Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 12:00 AM
COLLEGE BASKETBALL MID-WEEK UPDATE: KEEPING AN EYE PEELED FOR A COUPLE OF “FORGOTTEN TEAMS” AS SELECTION SUNDAY NOW IS LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY …
WE PREVIEW A PAIR OF TOP TILTS TONIGHT AS #1 SYRACUSE AND #2 FLORIDA TAKE CENTER STAGE
By Jim Hurley
Let’s just say that things rarely go as planned when it comes to the world of College Basketball:
Just the other day we tuned in a well-respected radio voice who proclaimed he could only see “8 or 9 teams that could win it all” this year, but now less than a month removed from Selection Sunday we dare say that list should be much longer.
In fact, while #1 Syracuse and #3 Wichita State head into tonight’s action unbeaten we believe that neither should be confused with the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers just yet and it wouldn’t really surprise us if neither made it all the way to this year’s Final Four (and remember both of ‘em made it that far a year ago before getting beaten in national semifinal tilts).
So, in keeping with our little Jim Sez theory that there could be a dozen-or-more teams quite capable of winning this year’s national championship, here’s a little “heads up” that even a couple of non-Top 25 teams right now could be ultra-scary come this year’s “Big Dance”.
So, watch out for …
VCU (20-6, 8-3 Atlantic-10) – We know, we know.
Maybe you don’t wish to give us any points for originality when you consider the Rams were Final Four material back in the spring of 2011 when Shaka Smart’s team stole the hearts of much of hoops America with a grandiose run that actually started with a win in the “First Four” in Dayton.
Now, here’s Smart looking to orchestrate another run for glory and don’t be spooked by the fact the Rams have lost two of their last three games (that’s at St. Joseph’s and at Saint Louis) since Feb. 8th because this team can turn up the defensive heat at a mere moment’s notice (they’re surrendering just 66 points per game to rank third in the Atlantic-10).
Let’s pay special attention to VCU’s game at UMass this Friday night (on espn2) because it could tell us a great deal as to whether or not the Rams can thrive away from their own gym.
There’s three VCU players with 40-or-more three-pointers on the docket – that’s Treveon Graham, Melvin Johnson and Rob Brandenberg – and keep in mind this club is highly athletic and can get out and go.
You have been forewarned!
OKLAHOMA (19-7, 8-5 Big 12) – There are three Big 12 teams currently in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 … and the OU Sooners ain’t one of ‘em!
There’s #8 Kansas, #17 Iowa State and #19 Texas all part of the polls these days but we believe it’s Oklahoma that may have the best shot of ‘em all to win an NCAA Tournament crown come April – and here’s why:
Start with the fact head coach Lon Kruger has been around the block when it comes to getting his teams ready for the tourney whether it’s been when he coached ‘em up at Kansas State or Illinois or Florida or UNLV.
Note that Kruger has one NCAA Final Four on his resume (see the 1993-94 Florida Gators) and his 1987-88 Kansas State crew made it all the way to the Elite 8.
Now as Kruger’s crew gears up for Saturday’s home game against Kansas State, here’s the Sooners having won six of their last nine games and proud owners of road wins against Oklahoma State (yes, minus Marcus Smart but Oklahoma was still the 4-point underdog there in Stillwater last weekend) and Texas … not bad.
The Sooners sport five double-digit-per-game scorers starring the emotional Buddy Hield (16.7 ppg) and gotta say that we agree with ESPN’s Brent Musberger, who said the other night that the Big 12 was the best league in the land.
Really, who’s better from top-to-bottom?
Both VCU and Oklahoma may be on the outside looking in at the AP Top 25 right now but they could be part of a Final Four field in a few weeks.
Don’t necessarily bet against it!
And now hear this …
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 at www.jimhurley.com or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 – so go ahead and win with all the hardwood action today!
Now, here’s a couple of key tilts on this Wednesday night sked …
BOSTON COLLEGE (6-19, 2-10 ACC) at #1 SYRACUSE (25-0, 12-0 ACC) – 7 p.m. ET, espn2
It’s been chiller theatre for the top-ranked Syracuse Orange the past couple of games:
Jim Boeheim’s bunch needed a buzzer-beating 35-footer by freshman point guard Tyler Ennis to dispatch Pittsburgh last Wednesday night for a 58-56 triumph and then the ‘Cuse needed lefty C.J. Fair to can a layup with 6.7 seconds left to down gritty N.C. State 56-55 last Saturday night at snowy Syracuse and so now you’re left to wonder whether the Orange will be “pumped” to play this game against heavy-duty dog Boston College or will the upstate New York club play down to the competition.
No doubt Ennis and Fair are make-it-happen types who love the late-game limelight but how about oft-forgotten big man Rakeem Christmas, who poured in 14 points and chipped in career-highs in rebounds (12) and blocked shots (7) in that aforementioned non-cover victory against 13 ½-point pup N.C. State?
If the ‘Cuse is looking forward – you think? – to Saturday’s game down in Durham against Duke, then the Orange could be in for a thorny test here against a BC crew that’s lost five in a row.
Tell us if Eagles’ star Olivier Hanlan – who has averaged 21.3 ppg in his last three outings – is gonna get off some open perimeter shots against this ‘Cuse zone here and we’ll tell you whether the Orange may have to sweat out another close call.
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AUBURN (12-11, 4-8 SEC) at #2 FLORIDA (23-2, 12-0 SEC) – 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Full Court
Seventeen in a row … and counting?
The second-ranked Florida Gators have answered each/every challenge set before them since a 65-64 loss at Connecticut back on Dec. 2nd (Florida also lost at Wisconsin way back on Nov. 12th) and that included last Saturday night’s 69-59 win at 2 ½-point favorite Kentucky and that 68-61 non-cover win at 8 ½-point pup Auburn back on Jan. 18th.
Now, Billy Donovan’s crew – seeking its 30th consecutive home win here – must stay awake at all times while remembering that last game against Auburn was just a one-point tilt with less than two minutes remaining before things crumbled for the overmatched Tigers.
Reserve forward Casey Prather was the major diff-maker for the mighty Gators in that initial game against Auburn – he finished with 21 points and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes of game action there and don’t forget that Florida out-boarded the Tigers 29-to-19.
If Florida’s sticky defense can agitate the Auburn guards here – and remember both of the Tigers’ point guards fouled out in that first clash – than it could be “lights out” even before this game gets to halftime.
NOTE: Catch more NCAA Basketball News/Notes/Previews in tomorrow’s jam-packed edition of Jim Sez and don’t forget we’ll begin to have NFL Draft coverage too this week!