ACC gets 3 to the Sweet Sixteen
The Atlantic Coast Conference, which has been said to be having a down year, has placed three teams in the Sweet Sixteen of the Men's NCAA Tournament. Duke, North Carolina, and Miami will all still be playing basketball this weekend.
North Carolina got things started for the conference on Thursday by absolutely demolishing Marquette by 32 and scoring 95 points. It was the largest winning margin ever in the 8/9 seed matchup in NCAA Tournament history. Manek and Bacot both had double-doubles leading the way for the Heels. Then on Saturday, UNC took down defending champion, Baylor in one of the more eventful games I've ever seen. The Tar Heels were scorching hot and built up a 25 point lead behind Manek and R.J. Davis, but then Manek was tossed from the game with 10 minutes left due to an elbow that was called a VERY questionable flagrant 2. From that point on, it was all Baylor, but Carolina was able to hang on and force overtime. Baylor had all of the momentum going into OT, but Carolina was able to survive thanks to good defense and making free throws. Next, Carolina will take on UCLA in a Blue Blood face off on Friday night at 9:39 on CBS.
Miami got their tournament run started on Friday afternoon with a victory over USC. Miami built an 11 point halftime lead, but USC came out hot in the second half and only it took them less than 5 minutes to retake the lead. The game was back-and-forth the rest of the way until Charlie Moore drew a foul with 3 seconds left, made both of his free throws, and sealed the win for the Hurricanes even though USC's last second shot barely missed. Miami then took on 2 seed Auburn, and they dominated them. Miami was a 7 point underdog coming into the game, but I was not surprised at all that they were able to beat them. I knew the small lineup would give Auburn fits, and Miami's backcourt is much better than Auburn's. I thought Miami's talented and experienced 3 guard lineup could lead to a deep run in March. Now, thanks to more upsets on the other side of the bracket, Miami finds itself as a favorite in the Sweet Sixteen. The Hurricanes will face off with Iowa State on Friday night at 9:59 on TBS.
Duke is the third ACC team that was able to get to the Sweet Sixteen. They were able to get through their first game against CSU Fullerton with relative ease, as all 5 starters scored in double figures in a 17 point win. Next, Duke had to face off against Michigan State in game that was more about the coaches than the players leading up to it, but that all went away once the game started. Duke had 5 players in double figures again and ended up winning by 9, but the game was much closer than that. Michigan State actually held a lead with under 3 minutes, but Duke closed the game out with 2 blocks, a steal, a clutch 3, and 7 made free throws. The Blue Devils will now take the Coach K retirement tour to San Francisco to take on a tough Texas Tech team with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. That game will tip off on Thursday night at 9:39 on CBS.
Notre Dame, who played in the First Four, also won 2 games in the tournament before barely losing to Texas Tech. Mike Brey's team looked fantastic in this game, just like they have for most of the year, and they may be able to bring some of these pieces back next year to have another solid season.
Virginia Tech, which was the hottest team in the ACC coming into the tournament, having just won the ACC Tournament, was the only ACC team that failed to win a game. This is not a shot at the Hokies, it's more to show just how impressive the ACC has been. They are a combined 8-2 so far in this tournament. Hopefully they can keep it up!
Looking forward, I think all 3 teams have a pretty good chance of advancing. Miami, surprisingly, may have the best chance, and is the only one that's favored, but that's because they're a 10 seed going up against an 11 seed. Iowa State also plays small, but their guards are not as good as Miami's. The Cyclones do have a very impressive wing in Izaiah Brockington, and as long as they can slow him down, I think the Hurricanes advance.
Duke as a 2 seed is the higher seed in their matchup, as Texas Tech is a 3 seed, but Vegas and KenPom both see Texas Tech as a one point favorite. Going into the Tournament, I thought Texas Tech would be the biggest hurdle for Duke to get to the Elite Eight because of their physicality and experience (their 9 most used players are Juniors or Seniors), but I saw something out of Duke the other night that changed my opinion on them. All year, Duke has struggled closing out close games. The Ohio State, Miami, Florida State, and Virginia games they lost are great examples, and even the game they won against Wake Forest, but let them back in the game late when they had a 19 point lead. Most of this is likely due to inexperience, and that normally amplifies in a tournament setting, but that was not the case against Michigan State. Duke did a phenomenal job closing out the game and these young guys now may have the experience to carry them deeper into March. I do think this game will be tight and competitive the entire night, but Duke has the better athletes and the more experienced coach. I'm expecting Duke to move on this round and as a fan of basketball, I hope we get a rematch of one of the better games all year in Duke and Gonzaga.
North Carolina is the final ACC team looking to continue their run in March, and they get to do it against power house UCLA. A team that went to the Final Four last year and returned all 5 of their starters. Like Duke, both Vegas and KenPom see UNC as an underdog, but Carolina is playing much better now than they have all year. In fact, they are the 4th best team in the country since February 19th (the day they beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg). Manek and Bacot have been unstoppable lately, Love and Davis both have the ability to go off on any given night, and they have one of the best defenders in the country in Leaky Black. That is a deadly combination. Jaime Jaquez for UCLA is also dealing with an ankle injury. I think he's going to play, but he could be limited by it. For all of these reasons, I believe Carolina can keep this run going and not only win this game, but also beat whichever team comes out of the other side of the bracket (Let's go Peacocks!!) and make it to the Final Four in Hubert Davis' first year.
On the Women's side of things, the ACC has 4 teams that moved on to the Sweet Sixteen. North Carolina will face off against top seeded South Carolina on Friday, 1 seed Louisville takes on Tennessee on Saturday afternoon, and 5 seed Notre Dame and 1 seed North Carolina State will face off against each other with a late morning tip on Saturday. There's some great basketball being played in this tournament as well, and hopefully an ACC Team can bring home a championship.
Enjoy another great weekend of basketball!