Well here we are… It’s the Sweet 16. Florida Gulf Coast was the story of the weekend. When you are the first 15 seed ever to make the Sweet 16, you earned and deserve the headlines, but I want discuss how a couple of ACC teams fared though. The conference started with 4 teams in the NCAAs. NC State had another uneven performance in a loss to Temple. In a season of inconsistent play, it’s not common to just turn things on in the tournament. There’s a reason only 3 teams in Sweet 16 are higher than a 6 seed.
North Carolina defeated Villanova, but we all knew the Heels had a ceiling and that a sweet 16 was realistically as far as they could go. Playing Kansas in Kansas City even made that more unlikely.
In the end if the ACC was going to have a Final 4 representative it was going to be either the Duke Blue Devils and or the Miami Hurricanes. Their play was at times a little ragged on their way to the Sweet 16, but here they are with the opportunity to get to the Final 4. Now I’ve been critical of the NCAA selection seeding and team placement, but you can only say so much about it.
It’s two games and the Final 4, then a shot a national title. If there’s one thing that’s make me believe one of these two teams will emerge as a Final 4 team, it’s than neither has played their best basketball in this tournament, and yet they’ve reached the NCAA’s 2nd weekend.
We’ll start with Duke.
In a regional that looks more like a Final 4 Michigan St, Duke, Louisivlle, and Pac 12 Champ Oregon, Duke must navigate its way through a Tom Izzo coached Michigan St. then the winner of the Louisville/Oregon game to get to the Final 4. In Duke’s last game they face a trendy upset pick in Creighton and their All-American Doug McDermott. Seth Curry was 5 for 15 and Ryan Kelly scored 1 point on 0-5 shooting, and Blue Devils still won by 14 points. That’s a good sign. Duke has given up barely 55 points in 2 games, so defensively they are hitting their stride. You have to believe Duke will come out at begin hitting the perimeter shot even against a Spartan team that defends the 3 as well as anyone out there.
The Blue Devils are 2-0 against Big 10 teams this season and have wins over 4 Sweet 16 teams, Ohio State, Louisville, Florida Gulf Coast, and Miami. I don’t think they will be intimidated by the Spartans physical play. I’m not predicting a win, but too many folks dismissed Duke based on the loss to Maryland in the ACCT. This game will be war.
You can check the @theACCDN preview of the game below. On to Miami.
Duke has some major roadblocks to a Final 4. Miami’s path is easier. The Hurricanes survived a dangerous Illinois squad that had wins over Gonzaga, Butler, Indiana, and Ohio State despite an 8-10 Big 10 record. The Illini played an extremely smart game against Miami. They doubled teamed Shane Larkin virtually every time he crossed half court. It was a grinding physical game and it gave Illinois their best chance to win the game.
Miami survived, and now faces a much more favorable matchup with a gritty, but somewhat underwhelming Marquette squad. Marquette doesn’t have the athleticism to consistently throw bodies at Larkin they way Illinois did, and they are certainly not in the class of Illinois as a perimeter shooting team. The Golden Eagles have 1 player taller than 6-8, Chris Otule, that gets significant minutes. He averaged 5 points a game. The Canes are better at the guard position, and they are better than Marquette along the front line. Marquette isn’t likely to shoot a barrage of 3′s either.
If the Hurricanes play anywhere close to their best, they should cruise in this one. Miami just needs to play their game because they are just plain better than Marquette. I guess we can’t use the FGCU loss as a letdown, but Miami needs to avoid the Wake Forest and Georgia Tech performance. Those were games where Miami was clearly the better team, but lost. In particular the recent home loss to Georgia Tech should keep the Canes from underestimating anyone. There next opponent would be the winner of the Indiana/Syracuse game. Here’s the @theACCDN preview of that game.
Should either or both get past their Sweet 16 opponents, we’ll come back and assess Duke’s and Miami’s Elite 8 opponents. We’re taking it one step at a time.