Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 9:11 PM
There are FOUR college basketball conference championship games on the Sunday card. The best way to handicap those games is to take a close look at how the teams reached their showdowns with Saturday victories in the semifinals. Let’s crunch the numbers from the ACC, Atlantic 10, SEC, and Big Ten. We’ll be seeing a lot of these teams next week too…so be sure you’re taking notes!
NORTH CAROLINA 69, NC STATE 67
Shooting Pct: NC State 45%, North Carolina 44%
Three-Pointers: NC State 3/11, North Carolina 5/20
Free Throws: NC State 12/18, North Carolina 16/22
Rebounds: NC State 33, North Carolina 31
Phantom Score: NC State 79, North Carolina 69
Turnovers: NC State 16, North Carolina 15
Vegas Line: North Carolina by 10, total of 150
Pomeroy Rank: NC State 45, North Carolina 5
Carolina never trailed in the last 10 minutes, but was never safe either. You can see how vulnerable these projected #1 and #2 seeds are when they don’t hit many three-pointers, or the other team doesn’t play in fear. Underdog State won Phantom Score convincingly (two-point scoring plus rebounds), which can be tough to do against North Carolina because the Heels really emphasize play inside the arc. They had trouble doing damage inside today, and couldn’t make up for that anywhere else. If NC State’s about 45th in the nation (as Ken Pomeroy suggests in his respected computer rankings), and borderline to get into the Dance (as Joe Lunardi suggests in Bracketology), what’s it say about Carolina’s national title hopes that they had to sweat out a neutral site game in Atlanta against them. It’s wide open once again folks. The best teams really do have edges, but the margin for error is so slight that none are sure things to reach the Final Four.
FLORIDA STATE 62, DUKE 59
Shooting Pct: Florida State 42%, Duke 37%
Three-Pointers: Florida State 3/11, Duke 5/20
Free Throws: Florida State 11/14, Duke 16/18
Rebounds: Florida State 31, Duke 28
Phantom Score: Florida State 73, Duke 56
Turnovers: Florida State 13, Duke 16
Vegas Line: Duke by 2.5, total of 139
Pomeroy Rank: Florida State 25, Duke 16
No surprise to you longtime readers that Duke underachieves in a postseason format. They only shot 25% on treys, which kept them from making other weaknesses (like, rebounding, turnovers, physicality). We tend to jump on them when they lose, while their wins come in non-marquee games. We don’t want to suggest that they should be an 8th or 9th seed or something. But, our annual criticisms come from the lack of reporting that they cover up weaknesses with treys and friendly officiating during the regular season…and those weaknesses get exposed (with the exception of one great recent title run) when the refs aren’t being friendly. Duke went 1-2 vs. Florida State this year, and needed a miracle to avoid 0-2 vs. North Carolina. They’re basically a 5-6 type Dance seed who can play with anyone when the treys are falling…but look ridiculously mortal when they’re not (like in last year’s Dance loss to Arizona). Florida State didn’t exactly set the world on fire in a grinder win. Phantom Score says it should have been bigger than it was. FSU vs. North Carolina Sunday, in the rubber match of that 2012 battle.
ATLANTIC 10 SEMIFINALS
ST. BONAVENTURE 84, MASSACHUSETTS 80
Shooting Pct: Massachusetts 42%, St. Bonny 51%
Three-Pointers: Massachusetts 8/23, St. Bonny 7/18
Free Throws: Massachusetts 20/28, St. Bonny 21/31
Rebounds: Massachusetts 34, St. Bonny 30
Phantom Score: Massachusetts 70, St. Bonny 72
Turnovers: Massachusetts 10, St. Bonny 10
Vegas Line: St. Bonaventure by 3, total of 145
Pomeroy Rank: Massachusetts 90, St. Bonny 58
The Bonnies led by 16 with just under seven minutes to go, by nine with just over two minutes to go, and they almost choked it all away! Turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch made this one very interesting. The favorite ultimately got the win and the cover, and will now have a chance to steal a Dance big from an at-large hopeful by winning the A10 title on Sunday. Fairly clean game most of the way. UMASS has been playing better lately than that 90th ranking would have suggested. St. Bonny’s an NIT caliber team. Solid game, but not one that’s going to matter in the big picture beyond the chance that the Bonnies sneak into the Dance at somebody else’s expense.
XAVIER 71, SAINT LOUIS 64
Shooting Pct: Xavier 53%, Saint Louis 41%
Three-Pointers: Xavier 5/11, Saint Louis 6/24
Free Throws: Xavier 18/21, Saint Louis 14/20
Rebounds: Xavier 29, Saint Louis 23
Phantom Score: Xavier 67, Saint Louis 55
Turnovers: Xavier 11, Saint Louis 9
Vegas Line: Saint Louis by 5.5, total of 129
Pomeroy Rank: Xavier 60, Saint Louis 12
The high computer rankings for Saint Louis have been a mystery to us all season. They do sometimes play at a high level. But, they’re certainly not consistent enough to justify a top 16 rating in our view. We were ready to change our minds if they ran the table in this event. Instead, they needed late free throws to get close to the number in their first game, then lost to the X-men by seven in a game that missed the spread by double digits. Phantom score was even more one-sided for the dog! Xavier or St. Bonny will now cash the party since Temple and Saint Louis are the only teams who had locked up NCAA bids. We’re okay with that because the evidence suggested the A10 deserved at least three invitations given the lack of quality play elsewhere. That being said…Temple and Saint Louis didn’t wow us this weekend…so this may be a conference that’s more about “decent depth” than true quality at the top. We’ll see.
