The ACC’s six NCAA Tournament teams have a lot on the line this weekend. Let’s take a look at each to determine how their current status projects in getting through the first weekend and beyond.
- Duke: The Blue Devils look to avoid another early exit after suffering two huge round of 32 upsets in the last three years (Mercer – 2014; Lehigh – 2012). The 2013 team advanced according to seed, losing to eventual national champion Louisville in the regional final, but that Duke squad was led by three seniors. The makeup of this year’s group — with only one senior — is very similar to those two young Duke teams that were bounced by double-digit seeds. But don’t expect another opening game debacle this year since Duke has earned the advantage of a #1 seed for the first time since 2011. Just getting out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament unscathed is not the goal for this team, however, as anything short of an Elite Eight appearance would be a major disappointment. Duke has won several games in tough environments already this season, but the finality of the NCAA Tournament could cause Coach K’s inexperienced team to tighten up. If it can handle a potential grinder on Sunday, that may be enough to loosen up the Devils for a much deeper run.
- Virginia: All eyes will be on Justin Anderson when the Cavaliers take the court in Friday’s opener against Belmont. For Virginia to make a Final Four run, they’re going to need to have Anderson (and his offensive game) back in shape quickly. Assuming they handle the Bruins, Michigan State looms as the likely third round opponent in a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen meeting in Madison Square Garden. The Spartans won that tightly contested game and come in to this year’s NCAA Tournament probably playing better than Virginia is right now. Good defense and a revenge factor will not be enough, though – the Cavaliers need buckets, and a healthy Anderson gets them easier than anyone else on the team. If Virginia makes it out of Charlotte, it will likely mean that Anderson has regained his effectiveness and that means bad news for the rest of the East Region.