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Big Dance Journal, Sunday, March 20

   by Larry Ness - 03/20/2016

Big Dance Journal (Sunday, Mar 20)

UConn and Kansas had never met before in an NCAA tournament, despite 89 appearances and seven titles between them. UConn came into the game a PERFECT 7-0 SU & ATS under current head coach Kevin Ollie in NCAA tourney games plus UConn was 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 had been sent home in the round of 32 each of the previous two years and in Bill Self’s previous 12 trips to the Big Dance with Kansas, the Jayhawks had lost before the Sweet 16, FIVE times.

This year’s Kansas team, the tourney’s overall No. 1 seed, would have NONE of that. The Jayhawks threw a 19-0 1st-half run at the Huskies, as UConn missed 12 straight shots during that stretch. Kansas opened a 40-16 lead and led at the half, 44-24. Kansas would ease to a 73-61. win. Two other No. 1 seeds played and won on Saturday, North Carolina and Virginia. Both were in competitive games at the half but outstanding second halves allowed each to advance, although North Carolina’s victory came more easily. The Tar Heels won 85-66, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the 27th time, the most appearances by any team since the Sweet 16 became official in 1975. North Carolina shot 61 percent in the second half (53 percent for the game) and made 19 of 21 free throws (15 of 16 after halftime). North Carolina improved to 33-1 in NCAA games in its home state with 29 straight wins since the only loss in 1979. Virginia shot 73 percent after halftime, hitting 14 of its first 16 shots of the half, and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years with a 77-69 win over Butler (failed to cover by a half-point!).

Both 12-seeds fell on Saturday, Yale to No. 4 Duke and UALR to No. 4 Iowa St. Duke led by as many as 27 points before seeing that dwindle to just three with less than a minute to play. Yale used a 15-0 run to cut what had been a 23-point halftime deficit to 54-47 with 11:38 left. However, Duke held on for a 71-64 win (covered at minus-6), led by Allen’s 29 and Ingram’s 25 points. Saturday's win was a NCAA-record 90th NCAA tournament victory for Coach K (Roy Williams is second on the list with 67!), with the Blue Devils moving on to the Sweet 16 for the 25th time in school history and 23rd time under Krzyzewski (a record for a coach at any one school). Duke is also in the regional semifinals for the 15th time since 1998, the most of any school during that time span.

UALR saw its 30-win season come to a close (Trojans were just 13-18 last season), as the team’s fourth-ranked defense in points allowed (60.3 PPG) and 9th in defensive FG percentage (38.9%) could not contain Iowa St, especially Georges Niang. Iowa State's only two-time All-American and the winningest player (97) in Cyclones history was simply too much for the 12th-seeded Trojans. He scored 28 points, giving him 2,198 career points (second in school history). Iowa St scored 78 points in the 17-point victory, shooting 56.6 percent as a team, including 11 of 21 on threes. Little Rock’s Josh Hagins had become the first player in NCAA tournament history (on Thursday night against Purdue) to total 30 points, five assists, five rebounds and five steals in a game but on Saturday, he had just EIGHT points, SIX rebounds, FOUR assists and ONE steal.

Two 11-seeds played Saturday, as well. Wichita St fell behind third-seeded Miami by 21 points in the first half and trailed 32-19 at the half. However, the Shockers erased that deficit with a 22-4 spurt. The ‘Canes did not fold though, as Miami righted itself and went on to win 65-57. The Shockers were allowing just 58.9 PPG to lead the nation (including two NCAA wins already this tourney) and ranked fifth in field goal percentage defense (38.3%) but Miami shot 12 of 20 (60 percent) in the first half and 55.3 percent for the game, led by guard Angel Rodriquez (28 points on 9 of 11 FGs and 7 of 8 FTs). Gonzaga has hardly looked like an 11-seed, beating Seton Hall 68-52 on Thursday and then Utah on Saturday (a No. 3 seed which won its first game 80-69), by the score of 82-59. The 23-point margin of victory is tied for the third-largest by a team seeded 11th or lower since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

The most anticipated game of Saturday was Kentucky (winner of 2,205 career games, owners of eight NCAA titles and 17 Final 4 appearances), taking on Indiana (1,782 all-time wins, five NCAA titles and eight Final 4s). The Hoosiers were the better team all game on Saturday, winning 73-67. Kentucky suffered its earliest NCAA Tournament exit since 2008, when it lost to a Marquette team then led by current Indiana coach Tom Crean. Favorites were 5-3 SU & ATS (now 31-12 SU and 24-19 ATS for the tourney / note: one pick’em contest). Under players made a Saturday comeback, as SIX of the eight games stayed under. Updating the tournament to-date, its 23 overs and 21 unders.

