Top seeds finding way to stay alive in NCAA Tournament

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It was nearly perfect.

The madness that is March lived largely up to billing over the first four days of the NCAA Tournament notwithstanding the fact that when play concluded on Sunday only two teams seeded lower than 4 made it to the Sweet 16 as all No. 1, 2 and 3 teams advanced as did two of the four No. 4 seeds. 

The two teams that kept the Sweet 16 round of the tournament from having been perfectly seeded were Auburn and Oregon. Auburn, seeded fifth in the Midwest defeated fourth-seeded Kansas (Auburn was the slight favorite in that contest). In the only Round of 32 game that matched a pair of double digit seeds that won their opening round game the Number 12 seed in the South, Oregon, defeated the Number 13 seeded UC Irvine. 

In looking at the Sweet 16 field the Power 6 conferences are well represented. Over 50 percent of the teams from the ACC (five of seven) and SEC (four of seven) have made it to the Sweet 16 as have three of the eight Big 10 teams from the original field of 68 teams. Four other conferences fill out the remaining teams with the AAC, Big 12, Pac 12 and WCC each have one team represented. 

Of the four No. 1 seeds this season only Gonzaga breezed through its first two games, leading each by double digits at halftime. Virginia was down by 14 points before a strong second half ousted Gardner Webb in its opening game and North Carolina trailed Iona by five at the half of its opening half win. Both the Cavaliers and Tar Heels wore down their overmatched foes in the second half, winning by double digits but failing to cover the spread. 

And then we have Duke. The overall top seeded Blue Devils got the scare of the Tournament in Sunday’s last minute 77-76 win over Central Florida that has already earned status as an Instant Classic. But what might have been lost in that story was that in their opening game Duke led North Dakota State, winner of their First Four game barely 48 hours earlier at a venue 565 miles away, by just 4 points at the half before outscoring the Bison by 19 points in the second half. 

The adage remains the same – “survive and advance.” It matters not whether you win by 1 point or by 21. 

But having survived a close call is often viewed upon as a test of toughness, of focus and of overcoming adversity. Duke has passed that test thus far as have Auburn, LSU and Tennessee. Ironically that trio is from the SEC. Auburn blew a comfortable lead to hold on and defeat New Mexico State by a point in its opener and LSU also saw a comfortable halftime lead evaporate in its second round 2 point win over Maryland with a tie breaking game winning bucket with 1.6 seconds left. Tennessee nearly set a record in blowing a 25 point lead in its second round win versus Iowa that was decided in overtime. 

Much of basketball royalty is represented in the Sweet Sixteen virtually every matchup is compelling. 

In last week’s column I forecast Michigan State to defeat Virginia for the National Title with Houston and Nevada losing in the Final Four. Three of the four are still playing while Nevada could not even make it out of the first round. 

I’ll stick with Michigan State to get by Duke in the East and with Houston to get by Kentucky and then North Carolina in the Midwest. 

I will continue to back, certainly from a pointspread perspective, Oregon in the South and would not be surprised if Oregon pulls the upset and then gets past the winner of the Tennessee/Purdue game to reach its second Final Four in the last three seasons. Something is not right with Virginia and Oregon may be the hottest team still playing. The Ducks have not just won their last 10 games by have covered in each of them. They’ve won 8 of the 10 by 11 points or more, covering the pointspread by 14 points or more in seven of the wins. 

To replace Nevada from the West I will go with the chalk, Gonzaga, which seeks to avenge a Sweet 16 loss to Florida State in this same round last season. 

I already have futures wagers made at various points of the season on Gonzaga, Houston and Oregon. I will be playing against Duke and am searching out the best price currently available on Michigan State which, as of late Monday, can be found at odds of 10-1 at many books in Nevada. 

If the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds produce anything close to what we saw last weekend we will indeed get a lot of thrills as the Final Four teams to play in Minneapolis are determined. 

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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