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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Dreams of an ACC First Weekend

Posted by Matt Patton on March 18th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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.
Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

  • 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.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

Here are some quick thoughts on the ACC teams that were selected for this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Duke, #1 Seed, South: Duke took the top spot in the South. This isn’t really surprising to anyone, and the more I thought about it the more sense Duke makes as a #1 seed (if you throw out made-up rules about not having won their conference). Duke only lost one of its last 13 games; it notched huge road wins against Wisconsin and Virginia (two teams it would be competing with for that last #1 seed); it swept North Carolina. Losing two of three to Notre Dame definitely gave me pause, but the Blue Devils had the overall profile of a #1 seed. As far as their bracket goes, they have a potential rematch with St. John’s in the round of 32 (a team that Duke beat in a close game for Coach K’s 1,000th win) or a San Diego State team that could be a real problem if they’re shooting well. The other half of Duke’s region is a lot more challenging although I like the way they match up with a lot of the teams in the South Region. This will be the region of pure offense (minus the Aztecs), and it could create some crazy results.

If Justin Anderson is 100%, Virginia got a very favorable draw. (Getty)

If Justin Anderson is 100%, Virginia got a very favorable draw. (Getty)

Virginia, #2 Seed, East: Virginia was pseudo-snubbed to get a #2 seed. And while I doubt the committee will publicly say it, the Cavaliers’ mediocre play with Justin Anderson back in the lineup probably affected their seeding. This team might be the second-best group in the country if he gets back to where he was before the injury, but losing two of your last three games doesn’t instill confidence from the Selection Committee. Virginia also got a very favorable bracket. Other than Oklahoma or Michigan State conjuring up some March magic, I don’t see a lot of resistance in their way prior to the regional finals. The other half of the bracket looks like a recipe for chaos, which could also play into the Cavaliers’ hands. Long story short, I don’t have a problem with Virginia on the second line in the East Region. They played like a #1 seed for most of the year and still have a great shot to make it to the Final Four.

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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: Notre Dame 90, North Carolina 82

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

  1. Holy Run, Batman! Down nine with less than 10 minutes to play, Notre Dame looked like its goose was cooked. But the Fighting Irish rolled out a 26-3 run over the next seven minutes of action, scoring on 11 of their next 13 possessions (for those keeping score at home, their offensive efficiency over the run was a ridiculous 200 points per 100 possessions) to take control of the game and win its first ACC championship. Five players scored during the run, and Jerian Grant, who had carried the team to that point, only made one shot. The Irish’s only empty possessions were a Bonzie Colson travel and a missed three from Grant, and don’t forget that this went on in front of a crowd that looked and felt much like the Smith Center. Mike Brey’s team hit its open looks but their ball movement was impeccable and North Carolina’s offense simply couldn’t keep pace. No team could have kept pace tonight. Notre Dame’s offense was one of the most efficient in the country all season long, but this was the first stretch that inspired true fear. The Irish looked like a championship team ready to beat anybody in college basketball, and given the context, that run was the most impressive display of team basketball that I have seen this season.
  2. North Carolina Panicked. Not that you can blame them. As soon as I had a chance to tweet that the Fighting Irish were in trouble, the Tar Heels were already down by three. North Carolina had a lot of success in the first half by just putting up jumpers and letting Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks clean up the glass. Brice Johnson was also virtually unstoppable whenever he caught the ball within 10 feet of the basket. But here’s how North Carolina’s possessions ended when Notre Dame mounted its blistering comeback: Hicks free throws (made one, missed one); Joel Berry turnover; Hicks turnover; quick missed layup from Marcus Paige; Justin Jackson turnover; Meeks turnover; and Brice Johnson turnover. That’s five turnovers in six possessions after leaving a point on the board. The Heels only committed eight turnovers for the entire rest of the game. Just as Notre Dame’s run wasn’t the result of a single player’s play, the Tar Heels’ meltdown was a team effort.
  3. This Really is the New ACC. When the ACC completed its most recent expansion by snatching several Big East members for the second time, it was thought that Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville were best equipped to challenge the ACC bluebloods. But with this remarkable tournament run in Greensboro, it is Notre Dame that has become the first of the recent league additions to break through with an ACC championship. In fact, this is the first conference tournament title in school history for the Irish, a program which first joined a major conference in basketball some 20 years ago. Notre Dame’s title has some other historical significance as well. To capture this year’s trophy, Notre Dame had to beat both ACC bluebloods on back-to-back nights, and do it in the heart of Tobacco Road — a fact not lost on Brey, who mentioned it in both of his postgame press conferences. Only two other teams have ever beaten both Duke and North Carolina in Greensboro in the same ACC Tournament, exhibiting just how rare and difficult this feat was to pull off. This also marks the fourth consecutive year that neither the Tar Heels nor Blue Devils have won the ACC Tournament — the longest such drought in conference history. Interestingly, three of those four other champions were schools that are not part of the traditional ACC membership. Maybe we really are seeing a subtle changing of the guard in this conference, and with the next three ACC Tournaments held outside of the state of North Carolina, this is a trend that is likely to continue.

