ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach, Mick McDonald on March 14th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week about the NCAA Tournament prospects for all nine ACC schools involved.

Losing De’Andre Hunter is a huge blow to Virginia’s NCAA title hopes. (Ryan M. Kelly/Getty)

Brad Jenkins: Well it’s Tourney time fellas! I guess we should start with the gut wrenching news of the day – De’Andre Hunter is out with a broken wrist for the entire tournament. Mick, how does Virginia adapt short-term and long-term?

Mick McDonald: I figured we’d have to start here. It’s devastating news for Virginia. Hunter’s flexibility allowed the Cavaliers to play small with him at the four or bigger with him at the three. He was a great option on offense and could score in a variety of ways. It’s crushing. Long term — as in, next year — it’s no big deal. He’ll recover and be ready to go. But this year? I just can’t see Virginia winning the title without him. Maybe they can get by Arizona/Kentucky/Cincinnati to make the Final Four, but I doubt it.

Matt Auerbach: I hate to agree with Mick, because after being in Brooklyn and seeing and finally appreciating the live beauty of Virginia basketball, I penciled them in as my favorite — but thankfully, it was in pencil. Hunter is a tremendous talent and gives them so much on both ends off the bench. Without him, I think the Arizona game if it materializes becomes a lot trickier.

Mick McDonald: Tony Bennett will now have to give minutes to Marco Anthony, a smaller freshman wing who played well during Nigel Johnson’s suspension. He’s not Hunter but he will have to play well when called on.

Brad Jenkins: It does remove the option of playing small. The good news is that the other talented teams in the South region like Kentucky, Arizona and Cincinnati all will have required a bigger Virginia lineup anyway. So I think they can still get to San Antonio.

Matt Auerbach: All this being said — and the loss of Hunter could easily be viewed as detrimental — but would it shock me to see Virginia still make it to San Antonio? Absolutely not.

Mick McDonald: I feel much better after seeing both of you say that. It is true though. Mamadi Diakite also becomes a huge factor. They will absolutely need offensive production from him off the bench, even more than usual.

Matt Auerbach: Both he and Jack Salt gave them some great minutes in Brooklyn. The problem for Arizona in that match-up would be that DeAndre Ayton better go for 40, because those guards settle for bad shots far too often against average defense, and the Cavaliers’ perimeter defense ain’t average.

Brad Jenkins: And I don’t think Arizona has the defensive patience to guard Virginia for 25-second possessions. Let’s move on to North Carolina. They got the Charlotte pod and have the weakest #1 (Xavier) in the West. Are things set up well for a third straight Final Four run for Joel Berry and Theo Pinson?

Joel Berry wants to play in a third straight Final Four. (Lance King/WRAL)

Mick McDonald: I think they have to love their draw. I don’t see any chance they lose in Charlotte and they already crushed Michigan once this year. I think they cruise to the West regional final at least.

Matt Auerbach: I actually don’t think we are — again, would it surprise me? Of course not. But I’d favor Michigan and Gonzaga to come out of the west ahead of the Tar Heels.

Mick McDonald: I think Gonzaga could definitely give them issues in the regional final. I’m not buying the Michigan hype.

Brad Jenkins: Who would have thought we could get a Gonzaga-UNC rematch in the Elite Eight after all the talent both teams lost? Michigan is a popular pick based on the way they played at Madison Square Garden but who knows if they lost anything with the long layoff. What about Duke’s draw, and more importantly can the Blue Devils be consistent enough to go far?

Mick McDonald: Lock of the tournament: People will either credit or blame the long Big Ten layoff no matter what their teams do, even though it won’t matter at all.

Matt Auerbach: I think we’re all ready for the Duke/Michigan State rematch, and I see very little chance that it doesn’t happen. That game is a coin flip for me. I think the winner of that game will represent the region in San Antonio.

Mick McDonald: To me, Duke has the highest odds of any team in the Tournament to make the Sweet Sixteen. There is NO chance they lose to Rhode Island or Oklahoma.

Brad Jenkins: Yeah, those two teams look like they’re running on fumes right now. Michigan State looks like a good match-up for Duke because they didn’t handle Duke’s zone very well the first time, but I just think it’s just as likely that Trevon Duval has a stinker game at some point, and if it’s in the Sweet Sixteen they may not be able to overcome that.

Mick McDonald: Maybe Duval will get his stinker out of the way in the first two games where they can win without him doing much.

Matt Auerbach: Haven’t most of his games been stinkers?

Brad Jenkins: They have been in every loss it seems.

Matt Auerbach: I know a lot of these guys come in as “one-and-dones” and that’s that, but what league does he think he’s playing in next year?

Brad Jenkins: Some NBA team will probably take the chance and hope he figures out how to play. Is Clemson really in danger of the First Round upset versus New Mexico State that everyone seems to be picking?

Matt Auerbach: Yes.

Mick McDonald: Yes. That’s a solid New Mexico State team. The Tigers could win (and maybe even make the Sweet Sixteen since Auburn is a mess), but it’s a tough draw for them.

