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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 10, 2017 at 12:00 PM

The top two college basketball teams in the country will face very tough tests Saturday when #1 Gonzaga visits #20 St. Mary’s (8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN) and #2 Villanova travels to #24 Xavier (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

That will be the toughest game of the season for Gonzaga until the NCA Tournament (possibly until the Sweet 16 round of the Dance!). Villanova is in a tougher conference…but won’t have any taller mountains to climb in the Big East than a road battle against the Muscateers (who are currently second in the league standings).

Let’s run JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats for all four teams. As a handicapper and Las Vegas sports bettor, you’ll be dealing with all four often in the coming days. Both of these TV blockbusters could be previews of conference tournament championship games based on the current standings. And, heck, Gonzaga/Villanova might end up being a Final Four matchup!

You longtime readers know that our stat handicappers place a lot of priority on the data from Ken Pomeroy’s landmark college hoops website (kenpom.com). We also like to check in with Jeff Sagarin’s rankings at USA Today, as well as the “bracketology” numbers from Joe Lunardi at ESPN. Time to work! (All data is through Wednesday night’s games)

 

Current Rankings

#1 Gonzaga is #1 at Kenpom, #1 at Sagarin, projected for a #1 seed

#2 Villanova is #5 at Kenpom, #5 at Sagarin, projected for a #1 seed

#20 St. Mary’s is #14 at Kenpom, #26 at Sagarin, projected for a #6 seed

#24 Xavier is #29 at Kenpom, #27 at Sagarin, projected for a #6 seed

The computers are a bit more pessimistic about the Big East teams…as both Villanova and Xavier are a few spots higher with the AP than they are in the computers. There’s clear disagreement between Pomeroy and Sagarin regarding St. Mary’s. That’s not surprising given how soft a schedule that team has played. Lunardi’s current bracket projections show that we have tandem #1 and #6 seed matchups…which could mean fireworks given how fired up those projected #6’s are going to be in front of rabid home crowds.

 

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

Gonzaga: 122.5 per 100 possessions (#3 in the nation)

Villanova: 122.2 per 100 possessions (#4 in the nation)

St. Mary’s: 120.8 per 100 possessions (#10 in the nation)

Xavier: 116.5 per 100 possessions (#26 in the nation)

We have some great offenses here by national standards (more than 300 teams play major college basketball!). Whether it’s at a fast or slow pace, all four do a good job of getting points on the board and valuing their possessions. Come March, it will be vital for Gonzaga and St. Mary’s to continue to play efficiently when their schedules toughen. Neither will be battle-tested to the degree the major conference entries have been. Pomeroy’s numbers try to account for strength of schedule, but have been known to miss the mark in the West Coast Conference in the Dance.

 

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

Gonzaga: 89.3 per 100 possessions (#4 in the nation)

Villanova: 93.6 per 100 possessions (#15 in the nation)

St. Mary’s: 96.8 per 100 possessions (#45 in the nation)

Xavier: 97.6 per 100 possessions (#52 in the nation)

Defensive wins championships, which means it’s going to be harder for this group to truly shine in the Dance. Gonzaga probably isn’t a top 10 defense once you put them in the mix with major conference teams. St. Mary’s and Xavier are going to be in real trouble once the season is narrowed down to the elites. The scary thing about trying to pick poll ranking upsets in Saturday’s TV games is that you’ll be asking the lesser defenses to do the job for you.

 

Pace Ranking

Gonzaga: #121

Xavier: #165

Villanova: #320

St. Mary’s: #351

Some big differences in play Saturday, as two very slow teams will be facing a fast team and an average team. You regulars know that “home” teams generally are able to force their tempo on proceedings. St. Mary’s will hope that methodical play will take Gonzaga out of its rhythm. Xavier will try to get some cheapies against Villanova by pushing them out of the slow-down approach. Be sure you pay close attention to this stat in ALL games from this point forward!

 

Against the Spread

Gonzaga: 16-4-1

St. Mary’s: 11-8-1

Villanova 12-12

Xavier: 11-12

Wow…Gonzaga’s been making a run at 80% covers all season! It’s a myth that the market always makes it impossible to make money betting on great teams. Sometimes oddsmakers and sharps just don’t realize how dominant a power can be over a stretch of a few months. Gonzaga has been soaring past very high lines all season. Are their wings about to get tired?

What are the right bets against the Las Vegas lines in these big TV games? Don’t make a move until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say! The final word for game-day action can always be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Friday during normal business hours or Saturday before the action gets started.

Back with you Monday to check on that huge Big 12 rematch featuring West Virginia and Kansas. You know the Jayhawks will be seeking revenge on ESPN. Big stuff in the ACC is right around the corner too. Be sure you’re with us all through a FABULOUS FEBRUARY and THE MADNESS OF MARCH right here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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