ACC Must End Final Four Drought to Claim Best Conference Status

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 25th, 2015

With a record-tying five schools in the Sweet Sixteen, the ACC has received a lot of praise this week as this year’s best conference. There’s no doubt that tying the 2009 Big East with the most teams to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is quite an impressive feat. But it’s also not totally unexpected either, considering that the league placed five teams among the top four seed-lines of the bracket. The only real surprise is that the ACC’s regular season champion, Virginia, is not among the quintet still playing, replaced instead by #8 seed N.C.State (which knocked off #1 seed Villanova). There are many different metrics that are used to rank leagues: overall average team rankings (RPI, KenPom); head-to-head results between the major conferences; NCAA Performance (teams in the Big Dance, total wins, Sweet Sixteen schools, Final Four teams, Championships); and combinations of them all. And while the ACC has historically outperformed every other conference in most if not all of those categories, the league has slid in what we feel are the most important areas — Final Four appearances and national championships — over the last nine years.

35 Years

The table above shows how well the ACC has done over the past 35 years in getting to the Final Four and winning the National Championship. We used 1980 as the starting point in our analysis because that was the first truly “open” tournament. Up until 1975, only conference champions were invited to the NCAA Tournament, and for the next five years (1975-79), the maximum number of teams allowed from a single league was limited to two. In addition to results from actual conference membership at the time, just for fun, we also added results from a current league affiliation perspective. For example, in the current membership column, the ACC loses Maryland’s two Final Four appearances but gains the many earned by Syracuse and Louisville as members of the Big East and other leagues. Now let’s look at just how far the ACC has fallen in recent NCAA Tournaments, starting with the first 26 years of the open tournament era.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 68, #8 San Diego State 49

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Krzyzewski leads Duke into the Sweet Sixteen for the th time. (Sporting News Photo)

Mike Krzyzewski leads Duke into the Sweet Sixteen for the 22nd time. (Credit: Sporting News Photo)

  1. Duke got a great draw for a second round opponent. While we all know how potent the Blue Devils are offensively, there have been games in which opponents have exposed some weaknesses in Duke’s defense this year. But those teams had characteristics that San Diego State just does not possess, namely capable perimeter shooting, and guards that excel at penetration. Many times this season, opponents have made 50 percent or better from behind the arc against Duke, often because guards got into the lane easily before kicking out to open shooters. Without a penetrating guard at its disposal, San Diego State was unable to break Duke’s pressure effectively and even when they got free, they missed – going 2-for-13 from distance.
  2. San Diego State just doesn’t have enough offense. That’s been the Aztecs’ Achilles’ heel all year. In each half today, San Diego State went through long stretches of cold shooting that kept them from hanging around. The killer came in the middle of the second half, after they had cut Duke’s lead to seven with just under 13 minutes to go. Over the next nine minutes, San Diego only scored two points as Duke built an insurmountable 25-point lead. You have to give them credit though for hustle, as the Aztecs grabbed 13 of their misses and turned them into a big (+16) advantage in second-chance points. But the overall lack of offensive skill was wholly evident as San Diego State couldn’t keep up with Duke’s firepower.
  3. Talent Matters. San Diego State has a good, deep team but probably lacks any future NBA players on its roster. On the other hand, Duke probably has several, including the likely overall #1 pick in this year’s draft – Jahlil Okafor. The big freshman displayed his advanced skill package against a tough defensive interior, scoring 26 points on a smooth 12-of-16 shooting performance. Justice Winslow looked like a top-5 pick himself, with a terrific all-around game. When he grabs a defensive rebound he immediately looks to push the pace, often going coast-to-coast a la Lebron James. That was big today as the Blue Devils were able to often avoid the rugged Aztec half-court defense, finishing with 18 fast break points in the game.

Star of the Game.  Justice Winslow, Duke. It appears that the Houston native really wanted to go back home next week for the South Regionals. Winslow has shown a knack this season for getting off to energetic starts that propel Duke to big early leads. That was true today as well, with Winslow setting the tone by grabbing nine rebounds and dishing four dimes before intermission. He finished a great all-around performance with a double-double (13 and 12) to go with five assists, four steals, and three blocks.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 60, #2 Virginia 54

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Tom Izzo and Michigan State beat a higher seeded Virginia for the second straight year. (rushthecourt)

Tom Izzo and Michigan State beat a higher seeded Virginia for the second straight year.

