Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 9:13 AM
COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT WEEK ROLLS ON —IT’S TIME TO CHECK OUT THE BIG 10 BASH IN INDY
PLUS WE SOUND OFF ABOUT THE BIG WEST & SUN BELT … AND THERE ARE PREVIEWS OF A PAIR OF KEY WEDNESDAY GAMES AS WE CHECK OUT SOME PAC-12 AND BIG 12 ACTION
By Jim Hurley
Hope you got your sleep the past couple of nights ‘cause we’re in the midst of wall-to-wall, morning-to-late-night basketball action all week long and you really don’t want to miss a beat when it comes to these always-thrilling College Basketball Conference Tournaments!
Hey, the kids from 34-and-oh Wichita State are sitting tight this week after wrapping up the Missouri Valley Conference crown but everyone else that’s a “somebody” in the world of hoops is in action this super-important week in March and we’ll be staying top of everything here at Jim Sez.
On today’s menu, we’ll get you our quick-hitter comments on three Conference Tournaments that have yet to swing into high gear — the Big 10, the Big West and the Sun Belt all get in motion come Thursday — and we’ll get you a couple of key Wednesday game previews too from among the power conferences but first this very important reminder:
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will keep steamrolling their way through March with loads of College Basketball winners and take special note that The Network March Madness Package includes all of the Conference Tournament Games along with all the upcoming NCAA Tournament Games (remember we banged out a spiffy 20-10 record a year ago in the big tourney) plus all the other post-season tournaments such as the NIT, CBI and CIT Tournies too.
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Beginning on Thursday afternoon, here’s three more Conference Tournaments …
BIG 10 — There is a major debate in terms of just how many teams from this 12-team league will get into next week’s NCAA Tournament and only five squads have locks on bids while heading into this mini-tourney in hoops-mad Indianapolis: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State will all be part of the NCAA’s 68-team field, but what about Iowa (20-11, 9-9) and Minnesota (19-12, 8-10)?
Gut feeling is the Iowa Hawkeyes simply have to win one game here — Fran McCaffrey’s club gets Northwestern in first-round action on Thursday night (8:55 p.m. ET start) — while Minny’s in need of two wins in this mini-tourney and still may need some outside help.
It will be extremely interesting to see how Michigan (23-7, 15-3) goes at things ‘cause we believe the maize-and-blue has a solid shot to land on the #2 seed line in the NCAAs with a tourney title here while Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) is hoping this is the time the whole cast finally comes together after Sparty finished regular-season play losing five of its last eight games. Did you realize Michigan State’s not won back-to-back games since an 11-game winning streak ended on Jan. 21st?
Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) had its eight-game late-season winning streak stopped last Sunday in Lincoln, but few teams zip into the mini-tournies with better karma than this Badgers bunch that sports four double-digit scorers, but is anyone good enough to hit the big late-game shot … maybe Frank Kaminsky (team-best 13.4 ppg) can be the guy but not sure we’re trusting Wisky in a “white knuckler” type affair here in Indy.
Finally, Nebraska (19-11, 11-7) is the real feel-good story of the Big 10 with Tim Miles’ squad has won eight of its last nine games and suddenly everyone now knows about F Terran Petteway (18 ppg) and the ‘Huskers could do some big-time damage here providing someone gives Petteway a hand -- maybe Shavon Shields, who registered 26 points in last weekend’s 77-68 win against Wisconsin.
The Favorite: Michigan
The Dark Horse: Ohio State
BIG WEST — It’s the old-fashioned way to settle things in this nine-team league as the bottom feeder (UC-Davis) was kept out of the party and it sure seems a two-team battle for the singular bid here as regular-season champ Cal-Irvine (22-10, 13-3) and UCSB (21-8, 12-4) are the head-and-shoulders class of the Big West.
If Cal-Irvine wins it, then it’s probably because the conference’s top defense (64.3 ppg allowed) battened down the hatches while Santa Barbara needs leading scorer C Alan Williams (21.6 ppg) to shine at crunch time.
Hey, let’s just hope the Big West can keep its “rabid fans” off the court here, okay?
The Favorites: Cal-Irvine and UCSB
The Dark Horse: Hawaii
SUN BELT — No question this league is lobbying for a second bid this year and it’ll be interesting to see if regular-season champ Georgia State (24-7, 17-1) gets a nod should the Panthers not capture this mini-tourney crown in New Orleans.
The best threat to G-State is Western Kentucky (20-11, 12-6) which happened to lose its two games to the champs by 23 and 18 points — maybe the Hilltoppers need someone else in the Sun Belt to do their “dirty work” and KO Georgia State from this shindig.
The Favorite: Georgia State
The Dark Horse: Arkansas State
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Now, here’s previews of a pair of Conference Tournament games on Wednesday …
In the Pac-12, it’s …
WASHINGTON (17-14, 9-9) vs. UTAH (20-10, 9-9) — 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Lots of major intrigue inside this Pac-12 Tourney in Las Vegas and there’s plenty of sentiment that Utah needs to win this game to seal an NCAA Tournament bid while Washington likely needs to get to the mini-tourney title game to have a shot.
Note that Utah’s not exactly been a wunderkind in Pac-12 games outside Salt Lake City — the Utes are 2-6 in these games and one of the wins was against sad-sack USC — so let’s see here is top scorers Delon Wright (16.1 ppg) and Jordan Loveridge (15.1 ppg) can percolate against a Washington team that needs senior guard C.J. Wilcox (24 points in last weekend’s 82-75 non-cover win against 9 ½-point pup USC and the school’s all-time second-leading scorer) to get engines revved up here.
Looking for an X-factor at work in this tilt at the MGM Grand Arena?
Try Utah’s Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker, who combined for 103 triples this year as both shoot it from 40 percent from deep. Good stuff!
In the Big 12, it’s …
TEXAS TECH (14-17, 6-12) vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (20-11, 8-10) — 7 p.m. ET
Hey, gotta admit to the fact that in many of these power conferences, the “out-bracket” or first-round games ain’t always so darn appealing but here’s a case where an opening-round game brings lots of juice:
On one hand, there’s the Oklahoma State Cowboys who have experienced a wild season that’s included a three-game suspension for best player G Marcus Smart (17.9 ppg) but a real late-season rival as Travis Ford’s gang has won four of its last five games and it could have been a five-game winning except for that wild three-point shot by Iowa State in last weekend’s OT win by the Cyclones.
On the flip side there’s a Texas Tech squad that didn’t enjoy a whole lot of high notes this year but the Red Raiders did beat 1-point road fav Texas 59-53 last Saturday as Jaye Crockett poured in 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds and now Tubby Smith’s team looks to stay alive against an Okie State team that beat ‘em by 22 points (in Stillwater) last month.
It says here that Oklahoma State must win this game and probably a quarterfinal tilt in this Big 12 tourney to get into the NCAAs — though admittedly the ‘Boys are a tough team to handicap in terms of the big tourney because of the aforementioned three-game suspension of Smart. Hey, maybe they need to just win here to snag the invite, we’ll see.
NOTE: Stay with us for all the College Basketball Conference Tournament reports all week/weekend long right here at Jim Sez.