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One shocker as NCAA bubble floats toward weekend

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Kyle Guy and the top-ranked Cavaliers couldn't be stopped by Anas Mahmoud and Louisville in the ACC quarterfinals.
© USA Today Sports Images

Few Thursday surprises in the major conferences as rested elites started hitting the floor. But a big shocker in a mid-major will loom large over Selection Weekend. Stats and “market” Power Ratings to get you ready for the huge betting weekend coming up in VSiN City.

CUSA Shocker: Middle Tennessee (-13) stunned, will Blue Raiders get a bid?
We lead with this bombshell. Every year there’s a team or two dominating mid-major conferences that some believe “should” be shoo-ins for the NCAA Tournament even if they don’t win their conference tournament. Unfortunately, the committee hasn’t always agreed with that assessment. That’s why well-regarded Middle Tennessee has to be sweating bullets after losing in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament Thursday evening. 

Southern Miss (plus 13) 71, Middle Tennessee 68 (in overtime)
Two-point Pct: Southern Miss 33% Middle Tennessee 45%
Three Pointers: Southern Miss 13/25, Middle Tennessee 11/20
Free Throws: Southern Miss 12/16, Middle Tennessee 5/6
Rebounds: Southern Miss 30, Middle Tennessee 32
Turnovers: Southern Miss 14, Middle Tennessee 17
Estimated Possessions: Southern Miss 69, Middle Tennessee 67
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Southern Miss 214-241-252, Middle Tennessee 49-57-42
Market Watch: An opener of MTSU -13 was bet up to -13.5 and -14 early in the day, before dog lovers bet Southern Miss for value back to the opener. Total stayed around 135 or 135.5 all day.

Three-point shooting is the most random high impact stat in this sport. Sometimes you run into a buzzsaw, no matter how good you are. Southern Miss shot 52% on treys, which is like hitting 78% on two-pointers. That was enough to squeak out a win. Middle Tennessee did an awful job of earning free throws, and was very sloppy with the ball. Considering that happened against a team ranked in the 200’s nationally…it might be very tough for MTSU backers to make a compelling case during this weekend’s debate process. 

Joe Lunardi of ESPN had MTSU as a #12 seed entering the day, on a rung that typically goes to the best auto-bid teams (Loyola-Chicago is there currently, for example). 

Considering the computers only have MTSU as a composite around #50, the resume makes an invite far from a sure thing. Truly a borderline case that might help a team like Oklahoma, Arizona State, or any of several others on the bubble sneak in. 

Now to the marquee events, where national powers largely tuned up for their huge weekends ahead…

ACC Tournament: Favorites all cash…advance to semifinals
We’ll keep running expanded boxes for the full ACC tournament because so many Dance-bound teams are going head-to-head. Games are presented in the order they were played in this section. In each of the other major conferences, we’ll pick out a key game to focus on. Remember that our “estimated possessions” line represents shots…minus offensive rebounds…plus one-half free throw attempts…plus turnovers. In games we don’t cover in-depth, easy for you to just do the math across the stat lines in the boxscores.  

#1 Virginia (-7) 75, Louisville 58
Two-point Pct: Louisville 32% Virginia 59%
Three Pointers: Louisville 9/21, Virginia 7/18
Free Throws: Louisville 13/14, Virginia 6/7
Rebounds: Louisville 25, Virginia 34
Turnovers: Louisville 9, Virginia 7
Estimated Possessions: Louisville 57, Virginia 60
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Louisville 34-22-31, Virginia 1-3-2
Market Watch: Virginia opened -7.5. Dog money was the early story, bringing the number all the way down to plus 6.5 at many spots. Public support for the favorite brought it back to seven at close. Totally generally opened around 122.5, and closed around 123.5. 

Your typical “defense and rebounding” squash for the Cavaliers. You can see they owned two-point shooting and rebounding. And, they did that while only turning the ball over seven times. This is what it looks like numerically when Virginia is playing well. 

#19 Clemson (-5) 90, Boston College 82
Two-point Pct: Boston College 46%, Clemson 50%
Three Pointers: Boston College 12/33, Clemson 12/28
Free Throws: Boston College 22/30, Clemson 20/22
Rebounds: Boston College 33, Clemson 39
Turnovers: Bost Boston College 9, Clemson 7
Estimated Possessions: Boston College 73, Clemson 69
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Boston College 74-74-73, Clemson 18-32-18
Market Watch: Bettors were all over Clemson, with an opener of -4 getting bet confidently up to -5.5 (with a few sixes out there at close). The public didn’t want any part of a lesser team playing its third game in three days at such a cheap price. Easy win for most. Total hung around 139.5 or 139 most of the day before tip off.