  1. Michigan State’s defense is toxic for Virginia shooters. For the second year in a row, the Cavaliers struggled to put the ball in the hoop against the Spartans in NCAA play. In last year’s East Regional semifinal, Virginia shot 35 percent from the field and things were even worse in this one, as the Cavaliers went 17-for-57 (29.8%) from the floor. Malcolm Brogdon, in particular, has not liked seeing the green Spartan jerseys. Last year he suffered through a 4-for-14 shooting night and this time he only managed nine points, going 3-of-12 from the floor. As expected, the Cavaliers’ defense and rebounding kept them in the game, but in the end, Virginia’s offense just wasn’t up to par for the second year in a row.
  2. Michigan State is one tough #7 Seed.  As soon as the brackets came out last Sunday night, almost everyone agreed that the Spartans were underseeded. That certainly appears to be a correct assessment and Virginia paid the price for it. Perhaps if the Big Ten Tournament title game was played earlier in the day last Sunday, the Selection Committee would have had time to more properly seed Michigan State. In any event, that day’s tough overtime loss to Wisconsin, combined with this win, show that the Spartans are capable of getting Tom Izzo back to the Final Four again. And it doesn’t hurt that the East Region’s top seed, Villanova is already home too.
  3. Branden Dawson did it again. Last year, Dawson torched the Cavaliers with 24 points and 10 rebounds, and he proved to a tough match-up again – on both ends of the floor. Today, the senior forward punished Virginia in the paint, finishing the game with 15 points, nine boards, and four blocks. Just like we thought, it was a man’s game inside, and Dawson was the baddest dude of them all. His first leap is so quick and explosive, which enabled him to outreach everyone for many fifty-fifty balls.

Star of the Game. Travis Trice, Michigan State. The senior guard got the Spartans off to a blazing start with an amazing offensive display. In the first five and a half minutes of the game, Trice had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting including three 3-pointers, as Michigan State grabbed an early 11 point lead. He finished with 23 points and his dagger three with just under three minutes to go giving the Spartans enough breathing room to close the game out.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 San Diego State 76, #9 St. John’s 64

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

All Smiles for San Diego State Tonight -- We Can't Score? (USA Today Images)

All Smiles for San Diego State Tonight — We Can’t Score? (USA Today Images)

  1. San Diego State was just too deep and tough. This was not the best of matchups for a shorthanded St. John’s team. With San Diego State’s depth and the tough defense that the Aztecs play, the Red Storm would have faced a tough challenge even before they lost center Chris Obekpa to suspension. The Johnnies battled hard, and to their credit, they made an effort to push the ball in transition (16 fast break points) rather than face the molasses-thick half-court defense of the Aztecs. Tired legs probably caught up with them in the second half as St. John’s only shot 1-of-6 on their second half threes. We saw this coming when the halftime box score showed that four of Steve Lavin’s group had played the entire half while eight San Diego State players had logged at least nine minutes.
  2. Rebounding was a huge concern for St. John’s but San Diego State didn’t dominate the glass. The Red Storm were a terrible rebounding team (-6.6 RPG) in Big East play this season even with Obekpa in the lineup. But for the first 20 minutes, the undersized Johnnies battled San Diego State evenly on the glass. After intermission, though, the deeper frontline of the Aztecs eventually won the day, leading them to a +13 advantage in second chance points for the contest.
  3. The Aztecs were actually good offensively. San Diego State came in with the nation’s 172nd-best offense but came out hot tonight, scoring an efficient 1.21 points per possession in a surprisingly potent 40-point first half. St. John’s is no Virginia defensively, especially without Opekpa in the paint, but the Red Storm had no answer when the Aztecs attacked. The real surprise was that San Diego State was so hot from distance, making 9-of-22 threes in tonight’s game.

