Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Know what's great about the NCAA Tournament?
Nights like last night, that's what!
In the span of a few hours we all watched a 16-point lead with less than four minutes left in the game slip-slide through the fingertips of Mississippi Valley State against never-say-die Western Kentucky and while we were all still attempting to fully digest that one along came BYU's magnificent comeback from a 25-point deficit en route to a victory against Iona.
Think the "Final Four" early next month will be nearly as much fun as the "First Four" games from Dayton on Tuesday night? We should only be so lucky to get that much in-game drama.
Hey, there are so many other different storylines and wagering angles in this year's tourney that you really never run out of things to analyze.
Here's what we mean:
After jotting down all the NCAA Tournament "second-round" betting lines, you discover that there are an awful lot of really good mid-major teams out there taking points against power conference clubs whether it be Southern Miss (+ 6) against Kansas State, Montana (+ 9) versus Wisconsin, Ohio (+ 6) against Michigan and Saint Mary's (+ 2) against Purdue - now you have to ask yourself whether these mid-majors which this year comprise an amazing 52.9 percent of the original 68-team field are as good as advertised or not.
Than you have the "venue" question: Will certain NCAA Tournament teams be helped by their location or will a long plane ride across the country hurt 'em?
That's what you wonder with West Virginia playing "next door" in Pittsburgh against a Gonzaga team that has to zoom from the northwest corner of this country and what about the fact the likes of North Carolina and Duke (both playing early-round games in Greensboro) and Murray State (see early-round tilts in Louisville) are practically playing in their own backyards and that has to be a major advantage, right?
Ahhh, but you have even more wagering info to spin around in your head - okay, so Jim Hurley will spin it for you all tourney long - like does a Louisville team that played four games in four nights en route to winning the Big East Tournament have the "legs" to play run-run Davidson all the way out there in Portland and what about Vanderbilt who won its first SEC Tournament in some 60 years?
Will the Commodores have the emotional switch flicked on high for their second-round game against Ivy League champ Harvard?
One last one before we turn you on to a trio of NCAA Tournament Thursday games:
Do the #1 seeds - that's Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State - feel a little extra heat on 'em in these Thursday/Friday games?
Consider that - as of this very moment - these #1 seeds are all double-digit betting favorites against nothing-to-lose teams that figure to play loosey-goosey from the proverbial get-go.
The Tuesday night wins by Western Kentucky and BYU might well have been a harbinger of what's to come in this year's tourney, as veteran CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz suggested late in that BYU comeback - and wouldn't that make for a "maddening" month of hoops?
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers roars into the College Basketball post-season as we'll have NCAA Tournament, NIT and CBI and CIT winners too all through the month of March plus there's plenty of NBA Winners when you sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winning selections. Note that the special check-in times are anytime after 11 a.m. ET for all the weekday afternoon games and then after 1 p.m. ET for all the Monday-through-Friday night action. Also, the winning selections are available after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday. Go ahead and sign up now for the NCAA Tournament and all the other post-season College Basketball Tournies!
NCAA TOURNAMENT - East Regional - Consol Energy Center - Pittsburgh, PA
WEST VIRGINIA (19-13) vs. GONZAGA (25-6) - 7:20 p.m. ET
Now that we've established the "built-in advantages" here for the WVU Mountaineers (see site and the Zags' cross-country flight) the question in this pick 'em affair still comes down to shot-making and there's little doubt that the guys from the West Coast Conference have more of them:
Gonzaga G Kevin Pangos and F Elias Harris combine for 27 points a game but Pangos was off his mark much of the time in last week's WCC Championship Game loss to Saint Mary's and we believe C Robert Sacre can get a little too crazed when either his in-the-paint shots are not falling or he's not getting the ball enough.
Expect clever West Virginia coach Bob Huggins to zone the Zags for much of this tilt and make Pangos beat him from deep while the flip side of this equation says the Big East crew needs to pound the offensive glass (see Big East tilt against UConn) and stat-sheet stuffer Kevin Jones - who led the Big East in both scoring (20.1 ppg) and rebounding (11.1 rpg) - must get his 18-to-20 FG attempts and must continue his pinpoint interior passing that sets up easy hoops for teammates.
In a nutshell, if Pangos isn't draining threes here than the 'Zags are in trouble while Jones must find the openings in the Gonzaga defense to get some spot-open shots.
Edge to Huggins against overrated Gonzaga game coach Mark Few here.
NCAA TOURNAMENT - South Regional - KFC Center - Louisville, KY
CONNECTICUT (20-13) vs. IOWA STATE (22-10) - approximately 9:20 p.m. ET
Here's something that you may not have remembered from UConn's fabulous win-it-all run a year ago: The Huskies were a true middle-of-the-pack team before that 2011 Big East Tournament title propelled 'em to a #3 West seed.
Now, one year later - and without megastar G Kemba Walker running the show - this Connecticut team put on a mini-run last week at Madison Square Garden before getting short-circuited by Syracuse and the NCAA Committee folks decided to put Jim Calhoun's club right there in the middle of the tourney pack. No surprise that UConn wound up in one of these famed #8 vs. #9 games but the shock - if you will - is that seemingly everyone believes the Huskies will survive and advance here to an expected third-round game against Kentucky and yet you'll note the Las Vegas pointspread on this clash is a mere 1 ½ points with UConn favored ... do "they" know something everyone else does not?
No need to run down the Connecticut roster as everyone's aware sleepy-eyed swingman Jeremy Lamb - averaging a solid 17.6 ppg - must not pull any disappearing acts as was the case after halftime in that aforementioned mini-tourney loss to the 'Cuse but one major key here is Connecticut's big men just swat away a batch of F Royce White shots or else the gritty/gutty I-State Cyclones will waltz into the paint and try to steal this game from in close. Don't be fooled by all these reports that Fred Hoiberg's team lives-and-dies with the long-range jumpers as White could be responsible for drawing 10 or 12 fouls on Connecticut's big men Alex Oriakhi and frosh C Andre Drummond ... you heard it here first!
NCAA TOURNAMENT - East Regional - The Pit - Albuquerque, NM
HARVARD (26-4) vs. VANDERBILT (24-10) - approximately 4:40 p.m. ET
Okay, smart guys, let's see what you've got!
This battle of brainy teams is getting mucho attention - and why not - as Harvard's playing in its first NCAA Tournament since 1946 while Vandy's fresh off its first SEC Tournament title since 1951 and so let's dust off the photo albums and get to work!
Harvard starts four upperclassmen; Vanderbilt starts five upperclassmen including senior scoring star G John Jenkins (20 ppg) who may have the quickest trigger-man in the land but who is gonna be surprised when/if Crimson coach Tommy Amaker draws up a gimmick defense to get in Jenkins' grill here?
Odds are Vandy will need at least 10 trifectas to fall if Kevin Stallings' squad wants to win/cover this second-round affair but if Harvard is gonna get the upset call here (note the Commodores are favored by 5 points at press time) than handling Vandy in one-one-one situations will be key and so getting a handle on 6-foot-7 F Jeffery Taylor may be the single-most important aspect in this tilt.
Note that Vandy's the inferior free-throw shooting team here - as Harvard bangs out its FTs at a crisp 74.6 percent while Vandy is just a 69.8 percent FT-shooting team ... it could be important late but than you already knew that, right?
NOTE: Catch our continuing NCAA Tournament coverage in the next edition of Jim Sez.