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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, February 17, 2014 at 3:31 PM

Hey, you know that we're on the "back half" of the month of February when you start getting more and more TV sightings of ESPN's Joe Lunardi - a/k/a/ "Joey Brackets" - who knows plenty ... but doesn't know it all!

The ESPN folks love to tell you how Lunardi accurately forecasts 98 percent (or something like that) of the NCAA Tournament field but what the all-sports network fails to say is that right up until that very last moment before Selection Sunday he's got teams switching columns left-and-right when it comes to "Last 4 In" and "Last 4 Out".

Darn, it even makes us dizzy with these 11th-hour predictions!

The bottom line is this 2013-14 College Hoops Season may be trickier for the bracket boy than in recent seasons and the $64,000 question we have right now is what's more important:

A .500-type team from a major power conference that's hot (see St. John's) or perhaps do the NCAA Tournament Committee folks put more stock in a mid-major team that's dominated matters inside its own conference -- we're thinking about the likes of Delaware who's 11-0 right now in the Colonial Athletic Association or perhaps even a Middle Tennessee State or a UTEP as both of them are a glistening 9-2 in Conference USA play with identical 19-7 overall records.

If it comes down to one or two available tourney berths, the committee folks are gonna have it rough in this regard and you can be sure there will be major kickin'-and-screamin' from the teams that get left out of the "Big Dance".

No doubt two teams headed straight for next month's NCAA Tournament are #13 Michigan State (21-5, 10-3 Big 10) and #20 Michigan (18-7, 10-3 Big 10) but both were clocked over their heads with home losses this past Sunday afternoon.

The Michigan Wolverines fell first with a 75-62 setback against 3 ½-point underdog Wisconsin and what really stood out here was the fact the maize-and-blue was unable to rattle the Badgers who committed just two turnovers en route to Wisky's fourth straight win.

If Michigan wanted to make it all the way back from down 34-19 at the break then it needed the three-ball shooters to heat up but John Beilein's club shot just 6-of-16 from beyond the stripe and one major key was long-ball artist Nik Stauskas only attempted two triples and missed 'em both.

Okay, so the loss didn't exactly devastate the Wolverines who head into this Sunday's home game against Michigan State tied with Sparty for first place in the Big 10 standings but check it out: Michigan's now alternated wins/losses in its past six games - the other losses during this stretch were road affairs at Indiana and at Iowa - and you could be asking yourself if this rather bench-shy bunch is beginning to run out of steam as we hit the proverbial home stretch.
We gotta ask, right?

Meanwhile, Michigan State - which visits born-again Purdue on Thursday night - has more reason to be distressed following its home loss Sunday as the 14-point underdog Nebraska Cornhuskers walked into East Lansing and walked off with a 60-51 win as the heretofore unknown Big Red tag team of Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford combined to score 41 points while the Spartans shot a dismal 17-of-50 from the floor (that's a wobbly .34 percent accuracy rate).

Maybe Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was correct when he told the assembled media following this loss that, "We got what we deserved" as Sparty missed 19-of-24 shots from three-land and how about the fact M-State only went to the free-throw line 14 times as compared to Nebraska's 21 attempted foul shots.

If Michigan State - which had the services of point guard Keith Appling for 19 minutes of action (2 points and 1 assist shows he's still hurting with wrist woes) - has any sort of excuse these days it's that Izzo's gang has really not sported a steady lineup with all the injuries, etc. but doesn't it have to be a little scary that State also has alternated wins/losses in its last six games with setbacks to Nebraska, Wisconsin and Georgetown (the latter at Madison Square Garden back on Super Bowl Weekend) all showing major warts on this green gang?

Good thing for both teams from the proud state of Michigan that the NCAA Tournament doesn't start right now - both are wounded ducks and didn't even have the old home court advantage to rely on this past weekend.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will keep on piling up the profits all this week/month with lots of NBA and NCAA Basketball winners right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-888-777-4155 - so go ahead and win with all the hardwood action today!

Let's take a look at the Monday/Tuesday key games in NCAA Basketball action. Tonight, it's ...