Star of the Game.  Dwayne Polee II, San Diego State. The balanced Aztecs had many candidates for this award, but we will select Polee II for getting his team off to a fast start. The senior who had missed 15 games earlier this year for health reasons hit 4-of-6 threes on his way to 12 first half points, getting the Aztecs off and running.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 85, #16 Robert Morris 56

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Jahlil Okafor and Duke were too big for Robert Morris to handle in the paint. (AP Photo)

Jahlil Okafor and Duke were too big for Robert Morris to handle in the paint. (AP Photo)

  1. Duke says “not this year.” After well-documented Second Round clunkers in two of the last three years, Duke came out blazing tonight — hitting nine of its first 10 shots on the way to a 17-point halftime lead. The Colonials made a run midway through the second half to cut the Duke lead to 10, but after a Mike Krzyzewski timeout, the Blue Devils responded with a run of its own to put the game away. When Duke’s balanced offense is clicking, it’s very hard to stop. Tonight they made threes and dominated inside with a +12 rebounding edge. The only negatives were a 50 percent performance at the foul line, and the tendency to get casual with the ball, as Duke committed 11 mostly unforced turnovers.
  2. Robert Morris looked like a #16 seed tonight. The Colonials were impressive in their First Four win over North Florida on Wednesday but looked physically overmatched against Duke tonight. While few teams can match up with freshman All-American Jahlil Okafor, the Colonials’ overall lack of size anywhere in the lineup gave them virtually no chance. Even Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee were too much for Robert Morris to handle in the post. For the game, Duke outscored its opponent in the paint by a huge margin (+24) and the undersized Colonials only got to the free throw line four times.
  3. Duke’s freshmen performed well in their NCAA Tournament debut. Part of the worry for Duke fans coming into today’s game was that those two Blue Devils squads that suffered recent early NCAA exits were so reliant on freshman stars. With this year’s team suiting up a trio of great rookies, the question of experience in an NCAA Tournament setting was on everyone’s minds. It didn’t seem to matter. Okafor had his way inside, going 9-of-11 from the floor and suffering some sharp scolding from Krzyzewski after missed a reverse dunk in transition. Tyus Jones ran the team well, finishing with 10 points, seven assists and committing only one turnover. Justise Winslow came alive in the second half and was the player who facilitated Duke fighting off Robert Morris’ second half surge. After the lead was cut to 10, Winslow hit a three, grabbed a rebound and took it coast to coast for a layup, and then grabbed another board that he turned into an assist on a Tyus Jones three. Ballgame.

Star of the Game. Quinn Cook, Duke. Duke’s senior leader made sure that his team got off to a great start with his early play tonight. He hit four first-half threes on the way to 16 points and finished the game with a team-high 22. Cook also dished out five assists and had three steals in a very good all-around performance.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Virginia 79, #15 Belmont 67

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rick Byrd and Belmont competed well but still couldn't get that elusive first NCAA win. (Gerald Herbert/AP Photo)

Rick Byrd and Belmont competed well but still couldn’t get that elusive first NCAA win.
(Gerald Herbert/AP Photo)

  1. It was another slow NCAA start for Virginia. Last year, #16 Coastal Carolina led Virginia most of the first half in the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament opener and today started out the same way. Belmont jumped out to an early six-point lead, making eight of its first 12 shots against the vaunted Virginia defense. Virginia came back behind Malcolm Brogdon and appeared to have the game under control, but Belmont didn’t quit and made things very interesting down the stretch. For the second straight outing, the Cavaliers’ highly regarded defense has shown some notable flaws. North Carolina shot about 55 percent from the field against it in the ACC Tournament last week, and Belmont’s attacking spread offense caused more problems than expected today. Not only did the Bruins shake free to make 8-of-25 threes, but they also managed to make a remarkable 59.4 percent of their two-point tries and outscored the bigger Cavaliers in the paint (+4).
  2. Belmont has learned how to be competitive in the NCAA Tourney but not yet how to win in it. The Bruins fell short again for the seventh time in seven trips to the Big Dance, all of them as a double-digit seed. In its first two trips, Belmont suffered blowout losses, but Rick Byrd’s program has shown that it is no longer intimidated by the situation. Before today, the margins of defeat in Belmont’s four previous appearances were all under 20 points, with the most memorable of those being a one-point loss to #2 Duke in 2008. This performance fits in nicely as Belmont’s next-best NCAA effort. While this year’s OVC championship was something of a surprise, next year’s Bruins squad should be better with a solid nucleus returning and the goal of returning to the NCAAs and finally breaking through with a win.
  3. Justin Anderson is starting to shake off the rust. In his return last week, Anderson didn’t score in two ACC Tournament games while playing limited minutes. He came off the bench again today, but he was much more productive. Anderson played 26 minutes and scored 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor that included a solid 6-of-7 from the foul line. More important than that, he seemed very comfortable in his movements on both ends. It’s critical that Anderson progresses back to where he was in January when the Cavaliers’ offense was really clicking and looked Final Four worthy.

