ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Regional Recap

Posted by The ACC Team on April 3rd, 2019

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite team of Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chat about the ACC’s lone Final Four participant, as well as the losses suffered by ACC squads in the regionals.

Zion Williamson’s Collegiate Career Ended in Washington, DC, on Sunday (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Welcome to April, fellas! Although it’s a little disappointing that only one of the ACC’s trio of top seeds made it through regional play, we still have the league’s best team, Virginia, heading to Minneapolis. But before we look ahead, let’s recap the amazing regionals action we just saw. Before we look at the individual ACC squads that perished, what are your overall thoughts on what we witnessed? Was this the best Elite Eight ever?

Mick McDonald: The 2005 NCAA Tournament is the standard bearer for amazing Elite Eights, and I think this year’s crop rates right up there with it. All four games featured two excellent teams playing at high levels in close games. We got two overtime games, a heavyweight battle between two legendary coaches, and one of the best individual performances in the history of the tournament from Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. Top it off with the amazing buzzer-beating scramble by Virginia to lock in an all-time moment, and I think you can make a pretty good argument for it being the best.

Matt Auerbach: All things being equal, the one that could rival this Elite Eight was, as Mick referenced, the one back in 2005. But, given the epic nature of the finish between Virginia and Purdue — with a backdrop of the performance of Edwards and the redemption of the Cavaliers — to highlight a weekend where another game went to overtime, another was decided by a point and another — Texas Tech vs. Gonzaga — was perhaps the best played of them all. It was an exhilarating set of games, and undeniably one of the best set of Elite Eight games ever.

Brad Jenkins: I’ve been watching this tournament since… well, let’s just say for quite a while. I can’t recall a better four games to get to the Final Four. And the Virginia-Purdue classic is on the short list of the best college games I’ve ever watched. Now, let’s talk a little about the ACC teams that bowed out in the Sweet Sixteen, beginning with Florida State and Virginia Tech. Tough losses for both programs, but historic seasons nonetheless.

Matt Auerbach: Yeah, I think Florida State just kind of ran into an off night situation with Gonzaga. It felt as though the Zags kept them at a comfortable distance throughout the contest, and the Seminoles could never get a spark to surge into the lead. As for the Hokies, you can’t get any closer than that!

Mick McDonald: The Virginia Tech loss is going to sting more with what seems like the inevitable departure of Buzz Williams to Texas A&M. They had Duke on the ropes and let them off the hook. Who knows if that administration will pony up for another coach at Williams’ level, but their history of support for the basketball program has not been great. Given the success of the past three years, though, this is going to be a massively important hire in Blacksburg.

Matt Auerbach: The shooting of Tre Jones was the difference in that game. Buzz Williams challenged him to beat Virginia Tech from the perimeter, and credit to Jones, he did just that. And yes, Buzz still flies a state of Texas flag at his home in Blacksburg. Williams turning down the Texas A&M gig would be the biggest upset we’ve seen since last year’s UMBC victory. See, Mick, now those jokes don’t sting as much.

Mick McDonald: The Retrievers jokes are all now fair game, especially for how UMBC has handled this whole thing. They’ve been fantastic.

Brad Jenkins: Yeah, the “buzz” is that Williams is headed for Texas A&M, but what a job he did with the Hokies’ program. It may be the right time to leave — they almost certainly will take a step back year with all that they will be losing from the roster. As for Florida State, I don’t think the casual fan/media understood how much the Phil Cofer/David Nichols losses hurt them on Thursday. All we kept hearing was how deep they were, and that was their edge all year, but without those two they lost much of that advantage.

Matt Auerbach: Totally agree with that. A few early fouls on Christ Koumadje just added to the strain on their depth. As deep as they were, and as impressive as they looked at times — particularly against Murray State — this team had a very nice season.

Mick McDonald: There is no shame in losing to a team as talented as Gonzaga in a competitive game in the Sweet Sixteen. Another solid year for Leonard Hamilton.

The End of the Line For UNC Came Against Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Squad (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Matt, you know North Carolina very well – you pegged them as a national title contender back in October and they proved you right. What went wrong against Auburn? Was it a bad match-up or just one of those days when you don’t fire on all cylinders (they did have an untimely flu bug that hit several players last week)?