BC lost the will to play defense given all the minutes already on those tired legs. That’s how Clemson scored 90 points on fewer than 70 possessions. A tougher test for the Tigers Friday in the semifinals against Virginia. 

#5 Duke (-8.5) 88, Notre Dame 70 
Two-point Pct: Notre Dame 57%, Duke 58%
Three Pointers: Notre Dame 5/23, Duke 8/17
Free Throws: Notre Dame 5/11, Duke 8/12
Rebounds: Notre Dame 29, Duke 40
Turnovers: Notre Dame 7, Duke 10
Estimated Possessions: Notre Dame 71, Duke 72
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Notre Dame 28-24-32, Duke 3-1-3
Market Watch: Duke opened at -7.5. Sharp situational players and the public hit the favorite at that price because the Irish were playing their third game in three days vs. a fresh opponent. The public kept on the Devils all the way up to -8.5. A few outliers went to nine late. On the total, earliest openers were in the 145 range. Later stores opened lower, with the close at 143.5. Duke totals have been interesting lately because of the dramatic Under surge after Coach K switched to a zone defense. 

Bonzie Colson finally played a good game in Brooklyn. But his teammates didn’t have much fight in them after the huge rally vs. Virginia Tech the night before. You can see “tired” stats all over the boxscore, with the 5 of 23 on treys offensively, the poor rebounding, and almost 90 points allowed on a possession count in the low 70s. Should point out…another poor long-range shooting game for an opponent seeing Duke’s zone defense for the first time. Also, Notre Dame’s on the list of teams who may have been helped by Middle Tennessee’s loss. 

#12 North Carolina (-6) 82, Miami 65
Two-point Pct: North Carolina 50%, Miami 39%
Three Pointers: North Carolina 6/25, Miami 6/19
Free Throws: North Carolina 18/23, Miami 7/13
Rebounds: North Carolina 52, Miami 41
Turnovers: North Carolina 8, Miami 8
Estimated Possessions: North Carolina 74, Miami 73
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: North Carolina 8-7-7, Miami 35-26-33
Market Watch: North Carolina opened at -6.5, which struck some as high for the inferior seed coming in with a fatigue disadvantage. Dog money hit the board whenever plus 6.5 was in play. But whenever the line dropped to 5.5, Carolina money would bring it right back to six. Limited interest in the total that generally opened 152 and closed 151.5. 

Solid stuff for the Heels against both Syracuse and Miami. Made it past 80 points here despite a poor night from long range. Crushing performance inside the arc given free throw counts and rebounding. Nice bounce back from the lousy second half vs. Duke this past weekend. A chance for revenge against the Blue Devils awaits Friday evening. 

ACC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Duke 87, Virginia 86, North Carolina 83, Notre Dame 79, Clemson 79, Louisville 79, Florida State 79, Virginia Tech 78, Miami 77, NC State 77, Syracuse 76, Boston College 74, Wake Forest 72, Georgia Tech 72, Pittsburgh 63.

Big East Tournament: Xavier and Villanova closer to championship collision 
Top seeds Xavier and Villanova both blew out teams that had to win the night before, so there’s no reason to run those numbers. Let’s take a look at the Garden finale, which was the most appealing matchup of the day according to respected computer projections. 

Butler (-1) 75, Seton Hall 74
Two-point Pct: Butler 65%, Seton Hall 44%
Three Pointers: Butler 6/26, Seton Hall 9/18
Free Throws: Butler 9/15, Seton Hall 15/19
Rebounds: Butler 29, Seton Hall 38
Turnovers: Butler 6, Seton Hall 13
Estimated Possessions: Butler 67, Seton Hall 65
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Butler 24-31-24, Seton Hall 26-25-26 
Market Watch: Very little betting interest even though this was a late starter. The market had all day to leave it alone! Butler sat at -1 all day. Total sat around 147 all day until a very late move to 148.  

You can see that the computers like both of these teams. Basically a top 25 matchup even though neither team ranks that high in the current AP poll. Seton Hall led much of the night…by 14 in the first half and by seven with five minutes to go. Nice rally for Butler to steal the win on a layup with four seconds left to advance to face Villanova Friday night. Low turnover count for the Bulldogs, plus a 57-47 win on “1’s and 2’s.”

In other action from New York…

Xavier (-7) beat St. John’s 88-60
Huge second half for top-seeded Xavier, crushing the Red Storm 55-31. Brutal schedule spot for the dog, who had to win Wednesday night before playing the early game Thursday. You could see they ran out of gas HARD in the final 20 minutes. Xavier won rebounding 42-30, and made free throws 23-11. St. John’s just 6 of 27 on treys with tired legs. 