Player of the Game. When North Carolina went up by nine points in the second half, Jerian Grant was the only reason the Tar Heels’ lead wasn’t more than that. Of Notre Dame’s first 17 points in the second half, Grant was responsible for (directly or indirectly) 12 of them. He attacked the basket, going to the line three times in the first 10 minutes of the second half (and assisting on two of Notre Dame’s made field goals). His activity ensured that the game would not get out of reach, setting the stage for the game-changing run down the stretch. Grant finished with 24 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. That’s outstanding. If you want to know why North Carolina only finished with 12 fast break points, you should credit Grant and backcourt mate Demetrius Jackson — other than one Brice Johnson dunk, North Carolina never managed to get out on its patented secondary break. Pat Connaughton also deserves some credit here. He ended up with 20 points on just nine shots. But with Grant’s heroics, Connaughton felt more like a supporting cast member who shone just outside of the spotlight.

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Notre Dame Looks for History Against North Carolina

Posted by Matt Patton & Brad Jenkins on March 14th, 2015

Notre Dame takes on North Carolina tonight in Greensboro for its first conference championship in program history. The game tips at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN. If the previous matchup — a 71-70 Irish win in Chapel Hill — was any indication, we’re due for a great game. Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

Jerian Grant needs an All-American performance for Notre Dame to beat North Carolina. (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

Jerian Grant needs an All-American performance for Notre Dame to beat North Carolina. (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

Brad: In the first meeting, North Carolina held a 21-6 edge in offensive rebounds. How can the smaller Irish avoid Tar Heel domination in the paint?

Matt: I’m not sure they can. North Carolina will have an even bigger size advantage than Duke did last night. Zach Auguste has to stay out of foul trouble and the Fighting Irish will need to send all five players to the glass on every North Carolina shot. The fact is that the Tar Heels are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Notre Dame needs to take care of the ball and try to force the Tar Heels into jump shots with long rebounds. On the other end of the floor, the mismatches may swing the other way. Auguste and Bonzie Colson are both much more comfortable playing away from the basket than any of North Carolina’s bigs. They should try to spread the floor to open up the driving lanes for Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson.

Notre Dame really limited Duke’s three-point shooting Friday night. Can the Tar Heels continue their hot shooting from behind the arc? 

Brad: The game plan will obviously be to attack the Irish interior, so Roy Williams hopes the Heels continue to be selective when taking shots from deep. By selective, we mean only open looks for Marcus Paige and maybe Justin Jackson. Unlikely to make 50 percent of its threes again tonight, North Carolina should probably keep its attempts in the 10-to-12 range.

Back in early January, Notre Dame prevailed in the Smith Center primarily due to its 10-of-23 shooting performance on threes. Can they repeat such accuracy when playing their third game in three days?

