Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 11:57 AM
IT'S FINAL FOUR WEEKEND
By Jim Hurley
You're right ... we're on the eve of crowning a new College Basketball champion and there's so much we want to say about this year's title tilt but first let's do some reviewin'.
We will turn the calendar back to Selection Sunday (that was March 16th) for just a moment: You remember the hue-and-cry about the college basketball teams that were handed "wrong seeds" and we here at Jim Sez were very much front-and-center in the complaint department regarding the likes of Louisville getting a #4 seed (we thought the defending champs had a decent shot at landing that final #1 seed) and even bemoaned the fact that mighty Michigan State also was handed a #4 seed after storming through the Big 10 Tournament in Indianapolis.
Guess we have to 'fess up to a few things then:
First of all, neither Louisville nor Michigan State even made it here to "North Texas" and so even if they were not seeded correctly the play on the court seems to show they simply weren't among the best four teams in the land when all the dust finally did settle;
Secondly, maybe it's time we gave a round of applause to the NCAA Tournament Committee folks - no matter how hard that may be - because this year's tourney had a slew of tremendous moments to last a lifetime and even before we got to the Final Four the hoops world out there still was buzzing about Kentucky's incredible wins against Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan (all just great basketball games and "instant classics", if you will) and let's not forget some other great games such as Wisconsin's overtime win against Arizona in the Elite 8, Connecticut's mind-over-matter win against Michigan State in Elite 8 play and there were some major doozies earlier in this tournament such as Tennessee's OT win against Iowa in "First Four" action, Dayton's pair of first-week wins against Ohio State and Syracuse, Mercer's magical/momentous win against 13-point favorite Duke and Stanford's dramatic round-of-32 triumph over Kansas. Yes, you could go on-and-on.
Okay, so you get the message that even if not every team was seeded properly here, it's been a dynamic and terrific tourney ... agree;
Finally, while this tourney hasn't been perfect - some of the TV replays/reviews by the game officials have taken forever and there's been loads of inconsistent calls by the men in the striped shirts (too many touch fouls were called whereas lots of violent under-the-rim collisions were not whistled, go figure) - gotta say it's been one of the top three or four overall NCAA Tournaments in the past 25 or 30 years.
Maybe it'll even rank higher if "your team" winds up cutting down the nets in Arlington come Monday night. We'll preview the NCAA Tournament Championship Game in the next Jim Sez - so don't miss out on who's gonna have their "one shining moment" for a lifetime.
SWEEP SATURDAY'S FINAL FOUR
Connecticut vs. Florida (-6.5, 126.5)
3-1 Last Year - Split the sides, swept the totals
It's Final Four time and the Jim Hurley Network has dominated this level of play over its 28 years. From our first year in 1985 when Villanova upset Georgetown in the final game, through last year's 3-1withthe sides and totalsin the National Semi-Finals, a winning performance by Jim Hurley is as much a Final Four tradition as the playing of "One Shining Moment."
This season promises more of the same. We won in the Sweet-16, going 7-3 with sides and totals. We won in the Elite Eight, with a 6-0-1 record, the only blemish a push in the Florida/Dayton game.That's 13-3-1 in the biggest games of the college season! And with Saturday's Final Four matchups, it gets even bigger.
Connecticut trys to keep the dream alive vs. #1 overall seed Florida (6:05 ET, CBS) to startSaturday night off.The Gators look tough, but the Huskies have been playing inspired basketball every step of the Tourney. In the nightcap, traditional heavyweights, Wisconsin and Kentucky meet (approx 8:45 ET, CBS) for the other berth on Monday night.
From studying game tape, to crunching numbers, to running sophisticated simulation software, and checking with our sources close to the scene, Jim Hurley's Network has all the information necessary to make this a 2-0 Saturday Night. Since 2002, we're 16-8 in the Final Four, that's 66.7%.
I'll also be looking at the totals to see if there's easy money there. Last year we scored on both Unders. ThisSaturday is easy money, take your share. Just $50.
