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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 12:43 AM

The Final Four of the NCAA tournament won’t arrive until Saturday when Kentucky battles Louisville and Ohio State faces Kansas. But, we do have another Final Four that tips off Tuesday Night in Madison Square Garden in New York.

*Cinderella story Massachusetts takes on Stanford in the opener, as what’s turned out to be a pretty postseason for the Atlantic 10 could set the stage for more postseason surprises.

*Mostly forgotten Minnesota will play Washington. Yes, even with all the negative press about the Pac 12, they managed to get TWO teams into the Final Four of the NIT! Will the wins stop coming now that they aren’t enjoying cushy home games? Or, did the lack of a true power in that conference help disguise what was actually pretty good depth?

We’ve been previewing college basketball games like crazy the past few weeks…and you’ve been right there with us studying the details and trying to pick winners. Let’s see what our indicator stats have to say about tonight’s action.

If you’re new to the website, we’ve been posting the very respected computer rankings of Jeff Sagarin (USA Today) and Ken Pomeroy to get a sense of where every team stands in the big picture…as well as the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rankings tabulated by Pomeroy which measure scoring as adjusted by pace and strength of schedule.  

 

MASSACHUSETTS VS. STANFORD

UMASS: 61 in Sagarin, 71 in Pomeroy, 88 on offense, 66 on defense

Stanford: 40 in Sagarin, 43 in Pomeroy, 81 on offense, 26 on defense

Vegas Line: Stanford by 2.5, total of 149.5

Stanford has surged up into the top 40-45 teams according to the computers, which probably would have earned them an at-large bid in the Dance had it happened earlier. Of course, Stanford wouldn’t still be playing had they made the Dance based on what we saw from California and Colorado! Massachusetts was down in the 90’s late in the season. They’ve really clicked in recent weeks though, with a strong showing in the A10 tournament and a great road run here as a distant seed. It’s tough to reach the Final Four in the NIT as a poor seed because you play nothing but road games.

Does the market have the line right? The pointspread is pretty much in line with the computer rankings. Though, it’s certainly arguable that UMASS is playing better than their number lately, while Stanford has been enjoying some home cooking. Let’s see what the most recent boxscores have to say…

 

QUARTERFINAL BOXSCORES

STANFORD 84, NEVADA 56

Field Goal Pct: Nevada 39%, Stanford 53%

Three-Pointers: Nevada 5/18, Stanford 8/14

Free Throws: Nevada 13/23, Stanford 14/17

Rebounds: Nevada 28, Stanford 33

Turnovers: Nevada 14, Stanford 9

Phantom Score: Nevada 56, Stanford 79

Vegas Line: Stanford by 6, total of 138

Great job by Stanford. Even nitpickers like us would have trouble finding anything wrong with that performance. They completely outclassed a Nevada team that was good by WAC standards in a year where the WAC was really lousy. Great defense, a sharp offense, and a Phantom Score rout that confirms the scoreboard. If you’re new, that’s a secondary stat we invented many years ago that’s simply two-point scoring plus rebounding. The Cardinal will be stepping up in class in terms of their opponent in NY, and will be jet lagged instead of fresh as a daisy. But…all that could just lead to a comfortable victory rather than a blowout…instead of signaling a complete turnaround. Our great sources in New York will let us know how Stanford is adjusting to big city life. They were here earlier in the year to face Syracuse, so they won’t be overwhelmed the Garden spotlight.

 

MASSACHUSETTS 72, DREXEL 70

Field Goal Pct: Massachusetts 59%, Drexel 45%

Three-Pointers: Massachusetts 4/10, Drexel 1/13

Free Throws: Massachusetts 8/17, Drexel 13/20

Rebounds: Massachusetts 16, Drexel 36

Turnovers: Massachusetts 13, Drexel 14

Phantom Score: Massachusetts 68, Drexel 90

Vegas Line: Drexel by 7.5, total of 142

Less good news for an advancing team here. UMASS got absolutely murdered on the boards by Drexel, and really only won because they shot great inside the arc while Drexel was a ridiculous 1 of 13 from behind the arc. You see that Phantom Score produces a Drexel blowout. Let’s notice also that UMASS was only 8 of 17 on free throws. Can you trust them to hold another tight lead late in a game if they can’t make free throws?

