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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 2, 2012 at 9:45 PM

We continue our mid-major previews today with a look at the Sun Belt and Big Sky tournaments that get underway this evening in Hot Springs, Arkansas and the Pacific Northwest respectively. There are definitely some teams in these leagues you should be paying attention to. Middle Tennessee of the Sun Belt may be the most underreported Cinderella hopeful in the country. Weber State has an NBA-bound player in the Big Sky, but they’ll have to beat top seeded Montana on their home floor to earn a Dance ticket.

We start in the Sun Belt. We’ll use the same presentation from Friday, slotting teams in bracket order so you can print out this report and use the numbers to handle throughout the event.  


Fla. International (10): 233 in Sagarin, 226 in Pomeroy, 228 on offense, 229 on defense

W. Kentucky (7): 217 in Sagarin, 216 in Pomeroy, 267 on offense, 159 on defense

Ark. L-Rock (2): 182 in Sagarin, 175 in Pomeroy, 238 on offense, 116 on defense

If this is your first visit to the NOTEBOOK, Florida International and Western Kentucky play tonight in the 7-10 game in the brackets. The winner will advance to face second seeded Arkansas-Little Rock in the quarterfinals. Even though “The Rock” is the second seed, you’ll see in a moment that the computer ratings we respect the most suggest third seeded Denver is the bigger threat to pull a shocker in later rounds. Little Rock really doesn’t grade out much better than Western Kentucky even though they’re five spots better in the seedings. A week quadrant in this event according to the data.

Troy (11): 255 in Sagarin, 261 in Pomeroy, 160 on offense, 329 on defense

S. Alabama (6): 191 in Sagarin, 217 in Pomeroy, 210 on offense, 225 on defense

Denver (3): 80 in Sagarin, 72 in Pomeroy, 36 on offense, 138 on defense

Denver has a respectable top 80 ranking in both the Sagarin (USA Today) and Ken Pomeroy computer rankings. We will admit that the unique home court advantage Denver enjoys in this conference may be a part of that. Still, they will get a look from us against Little Rock I the semifinals if both teams make it that far. Our sources will let us know what kind of impact the home state crowd is having on the Arkansas teams.

Arkansas St. (9): 224 in Sagarin, 222 in Pomeroy, 212 on offense, 239 on defense

Fla. Atlantic (8): 188 in Sagarin, 195 in Pomeroy, 201 on offense, 201 on defense

M. Tennessee (1): 47 in Sagarin, 51 in Pomeroy, 88 on offense, 39 on defense

Did you realize Middle Tennessee was considered a top 50 type team by respected computers? They’re getting NO publicity this year. As we write this, Pomeroy’s teams from 47 to 52 in order are Drexel, VCU, Murray State, Iona, Middle Tennessee, and San Diego State. The Blue Raiders are just as much a Cinderella hopeful as those other teams are. They probably will have to win this Sun Belt tournament to get a bid though. The selection committee is very unlikely to take two teams from such a horrible conference. And, it’s not like many on the selection committee have been following this team closely! We love that 39th ranked defense for handicapping purposes.

North Texas (5): 166 in Sagarin, 155 in Pomeroy, 234 on offense, 75 on defense

Louisiana Lafayette (4): 197 in Sagarin, 205 in Pomeroy, 299 on offense, 89 on defense

Both of these teams get a bye to Sunday, as do seeds 1-3. That’s the way the brackets fell. As long as Middle Tennessee survives their first game, they won’t have to worry about facing an Arkansas-based team in the semifinals. We may look at the Under in the semi’s given the defenses you see above and the quality from Middle Tennessee.

On the whole…we’re interested to see how Middle Tennessee performs under pressure this weekend. They would be a nice off-the-radar team to back in the Dance at a value price. They’d better not assume their ticket is stamped already though. Still some work to do.

Moving to the Big Sky Conference, where quarterfinal play opens tonight at the home sites of the #3 and #4 seeds. This evening’s winners will advance to play Tuesday in the conference’s Final Four. Weber State and Montana drew byes into the semifinals, as this small conference has done what it can to make sure its best teams have a shot at the Dance. Montana will host the Final Four as the #1 seed.

Note that the Big Sky won’t follow the traditional brackets if there’s an upset. Montana will face the worst seeded survivor…meaning #6 Montana State would have to play #1 Montana in the semi-finals should they spring an upset over Portland State this evening.

BIG SKY QUARTERFINALS (Bottom team is at home)

Idaho State (5): 298 in Sagarin, 304 in Pomeroy, 290 on offense, 310 on defense

E. Washington (4): 204 in Sagarin, 211 in Pomeroy, 213 on offense, 210 on defense

You’ll see in the numbers that this isn’t a conference that plays much defense outside of the champion Montana. It’s hard to see any of tonight’s winners beating Montana on Montana’s home floor as a result. Since Eastern Washington is the host in this particular meeting, home floor plus those numerical edges should probably push them through.

Montana State (6): 288 in Sagarin, 291 in Pomeroy, 274 on offense, 284 on defense

Portland State (3): 203 in Sagarin, 203 in Pomeroy, 91 on offense, 313 on defense

You know it’s a bad conference when the third seed ranks in the 300’s on defense! Portland State can put the ball in the bucket though. They’ll enjoy a home court advantage too against a very poor visitor.

BYES INTO TUESDAY’S SEMIFINALS (Semifinals and Finals at Montana)

Weber State (2): 115 in Sagarin, 128 in Pomeroy, 62 on offense, 216 on defense

Montana (1): 103 in Sagarin, 93 in Pomeroy, 178 on offense, 31 on defense

Weber State’s offense is lethal because of their star talent. But, Montana just controlled them a few nights ago in a game that got some run on ESPN. Given all the mid-majors with decent resume’s this year, Montana is probably looking at a 14 or 15 seed in the Big Dance even if they play great in this event. Remember that these two teams above don’t take the floor until Tuesday. We’re giving you their numbers now because we’ll be buried in bigger tournaments by then!

It’s great having so many tournaments to play with this weekend. And, we have some marquee matchups from the major conferences that will help shape March Madness as well.

Among them:

North Carolina at Duke for the ACC Crown Saturday Night

Louisville at Syracuse in the Big East on CBS Saturday afternoon

Georgetown at Marquette in a battle of two top Big East teams

Texas at Kansas Saturday Night on ESPN

Ohio State at Michigan State Sunday on CBS for the Big Ten championship

It’s a weekend that’s going to set the tone for the whole month. That’s true on the hardwood, and true for your personal bankroll! Be sure you’re checking in daily with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for the best plays on the board. We have great rates for the full postseason too. Call 1-800-323-4453 for details.

We may pop in with an NBA bombshell or two as well this weekend. Games of interest Saturday include Oklahoma City at Atlanta and Utah at Dallas. Sunday’s big TV doubleheader is New York at Boston and Miami at the LA Lakers. Yes…all this and LeBron James faces Kobe Bryant this weekend too!

Back Sunday in the NOTEBOOK to run the boxscore numbers from key Saturday action. We look forward to serving you all month long with information you need to know here in the NOTEBOOK. Link up with JIM HURLEY for the games you need to bet in Las Vegas!

Whether you’re talking regular season titles or conference tournaments…when championships are on the line…YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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