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Big Dance Journal, Friday, March 25

   by Larry Ness - 03/25/2016

Big Dance Journal (Friday, Mar 25)

All four No. 1 seeds had advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012 but the storyline dominating the 2016 NCAA Tourney heading into Thursday was the ACC having an NCAA-record SIX teams advancing to the second weekend of play. However, as my Thursday journal noted, while ACC teams were 12-1 SU heading into Sweet 16 play, they were a much more modest 7-5-1 ATS. Of even greater significance was the fact that in 13 games so far, an ACC team had yet to face an opponent seeded higher than seventh.

Thursday was a “chalk-eater’s” delight, as BOTH No. 1 seeds won handily and in the two games featuring No. 2 vs No. 3 seeds, the No. 2 seeds also won with “room to spare.” It took some time for the Jayhawks to get going (Kansas is this year’s overall No. 1 seed) but once Kansas finally seized the lead late in the first half, everything else fell into place. Kansas notched its 17th straight victory by topping No. 5 Maryland, 79-63. Perry Ellis scored 27 points to match a season high and Wayne Selden Jr. added 19. The win put the Jayhawks back into the Elite 8 for the first time since 2012. Maryland’s awful three-point shooting finally caught up with the Terps, as they made just 5 of 25 last night, completing an 0-3 ATS run in this year’s Big Dance by making only 15 of 66 three-point attempts (22.7 percent).

Oregon won the first-ever NCAA tournament back in 1939 but hasn't been back to the Final Four since. The Ducks earned a No. 1 seed for the first time ever here in 2016 and with last night’s convincing 82-68 over No. 4 Duke in Anaheim, advanced to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2007 and the third time since 2002. The Ducks have won 10 straight since mid-February while winning the Pac-12's regular-season and tournament titles and now three games in this year’s Big Dance. Oregon owns 31 victories on the season (as school record) and Dana Altman is in the Elite Eight for the first time in his 26-season head-coaching career. Duke, last year’s champion, is now 0-5 in NCAA tournament games in the Pacific time zone.

Duke wasn’t the first ACC team to fall last night, as earlier, Miami-Fl (3) lost 92-69 to Villanova (2). The Wildcats entered last night’s contest having averaged 81.8 PPG since Feb 24 and had shot 58.6 percent in beating UNC-Asheville and Iowa. ‘Nova turned in their best shooting performance yet in this tournament, shooting 62.7 percent, earning their third trip to a Regional final under coach Jay Wright. Miami is now is 0-3 in this round, including 0-2 under head coach Jim Larranaga. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield had scored 27 and 36 points in the Sooners' first two tourney games but had just 17 points last night. However, the second-seeded Sooners romped to a 77-63 romp win over third-seeded A&M, with FIVE players scoring double digits. Hield joins fellow guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard plus forward Ryan Spangler, in having started 103 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 now 75-28

Updating the tournament to-date, after favorites went 4-0 SU & ATS on Thursday, favorites stand 42-13 SU and 31-23-1 ATS (one pick-em contest). THREE of the four games stayed under the total last night, making it 28 overs and 28 unders (can’t make that up!). Four Friday games will conclude this year’s Sweet 16 play, with each contest including an ACC team. After Thursday’s 0-2 SU & ATS performance, ACC teams dropped to 12-3 SU and 7-7-1 ATS in this year’s Big Dance. Here’s a brief look at tonight’s contests.

No. 1 seed North Carolina averages more than 82.4 PPG on 64 shots per game, connecting on 47.8 percent. Meanwhile, No. 5 Indiana averages 82.5 PPG on 58 shots per game, connecting on 50.1 percent (tops in the nation). However, a bigger difference is in the teams’ respective three-point shooting, as the Hoosiers make an average of NINE per game, almost double North Carolina's five. This is the third time Indiana and North Carolina have met in the NCAA Tournament, with the Hoosiers are winning the previous two, having won the 1981 national championship game and the 1984 East Regional (remember Dan Dakich shutting down MJ?). The Hoosiers have a winning record in the NCAA Tournament against No. 1 seeds, going 5-3 but the Tar Heels are favored by 5 1/2 points.

Virginia is the second No. 1 seed out of the ACC in action tonight, facing Iowa St, a No. 4 seed. It’s a clash in styles, as the grind-it-out Cavaliers meet the fast-paced Cyclones, who average 82.1 PPG on 50.3 percent shooting (3rd). The Cyclones have had their share of struggles under first-year head coach Steve Prohm, as the team ranked 7th in the AP’s preseason poll finished just sixth in the Big-12. However, Prohm has Iowa State playing its best ball at just the right time, having won its first two NCAA games 94-81 and 78-61. FIVE players average in double digits (a sixth just misses at 9.6), led by Georges Niang’s 20.2. Niang is coming off consecutive 28-point games, as the 6-foot-8 forward is the ONLY player in the nation with 2,000 points, 700 rebounds and 400 assists. With a win Friday, Prohm would take Iowa St farther than his predecessor Fred Hoiberg ever did, to the Elite Eight. Tony Bennett has made four NCAA appearances with Virginia, including two trips to the Sweet 16 in the past three years. However, the Cavaliers have not reached the Regional Finals since 1995. The last time they made the Final Four in 1984, their coach was as teenager. Virginia's senior class of Malcolm Brogdon (ACC Defensive Player of the Year), Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte and Caid Kirven ranks second in school history with 111 wins. With a win Friday, they would match the record set by Class of 1983 led by Ralph Sampson.

The 22-12 Badgers (No. 7) are as much a staple of the tournament this time of year, as any traditional blue-blood program. Wisconsin is two wins away in the East Regional from becoming the first program since UCLA (2006-2008) to make THREE straight Final Fours. Wisconsin is 15-5 in the NCAA tournament over the past six seasons, after posting four and three-point wins last week. Wisconsin allows 63.9 PPG on the season, after holding Pittsburgh and Xavier to an average of 53.0 PPG in two wins this tourney on 39.2 percent shooting. 23-11 Notre Dame is a No. 6 seed and won its first two tourney games by a combined seven points. This is the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 that the Fighting Irish have reached the Sweet 16 in back-to-back years. The Fighting Irish are a 1 1/2-point choice.

The tourney’s two lowest remaining seeds meet when 28-7 Gonzaga (an 11-seed) takes on 21-13 Syracuse (a 10-seed). The Orange have held their first two opponents to just 50.5 PPG (best of any team advancing to the Sweet 16) in winning by 19 and 25 points, while Gonzaga’s had similar results, winning by 16 and 23 points. The Bulldogs have won SEVEN in a row by an average of 14.7 PPG and Gonzaga appears to be peaking at the right time. However, it will have to contend with that Syracuse “D,” which is holding opponents to just 30.8 percent shooting so far. This marks the fourth time double-digit seeds have met in the Sweet 16 since seeding began in 1979. The other occasions were Dayton-Stanford in 2014, VCU-Florida State in 2011 and Providence-Chattanooga in 1997. The winner of this game will advance to the Elite 8 and will be ONE win away from becoming that rare double digit seed to advance to the Final 4. Gonzaga is a 4 1/2-point choice.

Saturday’s journal will be posted by 12 noon ET tomorrow.

Good luck...Larry

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