Better yet, for only $65, you'll get the Final Four, plus the side and total in Monday's Championship Game - Sign up here
THE NBA SUNDAY REPORT
Okay, so the college kids will "sit tight" on this first Sunday in April and so let's turn our attention to the pros and see what's on the TV menu:
NEW YORK (33-44) at MIAMI (52-23) - 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Was that whooshing sound that of the Knicks' playoff hopes getting blown away? No doubt that Friday's 90-89 home loss versus 5-point pup Washington was the most painful NYK loss of the year - not a good time for superstar scorer Carmelo Anthony to come away with his worst game of the year as he registered just 10 points on 5-of-14 FG shooting plus he lost possession of the ball on that final play - but now Mike Woodson's squad enters today's action a full game back of Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff berth in the East while Miami's got its own woes these days too although Erik Spoelstra's gang did exit Friday's action .005 ahead of Indiana for the top seed in the East.
The Heat's 122-121 loss in double-overtime against 8-point road dog Minnesota this past Friday night included a lousy 11-of-37 showing from the three-point line and even LeBron James' 34 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists couldn't save the day.
Don't look now but the Heat is now 9-9 SU (straight-up) since March 4th and so no wonder the South Beach crowd is getting a tad antsy as the post-season quickly approaches.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (25-51) at LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (54-23) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
No question the main story line here is the health of Clippers F Blake Griffin who tweaked an ankle late in Thursday's 113-107 home loss against Dallas - if you were watching then you know it took the uber-athletic Griffin a few painful moments to get up off the floor and no way does Doc Rivers' squad want to have anything squelch his team's late-season mojo as the Clips will enter this intra-city battle having won 17 of their last 20 games ... remember when the Lakers used to be able to claim such winning ways?
Expect Griffin to get green-lighted here but keep a close eye on how this game plays out - remember the Clippers clobbered the Lakers 142-94 back on March 6th when eight different players registered double-digit scoring totals for the Clips in what was the worst loss in Lakers' franchise history. Really!
P.S., you might see some bodies hit the floor at Staples Center here and we'll be tuning in to see if the somewhat-hobbled Griffin is the "fall guy" as he's averaged 21.3 points, 10.3 rebounds while shooting 51.5 percent from the floor in his 14 career games against the Lakers.
NOTE: Get our NCAA Tournament Championship Game Preview in the next edition of Jim Sez.
NCAA Final-4 Tournament Previews - Saturday, April 5
#7 CONNECTICUT (30-8) vs. #1 FLORIDA (36-2)
Sometimes it just all comes down to numbers: Note that through the first four games of their NCAA Tournament run, the Florida Gators have held foes to a per-game average of only 55 points - amazing stuff when you consider the day-and-age of the three-point shot, the shot clock and normally quicker-paced offensive attacks - and then keep in mind that Connecticut's averaged nearly 77 points a game while navigating its way thus far through this tourney and it doesn't take Dr. James Naismith to tell you this: If the Huskies can ratchet up the speed of this game, get off 60-plus field-goal attempts (note they got off only 49 in that Elite 8 triumph over Michigan State last Sunday afternoon) and go for 10-or-more triples here than coach Kevin Ollie's team will have a legit shot to steal this one in North Texas.
So, that means guards Shabazz Napier (25 points against Sparty last weekend) and Ryan Boatright (11 points and 4 steals versus Michigan State) must impose their will on this game and that won't be easy while operating against physical/smart senior G Scottie Wilbekin who has merely taken over games in this tourney against the likes of Pittsburgh and UCLA.
Wilbekin is the defensive pulse of this stop-you-in-your-tracks Gators club plus he's great at handling the pressure both late in the shot clock and at the end of the half/game and so we believe UConn must make Wilbekin work extra-hard on "D" here and maybe sap him of some strength and make G Michael Frazier II (only two trifectas and 10 points in that Elite 8 win against Dayton) and mates beat you here.
Hey, if Frazier gets a hot hand from deep, the Huskies are just gonna have to live with it!