Matt Auerbach: Look, I’m not one for excuses because they are just a waste of time — years from now, no one will remember that Cam Johnson and Nassir Little were a little under the weather in this game. There’s no doubt that both guys looked slowed to an extent, but you can’t take anything away from Auburn. Any time a team makes 17 threes against you, you’re going to be in some trouble, and the Tigers just had one of those nights where they weren’t going to slow down.

Mick McDonald: I’ll stump for North Carolina in that Johnson and Little clearly weren’t anywhere near 100 percent, and that hurt them considerably. The size of both of those guys would have been a key against Auburn. That said… the Tigers made 17 threes. When a team that good shoots so well, it is going to beat just about anybody they play.

Brad Jenkins: I’ve heard some of the usual criticisms of Roy Williams for not defending the three-point shot, and I get it to some extent — live by the three, die by the three works on defense too. But they just didn’t seem to have their normal energy (probably health-related), which meant they weren’t able to play their normal game on the boards. I think the Tar Heels win that game at least two out of every three times but the tourney doesn’t work that way. So, Duke’s luck in NCAA Tournament nail-biters finally ran out. Thoughts on the end for Zion Williamson and the Blue Devils?

Mick McDonald: First thing on Duke: Michigan State is an excellent team. I thought they were the best #2 seed and it was a tough break to have to face them in the regional final. That said, when you don’t shoot free throws or threes well and you play a bunch of close games in the tournament, you are asking for trouble. And they finally got caught. I’m not going to pile on the “RJ Barrett is Selfish” train, but the fact that Williamson only took one shot in the last six minutes of that game is unacceptable. Whether that is on Mike Krzyzewksi, Barrett, Williamson or someone else, it simply cannot happen in a situation of that magnitude. I know Xavier Tillman had played him well and Michigan State had keyed in on him… but he needed the ball

Matt Auerbach: I think everything that needs to be said about Zion has already been said. He was an absolutely breath-taking talent who had an all-time great college basketball season. As for Duke, I think that they sort of plateaued over the course of the season, but their vulnerabilities behind the arc and from the free throw line were there from day one and could not be resolved. Against Michigan State, those same problems — along with careless turnovers and getting ZERO points in transition — was the tonic to their season ending.

Mick McDonald: The fact that they couldn’t get ANYONE all season long to become a reliable spot-up shooter was amazing to me. All they needed was Alex O’Connell to make three wide-open threes a game and they were likely win the national title.

Matt Auerbach: Jack White was that guy for about a month — what happened there? I’m not putting this on him individually, but he couldn’t really catch the rim over the last two months of the year. Huge props to Javin DeLaurier though — what a game he played on Sunday.

Brad Jenkins: I’ll give most of the credit to Michigan State for playing tough, physical and smart. But looking at Duke’s season overall, I think it showed us how a young team can’t handle adversity as well as experienced squads. Most teams have injuries along the way and Duke certainly did too, but it set them back more. While everyone else was getting better as the season went on, they stayed the same or regressed — putting them into a “just another good team” category in March. Now, let’s talk about the ACC’s last survivor. Mick, what are your thoughts on Tony Bennett‘s club reaching the Final Four?

Tony Bennett Reached His First Final Four Over the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Mick McDonald: I think Tony Bennett — a coach who maybe shows less emotion in public than any coach I can remember — letting out a primal scream after cutting down the net really says it all, doesn’t it? As he said in the postgame interviews, nobody knows what this team had to go through the past year. Nobody. And to navigate a season that included a cloud of doubt hanging over their heads the entire year, including a first-half against Gardner-Webb that could have EASILY led to another collapse, is so impressive. The play everyone will remember from the Purdue game already has legendary status in Charlottesville. The shot by Mamadi Diakite is unreal, but the presence of mind for Kihei Clark, a freshman, one who has been heavily criticized by many Virginia fans to throw that pass, is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Brad Jenkins: No matter what happens now, Clark is an eternal hero!!!

Mick McDonald: The Kyle Guy-Carsen Edwards showdown in the second half was one of the all-time gunslinger back and forths in tournament history, and don’t forget, they were trailing with under a minute left in overtime even after all of that. And when they had to have a bucket, DeAndre Hunter took over and got what they needed.

Matt Auerbach: And that was the first we had heard from Hunter in quite a while. I’ve been driving his hype train for a year and a half already. I’m super impressed that the Cavaliers were able to overcome Edwards’ performance while getting nothing from Hunter in that game until the big bucket Mick referenced.

