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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Survive-and-advance.

It's the catchy phrase " invented" by late N.C. State head coach Jim Valvano some 30-or-so years ago but it really continues to have major meaning in this day-and-age.

Consider how on Day One of this year's NCAA Tournament the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the BYU Cougars both survived major deficits and yet prevailed late and thus lived to see another day in this here-and-now tourney.

Last night it was Vermont ( a Network winner as our Triple Line Blaster went 2-1) and South Florida who did the survive-and-advance bit - clearly with a bit more ease as both were double-digit winners with the USF Bulls ultra-impressive in their never-was-close 65-54 " First Four" win in Dayton and so on they go to the next round of play - so be sure you'll be hearing a lot of the survive-and-advance mantra all week/weekend long.

THURSDAY'S GAMES

NCAA TOURNAMENT - East Regional - Consol Energy Center - Pittsburgh, PA
WEST VIRGINIA (19-13) vs. GONZAGA (25-6) - 7:20 p.m. ET

Now that we've established the "built-in advantages" here for the WVU Mountaineers (see site and the Zags' cross-country flight) the question in this pick 'em affair still comes down to shot-making and there's little doubt that the guys from the West Coast Conference have more of them:

Gonzaga G Kevin Pangos and F Elias Harris combine for 27 points a game but Pangos was off his mark much of the time in last week's WCC Championship Game loss to Saint Mary's and we believe C Robert Sacre can get a little too crazed when either his in-the-paint shots are not falling or he's not getting the ball enough.

Expect clever West Virginia coach Bob Huggins to zone the Zags for much of this tilt and make Pangos beat him from deep while the flip side of this equation says the Big East crew needs to pound the offensive glass (see Big East tilt against UConn) and stat-sheet stuffer Kevin Jones - who led the Big East in both scoring (20.1 ppg) and rebounding (11.1 rpg) - must get his 18-to-20 FG attempts and must continue his pinpoint interior passing that sets up easy hoops for teammates.

In a nutshell, if Pangos isn't draining threes here than the 'Zags are in trouble while Jones must find the openings in the Gonzaga defense to get some spot-open shots.

Edge to Huggins against overrated Gonzaga game coach Mark Few here.
 

NCAA TOURNAMENT - South Regional - KFC Center - Louisville, KY
CONNECTICUT (20-13) vs. IOWA STATE (22-10) - approximately 9:20 p.m. ET

Here's something that you may not have remembered from UConn's fabulous win-it-all run a year ago: The Huskies were a true middle-of-the-pack team before that 2011 Big East Tournament title propelled 'em to a #3 West seed.

Now, one year later - and without megastar G Kemba Walker running the show - this Connecticut team put on a mini-run last week at Madison Square Garden before getting short-circuited by Syracuse and the NCAA Committee folks decided to put Jim Calhoun's club right there in the middle of the tourney pack. No surprise that UConn wound up in one of these famed #8 vs. #9 games but the shock - if you will - is that seemingly everyone believes the Huskies will survive and advance here to an expected third-round game against Kentucky and yet you'll note the Las Vegas pointspread on this clash is a mere 1 ½ points with UConn favored ... do "they" know something everyone else does not?

No need to run down the Connecticut roster as everyone's aware sleepy-eyed swingman Jeremy Lamb - averaging a solid 17.6 ppg - must not pull any disappearing acts as was the case after halftime in that aforementioned mini-tourney loss to the 'Cuse but one major key here is Connecticut's big men just swat away a batch of F Royce White shots or else the gritty/gutty I-State Cyclones will waltz into the paint and try to steal this game from in close. Don't be fooled by all these reports that Fred Hoiberg's team lives-and-dies with the long-range jumpers as White could be responsible for drawing 10 or 12 fouls on Connecticut's big men Alex Oriakhi and frosh C Andre Drummond ... you heard it here first!
   

