A largely miserable NCAA tournament for the ACC came to an end Friday evening when Michigan St. defeated Virginia in the Sweet 16. I hesitate to lump Virginia with the rest of the ACC’s first weekend failures. The Cavaliers in my mind are a top 5 team, that ran into a Spartans team that is one of the 3 best in the country. In was just unfortunate they had to meet in the Sweet 16.
That said, the ACC not only couldn’t produce a Final 4 team, they didn’t even get a team into the Elite 8. For our podcast’s Virginia/Michigan St. preview , we kept coming back to how would Virginia account for Michigan State’s senior big man Adreian Payne? In end the as well as the Cavaliers played, and as well as they defended Payne much of the game he took over in the final 2 minutes. At one point during the final minutes of the game he scored 7 straight points. Virginia hadn’t seen a post player that skilled in the ACC this year, because one didn’t exist.
While each individual ACC NCAA team had their own failings that we discussed last week, there is one commonality. Where was the elite big man? No team suffered more in the paint than the Duke Blue Devils, who had a gaping weakness in their post defense. Kennedy Meeks may yet turn into a great post player at UNC, but he was only a freshman this year. Syracuse’s big men played their best basketball earlier in the year. Mike Tobey has potential at Virginia, but Friday night he only played 10 minutes with foul trouble.
Look across the ACC, and then look at the nation’s best teams. Michigan State has Adreian Payne. Florida has Patric Young. Kentucky has Julius Randle, and now the Wildcats are getting consistent guard play, which put them among the nation’s best teams. Arizona has steady freshman Aaron Gordon in the post. Who was the ACC’s best post player this year? The All-ACC team selections tell us all we need to know. There was not an elite big man on the list. Georgia Tech’s Daniel Miller was as close to a quality true low post player in the ACC. He’s was a 5th year player who worked hard on his game to improve it, but I don’t think anyone would put him in the class of Payne, Young, or Randle.
Yes the NCAA tournament takes some luck, and yes matchups play a big role, but common themes can and do show up. The tournament’s very best teams had elite post players. The ACC’s teams just simply didn’t feature one in the 2014.