KENTUCKY 74, FLORIDA 71
Shooting Pct: Florida 48%, Kentucky 45%
Three-Pointers: Florida 11/22, Kentucky 5/17
Free Throws: Florida 2/2, Kentucky 15/20
Rebounds: Florida 22, Kentucky 36
Phantom Score: Florida 68, Kentucky 80
Turnovers: Florida 8, Kentucky 6
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 9, total of 139.5
Pomeroy Rank: Florida 19, Kentucky 1
Some thrills early in the day Saturday as both North Carolina and Kentucky had to sweat close finishes. The Wildcats won Phantom Score handily. But, Florida’s 11 of 22 on treys kept the Gators in the game. Get ready for a lot of that the next few weeks. Any underdog who gets hot from long range will be in position to scor an upset. And, any favorite who isn’t matching that production is going to lose or sweat the finish. Low turnover totals here…which suggests a lot of passing around the arc and being conservative. That also plays into the hands of underdogs. Kentucky has a solid resume in terms of calling themselves the best team in the country. That doesn’t mean this year what it’s meant in the past. Kentucky was just another nice team in wins over LSU and Florida. They’ll be facing opponents better than that very soon.
VANDERBILT 65, MISSISSIPPI 53
Shooting Pct: Ole Miss 41%, Vanderbilt 42%
Three-Pointers: Ole Miss 3/8, Vanderbilt 9/29
Free Throws: Ole Miss 16/23, Vanderbilt 10/16
Rebounds: Ole Miss 28, Vanderbilt 33
Phantom Score: Ole Miss 56, Vanderbilt 61
Turnovers: Ole Miss 12, Vanderbilt 10
Vegas Line: Vanderbilt by 7, total of 132.5
Pomeroy Rank: Ole Miss 77, Vanderbilt 18
The Phantom Score was almost on the money here, so what you see is what you get. The score matches the rankings for the most part too, so not much of note here. We’re not as high on Vandy as Pomeroy is…but they’re certainly among the long list of teams who can enjoy a couple of hot games and find themselves in the Sweet 16. Generally, we don’t like teams who go 9 of 29 on treys in VICTORIES because that’s way too many long shots for a quality team. It’s a sign of weakness rather than a sign of strength. In other words, they HAVE to hit treys to make headlines in the Dance. A few of those teams will get through, but it’s tough to do on purpose.
BIG 10 SEMIFINALS
MICHIGAN STATE 65, WISCONSIN 52
Shooting Pct: Wisconsin 35%, Michigan State 50%
Three-Pointers: Wisconsin 7/20, Michigan State 6/9
Free Throws: Wisconsin 11/14, Michigan State 17/23
Rebounds: Wisconsin 21, Michigan State 29
Phantom Score: Wisconsin 41, Michigan State 59
Turnovers: Wisconsin 10, Michigan State 12
Vegas Line: Michigan State by 4, total of 118
Pomeroy Rank: Wisconsin 6, Michigan State 3
A continuation of NOTEBOOK themes from this season. Michigan State continues to close the season very strong. If not for the second half of the second Ohio State game, they might be a unanimous choice for best team in the country. They’re impressing on both sides of the ball and playing with swagger they can back up. Wisconsin hopes to hit treys…and if they don’t they look pretty lousy. We think it’s nuts that Pomeroy would have them in the top six coming in. Teams like this accumulate good math when things are going well, but tend to fizzle when it matters most. Phantom Score confirms the fizzle. We’ll be looking to go against Wisconsin in the Dance unless they get a very lucky draw. We’re still more impressed by Michigan State than anybody else. This weekend is solidifying that so far rather than raising any questions.
OHIO STATE 77, MICHIGAN 55
Shooting Pct: Ohio State 49%, Michigan 31%
Three-Pointers: Ohio State 5/14, Michigan 4/25
Free Throws: Ohio State 10/14, Michigan 17/22
Rebounds: Ohio State 34, Michigan 35
Phantom Score: Ohio State 86, Michigan 61
Turnovers: Ohio State 11, Michigan 18
Vegas Line: Ohio State by 7.5, total of 125.5
Pomeroy Rank: Michigan 22, Ohio State 2
It’s games like this that make everyone think Ohio State is the best in the country. And, that rally at Michigan State is in line with that perception as well. Just remember that they absolutely annihilated George Mason last year just before Kentucky beat them in the Sweet 16. Ohio State was a #1 seed. And, the winner of Sunday’s Michigan State/Ohio State game probably will be one this year given losses by Kansas and Duke. Nothing bad you can say about the Buckeyes here. Can they keep it going one more day?
Best of luck handicapping the four championship games Sunday that match up the winners of Saturday’s eight semifinal showdowns. Our next report will feature our annual “Parade of Champions” as we crunch all the numbers from the CUSA Championship game Saturday through the Big Ten Championship game in the Sunday finale.
Sunday winners in the colleges and NBA will go up a few hours before first tip right here at the website. You can sign up for the rest of basketball from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK by calling 1-800-323-4453. The March to Money has begun…it’s MADNESS not to call!