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Big Dance Journal, Saturday

   by Larry Ness - 03/19/2016

Big Dance Journal (Saturday, Mar 19)

And then there were 32... Two days of jam-packed action has cut the field in half and 16 games, eight on Saturday and eight more on Sunday, will leave us with a Sweet 16 by Sunday evening. The last of the No. 16 seeds (Holy Cross) was eliminated Friday, as Oregon, playing as a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, ended the Crusaders’ season with a dominating 91-52 victory. Florida Gulf Coast made a game of it against North Carolina for the first half on Thursday, but the Tar Heels pulled away to win by 16 points. However, the three other 1 vs 16 games were decided by 26 (Kansas), 36 (Virginia) and 39 (Oregon) points. No. 1 seeds are 4-0 SU (3-1 ATS) and now stand 128-0 all-time. So much for the “a No. 16 seed is due,” theory!

No. 2 seeds entered Friday’s play 117-7 all-time vs No. 15 seeds in the Big Dance but when all the dust had settled, an EIGHTH 15-seed (of the 128 in history) had claimed a ‘scalp.’ THREE of four No. 2 seeds won but the Michigan St Spartans, a trendy pick to win the national championship after capturing the Big Ten tournament title, fell 90-81 to Middle Tennessee St (plus-16 1/2). Villanova (-18) won 86-56, Xavier (-13 1/2) won 71-53 and Oklahoma (-15) won 82-68, as No. 2 seeds went 3-1 SU and 2-2 ATS. Texas A&M won handily as a No. 3 seed but West Va (-7) got thumped 70-56 by SF Austin (only 14-seed to advance). The lone No. 4 seed in play on Friday, a less than 100 percent Cal team, lost 77-66 to Hawaii (plus-5 1/2). No. 1 and No. 2 seeds went 7-1 SU (5-3 ATS) and No. 3 and No. 4 seeds were 6-2 SU (4-4 ATS).

Maryland (-9) was able to even the record of No. 5 seeds in this year’s tourney to 2-2 but didn’t cover in its 79-74 win (No. 12 seeds are 3-1 ATS). After winning and covering both Thursday games, No. 11 seeds split their two games on Friday, as Northern Iowa (opened at plus-5 and closed at plus-3) upset Texas 75-72, while Michigan (plus-3) fell 70-63 to No. 6 Notre Dame. All four 7 vs 10 games were played on Friday, with 7-seeds Wisconsin (plus-1) winning 47-43 in the tourney’s lowest scoring game so far and Iowa (-7) needing OT to edge Temple 72-70. 10-seeds Syracuse (70-51 over Dayton) and VCU (75-67 over Oregon St) both won but while some call those upsets, both the Orange (-1) and Rams (-4 1/2) were favored. in fact, Iowa was the only 7-seed to be favored over the 10-seed in four matchups.

The No. 9 seeds had won all three Thursday matchups against their No. 8 seeded opponents (were 2-1 ATS, as all ere favored) and Friday’s 8 vs 9 matchup once again saw the 9th-seed favored, as Cincinnati was a 3 1/2-point choice over 8th-seeded St Joe’s However, St Joe’s won 78-76, giving an 8-seed its first win this tourney over a 9-seed. This year's 10 wins by double-digit seeds is the most in an NCAA tournament (there were nine in both 2001 and 2012) and that doesn’t count the 3-1 record of 9-seeds over 8- seeds. The 13 wins ties the 2001 tournament for the most first round games won by the lower-seeded team.

FIVE of the 13 lower seeded teams were games between No. 8 and No. 9 matchups or No. 7 vs No. 10 ones. That left EIGHT upsets in which one team was seeded at least five spots lower than its opponent. Favorites went 10-6 SU but just 7-9 ATS on Friday, giving them a 26-9 SU and 19-16 ATS record through First Four and 1st round contests (note: Thursday’s Wichita St/Arizona game was a pick-em). Ten of Friday’s 16 games went over, with an interesting twist. The four games played in Oklahoma City and the four games played in Spokane all went over, while the four games played in Brooklyn and the four in St Louis saw SIX go under. Updating the tournament to-date, its 21 overs and 15 unders.

