ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to recap a wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and preview the chances of the four remaining ACC schools making the Final Four.

The Answer to Your Trivia Question is Virginia (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: OK guys. Before we look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen, let’s recap the crazy first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I guess we have to start with the surprising outcomes that I witnessed in Charlotte. Mick, we’ll go ahead and let you give your take on what happened to Virginia.

Mick McDonald: Do I have to? I haven’t had the stomach to go back and watch it, and frankly, most of the game feels like a haze. Sort of like a bad dream you try to forget. That said, it was a collection of things, all of which were a worst case scenario for Virginia. Early foul trouble for Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, plus Tony Bennett’s refusal to play Marco Anthony, meant they had to play the same five guys (including Nigel Johnson and Jack Salt, who aren’t scorers) most of the first half. Secondly, their jump shots weren’t falling. Third, UMBC hung around long enough to get their confidence up. All of that still led to a halftime tie. Most Virginia fans were having Coastal Carolina flashbacks to 2014, still thinking they’d put it together. When the first play of the second half was an and-one to give Wilkins his third foul, things felt different. Then UMBC couldn’t miss, Virginia lost its composure and it was over. And yes, not having DeAndre Hunter hurt. But it was by no means the lone reason they lost.

Matt Auerbach: Obviously we’ve been beaten to death with every talking head, captain obvious rationale: Virginia isn’t built to play from behind; its style lends itself to keeping inferior teams in the game; and so on. But the truth remains that this tournament is a one-and-done scenario, and for that reason, remains random at its core. If they play 10 times, the Cavaliers win the other nine with a few of those games by 30-plus points. There’s no reason to attempt to explain it. It’s one of the reasons we love this event so much, unless, as in this case, you’re on the Virginia end.

Mick McDonald: Well said, Matt. Pat Forde, a columnist I usually respect and enjoy, published a column hours after the game calling the entire Virginia/Tony Bennett program fraudulent. That’s insane (and certainly trolling clickbait, but that’s another discussion). Bennett will keep winning and will eventually get to a Final Four. Just like every other great coach who “couldn’t win in March” before him.

Matt Auerbach: That article was written about Mike Krzyzewski 30 years ago, and was written about Jim Boeheim and his zone for a long time too. The antithesis was said about Tom Izzo; how’s that been working out?

Mick McDonald: People just have such a hard time accepting that events can be random and not need some massive underlying reason why they happened. This event breeds wild one-time results.

Matt Auerbach: The piling on effect gets you clicks and gets you paid, but his premise for the column seemed totally nonsensical to me  and I’m someone who is not a fan of the Virginia style in general. But the results during the year, and oh by the way, winning three in three days in Brooklyn a week ago, sort of disproves his notion.

Brad Jenkins: I will say this about not having Hunter. Let’s be honest. That meant we were watching a game that probably had no future NBA players on the floor (I guess Kyle Guy has a chance?) for either team. When a game is turning like that one did, you sometimes need a pro talent to just make a couple of great individual plays to stem the tide. Hunter could have done that.

Mick McDonald: There’s no question Hunter could have made a difference, especially in the first half. I just didn’t want people to think that was the lone reason this upset happened. Far from it.

Matt Auerbach: I don’t disagree with that, but they just looked off. Even Bennett looked like a deer in headlights to me. I don’t know if anything flips that game their way, which is insane to say given how much better a team they actually are.

Brad Jenkins: Let’s move on to the other shocker in the Queen City. Was Texas A&M that bad a match-up for North Carolina or did they just pick the wrong day to go ice-cold?

Texas A&M Dominated UNC For Most of the Game (USA Today Images)

Matt Auerbach: Frankly, if Texas A&M plays that way, they’re a bad match-up for just about anyone. Granted, their seasons wouldn’t show this, but in November if you told me this was the result between these two teams, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised.

Mick McDonald: Texas A&M has as much talent as anyone in the country. They were a top 10 team before injuries and suspensions derailed their season. But the answer is both. They were a terrible match-up for the Tar Heels because they had the size to take away North Carolina’s rebounding and could score on their undersized lineup. They needed to shoot it like crazy to win and they just had an off night. Even a normal shooting day for North Carolina probably means they lose given how well the Aggies played. They would have needed to get crazy-hot to beat them. They were awful, hence the blowout.

Brad Jenkins: I think Roy Williams got all he could out of this team this year but they were bound to struggle at some point in the NCAA Tournament with a bad shooting night. They are just not equipped to overcome that against exceptional talent.

Mick McDonald: I thought they’d at least make it to the regional in Los Angeles, but there’s no shame in losing to that Texas A&M team.

Brad Jenkins: One interesting note is that despite his reputation as a clutch NCAA Tournament player — probably based on winning the MOP at the Final Four last year — Joel Berry was already a sub-30 percent shooter from three-point range in NCAA play. So I wasn’t shocked that he went 2-of-10. I was more disappointed in Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson for both being horrible. Luke Maye was simply overmatched physically.

Mick McDonald: Maye had no shot against Robert Williams, Tyler Davis and that huge Texas A&M front line. It was definitely a poor shooting night for the whole team and really felt like it snowballed on them.

Brad Jenkins: Before we get to the winners, any thoughts on other ACC casualties in the First Round: NC State, Miami or Virginia Tech?

Mick McDonald: I was disappointed in Virginia Tech since Alabama isn’t good, but nothing besides that. I thought Miami would lose a tight game to Loyola-Chicago and they did. NC State was a total wildcard.

