Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 5:00 PM
Friday Night’s Sweet 16 games were among the most physically demanding, hardfought battles ever showcased in the NCAA Tournament. The survivors must come back less than two days later for afternoon action Sunday to try and qualify for the Final Four.
Game One featuring Connecticut and Michigan State starts at 2:15 p.m ET (11:15 a.m. in Las Vegas), which doesn’t provide much recovery time at all for Michigan State after their war with Virginia. At 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. in Las Vegas), Kentucky will have to take the floor bruised and weary from its intense upset of Louisville when they take on defending national runner-up Michigan.
Let’s run both matchups through the key indicator data we’ve been focusing on through the season in college basketball. Computer rankings are taken from the publicly available numbers posted by college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin.
Computer Rankings-Game One
Connecticut #19 in Pomeroy, #16 in Sagarin
Michigan State: #8 in Pomeroy, #5 in Sagarin
Connecticut has surged into the top 20 with their solid Dance run. And, you can make a case that they’ll play even better in Madison Square Garden than a standard, full season computer evaluation would suggest. But, Michigan State is also playing better than the computers had them because they’re finally healthy after battling injuries all season. The betting markets had MSU priced as a #1 seed entering the tournament…and they’ve played to the market optimism since.
Computer Rankings-Game Two
Kentucky: #10 in Pomeroy, #8 in Sagarin
Michigan: #9 in Pomeroy, #7 in Sagarin
The computer may have been underestimating both of these teams as well. Kentucky just took out a pair of powers rated as #1 seeds by the market (Wichita State and Louisville). And, they only lost to Florida by a point in the SEC Championship game. Michigan won the Big 10 regular season and was runner-up in the tournament. And, that league put three teams in the Elite Eight in well-earned fashion. This one’s a computer toss-up.
Offensive and Defensive Rank Game One
Connecticut: #46 on offense, #13 on defense
Michigan State: #7 on offense, #34 on defense
Moving now to the offensive and defensive breakdowns…both of these teams have been playing great defense through the tournament. Michigan State is certainly better than that #34 rank now that they’re healthy. Virginia had trouble getting any good looks inside the arc. Connecticut will be dealing with that same brick wall. And, given the fact that UCONN could barely crack the top 50 on offense in Pomeroy’s adjusted rankings (which account for pace and schedule strength), this result will probably come down to whatever the Huskies can or can’t do with the ball.
Offensive and Defensive Rank Game Two
Kentucky: #13 on offense, #26 on defense
Michigan: #2 on offense, #99 on defense
That #99 ranking for Michigan really jumps out. That could be a real problem is Kentucky still has their legs. Michigan is soft inside, typically allowing very high shooting percentages in the paint because they want to keep their bigs out of foul trouble. Kentucky storms the paint! So we’ll have that elite offensive of Michigan trying to drain treys and get good looks inside…trying to outscore what they’ll let the aggressive Wildcats score inside. It’s interesting that Pomeroy still has Michigan as the better team given that composite. The market is respecting the composite, and has made Kentucky a small favorite.
Game One: Connecticut #241, Michigan State #196
Game Two: Kentucky #220, Michigan #333
As we saw yesterday, no fast teams are left in the tournament. Michigan State is just a shade below average, and everyone else is slower than that. Michigan is one of the slowest teams in the country. So, expect more halfcourt basketball Sunday and next weekend.
Against the Spread
Game One: Connecticut 20-15, Michigan State 20-13-3
Game Two: Kentucky 18-15-2, Michigan 18-14-2
All for teams have been money-makers. Though, Kentucky really had to rally to get there in the SEC tournament and the Big Dance. Michigan State’s been a consistent money-maker too since getting healthy.
Michigan State by 6, total of 139.5
Kentucky by 2, total of 138
Michigan State went up in some places at -5.5, and was bet up to the solid six. The first stores up tested Michigan/Kentucky at pick-em. Kentucky money kept hitting the market very late Friday and early Saturday…enough to push the line up to Kentucky -2. As we said earlier, that’s based less on Power Ratings than on the talent matchups. The computers and many respected Power Ratings had the game at pick-em (as did oddsmakers). Some sharps are betting on the better defense, while squares are betting on how Friday’s games ended for those two teams (Michigan barely holding on, Kentucky surging to victory).
Don’t let these early Sunday starts throw you! Take care of business early with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK! You can purchase our BEST BETS in the Elite Eight and the NBA right here at the website with your credit card (and possibly the MLB game Sunday Night on ESPN). If you’d rather talk to a live person, call Sunday morning before the games tip off at 1-888-777-4155. Now’s a great day to get locked into baseball with Sunday’s opener and Monday’s huge schedule.
We’ll be back Monday to talk more baseball. College hoops resumes Tuesday with a preview of the Final Four in the NIT. Our previews of the Final Four games for the Big Dance will run next Friday and Saturday. Championship week in college basketball is about to start. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!