The NCAA Tournament got off to a relatively benign start before taking a hard turn left on Saturday and Sunday with upsets galore in the Round of 32. Unfortunately for the ACC, that meant only sending one of their nine tournament teams to the Sweet 16, with the lone representative being the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Mike, Justin, and Jeff are back to gather their thoughts after an exciting first weekend of action.
1) The ACC sent nine teams to the tournament, but only one is advancing to the second weekend. Does this say more about the ACC, or the field in this year’s tournament?
Justin: It says more about the nature of March. Having a successful run in the NCAA Tournament is all about the match-ups your team faces. Too much is based on luck of the draw to glean much in terms of conference superiority. Certainly, it’s not a good look for the ACC though.
Jeff: This says more about the winner-take-all format that is the NCAA Tournament. Any team can be beaten on a given night. Would South Carolina beat Duke in a 7-game series? Probably not. But who cares? It’s one-and-done in this tournament. The results should also represent the fact that even if you say the ACC as a conference is the best this year, it doesn’t mean that the margin of separation between conferences is that big at all. I think the margin of defeat in some games showed the rest of the field was ready to knock ACC teams off that perch and those ACC teams did not rise to the challenge.
Mike: Most ACC teams advanced to the Round of 32, so I would say that this speaks more to this year’s field. With the bubble as soft as it was for this NCAA Tournament, coupled with the few amount of upsets in the First Round, it was only fitting that the Second Round match-ups were as good as they were. Unfortunately for the ACC, that meant only one team moving on to the second weekend.
2) Which ACC loss surprised you most?
Justin: Probably Virginia’s just because of the way they lost. UVA doesn’t get blown out very often and Florida gave them a dose of their own medicine with some superb defense.
Jeff: The game I didn’t see coming was a tie between the Florida State massacre and the complete collapse of Virginia. I haven’t seen teams coached by Hamilton and Bennett embarrassed like that on this stage. FSU’s issues were mainly in the second half, but UVA’s ineptitude showed itself the entire game. 39 points total? The Gamecocks beat Duke 65-51 in the second half alone. The Seminoles had only given up more than 90 points once this season at UNC. Xavier only scored more than 90 points once this season. That’s a head-scratcher. Both were embarrassing to watch.
Mike: Virginia getting blown out surprised me, because even though Florida’s defense is every bit as good as the Cavaliers’, I did not see the offensive outburst from Florida occurring. The low scoring effort from Virginia was not a surprise, but losing the way that they did was one of the surprises of the weekend.
3) Which player was most impressive in the opening weekend?
Justin: Mostly because I saw it in person, I’m giving it to Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig. His 8-of-17 from behind the arc and 28 total points against Virginia Tech in the first round was incredible. He followed that up with 17 in the taken-down of No. 1 seed Villanova on Saturday.
Jeff: Honestly, most of the ACC stars struggled this weekend. POY Justin Jackson had a great First Round game but struggled to hit his shots on Sunday against Arkansas. Grayson Allen led Duke in scoring with 20+ points in both of their games, but it seemed like a “quiet” scoring performance on his part. So nobody was impressive in terms of separating themselves from the pack. I’ll give the honor to Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson. He did everything possible to beat West Virginia. Unfortunately, none of his teammates can say the same.
Mike: I agree with Jeff. It has to be Bonzie Colson for Notre Dame. Colson did what he’s done all year, he’s made plays for the Irish, but his teammates’ play was not up to the standard in the Second Round against West Virginia. For the two games in the Tournament, Colson averaged 22.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, doing all that he could to try to help Notre Dame advance.
4) Re-evaluate UNC’s chances of going to the Final Four? How do their chances look now?
Justin: Butler isn’t an easy draw, but perhaps Carolina can gain some momentum after a close call against underdog Arkansas. Blowing a big first half lead is never good but pulling out a close game always helps the confidence level. I really value UNC’s experience at this point in the tournament.
Jeff: Honestly, their chances look the same as they did on Selection Sunday. That day we all knew their region looked tough. As the only region that went chalk and is sending the top 4 seeds to Memphis, it still looks like a tough road. Last Sunday we all said UNC needs Joel Berry and Justin Jackson to shoot well to make a run deep into the tournament. That fact remains. The X-factor will be which Isaiah Hicks shows up for the Tar Heels. Will it be the guy that torched Duke on Senior Day for 21 points and 8 rebounds? Or the one who went 2-7 for 9 points and 3 turnovers against Arkansas? He could be what gets UNC to the Final Four or what keeps them from getting to it.
Mike: UNC rolled through the opening round as expected, but the battle that they endured against Arkansas should not have been quite as close as it ultimately was. It is a tough draw in their region without a doubt, but if they commit to defense on every possession from here on out, they are still one of the favorites to not only get to the Final Four, but to win the National Championship.
5) Is the ACC still the top basketball conference from the 2017 season, even though only one team has an opportunity to go to the Final Four?
Justin: I tend to say yes, but I think we’re all at least somewhat biased towards this league. I think the depth of the conference is still apparent to anyone paying attention. Basing the quality of a conference on one weekend of basketball is silly.
Jeff: Yes, top to bottom, the ACC was the strongest conference this season. Unfortunately for the ACC, that didn’t manifest itself into a strong NCAA Tournament performance by the conference. It’s not the first time the top conference during the season fizzled in the tournament.
Mike: It’s simply the nature of the NCAA Tournament that things have gone the way that they have for the ACC. They were absolutely the best conference in basketball this season, and they still have a team left who can capture the ultimate prize. This Tournament is all about the draw that you get as a team, and the ACC fought some tough match-ups in the first weekend and came up largely empty. It was still a great conference this year, but I think we can now dispel the notion of “Best Conference of All-Time.”