Star of the Game.  Craig Bradshaw, Belmont. The junior guard did a number on the famous Virginia pack-line defense, even banking in a three that looked intentional (at least he sold it well). Bradshaw finished with 25 points and also led all rebounders with nine boards. He was equally effective from both sides of the arc, making 5-of-9 from deep and hitting 5-of-10 on two-point shots.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 70, #10 Georgia 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Travis Trice led Michigan State's decisive first half run. (Kirthman F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press)

Travis Trice led Michigan State’s decisive first half run.
(Kirthman F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press)

  1. Michigan State’s first half run was the key. After getting off to a slow start and trailing by six points early, the Spartans got it going at both ends of the floor and roared to a 12-point halftime lead. Georgia made a spirited effort to recover in the second half but could never quite catch up. During that first half, Georgia’s ball-handling deficiencies came to the forefront. The Bulldogs entered the game with five more total turnovers than assists on the season, and they played to form in that regard today by coughing it up 10 times in the first 20 minutes. That problem, combined with an inability to make shots (28 percent shooting in the first half), dug the Bulldogs a huge hole that it never climbed out of. Meanwhile, Michigan State got out in transition (eight fast break points) and heated up from deep with five threes before the intermission.
  2. Georgia’s bigs really struggled to finish at the rim. Georgia’s primary big men, Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic, each entered the contest shooting close to 50 percent from the field but neither came close to that mark today. The two combined to only make 4-of-17 shots against the Spartans, with most of the misses coming close to the basket. It could be attributed to non-explosive players failing to finish through the kind of contact that is allowed in NCAA games, because it wasn’t an effort problem (each player grabbed at least 10 rebounds). Credit goes to Michigan State for making those opportunities for Thornton and Djurisic tough ones, as the Bulldogs only converted 34.9 percent of their two-point shots for the game.
  3. Free throws are a problem for Michigan State. Michigan State was outscored by 10 points at the free throw line and that has been a recurring theme as the Spartans have made 106 fewer foul shots than their opponents this year. Part of the problem is that Michigan State just doesn’t shoot the ball very well from the stripe (63.3 percent on the year), but it also doesn’t get there very often either. Perhaps this is just a byproduct of these Spartans becoming more of a jump shooting team than we are used to from Tom Izzo, but it could hurt them as the competition improves open perimeter shots are tougher to find and knock down.

Stars of the Game.  Travis Trice & Branden Dawson, Michigan State. Tom Izzo’s veterans came through for him, one in each half. Trice was the catalyst behind the first half spurt, with 11 points and four assists before the break that included a pair of threes that gave the Spartans a nice working margin. Dawson spent most of the opening stanza on the bench because of foul trouble, finishing the half with no points or rebounds. However, when Georgia made its push early in the second half, it was Dawson who helped get the game back under control. He finished with 14 points and six boards to hold off the Bulldogs.

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Sunday NCAA Outlook for ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 15th, 2015

Now that the ACC Tournament is in the books, all the resumes are complete heading into Selection Sunday. Here’s an updated look at what we can expect to see when the field is announced tonight.

Notre Dame will try and defy NCAA Tournament history after winning the ACC Championship. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Notre Dame will try to defy NCAA Tournament history after winning the ACC Championship.
(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Each team is listed with its current overall record along with projected NCAA seed per ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports‘ Jerry Palm.