Saturday’s eight games feature three No. 1 seeds, Kansas, North Carolina and Virginia, each taking on a No. 9 seed, UConn, Providence and Butler, respectively. Kansas takes its No. 1 overall seed in this year’s tourney (plus its No. 1 AP ranking) into a game with UConn. The Huskies are coached by Kevin Ollie and he will bring a PERFECT 7-0 record (also 7-0 ATS) in NCAA tourney play into this contest. Should an “upset alert” be issued? UConn is 32-5 on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the last 20 appearances since 1990, under coach Jim Calhoun and now Ollie. Meanwhile, Kansas has been sent home in the round of 32 each of the last two years and in Bill Self’s previous 12 trips to the Big Dance with Kansas, the Jayhawks have lost before the Sweet 16, FIVE times. Kansas is favored by eight points.

North Carolina is the No. 2 overall seed in the tourney and draws Providence, which advanced by beating USC on a last-second basket, the school’s first NCAA win since 1997. The Friars are led by forward Bentil (21.1-7.9) and PG Dunn (16.0-5.4-6.3), who combine for 50 percent of the team’s scoring (Providence averages 73.9 PPG). North Carolina the the AP’s preseason No. 1 team (currently ranks 2nd) and gets to play this game in Raleigh, roughly 30 minutes from its Chapel Hill campus. The Tar Heels are 32-1 in home-state NCAA games with the only loss coming back in 1979. North Carolina is favored by 10 points. Virginia made it look easy against Hampton (81-45) but Butler, after beating Texas Tech, has won at least one game in NINE of its last 10 NCAA Tournaments. The Bulldogs have taken down No. 1 seeds twice since 2010, when they made the first of two straight national championship game appearances. The Cavs are favored by 7 1/2 points.

Two No. 3 seeds are in action (Miami-Florida and Utah) with each taking on a dangerous 11th-seeded opponent. In fact, while Miami is the third seed, it's a two point underdog to Wichita State (how often has an 11-seed been favored over a 3-seed?)
Both teams own veteran backcourts, VanVleet and Ron Baker for Wichita St and Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan for Miami. However, VanVleet and Ron Baker are both fifth-year guys and the Shockers have much more tournament experience with five straight Big Dance appearances and a 9-3 record. Wichita St entered the tourney as the nation’s top defensive team (59.2 PPG allowed) and has held Vandy to 50 points and Arizona to 55. Utah is the the No. 3 seed but 11th-seeded Gonzaga is in its 18th straight NCAA tourney. Again, oddsmakers seem to feel “experience counts.” This game opened pick-em but early Saturday morning, Gonzaga has moved to minus-1 at some places.

Saturday’s schedule concludes with three No. 4 teams in action, two of which will face No. 12 seeds off big upsets. Let’s first note a classic matchup between two NCAA ‘heavyweights,’ No. 4 Kentucky vs No. 5 Indiana. This marks the 57th meeting between the two rivals but the first since 2012. The hiatus has come following a raucous court storming in Bloomington and a dispute over whether to play at neutral sites or on campus. The game pits two of the nation's best PGs in Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis (17.0-7.1 APG) and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell (17.1-6.3 APG). Head coaches John Calipari and Tom Crean last faced off in the 2012 Sweet 16 when Kentucky (the eventual national champs) beat Indiana 102-90. The Wildcats are favored by 3 1/2 points.

4th-seeded Duke takes on 12th-seed Yale and 4th-seeded Iowa St will meet 12th-seeded Arkansas Little Rock. Mike Krzyzewski has won five championships during his 36 years at Duke (89 career tourney wins dwarfs all other head coaches!), while James Jones is in his 17th season at Yale and led the Bulldogs to their first tournament berth since 1962, then the school’s first-ever NCAA win when it beat Baylor on Thursday. The school’s met at Duke earlier this year (Blue Devils won 80-61) but Duke is hardly a prohibitive favorite at minus-6. Iowa St can score (82.2 PPG on 50.1% shooting, which ranks 3rd in the nation) but the Cyclones are a poor (lazy?) defensive team. Defense is the name of the game for UALR, which comes in ranked fourth in points allowed (60.3 PPG) and 9th in defensive FG percentage (38.9%). Iowa St is favored by 6 1/2 points.

Sunday’s journal by 10:00 ET in the morning.

Good luck...Larry

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