The NCAA Tournament is upon us and the ACC sent nine teams to the Field of 68 this year. Mike, Justin, and Jeff get together to discuss the bracket, including which ACC Team could win it all in this year’s Big Dance.
1) Which First Round Match-up is most intriguing?
Jeff: The First Round game with an ACC team that has my attention is Virginia vs. UNC-Wilmington. It’s that vaunted 5/12 matchup we love to circle on our upset watch. UVA at times has looked dominant in wins over teams like UNC at home. But then you look and see they have 10 losses and you’re scratching your head. Then you have a UNC-Wilmington team that comes in at 29-5 and almost pulled off an upset in last year’s tournament over Duke. Their coach, Kevin Keatts, is a Rick Pitino disciple who has coached in the biggest games. He may be coaching in the ACC next year in Raleigh. I’ll be watching this game closely.
Justin: A couple of ACC/Big Ten match-ups in the 8/9 games caught my attention. Michigan State and Miami are both teams that care capable of making a run in March, and have done so recently. The Spartans had an inconsistent season. A 19-14 overall record is a step back for Tom Izzo’s club, but no one likes to see his team’s in March. Miami is young but certainly talented. Virginia Tech and Wisconsin is the other 8/9 game with the Badgers sitting as the higher seed. It’s a tough draw for an excited Hokies program and an angry Wisconsin group that feels they were under-seeded.
Mike: It has to be the 5/12 game between Virginia and UNC Wilimgton for me. Virginia brings the defensive intensity in every game that they play, but their offense is so hot and cold that they are difficult to trust at times. UNC Wilmington can score the rock as well as any 12-seed in the field, and present quite the challenge for Tony Bennett’s defense. The ‘Hoos should definitely be on upset alert here.
2) Which ACC team got the toughest draw?
Jeff: This answer is a toss-up to me between Miami and Virginia Tech. But I’ll say that the ACC team with the toughest draw is Miami. First they face an improving Michigan State team with Tom Izzo. If they manage to win that they’ll most likely face Kansas next. Oh, and they would be doing that in the heart of the Midwest so expect a heavy Rock Chalk Jayhawk presence in Tulsa.
Justin: Notre Dame could end up facing West Virginia if the Irish can escape the 5/12 game against pesky Princeton. A win there could set up a tough game with the West’s No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
Mike: It has to be Virginia Tech. The Hokies are playing in their first NCAA Tournament since the 2007-08 season, and got a brutal First Round game with a veteran-laden Wisconsin group. If the Hokies find a way to escape there, they will likely be tasked with playing against the number one overall seed in the tournament and defending National Champions, the Villanova Wildcats.
3) Which ACC team is the most under-seeded?
Jeff: The ACC team that was most under-seeded was Virginia Tech. Not by a large amount but I would argue they should be the 7th seed in the East Region and the South Carolina Gamecocks should be the 9th seed. Identical records but the Hokies played in a superior conference than the Gamecocks. They don’t have a win anywhere close to the caliber of the Hokies’ win over Duke and they lost their last two games to bad teams. The Hokies also beat 5 tournament teams and the Gamecocks beat 2. I’d swap these two teams and their seeds.
Justin: Virginia almost feels low as a five-seed, but overall I think the conference is seeded about right.
Mike: The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee got a majority of the ACC seedings correct, but I think Notre Dame is much better than a 5-seed. The Irish could have easily been put on the 4-line and even have a case for a lower-end 3-seed in my opinion, given the fact that they have anumber of quality wins and made it all the way to the ACC Championship.
4) Which ACC team is the most over-seeded?
Jeff: Again, splitting hairs here for me but I’d switch Louisville to a 3 seed and put UCLA at the 2 seed in the Midwest. The margin here isn’t very big but UCLA’s record here is better in my eyes. Plus, a Louisville vs Kentucky matchup would be a great way to kick off the Sweet 16.
Justin: I feel like you could make a compelling case to swap No. 3 Florida State and No. 2 Duke, but the Blue Devils are peaking at the right time and the Seminoles could go either way based on past performance.
Mike: Louisville should probably be a 3-seed in my opinion, but it’s certainly not a travesty that they are a 2-seed. They had a case to make there as well.
5) Which ACC team has the best chance to make it out of their region to make a run at the Final Four?
Jeff: This is a close call but I’m going to go with Duke. Now, could they get upset before the Elite 8? Yes, but so can everybody else on this list. In the end, they could be playing Villanova in NYC, which is Duke’s second home and where they just won four games in four days to win the ACC Tournament. Plus, if Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum keeping elevating their games, the Blue Devils may be peaking at the right time.
Justin: I could see Florida State or Notre Dame in the West. Mike Brey in particular always has his guys playing well at tournament time. I truly believe the Seminoles are among the most talented teams in the dance. It’s just a matter of playing well at all times for them.
Mike: I believe based on the potential match-ups that the best opportunity for an ACC team to reach the Final Four comes out of the West Region. While Notre Dame and Florida State are both really good teams, the most talented ACC teams of UNC, Duke, and Louisville reside in different regions. The road is much tougher for those teams that it would be for Notre Dame or Florida State, whose road consists of taking down Gonzaga, the weakest 1-seed, in my opinion.
6) How many ACC teams are in your Final Four?
Jeff: Two, but I’m still not sure which two they are at this minute.
Justin: I only have Louisville in my official FightingGobbler.com bracket pool. I could easily see UNC or Duke making it too.
Mike: This contradicts my last answer, because despite what I said above, I have Duke and UNC both making it out of their respective regions, with Arizona and Kansas being the other two Final Four teams.
7) Do any of the lower-seeded ACC Teams (5 or lower) have a chance to make a run in the Tournament in your opinion?
Jeff: Notre Dame has the talent and experience to make a run in the West region. I would not be surprised if they end up in San Jose against Arizona in the Elite 8. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if their Elite 8 opponent was Florida State.
Justin: I think Virginia Tech, despite drawing the top team in the tournament at least drew a team that doesn’t rely on size. I think the Hokies could sneak past Wisconsin, but both games are a tall order.
Mike: Notre Dame has the three point shooting to stretch the floor against the bigger teams that they will play. Bonzie Colson is playing out of his mind down low and Matt Farrell is one of the more underrated point guards in the country. The Irish have a great chance to make it back to their third straight Elite 8.
8) Do you have an ACC National Champion, and if so, who is it?
Jeff: I think Duke or UNC could cut down the nets. I don’t think it will happen but if they met in the Finals it would be the end-all-be-all for that rivalry. No game after that between those two teams would ever matter again after this one. Cardiologists all over North Carolina would have a booming business of new patients that week.
Justin: I’ve picked Villanova to repeat in all of my pools, but I could see Louisville or North Carolina making a return to the title game and possibly winning it all.
Mike: I have the match-up that Jeff mentioned, as my bracket has a tilt between Duke and UNC in the National Championship, with the Tar Heels taking the whole thing. What a moment that would be for the best rivalry in college basketball.