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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Monday, March 5, 2018 at 1:08 PM

A week ago at this time, the Michigan Wolverines were a popular sleeper choice to do well in the Big 10 tournament. They had closed the season well. Most Power Ratings had them as a Sweet 16 threat even if they were only a #5 Big 10 seed at Madison Square Garden. If Michigan State or Purdue stubbed their toe, Michigan just might sneak through and steal the conference tournament title.

Well...Michigan STOMPED on the toes of both Michigan State and Michigan, after dispatching with Iowa and Nebraska (who we profiled as the hottest point spread team in the country a week ago in this spot). And, the Wolverines did so in such a fashion that you now have to take them as a very serious threat to win the NCAA Tournament. They're on the short list with the likes of Duke, Virginia, Villanova, and Kansas (and maybe Cincinnati after a great Bearcats win Sunday at Wichita State). Michigan might have taken Sparty and Purdue OFF the short list by outclassing them so badly on a neutral court with a fatigue disadvantage.


*Michigan definitely has the DEFENSE to win a title. They currently rank #6 nationally in Ken Pomeroy's "adjusted" defensive efficiency which accounts for points allowed, pace, and strength of schedule. We've been telling you that DEFENSIVE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS since our web presence began decades ago. Michigan held MSU and Purdue right near one point per possession despite playing their third game in three days, followed by their fourth game in four days. Michigan will be fresh again in the Dance. If you have a championship caliber defense with a proven track record vs. quality, you're one of the teams to beat.

*Michigan avoids turnovers. You often hear pundits talk about the importance of "guard play" in the NCAA's. What that really means is the ability to run an offense, get the ball to the right guys, and avoid turnovers. The modern game is evolving to where these are "team" characteristics rather than "guard" characteristics. Some guards just hang by the arc and shoot treys. Some "tweeners" may play like forwards sometimes, guards at others. As a TEAM, Michigan did an amazing job of avoiding turnovers this past weekend.

Just 9 giveaways in an overtime thriller vs. Iowa
Just 9 giveaways in a revenge spot against red-hot Nebraska
Just 9 giveaways in a high-pressure game with Michigan State
Just 5 giveaways with a championship on the line against Purdue

If you're defense is getting stops...and your offense isn't giving the ball're going to be in a great position to string together victories, no matter how tough your opponents are. Only FIVE miscues vs. Purdue!

*Michigan knows the importance of fundamentals. They've sparkled in defensive rebounding the past few weeks. You saw them score often off the pick-and-roll all week. Basic, proven approaches to winning games. Michigan is executing them as well as anyone right now. Not only will that help them shine in March. But, if they have a cold shooting game, those fundamentals might be the key that helps them squeeze out an extra basket to win a nailbiter in a danger spot.

There's a lot to love about Michigan! But, JIM HURLEY is aware that there are no sure things in the NCAA Tournament. Possible roadblocks for Michigan...

*An emotional letdown off this huge weekend
*The realization that the Big 10 is in a down year
*The inability to catch anyone else by surprise after last weekend
*The potential loss of rhythm off a long layoff

To NETWORK, that second angle may be most important. The Big 10 was humiliated in the Big 10-ACC Challenge earlier this season. Badly outclassed almost up and down the card (though Michigan State impressed at the time vs. Duke). It could be that everyone in the league is 2-3 points worse than current Power Ratings are suggesting. That keeps Michigan back at Sweet 16 level rather than Final Four caliber. This past weekend may have been an indictment of the Big 10 rather than a celebration of Michigan.

Michigan is in the awkward betting position of making sense as a "Futures" option because the market still isn't giving them enough respect...but possibly being upset fodder in the first round if the team gets overconfident or otherwise complacent off this big weekend. The Wolverines had to sweat Iowa before coasting past Nebraska, Michigan State, and Purdue. Michigan might have to sweat a dangerous floater in the opening round of the Dance before regaining traction.

Yes, you should already be handicapping the Big Dance NOW. Keep that in the back of your mind as you watch all of this week's conference tournament action. If you'd like some help picking winners, you can purchase our BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours. Be sure to ask about packages that take you through the Big Dance or the NBA Finals.

Championship Week is well under way. Whether you're talking small conferences, mid-majors, or the big boys of college basketball...WHEN CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ON THE LINE, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!