NCAA TOURNAMENT - East Regional - The Pit - Albuquerque, NM
HARVARD (26-4) vs. VANDERBILT (24-10)
- approximately 4:40 p.m. ET

Okay, smart guys, let's see what you've got!

This battle of brainy teams is getting mucho attention - and why not - as Harvard's playing in its first NCAA Tournament since 1946 while Vandy's fresh off its first SEC Tournament title since 1951 and so let's dust off the photo albums and get to work!

Harvard starts four upperclassmen; Vanderbilt starts five upperclassmen including senior scoring star G John Jenkins (20 ppg) who may have the quickest trigger-man in the land but who is gonna be surprised when/if Crimson coach Tommy Amaker draws up a gimmick defense to get in Jenkins' grill here?

Odds are Vandy will need at least 10 trifectas to fall if Kevin Stallings' squad wants to win/cover this second-round affair but if Harvard is gonna get the upset call here (note the Commodores are favored by 5 points at press time) than handling Vandy in one-one-one situations will be key and so getting a handle on 6-foot-7 F Jeffery Taylor may be the single-most important aspect in this tilt.

Note that Vandy's the inferior free-throw shooting team here - as Harvard bangs out its FTs at a crisp 74.6 percent while Vandy is just a 69.8 percent FT-shooting team ... it could be important late but than you already knew that, right?

We'll get to three of Friday's NCAA Tournament Game Previews in just a moment but first this key reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers roars into the College Basketball post-season as we'll have NCAA Tournament, NIT and CBI and CIT winners too all through the month of March plus there's plenty of NBA Winners when you sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winning selections. Note that the special check-in times are anytime after 11 a.m. ET for all the weekday afternoon games and then after 1 p.m. ET for all the Monday-through-Friday night action. Also, the winning selections are available after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday. Go ahead and sign up now for the NCAA Tournament and all the other post-season College Basketball Tournies!   
   

FRIDAY'S GAMES - NCAA TOURNAMENT - Midwest Regional
National Arena - Columbus, OH

#11 N.C. STATE (22-12) vs. #6 SAN DIEGO STATE (26-7) - 12:40 p.m. ET
Here's one of those double-digit seeded teams that actually finds itself in the betting favorite's role - and now we'll see if the Wolfpack (winners of four of its last five games) can keep the engine humming under first-year head coach Mark Gottfried. The Pack sports five different players that average double-digit scoring but guard C.J. Williams - a 52.3 percent field-goal shooter - must not suffer through any offensive droughts here against a San Diego State squad that holds opponents to sub-.400 percent shooting from the floor.

Naturally, all eyes will be firmly planted on Aztecs star G Jamaal Franklin (17.2 ppg) who was just named the nation's " Most Improved Player" but expect N.C. State to show Franklin a batch of different defensive looks and so let's see what SDSU guards Xavier Thames and Chase Tapley contribute here in this matinee tilt 'cause we say if the Aztecs' three-guard attack doesn't score 50 points among 'em here than the Mountain West Conference Tournament " runner-up" is going down.

One last item regarding this near dead-even matchup: This is San Diego State's third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament under veteran head coach Steve Fisher - yes, it's now 23 years since he won it all with Michigan - but will that count for something here against an N.C. State squad that has not appeared in the tourney with this group of players?

NCAA TOURNAMENT - Midwest Regional
Bridgestone Arena - Nashville, TN

#13 OHIO (27-7) vs. #4 MICHIGAN (24-9) - 7:20 p.m. ET
Hard to believe that this marks the first time since the 1995 and '96 seasons that the Michigan Wolverines are playing in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and one year after the maize-and-blue were ousted in third-round action by Duke it returns looking to make a prolonged engagement: The only thing is gritty Ohio - winners of four games in a row including a 64-63 Mid-American Conference Championship Game tilt win against Akron last Saturday night in Cleveland - would love to " monkey wrench" the plans by these Big 10 guys.