Matt Auerbach: Not much. I expected the first two to fall, and as for Virginia Tech, they were right there and just lost a coin-flip game. It wouldn’t have mattered, because no one was beating Villanova on Saturday.

Brad Jenkins: I completely agree with both of you. Now on to some good news. Four ACC teams advanced. Duke was impressive in both games. Can we trust them now?

Duke Mowed Down Two Opponents on Its Way to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Mick McDonald: I trusted them before! I still think they’re the favorite to win the title. The zone is good enough and they are so impressive on the offensive end. I would be absolutely shocked if Syracuse gives them a game.

Matt Auerbach: I think everyone is primed for a Duke/Villanova pseudo-championship tilt, just as they were anticipating the Michigan State/Duke game that now won’t happen. I think Duke gets there, as they’re really playing their best basketball. Villanova is going to have to really make shots like they did last week to join them. I think their regional played out in a way that will give them a maximum challenge.

Mick McDonald: I think Villanova is more likely to trip up than Duke, agreed.

Matt Auerbach: As for Duke specifically, Trevon Duval is the key for me. If he gets it going and is making shots from the perimeter as a bonus, they’re going to be extremely difficult, borderline impossible, to contain. The big guys are just so versatile and exceptional, and when Grayson Allen is also playing well, the shots are open for Gary Trent, Jr., and then it is just lights out.

Mick McDonald: I know last week Brad mentioned the Duval stinker game costing them. I don’t even think he needs to be good against Syracuse. Against Kansas, maybe. But I don’t know how Kansas would handle all their size

Brad Jenkins: I think Friday night could be a repeat of the ugly game Duke had with Syracuse at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils make enough individual great plays to get by. I still worry about Duval, though, moving forward. Last night, I listened to the CBS Eye on College Basketball podcast and I thought Gary Parrish made a great point. Duke has the highest ceiling (if they play great, they beat anybody). But Villanova has the highest floor, meaning they’re less likely to have a bad game but a team playing great can beat them.

Matt Auerbach: Which I sort of think happens with West Virginia. And Mick, did you just advance Kansas past Clemson??? So easily???

Brad Jenkins: How about the fighting Brad Brownells? Did Clemson shoot all its bullets in San Diego? Can they handle a virtual road game with Kansas?

Mick McDonald: Just thinking in terms of Duke! I think Clemson could beat Kansas, for sure. I wasn’t surprised Clemson beat Auburn (I’ve been down on Auburn all year) but the margin was certainly something I wouldn’t have predicted. Can they get by Kansas? I mean, sure, why not? Their guards, specifically Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe, have always been underrated, and Elijah Thomas can certainly match a less-than-100 percent Udoka Azubuike. If Kansas has a cold shooting night…

Brad Jenkins: Clemson really defends well as a team so they should be able to make it a close one. Then we could see Kansas feel that pressure that comes from all those recent NCAA disappointments.

Clemson Was Completely Dominant in San Diego (USA Today Images)

Matt Auerbach: Having no allegiance or affiliation with Kansas or Bill Self, for some reason I have always been a shill for the Jayhawks. I’ve picked them to win it all every year since 2007. Which is a testament to how consistently great they have been. But this iteration just doesn’t do it for me. I’m shocked they’re a #1 seed, a deserving one at that, but I do think that Clemson, a team that may have the claim to most impressive performance inside the tournament thus far, clips them. But, who knows? I thought Seton Hall would get them as well.

Brad Jenkins: And finally we have Florida State, coming through in the postseason just like we all thought, right?

Mick McDonald: I watched the entire game and still have no idea how they beat Xavier. I’d be sick if I was a Musketeers fan. This Florida State team still does nothing for me and I think Gonzaga handles them… by a lot.

Matt Auerbach: Agreed. The end of that game made less sense to me than the end of the Nevada vs. Cincinnati tilt. Nevada has dudes who can go get points in a hurry. Florida State just has a lot of guys, who are big and athletic, but nothing spectacular. That was just a Xavier meltdown.

Brad Jenkins: Yeah. Honestly, Xavier really just gagged this one away. I do think Florida State’s depth of athletes was a factor. The Big East is a great league but most of their teams are built on veteran tough guys that aren’t really that long and quick. The moment definitely got to Xavier in the rare role of the favorite just as it did to Cincinnati.

Matt Auerbach: But, we must give credit to Florida State in this regard. They kept after it. And when the opening arrived, they seized it. I’m happy for Leonard Hamilton.

Mick McDonald: Also to Terrance Mann for gutting through what sounded like a painful groin injury.

Brad Jenkins: All groin injuries sound painful. So I’m guessing our consensus is that Duke has at least a better than 50/50 chance of getting to San Antonio. Clemson has a puncher’s chance but that’s it, right?

Matt Auerbach: Yeah. I’m with Mick. I don’t see Florida State really challenging Gonzaga. I’m with you, Brad, on Duke fairly easily handling Syracuse. I think Duke then squeaks by Clemson, in a game that may have swung the Tigers way, if Donte’ Grantham were still playing.

Mick McDonald: I’d be SHOCKED if either Syracuse or Florida State won their next game. Clemson certainly has a shot against Kansas, although I think I’d pick them to lose a tight game. Duke is getting to San Antonio and probably cutting down the nets when the Blue Devils get there.

Brad Jenkins: Once again this has been fun, even though we had hoped to have two more of the league’s heavyweights still around. Hopefully next week we can discuss an ACC team going to the Alamo.

Matt Auerbach: The law of averages would suggest at least one of them gets there, unless of course this is the year that Kansas returns. Seeing as how I’m only picking against them this year, it’s likely to happen.

Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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