The ACC entered the NCAA tournament with 6 teams, 3 top 3 seeds, and 4 teams ranked in the top 25. Before the first weekend of the NCAAs is over, the ACC is already down to two teams Virginia and North Carolina who play Sunday.
Pittsburgh and NC State can be forgiven somewhat. The Panthers won their 2nd round game blowing out Colorado, but then had to face one of the four best teams in the tournament in Florida. The Gators were too much for solid, but unspectacular Pittsburgh team. This wasn’t a shock. N.C. State was a surprise entry into tournament, and won their first round game against Xavier.
With an opportunity to pull off an upset of 5 seed St. Louis, the Wolfpack blew a double digit lead with under 5 minutes to go. What had to be particularly frustrating for Wolfpack fans was how much N.C. State had outplayed the Billikens for nearly 35-36 minutes. When St. Louis went to their “hack a Pack” gameplan, N.C. State literally lost the game at the freethrow line.
Disappointing yes, but N.C. State still probably overachieved this season. We can’t get on them too hard. We can look squarely at Duke and Syracuse.
Let’s start with Syracuse…
Playing in a virtual home game in Buffalo, NY Syracuse continued to be the team that we saw since mid February, a good defensive squad that simply can’t score at times. Dayton was an 11 seed, and let’s not kid ourselves, the Flyers are decent but not an elite team. The pre-mid February Orange beat that team by 7-10 points, but the current Orange team that lost at home to Boston College and Georgia Tech showed up. Trevor Cooney continued his struggles from the outside, and the Orange missed multiple shots late that would haven taken the lead from Dayton.
Syracuse tried to get things back on track for the NCAAs, but they couldn’t get out of the first weekend. Duke was even worse.
At least the Orange won a tournament game, Duke had the worst NCAA performance of any ACC team. Playing a Mercer team that was a 14 seed, the Blue Devils were outworked the entire game. The limitations of Duke defensively in the post were never more evident than against Mercer, but a team that features Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood still should not have lost a game like this in Raleigh, NC.
Now the ACC is down to North Carolina and Virginia. If both lose Sunday, the ACC would be without a sweet 16 team, which would be a downright an embarrassing tournament for the conference.
Virginia faces a Memphis team with a good backcourt. The Cavaliers struggle the most this year with teams with solid guards. Maryland gave Virginia fits. The Hoos will be favored, and I’d expect them to win, but it’s a dangerous game.
North Carolina is the ultimate enigma. The Tar Heels are capable of losing to or beating just about anyone they play. Their opponent Iowa St. is a prolific scoring team, but the Cyclones did lose their best player Georges Niang to injury. We’ve seen it happen so many times though, a team bands together after a fallen teammate goes out. The Tar Heels have to approach this game as if Iowa St. is full strength. UNC will have a size advantage inside, so it’s an absolute must they dominate the glass.
The Tar Heels are just so inconsistent it’s hard to predict a result, but I will say this, if the good Heels show up they win.
N.C. State and Pittsburgh couldn’t lift the ACC, but they weren’t expected too. Syracuse and Duke failed miserably. It’s up to you Virginia and North Carolina to keep an ACC team in the tournament or it will be an extremely long off-season trying to explain what went wrong with ACC basketball this year.