No doubt Florida figures to have the backboard advantage in this game as C/F Patric Young and friends have lots of ways to pull down rebounds and one real key here will be to see if outlet passes to Wilbekin and slasher Casey Prather allow the SEC team to score some easy hoops or will the up-tempo pace eventually play into UConn's collective hands?
Florida boss-man Billy Donovan is no stranger to these big-stage games having won those back-to-back titles in 2006 and '07 and - while everyone continues to say that he has no NBA "first-rounders" on this team - the fact is Florida's sum-is-greater-than-the-parts defense makes 'em especially tough to beat as evidenced by all the low shooting percentages against 'em in this tourney:
Check it out ... the four opponents that Florida has beaten so far in this year's NCAA Tournament have shot 39.6 percent (Dayton), just 42.2 percent (UCLA), 37.3 percent (Pittsburgh) and 39.2 percent (Albany). Wow! Tell us right now if Connecticut's Niels Giffey is gonna keep missing those wide-open jumpers and if either Napier or Boatright is gonna have an "off night" and we'll tell you how much Florida's gonna win this game by, okay?
#8 KENTUCKY (28-10) vs. #2 WISCONSIN (30-7)
The late, great Al McGuire claimed that in order to win a national championship you had to win at least one "white knuckler" along the way in NCAA Tournament play ... well, the Kentucky Wildcats have won three of 'em already in this year's "Big Dance" as Calipari's crew beat Wichita State by 2 points, Louisville by 5 points and Michigan by 3 points and just consider the amazing shooting we've seen from this young SEC team.
In last weekend's aforementioned 75-72 victory against Michigan, there was freshman G Aaron Harrison stepping back and nailing a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left to snap a tie with the maize-and-blue, and hope you didn't forget that the 'Cats shot it at 53.4 percent from the floor (that's 31-of-58 field-goal makes) with Harrison's four triples powering up a 7-of-11 team showing from beyond the arc.
There can be no denying the fact that Kentucky must be effective and efficient here in its three-point shooting attempts because odds are Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan will put more emphasis on packing his defense down into the painted area-heck, the veteran Big 10 boss has no choice or else Kentucky's active/lengthy front court will dominate the offensive glass as it's been prone to do in this year's NCAA Tourney.
No doubt it's a gamble but expect the Badgers to double-down on Kentucky F Julius Randle, who registered a 16-point, 11-rebound effort in that win against Michigan and who's ever gonna soon forget the off-the-bench play of F Marcus Lee, who contributed 10 points and 8 rebounds in just 15 minutes of play while subbing for a still-injured Willie Cauley-Stein. If Lee puts up those sort of numbers here, the Badgers are in a heap of trouble and so they are as well should Kentucky lefty G James Young (5-of-7 FG shooting for 13 points against Wisconsin) get heated up from the wings.
The best game plan for Wisconsin here is as follows:
Have seven-footer Frank Kaminsky-who was dazzling with 28 points and 11 boards in last Saturday's 64-63 OT win against Arizona-continue to be the central offensive character with his down-low hoops along with his old-school 18-to-20-foot jumpers but don't be afraid to turn up the dial at times here and allow the cutting/slashing likes of G Traevon Jackson, G Ben Brust and active F Sam Dekker to put heat on Kentucky's front line as foul problems to a thinning 'Cat club could be the real key to victory for Ryan's guys here.
And one more thing ...
The Badgers-a veteran group that hit on just six treys in last weekend's win against 'Zona-must hold itself together when those 10-2 and 14-4-type Kentucky runs happen 'cause at some point in time they're surely gonna happen. Wisconsin is wise enough to know it can weather any storm but we believe it's ultra-important for the Badgers to play from ahead as much as possible here and not place the onus on a Wisconsin defense that sometimes becomes too reliant on Kaminsky.
Finally, an X-factor here:
The Badgers need bench help and so keep a keen eye on F Nigel Hayes, who managed just 2-of-8 FG shooting against Arizona. Hayes must bang the boards, slash his way from some hoops and be a sound defender on Randle and Company ... or else these Wildcats will have about 46 hours to dream about maybe getting the school a ninth national title banner.