Matt Auerbach: Again, and I’ve said it and written it often — with Donte Grantham, and with this draw ironically enough, Clemson could have made the Elite Eight — but without him, I expect the Tigers to lose the opener.

Mick McDonald: Clemson has lots of good guards but they won’t have the best one on the court. Zach Lofton from New Mexico State is electric.

Brad Jenkins: I think it will be a defensive dogfight and I expect the winner to take down Auburn if Charleston didn’t already. Let’s talk about the ACC teams in the dreaded #8/#9 match-ups starting with NC State versus Seton Hall.

Kevin Keatts has N.C. State back in the Big Dance, but faces a tough first round opponent in Seton Hall. (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Mick McDonald: This is one of the most intriguing round one games to me. I also think whoever wins can give Kansas all it wants. That said, which NC State team shows up?

Matt Auerbach: I guess at this point it’s fair to admit that I overrated Seton Hall in the preseason (top 10) but, stubbornly, I think the experience and talent they have gets them to realize that potential better late than ever. I have the Pirates winning three games.

Mick McDonald: Angel Delgado is a problem. Who knows how healthy Desi Rodriguez is too. But it’s tough to argue with you Matt from a talent perspective.

Brad Jenkins: I think NC State will be loose enough to knock down a bunch of shots but it could be a long night for them in the post with Delgado. How about Virginia Tech vs. Alabama? The national media seems to be in love with the 15-loss Tide and Collin Sexton, but personally, I think the Hokies walk the dog in this one.

Mick McDonald: Give me Virginia Tech. Alabama stinks. Sexton is great but that team is not good at all. Buzz Williams can coach circles around Avery Johnson.

Matt Auerbach: I agree. The Alabama hype train is going off the rails. The Tide stunk for most of the season and really can’t make perimeter shots. I love the Hokies in this game.

Mick McDonald: Justin Robinson outplays Sexton in this game. They will NOT beat Villanova, though. Terrible matchup.

Matt Auerbach: I can’t believe how many people actually think Alabama would beat Villanova in a potential game. I think Villanova would whip them by a minimum of 30 points.

Brad Jenkins: Nobody may beat Villanova. Do any of us have any confidence in Florida State against Missouri even if the Tigers are short-handed?

Mick McDonald: I actually do. Everyone loves Mizzou because Michael Porter is back, but he looked terrible in the SEC Tournament and now he’s just going to be awesome? They also don’t have Barnett and will have what, seven scholarship players? I know Florida State also stunk down the stretch but give me their depth to wear Mizzou down.

Matt Auerbach: Again, when did Missouri become good? That being said, the Seminoles look uninspired right now. I think the game is a clunker, with the winner losing easily to Xavier.

Brad Jenkins: That leaves us with Syracuse. Do the Orange win a game? Or four — like two years ago when they also barely slid into the tourney?

Mick McDonald: UNSUBSCRIBE! Sorry, I’ve tried to put 2016 out of my memory. I actually think they’ll win because Arizona State is terrible. But they should lose pretty handily to TCU.

Matt Auerbach: Syracuse also isn’t very good, but every single Tournament one of the last teams in wins the play-in game and then surprises someone else. I don’t see it happening, but Jim Boeheim has done crazier things with less talent.

Mick McDonald: Did we purposely skip Miami (FL) because they’re definitely losing to Loyola?

Matt Auerbach: Ask Brad, but I concur on that.

Brad Jenkins: Whoops! Not intentional, but maybe for the best. Miami is way over-seeded because of all the close wins they’ve had. They won’t be around very long I fear.

Matt Auerbach: Agreed. Even if they were to beat Loyola, Tennessee clips them in the Second Round.

Brad Jenkins: So, what ACC teams will be in San Antonio and who’s cutting down the nets in April?

Mick McDonald: I actually had a Virginia vs. Duke championship game all set up until my day was ruined with the Hunter news. Don’t think I can stick with that as much as I want to. So I think Duke wins the title and is the only ACC team in San Antonio next month. Give me Cincinnati, Gonzaga and Villanova with Duke.

Matt Auerbach: I’m still trying to reconcile the Hunter news and if the ramifications lead me to keep Virginia out of the Final Four. I’ll definitely go with Villanova, Michigan State, Gonzaga and I’ll stick with Virginia as the league’s lone representative. The Zags win it all a year later than presumed.

Brad Jenkins: I think Duke has the best chance at the title, but Virginia and North Carolina have just as good a shot at making the Final Four. I’ll say Virginia, Michigan, Villanova and Duke with Villanova winning its second title in the last three years. This has been fun again. Let’s plan on doing it again next week when hopefully we have many more ACC teams still alive compared to a year ago. I’ll do my best to get two of them through — I’ll be in Charlotte this weekend to watch Virginia and UNC.

Matt Auerbach: Enjoyed it!

Brad Jenkins (323 Posts)

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