  • Duke (29-4, ESPN: #1, CBS: #2) As you can see, opinions differ among the experts regarding which (if any) ACC team will get a #1 seed and which will fall to the #2 line. Duke’s ace in the hole is the fact that the Blue Devils own road wins over each of the other two primary #1 seed contenders, Wisconsin and Virginia. We predict that the Selection Committee will use that as a tie-breaker and reward Duke with the third-overall #1 seed, placing the Blue Devils in the South Region.
  • Virginia (29-3, ESPN: #2, CBS: #1)  The Cavaliers hope that the Selection Committee places higher value on their ACC regular season title than how the team looks recently with two losses in their last three outings. Justin Anderson has not looked sharp in his two games since returning and that may also influence things. If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten title today, look for Virginia to be the #2 seed in the East.

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Rushed Reactions: #19 North Carolina 71, #3 Virginia 67

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 13th, 2015

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ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

Three Key Takeaways from North Carolina’s ACC semifinal win over Virginia.

Justin Jackson leads North Carolina to the ACC Tournament finals with 22 points (USA Today Images)

Justin Jackson led North Carolina to the ACC Tournament finals with 22 points (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina found some toughness. For the second day in a row, the Tar Heels faced an opponent that had previously manhandled them down the stretch. But in Greensboro this week, North Carolina stood up to an aggressive Louisville squad and then followed that up by fighting off a spirited comeback attempt from the top-seeded Cavaliers. Both games were close but the Heels were able to make more big plays down the stretch to prevail. Virginia had all the momentum when Malcolm Brogdon nailed a three-pointer to cut the Tar Heels’ lead to one with just under three minutes left in the game. But North Carolina responded by getting some crucial stops the rest of the way, sealing the game by knocking down its last six free throws to ice the game.
  2. Malcolm Brogdon has the heart of a champion and the game to match. After a cold shooting first half that saw Brogdon only score three points, Tony Bennett challenged his all-ACC junior to step up and Brogdon responded in a big way. He brought Virginia back from a 13-point second half deficit — scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting after intermission. With Justin Anderson still ineffective in just his second game back in the lineup – zero points in 14 minutes of action, the Cavaliers’ offense seemed out of sync until Brogdon took it upon himself to take over the game. The primary concern is if Anderson doesn’t return to his old form in the NCAA Tournament, Brogdon alone will not be enough to carry the Cavaliers to the Final Four.
  3. Shooting is no longer a weakness for this North Carolina team. For much of this season, the Tar Heels have been inconsistent with their shooting but it appears they are heating up at just the right time. Against the stout Virginia defense, North Carolina shot 54.8 percent from the field and made half of its threes (7-of-14). That’s the highest field goal percentage allowed by Virginia in over four seasons. It’s not just a one-game occurrence though, as the Heels came in to this contest having made 50 percent of their twos and 42 percent of their threes over the last seven games. With that kind of balance inside and out, this team will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. Now, if only they can take care of the ball — 18 turnovers almost ruined tonight’s great shooting performance.

Star of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. The freshman wing came up with a huge game, scoring 22 points on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. Despite being only a 26 percent three-point shooter coming into this game, Jackson connected on 4-of-5 from deep tonight. Considering the magnitude of the game, and the quality of the opponent, this has to be his best performance of the year.

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Semifinal Friday NCAA Outlook for ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 13th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

With Selection Sunday almost upon us, here’s a quick look at how things stand for ACC schools moving forward. The four teams still playing in Greensboro are battling for NCAA Tournament seeding at this point. Most bracket experts seem to think that if #2 Duke and #3 Virginia both make it to the ACC championship game on Saturday night, each would earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The other two ACC semifinalists — #11 Notre Dame and #19 North Carolina — have locked in protected NCAA seeds, but could still move up the seed lines with huge wins tonight. Among the schools no longer alive in Greensboro, two are regarded as either locks (Louisville) or very probable (N.C. State) to receive invitations to the Dance. Miami appears to be the only ACC bubble team that remains. Below is a look at where each school’s NCAA Tournament prospects are as of today with regard to seeding and potential advancement.

Jim Larranaga hopes to see Miami's name called out during Sunday's NCAA Selection show. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Jim Larranaga hopes to hear Miami’s name called out during Sunday’s NCAA Selection show.
(Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Each team is listed with its current overall record along with projected NCAA seed per ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports‘ Jerry Palm.

