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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Trips to Madison Square Garden and the NIT Final Four are already on the line Tuesday Night when Belmont visits Clemson at 6 p.m. ET, followed by Southern Miss at Minnesota at 8 p.m. ET. Both matchups will be televised by ESPN, the home network of the NIT.

Belmont is a surprise as the #5 entry in the regional that #1 seed St. John’s had been expected to win. Belmont upset Green Bay in its opener in the 4-5 game, then dispatched with giant-killer Robert Morris to make it here. Clemson’s won home games vs. Georgia State and Illinois, barely surviving a very ugly home game against the Illini this past weekend.

Minnesota is the top seed in its quarter of the draw. The Gophers took out High Point and St. Mary’s to advance. This will be their toughest task by far, as Southern Miss is a good team playing like they care given their road victory at Missouri in the second round (after beating Toledo in their NIT opener).

We’ve decided to cover BOTH matchups for you here in the NOTEBOOK since it’s a manageable schedule and hoops fans will be watching both games on TV. Let’s get to the gauntlet!

 

Computer Rankings-Game One

Belmont: #92 in Pomeroy, #93 in Sagarin

Clemson: #44 in Pomeroy, #44 in Sagarin

 

Computer Rankings-Game Two

Southern Miss: #55 in Pomeroy, #61 in Sagarin

Minnesota: #58 in Pomeroy, #50 in Sagarin

College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin are almost in lockstep in the opener. Clemson is clearly the superior team from the superior conference. Handicappers will have to determine if Belmont wants the game more…given their chance to make headlines as a small mid-major playing in basketball’s mecca next week. The TV nightcap looks evenly matched. The computers don’t even agree on who the better team is within that tight range.

 

Offensive and Defensive Rank-Game One

Belmont: #36 on offense, #183 on defense

Clemson: #149 on offense, #15 on defense

 

Offensive and Defensive Rank-Game Two

Southern Miss: #68 on offense, #65 on defense

Minnesota: #48 on offense, #93 on defense

These are Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive “adjusted” rankings, which take into account pace and strength of schedule. The most interesting matchup is probably Belmont’s dangerous offense against Clemson’s soft defense. It should be noted though that Clemson is soft inside, while Belmont is a bombs away team in the mold of Creighton and other three-point heavy teams. Belmont’s going to need to hit treys to advance. Clemson’s bad offense may find openings inside against its undersized opponent.

You see in the nightcap that Southern Miss is the most balanced of the four teams in action Tuesday. Balance is a good thing in tournament play because it gives you a variety of ways to win. Though, balance in the 60’s in the rankings isn’t quite the same thing as balance AND high quality!

 

Pace Rankings

Belmont: #52

Minnesota: #250

Southern Miss: #265

Clemson: #348

Once again we have a battle of extremes in the opener. It’s the very fast Belmont approach of scrambling around and launching treys vs. the plodding defensive style of Clemson. Typically, the home team forces its pace in a big game. But, if you believe that Belmont actually cares more about this tournament…then perhaps that attitude will help them impose their will on proceedings. Minnesota and Southern Miss play at the same pace, meaning this will likely be a slow grinder.

 

Against the Spread

Southern Miss: #20-10-2

Clemson: #15-11-3

Belmont: #16-16-0

Minnesota: #14-16-1

Southern Miss was the most underrated team in the markets of this group. And, it wasn’t even close. Oddsmakers never caught on to how well, and how consistently this team was performing. The biggest disappointment was Minnesota. They were supposed to be a surefire Dance team…one with a chance to do some damage. Instead, they’re in the NIT trying to save some face.

JIM HURLEY has been looking very closely at both of these games because he wants to keep the profits rolling in. You can purchase the final word for Tuesday (NIT and NBA) right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call our handicapping office during normal business hours Tuesday or any time this week at 1-888-777-4155. Be sure to ask about Major League Baseball when you call. Those two season openers in Australia are long past…everyone else gets rolling this Sunday Night and Monday!

We’ll return Wednesday for more NIT talk. Then it’s onto the Sweet 16 Thursday and Friday, followed by the Elite 8 Saturday and Sunday.

Don’t make the mistake of taking a few nights off before the Dance returns to the schedule. There’s money to be made in the NIT. When you’re talking about JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK, you know that BIG, JUICY WINNERS ARE ALWAYS JUST A FEW CLICKS AWAY!

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