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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 at 12:00 PM

College basketball fans and bettors are in for a real treat the next few weeks. We have a unique situation where teams battling for #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament will be matched up against each other.

If you’ve been following the sport, even just casually, you know that Duke and Virginia from the ACC are in line for top slots (with North Carolina possibly about to knock on the door)…that Tennessee and hard-charging Kentucky from the SEC are also very much in that discussion…that Michigan and Michigan State from the Big 10 were up until very recently, and may be again soon given their very strong computer rankings.

Unfortunately, virtually certain #1 seed in the west…Gonzaga…is left out of the upcoming fun. That team proved its bona fides with a neutral court win over Duke back in the holiday tournament season in Maui. Handicappers will have to judge the Zags on the fly next month.

For those other powers, here’s the upcoming head-to-head schedules…starting with two ACC thrillers that are now just a few days away.

Saturday: Duke at Virginia

Monday: Virginia at North Carolina

Saturday February 16: Tennessee at Kentucky

Wednesday February 20: North Carolina at Duke

Sunday February 24: Michigan State at Michigan

Saturday March 2: Kentucky at Tennessee

Saturday March 9: Duke at North Carolina, Michigan at Michigan State

It’s not an exaggeration to say that those are all basically “Elite 8” caliber matchups by tournament standards. Your eventual Final Four could entirely come from that list. It would be a big surprise if at least three of the Final Four came from that group of teams plus Gonzaga.

Just off the superpower radar are other tournament caliber rivalry games coming up. Championship spoilers could come from the Big East and Big 12.

*Big East: Villanova visits Marquette Saturday, with a return engagement Wednesday February 27 in Philadelphia. Those two teams are currently computer-rated to threaten the Sweet 16 at the very least. Both are currently inconsistent enough to fall before then, or to give quite a thrill to one of the 2019 giants.

*Big 12: Any head-to-head meeting amongst Iowa State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Kansas State is worth paying attention to right now. Baylor is on fire…and all of the others are in a form that at least compares favorably to Villanova and Marquette…and could threaten the Duke-Virginia-Gonzaga-Tennessee class in a 40-minute battle.

JIM HURLEY isn’t going to give away any of his planned selections, or potential Dance secrets here in an early-February edition of the HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK. But, he will tell you what to look for when watching these games.


Key #1: Defense and Rebounding Wins Championships!

We’ve been saying that since this web feature started many years ago. It’s just as true now as ever. Nobody wins a championship in this sport by blowing off defense and outscoring opponents. True title threats protect the rim with a passion, and do what they can to disrupt passing around the arc. There’s no such thing as a “brick wall” defense in this sport. Evolution in the three-point game has helped spread defenses out. But, the BEST defenses still get results.

Handicappers should study: defense on two-point shooting, defensive rebounding percentage, defensive efficiency, and the ability of defensive bigs to avoid foul trouble.


Key #2: Turnover Avoidance is Critical!

You’ve always heard that “guard play” is the key to winning tournament basketball. JIM HURLEY still gives the slight nod to “defense and rebounding” in the big picture. But, he is fully aware that great guards who can move the ball around without turning it over are often the tie-breaker when elites square off. (If defense and rebounding cancel out, that’s who wins!).

Handicappers should study: Offensive turnover rates, offensive assists rates, three-point shooting percentages of individual guards.


Key #3: Coaching Matters in Close Games!

This point is driven home every March. Star players on both teams cancel out…and it’s up to one of the coaches to come up with the play after a time out that provides an open look in the final seconds. Some coaches have NO IDEA how to do this, particularly defensive specialists. Others have proven they can position their teams to win. This can be hard to capture in season-to-date stats because many powers play mostly blowouts. The head-to-head games coming up may provide important litmus tests.

Handicappers should study: offensive movement after timeouts, particularly late in close TV games.

Now that the football season is over, you’re going to be buried in basketball betting for the next several weeks. Don’t just wait for the tournaments to get here and try to wing it then. Nobody wins that way!

If you’re intimidated by the handicapping task at hand, you can purchase JIM HURLEY’S plays right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, please call us in the office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155. NETWORK has value-priced packages that take you through the NCAA Tournament, or through the NBA Playoffs that finish in June.

You should really be looking forward to all of these college blockbusters. This isn’t like the football season where all the major conferences seemed to be foregone conclusions months in advance. They could have just cancelled half the season and let Clemson play Alabama! Right now, college basketball might have seven or eight “Clemson and Alabama” type teams. Only one is going to cut down the nets on the first Monday night of April. GET ALL THE MONEY riding down the road to March Madness with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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