  • Virginia (29-2, ESPN: #1, CBS: #1)  The big story with the Cavaliers is the return of Justin Anderson and what that means going forward. With so little time left to get back into season form, Anderson needs immediate minutes and the Cavaliers need immediate production. The Cavaliers’ offense is not good enough to reach the Final Four without a healthy and productive Anderson in their lineup. Though unlikely, there’s a small chance that a semifinal loss to North Carolina tonight would knock Virginia off the #1 seed line, depending on how the other conference champions like Villanova, Wisconsin and Arizona play this weekend.
  • Duke (29-3, ESPN: #1, CBS: #1) The Blue Devils are playing as well as any team in the country right now, but they need to win at least one more game this week, and perhaps two, to assure themselves of hanging on to that #1 seed. Mike Krzyzewski’s new defensive scheme – a three-quarter court zone press and some half-court matchup zone – has been effective at cutting down guard penetration, a profound defensive weakness for the Blue Devils. With the nation’s top offense on the other end of the floor, that should be enough to avoid the early upset bug and make for a deep NCAA run.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 77, N.C. State 53

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 12th, 2015

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ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Marshall Plumlee provided a big lift off the bench in Duke's win.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

Marshall Plumlee provided a big lift off the bench in Duke’s win. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  1. Duke came to Greensboro with a purpose. The Blue Devils haven’t won the ACC Tournament since 2011, a fairly long drought by Mike Krzyzewski’s standards. Based on the Blue Devils’ first game of this year’s tournament, though, it looks like they are focused on ending that streak. N.C. State was expected to be a tough matchup since the Wolfpack came in as a hot team that had beaten Duke handily in their only prior meeting. But that was a long time ago, and Duke is obviously a better team than it was back in early January. Even Duke’s weakness has been much improved lately, as the Devils have held four out of their last six opponent under 0.97 points per possession. Krzyzewski used a three-quarter court zone press that fell into a matchup zone against the Wolfpack to slow down and confuse their potent guards.
  2. N.C. State can play with anybody, just not always. The Wolfpack found out the hard way that you have to be ready from the tip against elite teams or you can get buried early. They have wins this year over Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina — two of those coming on the road — and they came very close to beating Virginia and Notre Dame. That means that N.C. State has either beaten or almost beaten all five of the ACC’s heavyweights this year. Combine that kind of tough-game performance with their explosive perimeter and you have a team that could cause problems in the NCAA Tournament. They won’t last long at the Dance, however, if they start games as passively as this one.
  3. Duke’s bench is really playing well. Much has been made about Duke’s relative lack of depth with only eight scholarship players, but while the quantity isn’t high, the quality certainly is. Freshman Grayson Allen in particular has given the team a huge boost lately. Allen had 11 points, three boards, three assists, two blocks and multiple floor burns in 21 minutes of action tonight. Marshall Plumlee has also improved to the point that Duke doesn’t suffer a dramatic dropoff when he replaces Jahlil Okafor on the floor. Plumlee successfully converted all six of his shot attempts against N.C. State and blocked three shots in 21 minutes.

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A Rusty Justin Anderson Returns for Virginia

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

After 20 minutes of play in Thursday’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal game against Florida State, Virginia was on pace to accomplish exactly what it wanted. As the tournament’s top seed, the Cavaliers looked sharp in cruising to a commanding 17-point lead. It had the look of a game that the Cavaliers would control comfortably the rest of the way, enabling head coach Tony Bennett to use his bench to keep the starters fresh for the rest of the weekend. Bennett played his reserves a lot –nine different Cavaliers played double-figure minutes — but it wasn’t necessarily by choice. Taking advantage of foul trouble that forced several Virginia starters to the bench, Florida State threatened to come back in the first 10 minutes after the intermission before the Cavaliers finally pulled away to win, 58-44.

Virginia will need a healthy and productive Justin Anderson to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. (USA Today Images)

Virginia will need a healthy and productive Justin Anderson to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. (USA Today Images)

Junior wing Justin Anderson made his return to the lineup exactly one week after undergoing an appendectomy. It was also his first action since fracturing a finger in a Cavaliers’ home win over Louisville back on February 7. Coming off the bench, Anderson only attempted two shots and didn’t score in his 12 minutes of play. Late in the first half, the Virginia faithful got another scare as Anderson fell hard to the floor in a collision at the rim, but he wasn’t seriously hurt and later returned. After the game, Bennett was asked about Anderson’s performance:

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