Brad Jenkins: Is there any concern of a letdown on Saturday? I mean, I’ve never seen Bennett that emotional before. And often in the first game of the national semifinals one team inexplicably lays an egg — think back to Oklahoma in 2016.

Matt Auerbach: Not for me. I think if anyone has a letdown it will be Auburn. I love this match-up for Virginia.

Mick McDonald: Possible? Sure, I guess. If Auburn comes out and makes 15 threes again, they could win. But I would be surprised if the Tigers do that. I think Virginia matches up VERY well against this Auburn team, especially without their big man, Chuma Okeke. Clark is the perfect match-up to bother Jared Harper and Auburn’s going to have a really hard time stopping Virginia on offense.

Matt Auerbach: Totally agree. And the size of Jerome on the perimeter is going to bother Harper and Brown, depending on who is checking at the time. I’d be shocked if Hunter didn’t have a dominant game here as well. Also, Jack Salt re-emerged on Sunday, which was nice to see. He could be critical in a potential Monday night match-up with either Michigan State or Texas Tech.

Mick McDonald: Don’t forget about Braxton Key either. He is the best rebounder on the team and not giving Auburn (or either of the potential opponents Monday) second chances is going to be very important this weekend. I’d expect him to grab some big rebounds when he is in the game.

Brad Jenkins: I think a decent first half will be important as Virginia adjusts to Auburn’s scrambling halfcourt pressure defense. As long as it’s close at intermission I think the Cavs will figure out how to take advantage of the risks Auburn takes and eventually punish them on that end. If they get by the fighting Bruce Pearls is there a better match-up ahead between Michigan State/Texas Tech for the Wahoos?

Matt Auerbach: Well Mick, I’m sure you have PTSD from the Michigan State games of yore.

Mick McDonald: It would be fitting if they took on Michigan State. The Spartans knocked out Bennett’s first two great teams at Virginia (Sweet Sixteen in 2014; Round of 32 in 2015), so it would be sweet justice if Virginia took Tom Izzo down to win its first title. Either would be very tough. The Jarrett Culver-DeAndre Hunter match-up would be fun for NBA heads, but not fun for anyone who wants a National Championship game to have more than 110 total points.

Matt Auerbach: I’ve thought Virginia was the best team in the country since December. I’ve thought Texas Tech has been the best team in this tournament. So, congratulations to Tom Izzo on winning his second national title.

Brad Jenkins: Ha ha. Any national champ has a great story going for them, but nobody’s would be better than Virginia if they win it all after last year’s loss, and it the Cavaliers also happen to beat their NCAA nemesis (Spartans) in the finals.

Matt Auerbach: It sets up a truly perfectly tidy story for a really deserving program and coach.

Mick McDonald: If Virginia wins the championship, it is a Disney movie to show to kids about why you don’t get down when something doesn’t go your way. Like, actually. It might already be one regardless. Just unreal.

Matt Auerbach: Agreed, as a Maryland alum, I hate to admit that I’ve been rooting for them all year. The way in which Bennett’s team handled that unprecedented adversity has really been admirable. I really hope they cap it off this weekend, but even if they come up short, they should be really proud about the way they have bounced back and performed this year.

Brad Jenkins: Before we go I want to point out that if anyone wants to see what makes college basketball great (besides the tremendous tournament games of course), I’d invite them to look at two videos from last weekend. The first would be the North Carolina players, despite getting beat handily, going out of their way to encourage Auburn’s Okeke when he tore his ACL. And the other is when Nick Ward and Cassius Winston broke away from their postgame celebrations to console a devastated Tre Jones from Duke. Classy moves!

Mick McDonald: Along with all the great games, it has been heartwarming to see those kind of moments around the tournament. There was a nice moment with Mamadi Diakite and Carsen Edwards following the Virginia-Purdue game as well.

Matt Auerbach: It’s what the tournament is all about and speaks so highly of those kids, their parents and their respective coaching staffs. That was awesome.

Brad Jenkins: College sports may have its problems, but the good far outweighs the bad. Okay fellas, this had been another super conversation. Hopefully, in less than a week we, the ACC will get another Natty!!!

Mick McDonald: Fingers crossed. Enjoy the Final Four, guys!

Mick McDonald (67 Posts)


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