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 74, Duke 64

Posted by Matt Patton on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the first half. The Irish hit some unbelievably tough shots and made Jahlil Okafor try to beat them on his own. As a result, Duke’s other players went 4-of-16 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Notre Dame may be the only team in the country with five guys who can consistently hit shots (although Duke has some lineups that also fit that description). The Irish smothered Duke by forcing the guards to play deeper than usual and fronting Okafor. They also hit shots, lots of them. Mike Brey’s team had a total of five and-ones in the first half alone. Five. When Duke went to its zone, Bonzie Colson just crushed the Blue Devils from the high post. When they went back to man, Demetrius Jackson got to the rim with incredible ease. Even in the second half when Duke started making its eventual run, Notre Dame’s ability to get to the rim (and the free throw line) felt like the reason Duke never got it back to a single-possession game.
  2. Demetrius Jackson is destined for great things. This may be an obvious statement (Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American, after all), but Jackson is a fantastic young player. He brings an athletic dimension to Mike Brey’s team that has been somewhat missing over the years. Jackson frequently broke Duke’s three-quarter court pressure like no one was there with his quick bursts of speed and playground dribbling moves in traffic. He also got to the rim with ease, finishing the evening with five assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes of action. If there’s a reason to still be bullish on the Irish next season without Jerian Grant, it’s because the sophomore Jackson is ready to take over the team.
  3. Mike Krzyzewski was remarkably calm. Coach K has a reputation of being curt and snippy in his pressers after Duke losses, but other than a defensive response to a question about last year’s team not meeting expectations, he was remarkably measured. I have a few theories on this attitude. The most likely idea is that he felt like Duke would have won the game if Quinn Cook hadn’t been gassed (Krzyzewski said on Thursday that Cook had been fighting off an illness). Cook went 1-of-10 from three on mostly good looks (0-of-8 in the second half) and he did a good job defending Jerian Grant, but it just looked like he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. The other theory is that Krzyzewski really liked the way Justise Winslow and Okafor fought back after horrible first halves.

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

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

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

rushedreactions

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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Rushed Reactions: #19 North Carolina 70, #14 Louisville 60

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina struggled early against the Louisville zone. Roy Williams pointed to better movement in the second half by the North Carolina bigs as a reason for its game-winning 38-23 performance, but it also helped that the Tar Heels were shooting the ball much better. North Carolina isn’t known as a good jump-shooting team, but it has shot over 40 percent from deep in the last few games. In part that’s because they don’t take many threes (Williams noted that his team finished last in the ACC in three-point attempts this season), but even though they only converted two of five attempts in the second half, it felt like much more. That speaks to the Tar Heels’ patience. Even more important than that was that Williams’ team knocked down 15 of 17 free throw attempts. That’s how you close out games — something North Carolina struggled with this season. Stay patient and make free throws. The last time North Carolina beat a higher-seeded team in the ACC Tournament was way back in 2003, so don’t underestimate this win from a confidence standpoint.
  2. North Carolina needs better rebounding to feed into its offense. North Carolina never got any flow going in the first half, not only because it struggled against Louisville’s defense, but also because the Cardinals’ shooting and rebounding took the Tar Heels out of their secondary break. The Heels only ended the game with eight fast break points, but even the threat of the secondary break stops opponents from adequately setting up their defense. Brice Johnson runs the floor as well as any big man in the country, and Paige should be a shooting threat on the wing. If this team makes a run in this tournament or later in March, it will be because they do a better job of playing to their strengths over the next few weeks.
  3. Louisville is liable to take a loss during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament if they can’t solve these zones. Rick Pitino intimated that the Cardinals would try starting Mangok Mathiang at the five to get more offense, but that won’t help with simply making wide-open jump shots. The Cardinals were 4-of-22 from three and 1-of-14 if you remove Wayne Blackshear. That won’t beat anyone. Louisville played well in the first half with Terry Rozier carving up North Carolina’s defense, but Louisville never controlled the game. Some of that was due to the Tar Heels never getting too far behind, but there was also a sneaky suspicion that Louisville’s jumpers would eventually stop falling.

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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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