Providence (plus 4) upset Creighton 72-68 in overtime
Both teams shot poorly from long range (5 of 22 and 6 of 23). We saw some teams have issues with that in first looks in MSG last week in the Big 10 tourney. Providence won rebounding 45-39 and turnovers 11-13 to sneak by. Friars will have to play better than this to upset Xavier Friday. 

Villanova (-10.5) beat Marquette 94-70
We’ve talked often this season about how Villanova will run away and hide from lesser opponents, which creates some illusions about how they’ll fare vs. quality. Tired Marquette didn’t put up much of a fight. Villanova was 15 of 29 on treys, and 18 of 29 on deuces. That’s how you make a run at 100 points in a game with a slightly below average pace!

Big East estimated “market” Power Ratings: Villanova 87, Xavier 82, Creighton 79, Butler 78, Seton Hall 77, Marquette 76, Providence 75, St. John’s 75, Georgetown 71, DePaul 70.

Big 12 Tournament: Bailar La “Bamba?” Texas still on the Dance bubble after loss to Texas Tech 
Mo Bamba made a surprise return to the Texas attack after missing a few games with turf toe. His 14 minutes off the bench was enough to keep Thursday night’s tussle with Texas Tech close through the second half. The Red Raiders would pull away in the final minutes.

#14 Texas Tech (-6.5) 73, Texas 69
Two-point Pct: Texas 45%, Texas Tech 44%
Three Pointers: Texas 7/18, Texas Tech 9/16
Free Throws: Texas 12/15, Texas Tech 12/18
Rebounds: Texas 28, Texas Tech 37
Turnovers: Texas 7, Texas Tech 10
Estimated Possessions: Texas 63, Texas Tech 61
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Texas 38-30-41, Texas Tech 10-14-12
Market Watch: An opener of Tech -6 reached -6.5 in a game that wasn’t bet with much enthusiasm from the marketplace. Mo Bamba was a surprise return at the last second that wasn’t reflected in the market. Tech would have been a slightly smaller favorite if everyone had known Bamba would be back.  

Slow, methodical game…with Texas Tech’s rebounding edge (plus a couple extra treys) being the difference-maker. Tech isn’t playing the kind of ball that should scare anybody at the moment. But they will take what’s given and grind past anyone who isn’t prepared. The market has largely overrated the Red Raiders in recent weeks. Any Dance opponents better not make the mistake of underrating them. 

In other action from Kansas City…

#9 Kansas (-6) beat Oklahoma State 82-68
Bizarre offshore opener of Kansas -2 was apparently an overreaction to Kansas losing its center for this event. The line rose to -3.5…settled for a bit…then kept on rising to a closer of -6. This is Kansas playing in Kansas City playing with immediate revenge for goodness sake! Result wasn’t in doubt through the second half. Even without an important inside player, Kansas shot 24 of 37 inside the arc for 65% on two’s against an opponent tiring of playing the night before. 

Kansas State (plus 2.5) upset TCU 66-64 in overtime
Wildcats would have won in regulation but TCU hit a trey at the buzzer to force an extra five minutes. A credit to K-State that it shook that off and advanced. TCU has had defensive issues all season. That mattered in the paint because K-State was just 3 of 15 on three-pointers. Wildcats won scoring on “1’s and 2’s” by a count of 57-43. This sets up a “battle of Kansas” in Kansas City in Friday’s first semifinal.

West Virginia (-5.5) beat Baylor 78-65
You’re not supposed to have a turnover disaster the third time you face a pressing defense. Baylor lost the ball 22 times, while also shooting only 6 of 20 on treys. Made it easy for West Virginia to coast into Friday’s semifinal vs. Texas Tech. 

Big 12 estimated “market” Power Ratings: Kansas 85, West Virginia 84, Texas Tech 83, TCU 81, Oklahoma 79, Kansas State 79, Oklahoma State 79, Baylor 78, Texas 78, Iowa State 72.

SEC Tournament: Michael Porter returns for Mizzou, but SEC sleeper hopes were dashed early 
Missouri was in a similar situation with Notre Dame in terms of getting a star player back in time for the postseason. But in this case, it was a bigger star and the team was already assured of a Dance ticket. Still, locals hoped Mizzou would have a big week in St. Louis. Not to be.

Georgia (plus 3) 62, Missouri 60
Two-point Pct: Georgia 45%, Missouri 36%
Three Pointers: Georgia 7/24, Missouri 8/25
Free Throws: Georgia 13/20, Missouri 8/12
Rebounds: Georgia 41, Missouri 40
Turnovers: Georgia 8, Missouri 7
Estimated Possessions: Georgia 62, Missouri 64
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Georgia 61-60-72, Missouri 39-40-46
Market Watch: Generally speaking, an opener of Missouri -4 was bet down to -3.5, with very late dog money bringing it down to three. Some offshore places showed a temporary surge to Missouri early in the process. But ultimately, respected money thought the return of Michael Porter for the Tigers was getting too much hype. 

