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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 7:00 AM

It’s no longer a Big East rivalry, because Connecticut fled this season to the American Athletic Conference. But, the Villanova Wildcats and UCONN Huskies know a lot about each other and the importance of carrying their banners deep into the NCAA Tournament. This storied matchup will highlight evening TV coverage of Saturday action…making it the obvious choice to run through our gauntlet of indicators.

You’re going to watch…you want to win while you watch! Let’s see what the numbers say…


Computer Rankings

Connecticut: #25 in Pomeroy, #25 in Sagarin

Villanova: #7 in Pomeroy, #5 in Sagarin

College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin are in virtual lockstep here. Both agree with the selection committee that Villanova is a #2 seed. Both have Connecticut as a #7 seed, which is where they were slotted in the brackets were announced. Of course, the computers didn’t have UCONN dead even with St. Joseph’s! Connecticut had to rally late to force overtime before surviving St. Joe’s on Thursday. St. Joe’s was roughly #50 in the computer composite. So, we do have a danger that Connecticut isn’t as good as those numbers are suggesting. Let’s also note that Connecticut played a dead heat with Cincinnati last week in the AAC tourney…and Cincinnati lost to Harvard. Connecticut’s had bad luck against Louisville of late, and Louisville stunningly staggered past Manhattan.


Offensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)

Connecticut: #62

Villanova: #19

Villanova is lethal on offense because they hit a lot of three-pointers and know how to finish a break when they get one. They’re not a racehorse team, but do use a faster-than-average pace to create easy baskets for themselves. Connecticut doesn’t have a stellar offense by Dance standards…particularly “Round of 32” standards. Clear edge here to the favorite.


Defensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)

Connecticut: #15

Villanova: #12

Both teams have been great on defense this year…grading out virtually even when you adjust for schedule and pace. In fact, the margin for error at that tight distance is such that the teams are virtually interchangeable. We have dead even defenses…but the superior offense pushing the favorite into its role.


Pace Ranking

Connecticut: #247

Villanova: #130

This is where UCONN has a chance to make it interesting. Tournament basketball usually slows down…particularly in the second half of close games. If UCONN can stay close, that takes Villanova out of its comfort zone and pushes crunch time into a pace Connecticut prefers to play. If slowing down Villanova reduces their offensive efficiency…then this is a toss-up. If Villanova can jump out early, they’ll be better positioned than St. Joe’s to protect a lead because they’re significantly better and more lethal.


Against the Spread

Connecticut: 18-15

Villanova: 22-9

Villanova has been one of the big success stories this season in terms of expectations…and one of the big embarrassments for oddsmakers and sharps who continued not to believe in the team as they kept stacking win after win. Villanova even pulled away to cover their opener vs. Milwaukee after a sluggish first stretch before and after the half. Connecticut is barely on the profitable side after vigorish is factored in.


Vegas Line: Villanova by 3.5, total of 132.5


Given that this is a #2 seed playing a #7 seed, and that #2 seed has been extremely underrated all season, that line might strike you as too low. Our indicator stats paint this picture: it’s either a comfortable win for Villanova because of their much superior offense…or it’s a true coin-flip if UCONN is able to slow things down. That spread arguably splits the difference between the scenarios. It’s YOUR job to figure out the right scenario.

And, if you can do it, then it’s JIM HURLEY’S job! He’s been working very closely with his full team of handicapping experts to pin down the best plan of attack for all eight of Saturday’s tournament games. NETWORK is unlikely to play the board…so there’s a chance UCONN/Villanova doesn’t qualify. The games that do qualify are going to be worth your very serious attention!

You can purchase the final word for Saturday right here at the website with your credit card. Be sure you take care of business before Florida/Pittsburgh gets the day rolling in early action. If you’d like to talk to a live person, call our handicapping office Saturday morning at 1-888-777-4155. Again, call EARLY to make sure you get full value for the day.

We’ll return Sunday to discuss the biggest marquee matchup in late-day action. This tournament has been something else already. But, THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING! Be sure you GET THE MONEY with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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