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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 14, 2014 at 8:46 AM


By Jim Hurley

Just call it an unlucky March 13th if you happened to be the men’s hoops team at Iowa or SMU or Arkansas or —egads —Villanova.

All of the above were somewhere between 7 ½-to-14-point betting favorites in their respective conference tournament games on Thursday and all were unceremoniously whacked from their league mini-tournies —the losses likely cost Iowa and Arkansas bids in next week’s NCAA Tournament (we’re not totally sure the 20-12 Hawkeyes are “dead meat”, but be sure they’ll be saying their prayers till we all get to the Selection Sunday show at 6 p.m. Eastern time).

The 68-64 SMU loss to Houston (which we nailed here on the site) probably won’t keep Larry Brown’s born-again 23-and-9 Mustangs out of the NCAAs, but all they really needed to do was win here and rest easy no matter what else happened in the American Athletic Conference Tourney, and so there is some uneasiness in “Big D”. And then there’s Villanova (28-4) who ESPN’s Jay Bilas has been calling the most “underrated 28-win team in the country” … well, what’s Mr. Bilas saying now that ‘Nova has blown it in terms of landing a No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament?

And take note the Big East regular-season champions probably also forfeited any/all right to play second- and/or third-round NCAA Tourney games in Buffalo where Northeast fan support would have helped the cause.

What the hay, Mr. Jay (Wright)?

Meanwhile, as we head into another busy mini-tourney card on this mid-March Friday —there’s 36 on-the-board games today/tonight after 51 on-the-board games filled up yesterday’s docket —much is being made of the other “bubble teams” that were beaten on Thursday including Maryland, St. John’s and California … none of whom would make it to our NCAA Tournament field of 68 teams!

So, we bid them adieu and we’ll get you a couple of the top game previews shortly but first this key segment about three “name” teams with lots on the line:

Who says that the elite teams have “nothing to lose” in these on-going College Basketball Conference Tournaments that have swept up the country this week?

We’ve already seen third-ranked Villanova “take a header” and lose in the Big East quarterfinals versus 10 ½-point underdog Seton Hall and we pointed out some other upsets too but the fact of the matter is there are —at least —a few teams that could also hurt themselves with yet-to-be-played mini-tourney losses and especially if those losses come prior to the conference tournament championship game.

Here’s a few top squads we have in mind:

#4 ARIZONA (29-3, 15-3 Pac-12) — For much of this hoops season the U of A Wildcats ruled the roost with a #1 ranking for several consecutive weeks, but three losses in their final 10 regular-season games (against California, Arizona State and Oregon) have knocked off some of the luster from Sean Miller’s program and, sorry, we’re not buying any of this jive that ‘Zona has a #1 NCAA Tournament seed all “locked down” a la Florida and Wichita State even with Thursday’s never-in-doubt 71-39 demolition of 7 ½-point dog Utah in quarterfinal round action of the Pac-12 Tourney … if “body of work” means something than three losses since Feb. 1st must count as one “strike” against this team and anything less than an appearance in the mini-tourney title game could wound this team further. In short, beat Colorado tonight in Las Vegas or else possibly suffer the seeding consequences come Sunday night!

#7 DUKE (24-7, 13-5 ACC) —It’s all well and good that the Blue Devils drew a double-bye in this year’s jam-packed ACC Tournament, but Mike Krzyzewski’s squad needs to snag a couple of wins here or it could cost the Dookies a seed line (yes, we know plenty of in-the-know folks are claiming this year that doesn’t mean as much as in past seasons … but we’re not buying that notion) and a potential pair of NCAA Tournament games that will be played in Raleigh. The scuttlebutt is that either Duke or North Carolina will be a lead-pipe cinch to “host” second/third-round games there should either cop this ACC Tournament and cynics believe both will get to that site no matter what but if Duke loses its Friday game against gutty Clemson then don’t necessarily count on it!

#18 SAINT LOUIS (26-5, 13-1 Atlantic-10) — Gotta say that it sure feels as if the Billikens have “fallen off the map” lately as the top seed in this week’s Atlantic-10 Tourney suffered three consecutive late-season losses (to Duquesne, VCU and Dayton) before at least temporarily righting the ship with last Sunday’s 64-62 win at 3-point fav UMass. Now, here’s Saint Loo hosting a noon-time tilt at Barclays Center in Brooklyn against scrappy St. Bonaventure (17-14), and it says here that if the Billikens don’t at least get to Sunday’s A-10 title tilt the late-season swoon will really effect the NCAA Tournament seed … heck, two weeks ago the NCAA Tournament folks probably were dabbling with the idea that Saint Louis could be as high as a #3 seed, but a loss here to St. Bonnie or in the mini-tourney semis could get ‘em dropped all the way to a #6 or #7 and that would mean a potential third-round game against a #2 or #3 seed. Now, Saint Louis may be a quality team but does it really want a second-game matchup against, say, Louisville or Michigan or Syracuse … we think not!

