NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC TeamsPosted by Lathan Wells on March 16th, 2014
Selection Sunday has now yielded a 2014 NCAA Tournament field, and the bracket is filled out. It’s time to analyze how the ACC teams fared in their quest to garner postseason success. Some teams seem to have an easier path than others, but it is March and nothing can be taken for granted. Some may be surprised that six ACC teams made the field, especially since Florida State was the presumed ACC team on the brink, but nonetheless the ACC tied for the second-most teams in the field behind the Big 12’s seven entrants. Here’s a look at the six ACC squads that were lucky enough to hear their names called, and what their NCAA Tournament might look like.
Virginia, #1 seed, East Region. The Cavaliers were rewarded (and justly so) for claiming the ACC regular season and tournament titles with a #1 seed in the East. They won’t have to travel far in the early stages, either, with the opening rounds in a familiar venue in Raleigh. After what should be an opening round win over Coastal Carolina, Virginia will have to tangle with either Memphis or George Washington. The Cavaliers are one of the few teams in the country that always controls the tempo, so a match-up with a running team like the Tigers won’t faze them a bit. Tony Bennett’s team has a good shot of advancing to the Final Four if it can survive a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with a suddenly-healthy #4 seed Michigan State. Villanova as the #2 seed is not as potent as other regions’ second seeds, so the Cavaliers have a very realistic shot of ending up in Arlington.
Duke, #3 seed, Midwest Region. Duke also gets the favorable early draw of playing in Raleigh, opening with Mercer. The Blue Devils’ region arguably has the most questionable top seed in Wichita State, but a potential UMass meeting in the second game could be tricky. Duke’s NCAA hopes are always pinned on how they shoot from distance, and if they’re on they can beat anyone. If they’re off, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood have to make plays to rescue the team. The region’s #2 seed, Michigan, already tussled with Duke earlier in the year and fell short, so that should also bolster Mike Kzryzewski’s outlook. Nevertheless, Louisville lurks in the Midwest with a head-scratching #4 seed, so Duke is not without a test at every turn in its quest to bring glory back home to Durham for the fifth time.
Syracuse, #3 seed, South Region. The Orange struggled mightily down the stretch, dropping five of their last seven games to earn a #3 seed. A loss to NC State in the ACC Tournament doomed a team generally regarded as a lock for a #1 seed for the bulk of the year. After a likely dispatching of Western Michigan, Aaron Craft and Ohio State could meet Jim Boeheim’s team in the next round. The Buckeyes have had an up-and-down year and often struggle offensively, but so can the Orange. This would be a very interesting early meeting between two athletic but limited teams. Generally speaking, Syracuse is probably in the toughest region in the tourney. Top-seed Florida and #2 Kansas were both potential #1 seeds as recently as a week ago, and VCU (#5) and New Mexico (#7) are lower-seeded squads that can cause major headaches in the postseason. Syracuse’s lack of depth will be key, as foul trouble or a flare-up of Jerami Grant’s back injury could be deadly. The Orange showed early that they were one of the best teams in the country, but they’ll have to shrug off a bumpy entrance into the postseason to get back to the Final Four.
North Carolina, #6 seed, East Region. North Carolina’s loss to Pitt in the ACC quarterfinals eliminated their hopes of elevating to protected seed, and their reward is a match-up with Providence in the opening tilt. If they can dispatch the Big East Tournament champs, Iowa State is likely their reward in the second game. The Cyclones, the Big 12 Tournament champion, is a dark horse Final Four contender, so the Tar Heels could be headed home early. On the other hand, this team showed throughout the year that it could get up for big games by recording several big wins on the road or on a neutral floor. Unfortunately, they also showed a penchant for looking past “should-win” games too, which means Providence is probably licking their chops at this point. The Tar Heels will start in San Antonio and potentially end up in New York, but their fan base travels well and the location is probably not going to affect them. Lack of free throw shooting acumen and perimeter shooting could, and probably will, though.
Pittsburgh, #8 seed, South Region. Again, like Syracuse, Pittsburgh drew the toughest region of the four. The Panthers open with a Colorado team that remains dangerous even without Spencer Dinwiddie, lost earlier in the year to injury. If Pitts can squeak through the toss-up #8/#9 match-up, they’d meet the overall top seed in the Florida Gators, and clearly they won’t be a favorite to win that one. Pittsburgh has hung with all the tough teams on their schedule this year but often didn’t break through until besting the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, and they do have a legitimate “take-the-game-over” player in Lamar Patterson. The key for Pitt in that Gators matchup, should they get there, will be Talib Zanna holding his own in the post against Patric Young and friends. Otherwise, Jamie Dixon’s team is probably making the trek back from Memphis to Pennsylvania pretty early.
North Carolina State, #12 seed, Midwest Region. Quite possibly the most shocking inclusion of the entire field, the Wolfpack’s win over Syracuse in the conference tourney propelled them into the Big Dance. Their reward is an unfortunate play-in/first round game against Xavier, though. The Wolfpack match up well with the Musketeers, and obviously T.J. Warren is a star who can win a game all by himself. A win over Chris Mack’s team would give the Wolfpack a battle with St. Louis in its next game, a contest with a very good defensive-minded team. The Wolfpack probably don’t have the overall top-to-bottom talent to make a deep run, but with SLU (should they meet them in round two) struggling on its way into the Tourney, it’s not insane to think they could win a couple of games. Warren alone makes them a legitimate threat on any given night.