Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 7, 2014 at 12:00 AM
THE COLLEGE HOOPS WEEKEND REPORT – WE DIAL UP PREVIEWS FOR A COUPLE OF KEY SATURDAY SHOWDOWNS INCLUDING #10 MICHIGAN AT #17 IOWAPLUS WE GIVE YOU AN OVERVIEW OF WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT BEFORE WE GET TO THIS “MARCH MADNESS” STUFF
By Jim Hurley
Here’s a quickie memo to all the TV/radio and other media folks who have blitzed College Basketball fans with this thought that March Madness is “right around the corner.”
Hey, can we play out this month of February already?
True, the college hoops world truly revolves around the month of March – we know that! -- but think about all the things that really must be decided between now and March 1st and there’s plenty of juicy topics on the table.
Okay, so while we’re at it, how about an overview of what strikes us as important in the college hoops world these next few February weeks/weekends:
It begins with the current unbeaten teams – that’s Syracuse (22-0) and Wichita State (24-0) -- and whether or not they’ll stay that way till March.
Sure, you know the “party line” that the Orange has a rough road ahead in the Atlantic Coast Conference with upcoming road tilts at Pittsburgh, Duke, Maryland, Virginia and Florida State dotting the schedule while the “experts” out there say Wichita State has an easier path to an unbeaten season but, as the pressure builds on this Missouri Valley Conference club, those remaining seven regular-season games will get tougher and tougher to win, and so Gregg Marshall’s crew best beware, especially this weekend at Northern Iowa, and then in upcoming back-to-back road games at Evansville/Loyola-Chicago.
What else makes us sit up and raise our eyebrows this month?
Call it the development or maturity of a handful of “name teams” out there in College Basketball-land, and the clubs that especially interest us are #8 Kansas (17-5), #18 Kentucky (also 17-5) and #23 Gonzaga (21-3) … do any of them have the goods to get to this year’s Final Four in Arlington, and might any of these three teams have the overall weaponry to win it all?
Okay, so much of this current 2013-14 hoops season has been dominated by the likes of the Arizona Wildcats, who held the top spot in the polls for some eight weeks prior to last Saturday’s stunning loss at California, but Kansas, Kentucky and Gonzaga could be the story at season’s end – gut feeling is we’ll see at least one of these “name teams” make it to the Lone Star State, and forgive us for dreaming but wouldn’t a Syracuse vs. Kansas showdown in the national championship game be great, or how about Kentucky vs. Arizona … sweet!
Finally, one other “overview” item is what power conference teams that right now may be “on the bubble” when it concerns an NCAA Tournament bid could use this month to jump-start a run deep into next month’s “Big Dance”?
One team getting some notice is St. John’s (14-9, 4-6 in Big East play) as Steve Lavin’s crew has really picked up steam following a five-game losing skid that began with a New Year’s Eve loss to Xavier. Since January 18th – a rather non-descript 69-55 home win/cover against 13-point underdog Dartmouth – the Red Storm’s won five of its last six games, and suddenly the thought that perhaps the Johnnies could win the newfangled Big East Conference championship at Madison Square Garden isn’t so nutty. The play of guard Rysheed Jordan has energized this bunch, but keep a close eye on how Lavin’s guys play this Sunday night at home against Creighton. Yes, the Bluejays’ Doug McDermott poured in 39 points, including the game-winning three-point jumper to beat St. John’s back on Jan. 28th.
Another power conference team that’s hoping to keep up a recent winning beat is Stanford (15-7, 6-4 Pac-12). The Cardinal obliterated archrival California 80-69 on Wednesday night in Berkeley to give Johnny Dawkins’ revved-up crew six wins in its last eight games (and remember that the Cardinal lost by only 3 points versus Arizona back on Jan. 29th), and so here’s a team that might have been left for dead by hoops pundits just a few weeks back that could storm their way to a big month, provided big man Dwight Powell (22 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists in the win against 3 ½-point favored California) keeps seeing his stock go up, up and away. Trust us … Stanford could just be hitting its peak right about now.
And now hear this …
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to pile up the profits all this week/month with loads of NBA and NCAA Basketball winners right here online at www.jimhurley.com or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 – so go ahead and pound the books today!
Now, here’s a pair of key Saturday games with a reminder we’ll have more Saturday/Sunday game previews in the next Jim Sez column …
#10 MICHIGAN (17-5, 9-1 Big 10) at #17 IOWA (17-5, 6-3 Big 10) – 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let’s just say that if you hadn’t rated Michigan head coach John Beilein as “A+” prior to this current campaign, you would now!
Beilein’s done an absolutely masterful job in leading the maize-and-blue atop the Big 10 standings (yes, Michigan currently owns the tie-breaker over arch-rival Michigan State) and he showed he had his finger on the pulse of this program the other night when the Wolverines bounced back from a bitter Super Sunday loss at Indiana to crush overmatched and 13-point underdog Nebraska 79-50 behind freshman Zak Irvin’s 16 first-half points, and a defensive effort that featured holding the Cornhuskers to just 35.2 percent shooting from the floor.
One key here for the visiting Wolverines will be the team’s perimeter defense – note that Nebraska canned just 5-of-21 trifectas in that mid-week affair in Ann Arbor and Iowa folks are well aware of the Hawkeyes’ putrid downtown shooting in Tuesday’s 76-69 home loss against 6-point pup Ohio State when Iowa drilled just 3-of-20 triples … ugh.
Watch here for a bounce-back game from Iowa G Roy Devyn Marble, who was virtually invisible against Ohio State while scoring just 10 points on 4-of-1 FG shooting (yes, Aaron Craft had more than a little something to do with Marble’s silent night there).
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WEST VIRGINIA (13-9, 5-4 Big 12) at #8 KANSAS (17-5, 8-1 Big 12) – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Okay, so up above in this Jim Sez column we mentioned Kansas as a potential “name team” that could get on a major roll at tourney time but – the fact is – Bill Self’s on a pretty neat run right now with eight victories in its last nine games, including Tuesday’s workmanlike 69-52 triumph at 4 ½-point home dog Baylor. The Jayhawks crushed the Baylor Bears on the boards in that clash – 45-to-25 – while Naadir Tharpe poured in 22 points while keying a late first-half run that powered the kids from Lawrence.
Now, Kansas – which day-after-day must fend off questions regarding the NBA futures of seven-foot center Joel Embiid and fellow frosh Andrew Wiggins – must stay focused here against a West Virginia team that has a little “mojo” working on its side, too, as Bob Huggins’ club has won three in a row with Wednesday’s 91-86 win/cover versus 3-point dog Oklahoma finally snapping a 16-game school losing streak against nationally ranked teams.
West Virginia forced the OT with an Eron Harris three-point shot with 20 seconds left in regulation and Harris was the supreme star here with 28 points in 31 minutes of play. Now, the Mountaineers will attempt to shoot it better than 11-of-32 from beyond the arc here – gotta believe that Kansas’ guards will pop out onto the perimeter and discourage WVU’s three-point shooters, and let’s see how the ‘Neer guards rebound some of these long misses because Kansas could be in a get-out-and-go mood here.
Might Mr. Wiggins – averaging a team-best 15.9 points per game – be headed to a season-high here (he had 29 points versus Iowa State on Jan. 29th).
NOTE: Catch more weekend previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.