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Big Dance Journal, Tues, Mar. 15

   by Larry Ness - 03/15/2016

Big Dance Journal (Tuesday, Mar 15)

CBS expanded its Selection Sunday show to two hours but the committee didn’t wait long to serve up its first surprise. When the four No. 1 seeds were revealed, Michigan St was NOT among the group. Almost all assumed that if the Spartans won the Big Ten tourney title on Sunday afternoon (which it did), that MSU would earn a No. 1 seed. Instead, Virginia, with no regular season or postseason ACC title on its resume, earned the third No. 1 seed (its fifth all-time) and Oregon of the Pac-12 (regular and postseason champ) earned the school’s first-ever No. 1 seed (fourth among the top seeds.).

No one was arguing Kansas (12th time as a No. 1 seed) getting the tourney’s top seed nor North Carolina (a record 15th No. 1 seed) earning the second No. 1 seed. I won’t rehash the arguments we’ve all heard the last two days regarding who should and who should not have gotten into the 68-team field but I will note that just 10 No. 1 seeds won their respective conference tourneys. None of the Power-5 conference regular season champs HAD to win nor did Villanova of the Big East (entered its tourney ranked 3rd in the AP poll) but of the 25 other leagues there were some ‘casualties,’ as just SEVEN of the No. 1 seeds in those conference tourneys went on to capture their respective tourney titles, as well. Temple (AAC), Dayton (A-10) and Wichita St (MVC) were able to nab at-large bids but 27-7 Monmouth (MAAC), 27-5 St Mary’s (WCC), 25-9 San Diego St (MWC) and 26-6 Valparaiso (Horizon) were not as lucky. It’s just my two cents but the school I believe got ‘jobbed’ is Monmouth, although I’m glad we won’t have to watch that school’s bench, even if for just ONE game!

The AP poll released its final pre-NCAA Tournament poll and Kansas received 63 of the 65 first-place votes, claiming the top spot for the third straight week (5th time on the season). Michigan St was No. 2 and received the other two first-place votes, which again makes one wonder just what the committee was thinking in not giving the Spartans a No. 1 seed. Oregon finished 5th, West Va 8th, Xavier 9th and Miami-Fl in a tie for 10th with Kentucky. I mention those four schools because NONE were in the AP’s preseason top-25. Of the AP’s top-10 preseason teams, only No. 9 Gonzaga and No. 10 Wichita St were not in Monday’s top-25, although both will play in this year’s Big Dance.

As I noted last week, a look at the history book shows that teams entering the NCAA tournament No. 1 in the final AP poll have not fared well since the heyday of John Wooden's UCLA Bruins. UCLA won 10 of 12 titles from 1964-75, seven times entering the tournament as the nation's top-ranked team. Bob Knight's 1975-76 team, the last to finish a season unbeaten at 32-0, also entered that year's tourney as No. 1. However, since that season, just SIX schools have finished No. 1 in the AP's final regular poll and gone on to win the title. The most recent school to do so was Kentucky in 2012, with the short list also including Duke (2001), UCLA (1995), Duke (1992), North Carolina (1982) and Kentucky (1978). Doing the math, that's just SIX in 39 years or 15.4 percent, not exactly making Kansas a ‘lock’ to "cut down the nets" at NRG Stadium in Houston come April 4.

It’s the Ides of March and the 2016 NCAA Tournament opens Tuesday night from Dayton with the first two of four First Four games (aren't we all glad the round of 64 is back to being called the First Round?). Up first at 6:40 ET is Florida Gulf Coast (20-13) taking on Fairleigh Dickinson (18-14) for the right to take on North Carolina on Thursday in a 1 vs 16 matchup (as all know, No. 1 seeds are 124-0 against No. 16 seeds, since the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1984). Few will forget the “Dunk City” Florida Gulf Coast team from 2013 which became one of just SEVEN No. 15 seeds to beat a No. 2 seed when the Eagles beat 2nd-seeded Georgetown 76-68. Florida Gulf Coast then became the ONLY No. 15 seed to ever win a second round game when it beat 7th-seeded San Diego St 81-71, before losing 62-50 in the sweet 16 to third-seeded Florida.

Longtime Kansas assistant Joe Dooley took over Florida Gulf Coast the year after its Cinderella run and hopes this year's team can make its own reputation. Florida Gulf Coast has played Division I basketball since just 2007 and has been post-season eligible for only the past four (note: it has won 20-plus games for in all four of those seasons). The Eagles ‘escaped’ against a 12-win Stetson team in the in the Atlantic Sun tournament final, winning 80-78 at home in OT to earn a ticket to this year’s Big Dance.

Awaiting the Eagles is an 18-14 Fairleigh Dickinson team which suffered through a woeful 8-21 season last year and was picked to finish near to the bottom of the Northeast Conference at the start of this season. Third-year head coach Greg Herenda owns one of the youngest teams in the country, as sophomores (four start) and freshman account for 96 percent of the team’s scoring. Florida Gulf Coast is a 5 1/2-point favorite.

Dayton’s second game features a 19-13 Vanderbilt team, which many felt didn’t serve a bid, going up against 24-8 Wichita St. The Shockers opened just 5-5 but with the return to health of guard Fred VanVleet, Wichita St would go 19-3 the rest of the way (Shockers are 21-3 this year with VanVleet). VanVleet and fellow guard Ron Baker were part of Wichita St’s Final Four team in 2013 and each has played in 10 NCAA tournament games. Baker (118 points) and VanVleet (113) rank first and second among active players in NCAA tournament scoring.

In stark contrast, 7-foot center Josh Henderson is the ONLY player on Vanderbilt's roster with NCAA tournament experience. "I think it make a huge difference," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. "That's what they say about experience: You can't teach it." However, the Commodores have a pair of 7-footers on the front line with Henderson, the 7-0 Jones and 7-foot-1 Luke Kornet. The Shockers haven't faced anything like Vanderbilt's huge front line, as they've got four players at 6-foot-8 and two who are 6-foot-10 but don't play much. Both teams are excellent defensively, as Wichita St ranks 6th in defensive FG percentage (38.4%) and Vandy ranks 7th (38.6%). No team in the nation has allowed fewer points than Wichita St, which ranks first in scoring defense at 59.2 PPG.

Wichita head coach Gregg Marshall is the 11th Division I coach to make the tournament five or more times with two different teams, as he’s got Wichita St in the Big Dance for the fifth straight year (prior to that, he led Winthrop to seven appearances). Note that six of the others are still actively coaching; John Calipari, Fran Dunphy, Steve Fisher, Bob Huggins, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams. Wichita St is a 3 1/2-point choice and the winner of this game advances as an 11-seed to take on 3rd-seeded Miami-Florida on Thursday.

My journal continue Wednesday, available by 12 noon ET.

Good luck...Larry

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