2016-NCAAB-March Madness-Sunday Elite 8 previews
Midwest Region Final – Chicago – United Center
#10 Syracuse vs. #1 Virginia (-8, 123 ½) – 6:09 PM EST – TBS
The ACC will dominate all the headlines in Sunday’s Elite Eight action with two teams from this conference guaranteed to make the Final Four. Virginia (29-7 SU, 19-14-1 ATS) is seeking its first Final Four appearance since 1984, while playing in its first Elite Eight contest since losing to eventual champion Arkansas in 1995.
The top-seeded Cavaliers avoided a third straight matchup in the tournament with Michigan State when the Spartans were upset in the opening round by Middle Tennessee State. The Spartans eliminated the Cavaliers in the last two tournaments in low-scoring battles, but Tony Bennett’s team has scored plenty of points in its first three victories in this season’s Big Dance.
Virginia crushed in-state rival Hampton in the first round, 81-45 to cash as 23-point favorites, followed up by a 77-69 triumph over a feisty Butler squad in the round of 32. The Cavaliers scored with ease against Iowa State in Friday’s Sweet 16 contest, winning by an 84-71 count as six-point favorites. UVA shot 56% from the floor, led by Anthony Gill’s 23 points, but the Cavaliers allowed the Cyclones to shoot nearly 52% from the field to cash the ‘over’ of 140 ½.
Syracuse (22-13 SU, 19-15 ATS) has seen its ups and downs this season by starting ACC play at 0-4 and closing out the season with three straight losses. However, the Orange also went on a 7-1 run during conference play which included victories over Duke and Notre Dame. Jim Boeheim’s club put together a pair of blowout wins in the first two rounds over Dayton and Middle Tennessee State, but were definitely tested in the Sweet 16 against Gonzaga.
The Orange fell behind early by 11 points, but managed to climb within one point at halftime. Gonzaga built a nine-point advantage at 57-48 with 6:30 minutes remaining in regulation, but the Bulldogs would score just three points the rest of the way as Syracuse rallied for a 63-60 triumph as four-point underdogs. The Orange have quietly put together a solid a 6-1 ATS record in the last seven games, while covering in six of the past eight opportunities in the underdog role.
Syracuse and Virginia are meeting for the second time this season, as the Cavaliers knocked off the Orange in Charlottesville, 73-65 as 10-point favorites on January 24. This game actually got pushed back a day following inclement weather throughout the Northeast, but the Orange drilled a pair of three-pointers in the final minute to sew up the cover. Virginia shot a blistering 57% from the field, but Syracuse stuck around thanks to converting 13 three-pointers in spite of 39% shooting.
Almost all of the 13 losses for Syracuse this season have come in rather close games as this is team that keeps finding a way to stay in games and with a few key turnovers and big shots they could steal another win from a Virginia squad that doesn’t always pull away from its opposition.
Syracuse is three years removed from a Final Four appearance, while playing in its third Elite Eight contest since 2012. Virginia is rolling in the favorite role of late, posting an incredible 11-0 SU and 10-0-1 ATS record in its past 11 games when laying points.
East Region Final – Philadelphia – Wells Fargo Center
#6 Notre Dame vs. #1 North Carolina (-10, 154 ½) – 8:49 PM EST – TBS
Even though Notre Dame has spent only three seasons in the ACC, the Fighting Irish are starting to become a thorn in the side of conference stalwart North Carolina. Last season, Notre Dame shocked North Carolina in the ACC championship, 90-82 to cash outright as 3 ½-point underdogs, as the Fighting Irish eventually lost to top-seed Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Now, the Irish are seeking its first Final Four appearance since 1978, while taking on UNC in the Big Dance for the first time since the 1987 Sweet 16.
Notre Dame (24-11 SU, 16-16-1 ATS) has been tested in all three tournament victories, not winning any of those games by more than seven points. The Irish eliminated Michigan in the opening round, 70-63 as three-point favorites, overcoming a 12-point halftime deficit. Mike Brey’s club needed a tip-in at the buzzer to edge Stephen F. Austin in the second round, 76-75, even though Notre Dame shot 57% from the floor. In Friday’s Sweet 16 contest against Wisconsin, the Irish outscored the Badgers, 8-0 in the final 20 second to pull off the stunner, 61-56 as 1 ½-point favorites.
North Carolina (31-6 SU, 18-18-1 ATS) has rolled in its first three tournament wins with each victory coming by double-digits. Following blowouts of Florida Gulf Coast and Providence in the first two rounds, the Tar Heels busted the 100-point mark for the second time this season in Friday’s 101-86 rout of Indiana as five-point favorites. Five Tar Heels put up double-figures, led by forward Brice Johnson’s 20 points and 10 rebounds to pick up his 22nd double-double on the season.
Notre Dame’s last loss came in the ACC tournament semifinals against North Carolina in a 78-47 drubbing on March 11. The Irish were limited to 30% shooting from the floor, while falling behind by 19 points at halftime. A major key in UNC’s success that night was outrebounding Notre Dame, 46-26 as the Tar Heels eventually captured the ACC championship against Virginia. Roy Williams’ squad picked up revenge against Notre Dame after losing in South Bend in early February, 80-76 as 2 ½-point favorites.
From an ATS standpoint, North Carolina has been money in the bank by posting a 6-1 ATS record since the start of March with the lone ATS loss coming as 22-point favorites against Florida Gulf Coast in the opening round. Notre Dame has compiled a 4-4 ATS record in the underdog role this season, but owns a 1-3 ATS mark as a ‘dog of seven points or higher. In last season’s Elite Eight against Kentucky, Notre Dame cashed as 11-point underdogs in a crushing 68-66 defeat.
Nelson points out that in spite of UNC’s woes from three-point range this season, the Tar Heels cured their ills against Indiana, “After being the worst three-point shooting team in the ACC this season, North Carolina went out and made seven of its first eight three-point shots Friday night vs. Indiana to comfortably pull past the Hoosiers. As expected, rebounding proved to be a big edge for North Carolina in that matchup and the same figures to be true in this Elite Eight matchup with Notre Dame, but the Tar Heels haven’t shot that well from long range since mid-February.”
Notre Dame enters Sunday’s action at 25/1 odds to win the National Championship at Sportsbook.ag while starting the season at 40/1 to capture the title. The Tar Heels began the campaign at 10/1 odds to win its first championship since 2009, as UNC is currently at 13/5 (Bet $1.00 to win $2.60) odds to grab the National Championship in Houston next week.