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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 7:00 AM

Before Thursday night’s Sweet 16 action began, we were fairly certain that we’d be previewing the Wisconsin/Arizona game in this Saturday report. Those two seemed like the most clear threats to Kentucky’s hopes for an undefeated championship season. The winner of Wichita State/Notre Dame was, on paper anyway…much less of a threat.

But, NOW, after watching Thursday’s action…the world is a little more complicated.

*Notre Dame reminded everyone that their elite offense can get red hot at times in a way that could easily take out Kentucky in a 40-minute sprint. If a team has to play a bit over its heads to beat the Wildcats…Notre Dame’s electricity in that state does create upset potential.

*Wisconsin was on the verge of its fourth straight non-cover at the end of regulation before a North Carolina meltdown led to a misleading 7-point Badgers victory. Wisconsin may be one of those teams that peaks vs. lesser lights, but doesn’t have an extra gear within its own class. They were lucky to get past Michigan State and North Carolina, and didn’t impress vs. Oregon.

*Arizona struggled badly with Xavier for the bulk of their late Tuesday title. They would have been upset fodder that night vs. many teams better than Xavier in the Power Ratings.

So, Wisconsin/Arizona no longer looks like a surefire “#1 Contender’s Match” to launch somebody toward the likely champion. Kentucky/Notre Dame was granted the best TV slot by the networks…and may, in fact, represent the most lethal threat the Wildcats will face in this event.

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about the matchup. Note…if you were watching the Sweet 16 telecasts you heard announcers (finally) emphasizing offensive and defensive efficiency. They’re finally catching up to where JIM HURLEY’S NOTEBOOK was years ago in terms of game analysis!

 

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

Kentucky: 119.2 per 100 possessions (#6 in the nation)

Notre Dame: 121.9 per 100 possessions (#3 in the nation)

Notre Dame really does work the ball beautifully when things are clicking. They didn’t exactly click vs. Northeastern and Butler in the first two rounds. If that version of the Irish shows up, this won’t be a game. But, the version that won the ACC tournament and scored at will in the second half vs. Wichita State definitely has a chance to shoot over Kentucky’s size, and get enough on the board to hang with them. Don’t forget that Kentucky has a great offense too! We keep emphasizing that because the media focuses so much on defense. Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency stats (tweaked for pace and schedule strength) were born out in the way Kentucky ran away and hit from West Virginia Thursday.

 

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

Kentucky: 84.7 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)

Notre Dame: 99.1 per 100 possessions (#100 in the nation)

This is why handicappers and bettors can’t get too excited about the upset potential here. Notre Dame’s defense is undersized, a bit slow, and soft in the middle. Kentucky should be able to attack the rim fairly aggressively. Notre Dame’s chances involve lighting up the scoreboard in a shootout…and trading some 3’s for 2’s in the back-and-forth. Huge edge to Kentucky on this side of the floor…and a reminder that defense wins championships.

 

Pace Ranking

Kentucky: #234

Notre Dame: #208

Fairly comparable pace approaches for these teams. And, as we’ve pointed out before…Kentucky is faster than that because offensive rebounds extend possessions in a way that makes a team look slow on paper. Also, this is a team that will sit on big leads in a way that slows them down too. Kentucky may be the faster of the two teams when games are being decided. For this particular matchup, both teams should be in their comfort zone.

 

Against the Spread

Kentucky: 19-16-2

Notre Dame: 16-13

Both teams are three games over .500 for the season, but 1-2 ATS so far in the Big Dance. Each picked a good time to have a peak performance. No edge here in terms of market evaluations. We should say again that Kentucky managing to break 50/50 against the steep prices they face every game represents a fantastic job. They were projected to be historically great entering the season…then topped that by just a bit.

 

Las Vegas Line: Kentucky by 11, total of 136

Some of the earliest offshore places were guessing Kentucky around -9.5 or -10…but that would have been out of line with the way these teams had been priced recently. Remember, Notre Dame was an underdog to Wichita State…and in the last two rounds of the ACC tournament against Duke and North Carolina. The total has come down a bit from 137.5, suggesting that sharps are expecting Kentucky to emphasize defense, and then sit on a lead if they when they get it

JIM HURLEY is very excited about Elite 8 weekend. His full team of experts will make sure you get the best options in college hoops and the NBA. You can always purchase BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Saturday before lunch time. Don’t forget to check on long term packages that include the NBA through the playoffs as well as Major League Baseball (we’re just a week away from the bases!)

Back with you tomorrow for another showcase Elite 8 preview. Then, on Monday, we’ll crunch the key number from all four Saturday and Sunday encounters to set an early tone for Final Four coverage. Tuesday and Thursday will be devoted to the Final Four of the NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Regional championships are up for grabs this weekend. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

 

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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

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