This had to be our featured game given the return of Porter. The marketplace was enthusiastic about Missouri making postseason headlines with the NBA-bound star healthy and back on the floor. As we saw with Colson of Notre Dame, it can take awhile for a rusty player to find his form. Porter was just 5 of 17 shooting (3 of 11 on two-point shots). The lineup as a whole likely needs extra game time to gel with the enthusiastic Porter (he could have just sat out the year and gone pro). This denies them that opportunity. Tougher now than it was before tipoff to assume a big March for Mizzou. Georgia faces Kentucky Friday afternoon. 

In other action from St. Louis…

Alabama (plus 3) upset Texas A&M 71-70
You probably saw highlights of Collin Sexton’s length-of-the-floor dash for a driving floater to win the game. A&M didn’t ever figure out how to stop him. Sexton ended with 27 points. Aggies turned the ball over 17 times. Respected market influences keep waiting for A&M to fulfill its potential. Time is running out! Like Missouri, A&M was a popular darkhorse pick in this event. Alabama gets to play some Iron Ball with top seed Auburn Friday afternoon.

Mississippi State (-2) beat LSU 80-77
Lights out shooting game for the Bulldogs, who were 10 of 17 on treys and 18 of 31 on deuces. Both register at 58%. Tough to do something like that two nights in a row. Rested Tennessee is up next Friday night. 

Arkansas (-5) beat South Carolina 69-64
Big edge at the free throw line for the Hogs, 23 of 26 to 10 of 16. That plus 19 turnovers for the dog pushed the favorite through to a Friday night quarterfinal against Florida. 

SEC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Auburn 82, Florida 82, Tennessee 81, Kentucky 80, Texas A&M 80, Missouri 79 (Porter back), Arkansas 79, Mississippi State 77, Alabama 77, Georgia 76, LSU 75, South Carolina 74, Vanderbilt 75, Ole Miss 74. 

Pac 12 Tournament: Plenty of buzz in Vegas as Arizona and UCLA set up semifinal bout 
This may not be a banner year for the Pac 12 overall. But it’s always an exciting battle when Arizona and UCLA square off. Both won Thursday to set up a Friday night attraction.

#15 Arizona (-11) 83, Colorado 67
Two-point Pct: Colorado 53%, Arizona 46%
Three Pointers: Colorado 5/20, Arizona 7/18
Free Throws: Colorado 18/22, Arizona 26/38
Rebounds: Colorado 27, Arizona 36 
Turnovers: Colorado 15, Arizona 8
Estimated Possessions: Colorado 74, Arizona 74 
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Colorado 112-96-145, Arizona 25-17-23
Market Watch: The earliest offshore openers were around Arizona -9, just two points better than ASU in the prior round. Early money pounded the favorite. Vegas stores saw that and opened closer to -11. Market was fairly stable after that. Opening total of 142 came down a smidge, some places at 141, others at 141.5. 

Defense is still a concern for Arizona, which Colorado helped hide by only shooting 5 of 20 on treys with a fatigue disadvantage. Credit to Arizona for playing the much cleaner game while attacking the basket more aggressively and winning the battle of the boards. This kind of form will make them a threat in the Dance…something the computers aren’t exactly anticipating at the moment. 

In other action from Las Vegas…

UCLA (-4) beat Stanford 88-77
Aaron Holiday scored 34 points, as UCLA won made treys 12-9 and turnovers 14-7 to pull away to the win and cover. Big result with the team squarely on the bubble. Bruins need to impress in this tourney. If it comes down to a selection committee choice between UCLA and Arizona State, ASU won the only regular season meeting. UCLA gets Arizona Friday, a team it upset in Tempe a few weeks ago. T-Mobile Arena will be rockin’. 

USC (-6) beat Oregon State 61-48
Important win for the Trojans. This likely pushes them to the right side of the bubble, and moves them forward on the softer side of the Pac 12 bracket. Slow, ugly game. But it’s hard to win those by double digits, particularly when you only shoot 4 of 12 on treys. USC won scoring on “1’s and 2’s” by a dominant 49-33 count. 

Oregon (-2.5) faced Utah in a late finish

Pac 12 estimated “market” Power Ratings: Arizona 83, USC 79, Oregon 79, Arizona State 79, UCLA 78, Utah 77, Stanford 74, Oregon State 73, Colorado 72, Washington 72, Washington State 67, California 67.

That wraps up Friday. Don’t forget that VSiN City will run SEVEN DAYS A WEEK through March. That means we’ll be back Saturday morning to run key stats from all major conference semifinals. 

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