). But, if the Golden Eagles are going to struggle because the refs don’t put them on the free throw line as much on a neutral court as they did during the regular season in Milwaukee…then Syracuse may be able to cover comfortably in a replay of the Indiana game.

JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his on-site sources, his stat handicappers, and his computer programmers to get the best read possible on this game. He’s also checking with his Wise Guy connections in Las Vegas and offshore to make sure he’s in line with the smart money. You can purchase the final decision right here at the website with your credit card. We’re also looking at Ohio State-Wichita State in the other Elite Eight game, as well as an NBA schedule that includes Chicago at Dallas, LA Clippers at Houston, Brooklyn at Utah, and the LA Lakers at Sacramento. If you have any questions about college or NBA hoops, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow with day two of the Elite Eight. The tournament is flying by like it usually does, but there’s still plenty of money to be made! And, we have the Final Four of the NIT coming up Tuesday and Thursday (where none of the #1 seeds were good enough to reach New York!).

Four regional champions will be crowned this weekend in the Big Dance. When championships are on the line, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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