The stats from these most recent games are pointing very heavily to Stanford. We’ll see if your on-site sources agree with that. At least UMASS knows what they have to work on to compete. Stanford is in danger of coming in overconfident after the Nevada rout. Preparation and intensity mean so much in the garden.

 

MINNESOTA VS. WASHINGTON

Minnesota: 34 in Sagarin, 35 in Pomeroy, 40 on offense, 53 on defense

Washington: 47 in Sagarin, 54 in Pomeroy, 55 on offense, 71 on defense

Vegas Line: Washington by 1, total of 143

Interesting here that Minnesota grades out better across the board in all measures, but Washington is the slight betting favorite as we go to press. Washington is another team that’s travelled East this year to try to improve their media profile. It didn’t get them anything in terms of respect for the Dance. But, the players certainly benefitted. That and a “chip on the shoulder” attitude that comes from not getting a Dance bid despite winning the regular season crown in the Pac 10 could be enough to put Washington over the top. The market appears to be giving that angle some weight.

 

QUARTERFINAL BOXSCORES

MINNESOTA 78, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 72

Field Goal Pct: Minnesota 49%, Middle Tennessee 47%

Three-Pointers: Minnesota 6/11, Middle Tennessee 4/13

Free Throws: Minnesota 18/24, Middle Tennessee 18/24

Rebounds: Minnesota 29, Middle Tennessee 28

Turnovers: Minnesota 14, Middle Tennessee 16

Phantom Score: Minnesota 71, Middle Tennessee 70

Vegas Line: Middle Tennessee by 3.5, total of 134.5

Minnesota is another team that had to win on the road to advance. And, trying to find a small town in the middle of Tennessee to play basketball in can be a challenge in itself. The Gophers were probably helped by the obvious letdown for the Blue Raiders after they shocked Tennessee in Knoxville. They won’t catch a letdown team this time. They’d better prepare for 40 hard minutes from a fired up opponent. The good news is that dealing with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, and Wisconsin will make you battle tested in a hurry.

WASHINGTON 90, OREGON 86

Field Goal Pct: Oregon 45%, Washington 45%

Three-Pointers: Oregon 7/25, Washington 7/19

Free Throws: Oregon 17/22, Washington 27/35

Rebounds: Oregon 34, Washington 37

Turnovers: Oregon 7, Washington 8

Phantom Score: Oregon 82, Washington 79

Vegas Line: Washington by 5, total of 153

Too bad this game stayed off the media radar, because the teams put on quite a show before Kentucky-Indiana and North Carolina-Kansas reminded everyone how much fun up-tempo basketball can be. Washington ultimately won at the free throw line in what turned out to be a very evenly matched game. Phantom Score was close, but in favor of the visitor. Most stats were dead heats. Washington’s ability to earn extra free throws by flying at the basket was the difference maker. The fact that the Huskies could only force seven turnovers from a road team in an up-tempo game is a bad sign though. Washington may enter the NIT’s Final Four with the most to prove to the media…but there are weaknesses that smart opponents will be able to exploit.

JIM HURLEY is likely to have at least one very strong play in the NIT’s Final Four, and may be stepping out big in both games. Check in here at the website a few hours before first tip to get the Tuesday slate. We’ll also be looking at NBA matchups like San Antonio-Phoenix, Minnesota-Memphis, Atlanta-Milwaukee, and Houston-Dallas.

Wednesday brings a monster 10-game NBA ticket that’s highlighted by Orlando-New York on ESPN. Championship night in the NIT is Thursday. We’ll get caught up with one of our favorite NBA stats in the Wednesday NOTEBOOK, then come back Thursday for an NIT preview that will review tonight’s boxscores as we try to help you do-it-yourselfers pick a winner.

If you’re still scratching your heads…the all time master at picking BIG JUICY WINNERS is JIM HURLEY! Call the office at 1-800-323-4453 for the latest word from a living legend!

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