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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Earlier this week, we provided in-depth statistical looks at the two strongest college basketball conferences in the nation. We hope you’ll refer often to those ACC and Big 12 tournament previews.

Today, we’re going to discuss the other for “major” conferences that will be all over your TV screen this week, and all over the Big Dance brackets next week. That of course means the three other “Power 5” football conferences (Big 10, Pac 10, and SEC), and the oft-overlooked Big East (home of the defending champs Villanova!)

Big 10: This league has made a lot of headlines for NOT having anybody in the National Championship hunt. When the first set of committee projections came out a few weeks ago, nobody from the Big 10 was in the top 16! Media pundits complained that Wisconsin should have been there…which seemed to ignite a Badgers slump that erased any doubt. Wisconsin WASN’T (yet) Sweet 16 caliber…and nobody was truly scary in terms of Final Four potential.

What needs to be said right now is that several teams in the Big 10 really ARE scary in terms of making headlines next week. A few have been on fire in recent weeks even if their full season records and stats aren’t that great. Any of a number of teams could get hot this week in Washington D.C. Maybe nobody’s going to go the distance in March. It wouldn’t shock us if at least two or three Big 10 entries did crash the Sweet 16 because they’re playing that well RIGHT NOW!

Use that as a backdrop as you watch the tourney this week. See if you can pick out who those possible Cinderella stories might be. Recent form may never have mattered more in handicapping this sport than it does right now in the Big 10.

Pac 12: The interesting story here involves the “big three” of Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA. We talked about this recently in a game preview for UCLA/Arizona. The polls have considered all three as Elite 8 caliber in recent weeks. The most respected computers have been much more skeptical. Oregon is too sloppy on offense, Arizona has a tendency for long dry stretches, and UCLA’s defense is much softer than most true Dance threats.

If form holds at the tourney in Vegas this weekend, Arizona and UCLA will square off in the semifinals for the right to play Oregon in the championship. In terms of scouting the Dance, you really can wait until Friday and Saturday to start paying attention to this league. Then, be strict in your grading of all three teams. Are the pollsters right? Or the computers? You’ll need an answer before the Dance! And, be sure you focus on those keys we discussed. A tweak here and there, and any of these three Pac 10 powers could reach the first weekend in April.

SEC: Many in the media have completely forgotten about this conference! Kentucky didn’t turn out to be “vintage Kentucky,” so pundits wrote them off. Florida had a few bad games after peaking with a home blowout of Kentucky…so they’ve fallen off the map.

Put Kentucky and Florida back on the map!

The computers we like to use in our game previews, ratings from Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin both show Kentucky and Florida in the top 9 nationally. Maybe those ratings are too front-loaded by what happened earlier in the season. Maybe the late season “eye test” from handicappers and pundits really should trump the computers. But…both teams are loaded with talent, and have very stingy defenses after you adjust for pace.

You think the players (and head coaches) are getting sick and tired of hearing March Madness discussions that leave them out? Check in on this Nashville event over the weekend to see if you can spot a chip on the shoulder of either team (or both).

Big East: Villanova played fantastic ball on the way to their championship a year ago. They may not have lost a step since then! The Wildcats are still great at the fundamentals that win tournament-style basketball. They continue to amaze at finding easy baskets inside the arc.

But, you know what? This Big East isn’t Villanova and a bunch of nobodies. This isn’t a mid-major where one good team dominates. Butler, Creighton, and Marquette are all rated in the top 30 of both computers. Xavier is a sleeper that could at least intimidate an opponent or two. You should study this conference tournament (held at MSG in New York) just as closely as you do the Big 10 for potential mid-level danger teams.

And, with ESPN still raving about the best teams in its “corporate partner” conferences (like North Carolina and Kansas), remember that Villanova is “the man” until somebody “beats the man.” The won’t give up that title without a fight.

Normally in this spot we’ll tell you what big game previews are coming up. During tournament week…it’s impossible to know! We will be back with you Friday to talk about a top marquee matchup that the brackets spit out. Same for Saturday and Sunday…with the best of the Sunday championship matchups getting the final look of the week. Then, once the Dance begins…we’ll go deep for the play-in games Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by the best prime time matchups Thursday through Sunday.

If you’d like some help finding BIG, JUICY WINNERS, you can purchase nightly BEST BETS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service through March Madness or the NBA Playoffs, please call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours.

Enjoy the tournaments. LET’S GO GET THE MONEY!

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