Oregon is the final No. 1 seed to play and will take on St Joe’s (8-seed) on Sunday. The Ducks are also the last of SEVEN, Pac-12 teams left in this year’s tourney, as Pac-12 teams are a HUGELY disappointing 2-6 in tourney games, so far. Oregon is a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history (was ranked 5th in the final AP poll) and will meet St Joe’s for just the second time ever (previous meeting came back in 1938). The Ducks are favored by a 6 1/2 points. A record-tying 10 double-digit seeds had advanced past the round of 64 and THREE of the four which played on Saturday, lost (11-seed Gonzaga being the exception).

The remaining six double digits seeds take to the court on Sunday, with the lowest seed left in the tourney, No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee St, taking on fellow double digit seed Syracuse (a 10-seed). MTSU is just the eighth No. 15 seed to advance to the round of 32 and just one previous 15-seed won its way into the Sweet 16 (Florida Gulf Coast in 2013). In Syracuse, the Blue Raiders meet a controversial at-large selection. Head coach Jim Boeheim spent nine games on the shelf early on as penance for an NCAA investigation into academic misconduct and improper benefits and then a one-and-done loss to Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament left many surprised that the selection committee chose the Orange. Syracuse is now 20-13 after an impressive 70-51 win over Dayton and enters this game a 6 1/2-point choice.

SF Austin is a 14-seed and will take on Notre Dame (a 6-seed). The Lumberjacks take the nation’s longest winning streak (21) into this game with the Irish and may just be aware that in 16 seasons under Brey, Notre Dame has played in the NCAA Tournament 10 times but gotten as far as the Sweet 16 only TWICE! Oddsmakers have taken notice, as Notre Dame is just a 1 1/2-point favorite. Hawaii (13-seed) will take on 5th-seeded Maryland, after earning its first-ever NCAA Tournament win on Friday (beat Cal, 77-66). Maryland led South Dakota State by 18 points late in their game on Friday but just held on in a 79-74 victory. The Terps have now won at least one game in 12 straight NCAA Tournament appearances (dating to 1998) and this year’s team features all five starters averaging in double figures (between 11.1 and 14.4 PPG). Note that Hawaii has been on the mainland since March 1 after playing its final two Big West regular season games on the road, followed by the conference tournament in Anaheim, California. Maryland is favored by seven points.

No. 11 seed Northern Iowa takes on No. 3 seed Texas A&M and No. 10 seed VCU takes on No. 2 seed Oklahoma, wrapping up games involving double digit seeds.The NIU Panthers have won 13 of their last 14 games, after Paul Jesperson’s half-court ‘miracle’ beat Texas on Friday. A&M is in the Big Dance for the first time since 2011 and its win against Green Bay was its first tournament victory since 2010. The last time A&M reached the Sweet 16 was in 2007. Northern Iowa has reached the NCAA Tournament four times in Ben Jacobson's 10 seasons as coach and the school's lone Sweet 16 appearance came during 2010, when it beat a top-seeded Kansas team. A&M is favored by 6 1/2 points.

No. 10 seed VCU will meet No. 2 seed Oklahoma. Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger is 63 and got his first head coaching job in 1982. Kruger and Tubby Smith are the only head coaches in Division I history to lead five programs to the NCAA tournament but Kruger is the only one to win an NCAA tournament game with five different programs. Meanwhile, VCU head coach Will Wade (33) was born in 1982! However, Kruger is well aware that VCU is not a typical double-digit seed. The Rams went to the Final Four in 2011 and are in the NCAA Tournament for the SIXTH straight year. The Sooners are favored by 6 1/2 points (that seems like a popular number!).

Wrapping it up on Sunday we have 2-seeds Villanova and Xavier taking on 7-seeds Iowa and Wisconsin, respectively. Jay Wright’s Wildcats haven't advanced to the Sweet 16 since their run to the Final Four in 2009. This senior class will go down as the winningest in school history but it hasn't gotten past the second round. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes haven't been past the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 1999. The Wildcats are favored by seven points. Xavier has only missed the NCAA Tournament twice since the 2000-01 season, a remarkable achievement for a non-Power Five school. The Musketeers advanced to the Elite 8 in 2004 and 2008. Fresh off consecutive Final Fours and a massive upset against undefeated Kentucky in last season's semifinal, the Badgers are in the Big Dance for the 18th consecutive season. Xavier is favored by 4 1/2 points.

Good luck...Larry

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