And now hear this …

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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Now, here’s a couple of College Basketball Conference Tournament games tonight that we’ll be paying special attention to…

In an American Athletic Conference semifinal game, it’s …

#13 CINCINNATI (27-5) vs. #21 CONNECTICUT (25-7) —approximately 9:30 p.m. ET, espn2

You could say that last night these former Big East rivals had a case of “role reversal”:

It was supposed to be a close, hard-fought game between the UConn Huskies and host Memphis, but instead Kevin Ollie’s crew battered the 2 ½-point favorite Tigers badly 72-53 as smooth-stroking Niels Giffey (24 points) turned into solid gold for Connecticut (hey, we told you in a Jim Sez preview that this Husky shooter had to show up and he did in the lopsided win) while 12 ½-point fav Cincinnati was in a real barbed-wire war with pesky UCF before snagging the eventual 61-58 non-cover win.

So, what might we expect this evening when these clubs battle it out for the right to face Louisville in Saturday’s first-ever AAC championship (c’mon, do you really think 18-point underdog Houston is gonna hold up to that ‘Ville pressure here!)?

No doubt Giffey —who drained 6-of-8 triples for a UConn club that canned 10-of-20 trifecta tries overall —must be sharp when given the perimeter look but Cincy always looks to “muddy up” its games and Mick Cronin’s team knows at crunch time leader G Sean Kilpatrick (21 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists against UCF) must shake his way loose ‘round some screens and connect —it says here that if Kilpatrick goes for 20-plus points, the Bearcats will nab the win but look for UConn’s game plan to be limiting him to a dozen shots from the field (or less). Kilpatrick hit on 6-of-12 FGs against UCF as Cincy shot a glowing (for them) 46 percent from the field at 22-of-48 makes.

In the Big East semifinals, it’s …

SETON HALL (17-16) vs. PROVIDENCE (21-11) —7 p.m. ET, Fox 1

Now go ahead and raise your hand if you had this as one of the Big East’s semifinal round games before the start of this New York City-based mini tournies:

In fact, what were the odds that the old-fashioned Big East members Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s would all be gonzo from this tournament even before we got to this Friday night and remember this is a league that lost plenty of name-power when UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame (among others) exited stage left following last season and so welcome to a newfangled Big East where lost-in-the-shuffle Providence has a legit shot to win its first mini-tourney crown since 1994 and, yes, we believe yesterday’s hang-on-for-dear-life 79-74 win against 5-point favorite St. John’s cemented the Friars’ place in this next week’s NCAA Tournament.

To get “mission accomplished” here, Providence better get sleepy G Bryce Cotton jump-started after he finished just 1-of-10 shooting from the floor with 12 points in the upset win against the Johnnies, plus G Josh Fortune (career-high 24 points against SJU) will be looking for open triple tries here against a Pirates’ defense that often falls asleep at the proverbial wheel.

If Seton Hall wishes to nab its third win in as many days inside “The World’s Most Famous Arena —a/k/a Madison Square Garden —then another stat-sheet stuffing game from Eugene Teague may be necessary. Teague poured in 19 points to go with his 12 rebounds in the wild 64-63 buzzer-beating win against ‘Nova and —while everyone’s still talking about G Sterling Gibbs and his step-back jumper that beat the Wildcats, it’s Teague and lefty Patrik Auda (13 first-half points) who really were heroic in that matinee bash on Thursday even before Gibbs grabbed the spotlight all to himself.

Can you imagine that either Seton Hall (who last won the Big East Tournament championship in 1993) or Providence is gonna be a part of “championship Saturday” … hey, in the newfangled Big East just about anything is possible!

P.S., these teams split the regular-season series with each team winning on the other’s home court:

The Hall snagged an 81-80 double-OT win on New Year’s Eve at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as Brian Oliver scored 18 points with five boards and Providence got revenge with a 74-69 win in New Jersey on Feb. 28th when Seton Hall played without an injured defensive star Fuguan Edwin (sprained thumb).

NOTE: Stay with us for all the College Basketball Conference Tournament reports all week/weekend long right here at Jim Sez.

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