Hey, Ohio kayoed Georgetown from this tourney two years ago and head coach John Groce has plenty of defensive stoppers that are looking forward to getting in the grill of Michigan stats Trey Burke (14.8 ppg) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (14.6 ppg) but expect pace and tempo to be the key words here.

The 6-point underdog Bobcats want to make this a smash-mouth game played in the 50s while the Wolverines want to put pedal to the floor - at times - and let Burke, Hardaway, Jr. and G Zack Novak go baseline-to-baseline in a New York City minute. Let's see who gets the game at what speed here and remember that Ohio guard D.J. Cooper (14.3 ppg and 5.6 assists-per-game) can be a real handful and we'll see if Michigan's frosh Burke can stay with him all the way.

NCAA TOURNAMENT -West Regional
Century Link Center - Omaha, NE

#10 VIRGINIA (22-9) vs. #7 FLORIDA (23-10) - 2:10 p.m. ET
Wanna know one of the really/truly underrated stats about the NCAA Tournament? Florida head coach Billy Donovan - who has been part of the " Big Dance" on 11 other occasions - is a whopping 25-9 SU (straight-up) in NCAA Tourney games for a .735 winning percentage with those back-to-back national championships in 2006 and '07 and so let's give a major shout-out here before digging in deeper to this second-round affair.

Donovan's guys - to be entirely frank - didn't exactly wow anyone down the stretch of this 2011-12 campaign as the not-so-mighty Gators enter this clash having lost four of their last five games and note that Florida was held to 67 points or less in three of these setbacks and so the Gainesville gang must get the 3-point shot up and in here or this could be mild upset time for a Virginia Cavaliers club that's painfully short of bench players (the Wahoos might go with just seven bodies here, that's it) and there's a lot of pressure on Virginia F Mike Scott (17.9 ppg) to nail his open jumpers because the rest of this Virginia stating five averages just 30-to-31 points a game.

Florida's gonna chuck it from three-land even though Virginia holds opponents to 29 percent shooting from treyland - let's see if Donovan cracks down on the 3-ball attempts by his star G Kenny Boynton who has connected on 105-of-246 treys (that's 42.7 percent) or does he give 'em the green light all game long?

 
In other NCAA Tournament News & Notes ...

Note other than the aforementioned Florida vs. Virginia game on this first Friday of the NCAA Tourney, the only other game pitting power conference clubs against one another is the Texas vs. Cincinnati clash in Nashville. The two-point underdog Longhorns - who've qualified for the NCAAs in each of head coach Rick Barnes' 14 years in Austin - might be able to steal this game from the free-throw line. Note that Texas connects on 73.3 percent of its foul shots while sometimes it's just painful to watch some of the Cincy Bearcats at the line ...

Now that Vermont has moved into this #16-vs-#1 game against North Carolina the nation will see if the heavy-duty underdog Catamounts play as unselfishly as they did in Wednesday's 71-59 triumph over 1 ½-point fav Lamar. Not only did frosh G Four McGlynn (18 points with 3 rebs and 3 assists) strut his stuff but Vermont wound up getting a lot of great uncontested looks en route to a 25-of-50 FG night. Note that Lamar blocked only two shots in that " First Four" game while Carolina might block a dozen providing near seven-footer John Henson is back from his non-shooting wrist injury. Do stay tuned ...

Finally, the last two teams to get on the court for their second-round games here figures to be Detroit and Kansas in Omaha with expected tip time at 9:55 p.m. ET. The Midwest's #2 seed Jayhawks don't want to be looking beyond this weekend (the winner here gets the Purdue-Saint Mary's win and that figures to be a decent challenge) but the fact remains that Kansas will have a distinct home-region advantage if/when it gets to St. Louis for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds and won't #1 Midwest seed North Carolina be cranky if/when that dream matchup happens.

Somebody call a foul!

NOTE: There's much more NCAA Tournament coverage in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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