OKLAHOMA STATE (16-9, 4-8 Big 12) at BAYLOR (16-9, 4-8 Big 12) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Go ahead and tell us what the odds were that both of these teams would not only be unranked at this mid-February time frame but both the OSU Cowboys and Baylor Bears each would be four games below .500 in league play ... yow!

Okay, so everyone knows the Okie State story that the 'Boys were stumbling out of control even before that whole Marcus Smart vs. Joe Fan incident at Texas Tech two weekends ago but Smart is still out - this is the final game of his three-game suspension that was fair-and-square as far as we were concerned - but who's gonna pull it together for Travis Ford's team that enters Waco on a six-game losing skid.

Maybe Markel Brown - who is averaging 17 points a game - can spark the upset cause here while Baylor's Cory Jefferson is fresh off Saturday's 21-point, 11-rebound showing in a wild 87-73 double-overtime win against 5-point road dog Kansas State.

Jefferson - a springy forward for the Bears - sported a double-double stat line in an earlier-season win at Oklahoma State when he scored 11 points to go along with 13 boards in a 76-60 triumph as 11-point dogs.

Just remember that Baylor sharpshooter Brady Heslip poured in 20 points in that tilt in Stillwater (he was 6-of-13 from tripleville and 0-1 from everywhere else on the floor!).

On Tuesday, it's ...

UTAH STATE (15-10, 5-8 MWC) at #6 SAN DIEGO STATE (22-2, 11-1 MWC) - 11 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Is it possible that we're all "asleep at the wheel" when it comes to thinking about San Diego State as a legit national championship team this year?

Okay, so Mountain West Conference teams don't exactly have stellar records in NCAA Tourney play but this San Diego State squad - which enters this tilt with a one-game league lead in the standings over gritty New Mexico - has shown major gumption this year with some come-from-behind wins including that Feb. 5th game at Boise State where the SDSU Aztecs roared back from 14 points down with less than 14 minutes remaining in the game.

Steve Fisher's club - fresh off last Saturday's 64-56 non-cover win against 17-point dog Air Force - seems to get over-the-top efforts from different players on different nights as forward Winston Shepard played hero against the Fly Boys while scoring 14 of his 16 points in the game's final seven-plus minutes - if Shepard or one of his other Aztec cronies steps it up here than slower/less athletic Utah State could get blow-torched out of the building.

Keep in mind that San Diego State scored a 74-69 overtime win at 3-point pup Utah State back on January 25th as do-it-all Aztecs G Xavier Thames scored 10 of his game-high 31 points in the extra session and merely stole the hearts of a pumped Utah State crowd that had forced the OT with a Spencer Butterfield triple with 2.5 seconds left in regulation play.

Now, will the Aggies be able to reach down and play giant-killer here ... or might be it time we all started to admit that San Diego State could indeed be one of the country's five- or six-best squads around?


Just like we posted our NBA First-Half Report Card Grades this past weekend - a staple here at Jim Sez now for two decades! - we also like to look inside the proverbial crystal ball to examine what team (or teams) need your undivided attention here in this unofficial second half of the 2013-14 NBA season.
And the team we're casting a leery eye on here is ...

PHOENIX (30-21) - Hey, hats off to head coach Jeff Hornacek who really has both shaped the lineup in the Valley of the Sun and also given this franchise a "culture change" where winning is now expected but the problem is the Suns played "over their heads" in the season's first 51 games and gotta believe that the likes of active G Goran Dragic (20.3 points per game) and F Miles Plumlee (team-leading 8.5 rebounds a game) are gonna slow down a bit plus there's a good chance this week the Suns will welcome back G Eric Bledsoe (18 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 5.8 assist per game) and that actually may disrupt the chemistry on this squad.

Gut feeling? The Suns - who are a more-than-respectable 19-13 against fellow Western Conference clubs - are gonna hit a few rough patches and probably will wind up at or below the .500 mark against the West when the dust finally settles this year. Nope, we're not "rooting" against Phoenix but simply stating the fact that this club has been a major overachiever and really can't absolutely say the stars on this squad are gonna hold up for another 31 games.
Stay tuned.

NOTE: Catch our NCAA Basketball Mid-Week Update in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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