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Big Dance Journal, Sat. March 26

   by Larry Ness - 03/26/2016

Big Dance Journal (Saturday, Mar 26)

This year's 10 wins by double-digit seeds in the Round of 64 was the most in an NCAA tournament all-time (there were nine in both 2001 and 2012). Throw in the 3-1 record of 9-seeds over 8- seeds and the 13 wins ties the 2001 tournament for the most first round games won by the lower-seeded team. However, there were just two double seeds remaining by the start of the Sweet 16, Gonzaga (11) and Syracuse (10), which would meet Friday night. In the 2013 and 2014 tourneys, underdogs dominated Sweet 16 play going 6-2 ATS both years but that changed in 2015, as favorites went 6-2.

With Sweet 16 play now complete after Friday’s four games, favorites have been the “way to go” for a second consecutive year, as the lone favorite not to win (and cover) was Gonzaga, a 4 1/2-point choice over Syracuse (note: Gonzaga was the lower seed). No. 1 seeds North Carolina and Virginia rolled last night, winning 101-86 and 86-71, respectively. All five North Carolina starters scored in double digits, as the Tar Heels have scored at least 83 points in each of their three NCAA tournament games (are 3-0 ATS, averaging 89.7 PPG). Indiana entered the contest with a 50.5 percent FG percentage (No. 1 in the nation) but was held to 41.0 percent, as North Carolina held an opponent to less than 50 percent shooting for the 28th straight time. The Hoosiers became the seventh team to play in 100 NCAA tournament games (they have a 66-34 record) but are headed home with North Carolina advancing to a Regional Final for the 20th time since 1975 and to an Elite 8 berth for the seventh time in head coach Roy Williams' 12 years at his alma mater (first time since 2012).

Georges Niang had another big game for Iowa State, finishing with 30 points after scoring 28 against both Iona and Arkansas-LR. However, it was the Cavaliers who led by as much as 17 points and took a 45-31 advantage at the half. The Cyclones came in averaging 82.1 PPG but were held to 71 (despite shooting 51.9 percent from the floor) in a 15-point loss. The Cavaliers' seniors tied the Class of 1983's school record with their 112th win. A 113th win on Sunday would send the Cavaliers to their first Final Four since 1984 and give both Bennetts (Virginia’s head coach Tony and his father Dick) the distinction of each leading teams there (Dick coached Wisconsin to the 2000 Final 4).

The Wisconsin Badgers posted four and three-point wins last week while Notre Dame won its first two tourney games by a combined seven points. A close contest was expected in this 6-7 matchup and that’s what we got. The Badgers led 51-46 with about three minutes left but the Irish outscored them 15-5 the rest of the way, scoring 10 points in the game’s final 47 seconds for a 61-56 victory. Notre Dame advances to the Elite 8, where it is one win away from its first Final 4 in 38 years (1978).
The tourney’s two lowest remaining seeds, Gonzaga (11) and Syracuse (10), met Friday with the Zags being favored by 4 1/2 points. Gonzaga led 57-48 with 6 1/2 minutes left but did not make a single FG the rest of the way (just three FTs!). Syracuse outscored Gonzaga 15-3 down the stretch to win 63-60 and is now headed to its 10th Elite Eight under Jim Boeheim.

After favorites went 7-1 SU and ATS in Sweet 16 play, favorites stand at 45-14 SU (.763) and 34-24-1 ATS (one pick’em game) or 58.6 percent. Amazingly, with two overs and two unders on Friday, totals players have seen 30 overs and 30 unders! The first two of four Elite 8 games will be played on Saturday, each featuring a No. 1 seed vs a No. 2 seed. Oregon (1) and Oklahoma (2) meet at 6:05 EDT from Anaheim. Talk about storylines. Lon Kruger (Oklahoma) hired Dana Altman (Oregon) to join his staff at Kansas State in 1986 and the two remain fast friends. Kruger reached the 1994 Final Four with Florida but hasn't been back since, while Altman has never reached the Final Four in a quarter-century in charge of four programs.

It’s been noted often this tourney that Oregon won the first-ever NCAA tournament (1939) and who did the Ducks beat in the West Regional Final that year? None other than the Oklahoma Sooners. The schools met again in the 1940-41 season but haven't met since, until tonight. The Ducks won the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles to earn the first No. 1 seed in school history but now must beat an Oklahoma team with a “Core Four” of Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins, who will start their 104th consecutive game together (75-28). "We ride and fight all together, so I think ending on a good note would be special for us," Hield said. Oregon is a two-point choice.

Kansas is the tourney’s overall No. 1 seed and has won 17 straight games. The Jayhawks are 3-0 ATS so far, outscoring opponents on average, 85.7-to-67.7 PPG. Villanova, a No. 2 seed and winners of 15 of its last 17, is also 3-0 ATS this tourney, winning on average, 88.3-to-64.3 PPG. Bill Self is looking to get the Jayhawks to the Final 4 for the first time since 2012, while Jay Wright and the Wildcats have not reached the national semifinals since 2009. Kansas is a two-point favorite (8:45 ET from Louisville) and on paper, one can’t ask for two better games than these.

My Sunday Journal will be available by 12 noon ET, tomorrow.

Good luck...Larry

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