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Big Dance Journal, Wednesday, Mar. 16

   by Larry Ness - 03/16/2016

Big Dance Journal (Wednesday, Mar 16)

There was surely no suspense nor drama in Tuesday’s two games and absolutely no “fantastic finish!” Florida Gulf Coast, a 5 1/2-point favorite over Fairleigh Dickinson, jumped out to a 40-19 lead at the half, then cruised to 96-65 win. Four of the Eagles’ five starters scored in double digits and the team connected on 59.6 percent of its shots. Fair Dickinson made 32.9 percent of its shots, falling to 0-5 all-time in the school’s NCAA appearances. Florida Gulf Coast, famous for being one of just SEVEN No. 15 seeds to upset a No. 2 seed in NCAA tourney history (back in 2013), will take on the East’s No. 1 seed North Carolina on Thursday.

Tuesday’s second game was tied 30-all at the half but Wichita St opened the second half on an 11-0 run and while Vandy did make one last run at the Shockers, Wichita St (a 3 1/2-point favorite) put away the ‘Dores in a 20-point win. Vandty shot just 30.2 percent from the floor, including a WOEFUL 3 of 19 on threes, as no starter reached double digits. WSU seniors VanVleet and Baker (the most experienced players in TY’s tourney) each chipped in 14 points, as the nation’s top defense team (Shockers allowed an NCAA-low 59.2 PPG on the year) allowed only 50 points. The 11th-seeded Shockers advance to play 6th-seeded Arizona in the South bracket on Thursday.

The NCAA’s First Four concludes with a second straight Dayton doubleheader Wednesday night, as Holy Cross (14-19) and Southern (22-12) play to earn a No. 16 seed in the West region, while 20-11 Tulsa takes on 22-12 Michigan for an 11th-seed in the Midwest. The Crusaders of Holy Cross are the 25th team with a sub-.500 record to earn its way into the NCAA tourney and during the regular season, went 0-9 on the conference road. However, Holy Cross then won FOUR consecutive road games in claiming the Patriot League tourney.

Bill Carmody is in his first season as Holy Cross’ head coach. You may remember him from Princeton, where he led the Tigers to back-to-back NCAA appearances in his first two seasons, after taking over for Pete Carril (the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons). Carmody's 1997-1998 team reached a ranking as high as 7th nationally and entered the Big Dance on a 19-game winning streak (ranked 8th nationally, earning a No. 5 seed). Princeton defeated UNLV 69–57 but then two days later lost 63-56 to 4th-seeded Michigan State. Princeton would end its season 27-2 overall (14-0 in Ivy League play) and ranked 10th in the final AP poll. Carmody took over at Northwestern for the 200-01 season but after 13 years was fired, failing to lead Northwestern to the ‘promised land’ (an NCAA tourney bid).

Holy Cross has made 12 previous NCAA appearances (most recent came in 2007) but the school’s last NCAA tourney victory came way back in 1953. In a land and time far away, Holy Cross won an NCAA championship in 1947, helped by freshman guard Bob Cousy. Southern is making its 9th NCAA appearance, but owns a 1-8 all-time record, its lone win coming in a 1993 first round win over Ga Tech, 93-78. The Jaguars are modest two-point favorites. A battle for the East’s No. 11 seed is the second game on Wednesday, as Tulsa takes on Michigan. Tulsa features four seniors and a junior in its starting lineup (also, three seniors contribute off the bench), while Michigan’s lone seniors are LeVert (out for the season) and Albrecht, who is also currently on the sidelines with a hip injury. Both schools were questionable at-large entries (Tulsa was identified as “the last team in” by the selection committee’s chairman) but Michigan and its Big Ten pedigree makes the Wolverines about a four-point choice.

The round of 64 (back to being called the First Round) tips Thursday at 12:15 ET (NC-Wilmington/Duke) and my next journal will be posted by 10:00 ET in the morning.

Good luck...Larry

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