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32-to-16

   by Larry Ness - 03/18/2006

Things happen quickly in the NCAA tournament. The tournament begins on Thursday and by Friday night, the field has been cut to 32 teams. By Sunday night, it's down to just 16 teams with only 15 games remaining before the crowning of this year's national champs!

Through the tournament's first two days, all four No. 1 and No. 2 seeds advanced but few looked impressive in doing so. Top-seeds are now 88-0 since 1985 in the first round with No. 2 seeds upping their record to 84-4. However, Memphis, the lowest of the four No. 1 seeds (and the smallest favorite), was the only No. 1 seed to 'cover' a first round game, while UCLA was the lone No. 2 seed to cover its game.

That 2-6 ATS record drops No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to a very unimpressive 31-33 ATS mark the last eight years in the tournament's first round, especially when it's compared to their gaudy 63-1 SU mark!

The lowest-seed to pull an upset in round one was Northwestern State (14), which beat No. 3 Iowa 64-63 on Friday, as a seven-point underdog. No. 13 Bradley's win over No. 4 Kansas 77-73 on Friday night, was the opening round's second-biggest upset (Bradley opened an eight-point dog and closed around 6 1/2).

Northwestern State becomes just the 15th 14-seed to win a first-round game since 1985 (88 games). The Demons will meet the sixth-seeded Mountaineers on Sunday, trying to become just the third 14-seed to win a second round game.

Cleveland State was the first to do it in 1986, with Chattanooga turning the trick in 1997. However, both of those schools lost their Sweet 16 games, Cleveland State to Navy (71-70) and Chattanooga to Providence (71-65). West Va opened as a 6 1/2-point favorite.

Bradley's upset of Kansas makes the Braves the 18th 13-seed to win a first round game. Like with Northwestern State, history is not on Bradley's side when the Braves take on No. 5 Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Of the previous 17 13-seeds to have won in the first round, only Richmond (1988), Valparaiso (1998) and Oklahoma (1999) have won their second round games. All three lost their Sweet 16 games. Pittsburgh opened as a 4 1/2-point favorite.

The NCAA defines a major upset as the winner being seeded five or more places beneath the loser. Using that definition, the first round produced six major upsets. Joining Northwestern State and Bradley were 12-seeds Montana and Texas A&M beating five-seeds Nevada and Syracuse on Thursday plus 11-seeds Wisconsin-Milwaukee and George Mason beating six-seeds Oklahoma (Thursday) and Michigan State (Friday).

A 12-seed has now beaten a five-seed in 20 of the last 23 years, with 14 advancing to the Sweet 16 (Wisconsin-Milwaukee did it last year). However, just one of those 14 teams won its Sweet 16 game, Missouri in 2002. The Tigers lost to Oklahoma 81-75 that year, in the regional finals.

Texas A&M and Wisconsin-Milwaukee both play Saturday, facing four-seeds LSU and Florida. LSU is favored by five points over A&M and Florida is favored by seven points over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The Big East, which sent a record eight teams to the tournament this year, redeemed itself on Friday. Big East teams were 0-3 on Thursday but came back to win all five Friday games (3-2 ATS). The Big-10 saw its teams go 3-3 (2-4 ATS) through the first two days and the SEC went 5-1 (4-2 ATS).

The ACC was a perfect 4-0 in the first round (although just 2-2 ATS), while the Pac-10 went 3-1 (3-1 ATS) and the Big-12 went 2-2 (1-3 ATS). The MVC had four schools in this year's tourney (the most-ever) and saw its teams go 2-2 SU and ATS.

Air Force and Bradley (both 13-seeds) plus Texas A&M and Utah State (both 12-seeds) were considered the "last teams in", as they were the lowest-seeded at-large teams. Bradley and A&M both won their first round games and neither Air Force nor Utah State embarrassed themselves in losses to Illinois and Washington.

There also seemed to be many who questioned whether Hofstra (at 24-6 the Pride had the most wins of any team not invited!) not George Mason (11-seed), should have the CAA's at-large school. The Patriots did just fine Friday night, knocking off sixth-seeded Michigan State.

Closing note

Duke may not win this year's tournament, as too often the Blue Devils look like a two-man team. In fact, Redick and Williams accounted for 58 of the team's 70 points in the Blue Devils' 70-54 opening-game win over Southern. However, Coach K has a pretty good track record. His win on Friday gives him 67 NCAA wins, extending his NCAA record (Dean Smith won 65). The closest active coaches to him are Lute Olson with 47 and Roy Williams with 42 (entering the weekend).

If Duke were to beat George Washington on Saturday (Dookies are favored by around 10 points!), it would clinch Duke's ninth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. The next longest active streak is Illinois, which has made two straight Sweet 16 appearances! Illinois can make it three straight by beating Washington on Saturday. Watch out Mike, the Illini program is gaining on you!

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