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Big Dance Journal, Thurs. March 24

   by Larry Ness - 03/24/2016

Big Dance Journal (Thursday, Mar 24)

All four No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012 but the storyline dominating the 2016 NCAA Tourney to-date is that of the teams playing in this year’s Sweet 16, SIX (37.5 percent) hail from the ACC. The ACC sent seven teams to the Big Dance and only Pittsburgh has been eliminated (ACC is 12-1 SU but a more modest 7-5-1 ATS). No conference has ever accounted for so much of the tournament's third round in NCAA history. However, we have to take note that in 13 games so far, an ACC team has yet to face an opponent seeded higher than seventh. Updating the tournament to-date, favorites are 38-13 SU and 27-23-1 ATS (one pick-em contest), while it’s 27 overs and 25 unders. Looking ahead to the Sweet 16, note that after underdogs covered SIX of eight games in both 2013 and 2014, favorites turned the tables in 2015, covering SIX of eight.

FOUR of the Sweet 16’s eight games will be contested Thursday night, as two No. 1 seeds (Kansas & Oregon) meet Maryland (a 5-seed) and Duke (a 4-seed, as well as being the defending champs), respectively. The other two games feature No. 2 vs No. 3 seeds, as Villanova (2) takes on Miami-Fl (3) and Oklahoma (2) meets Texas A&M (3). Kansas played like the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with two decisive wins, reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years (had lost in the Round of 32 the last two tourneys). The Jayhawks extended their winning streak to 16 games. Maryland, which at one point was ranked No. 2 in the nation, had entered the Big Dance having lost FIVE of its previous eight games. However, two wins (0-2 ATS) has them back in the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in last 22 years. The schools are meeting for the first time since the 2002 Final Four, when Maryland beat Kansas in the semifinal en route to the national title. Kansas is favored by six points.

Oregon, playing as a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, is the only Pac-12 team left in the tournament (out of SEVEN) after the conference's embarrassing flop last week (excluding the Ducks, Pac-12 teams were 1-6 SU!). Oregon matched a school record for wins in a season with 30 but anything short of a trip to the Final 4 will be a disappointment. Duke represents the ACC, which as noted at the top has a record SIX teams in the Sweet 16, although Oregon’s head coach says his team doesn’t feel any pressure to carry the banner for its conference. "We haven't done well, and that's fair," Dana Altman said. "But I think the future is really good for our league." Duke lost FOUR of its final seven games heading into the NCAAs but managed to reach the Sweet 16 for the 15th time since 1998. Oregon and Duke have met only once before. The Blue Devils were also the defending national champions in November 2010, when they routed the Ducks 98-71 in Altman's sixth game at the school. "I'd rather forget that game," Altman said. "That was our first year, and we were not very good. They got us pretty good." Note that Duke was a 19-point choice back in 2010, a game played in Portland’s Rose Garden. Tonight, Oregon is a three-point choice.

Villanova’s seniors had never made it to the Sweet 16 before winning on Sunday and this year’s team is trying to reach the school’s first Elite 8 since 2009, when the Wildcats last reached a Final 4. These Wildcats have already held the first No. 1 ranking in school history when they sat atop the AP top-25 three straight weeks in February. Villanova has been averaging 81.8 PPG since Feb 24 and has shot 58.6 percent in beating UNC-Asheville and Iowa, including nearly 49 percent from the three-point line. Jim Larranaga has Miami in the Sweet 16 for only the THIRD time for a program that has never gone any further. Miami’s first two opponents have shot just 36.4 percent against the Hurricanes, while on the season, Miami has shot 47.7 percent (27th in the nation). ‘Nova is favored by four points.

Former Big-12 rivals meet, as Oklahoma takes on Texas A&M. The Aggies tied Kentucky for the SEC regular-season title but they lost to the Wildcats in the SEC title game in OT. However, A&M is 4-0 against the Big-12 this season, with victories against Texas, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State. Oklahoma’s Hield is the nation’s second-leading scorer (25.4) on the season and the leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament with 63 points in two games. Hield joins fellow guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard plus forward Ryan Spangler, in having started 102 consecutive games together. All four averaged double digit points this season and all have scored at least 1,000 career points. In the three seasons they have started together, the Sooners are 74-28. Is it significant that the Sooners have won 31 of the 41 career meetings? Oklahoma is favored by three points.

Good luck...Larry

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