Finally, a full day of action in the 2016 NCAA Tournament is upon us. The regular season and conference tournaments have come and gone. The four play-in games are complete, and Thursday marks the first real day of wall-to-wall coverage of one of the greatest three weeks in American sports. Let’s get to the preview of the four ACC teams in action on Day One of the Round of 64.
#13 UNC-Wilmington (25-7) Vs. #4 Duke (23-10), 12:15 ET on CBS
- Brandon Ingram has emerged strongly as the player that everyone expected he’d be this season. He’s the X-Factor for the Blue Devils not only in this opening round game, but in every match-up moving forward.
- Stats: 16.8 ppg. on 44% shooting overall (41% from three), 6.8 rpg.
- UNC-Wilmington LOVES to play small-ball. Three out of their top five leading scorers are 6’1″ or smaller (Denzel Ingram, Craig Ponder, Jordon Talley), while their other two top scorers stand at just 6’5″ (Chris Flemmings, C.J. Bryce).
Prognosticators and fans alike love their upset picks, and this 4/13 slated match-up certainly fits the bill. It’s being hit on so hard nationally due to the fact that many believe that the Blue Devils are over-seeded on the four-line. It’s an extremely fair assessment due to Duke’s up-and-down play, but more often than not, picking upsets becomes more of a popularity game versus actually breaking down the match-up (which more people, ironically, should do).
UNC-Wilimington could certainly come out of the gates shooting the lights out of the gym. However, in a more plausible scenario, the Seahawks will play right around their mean offensively, shooting around 45% from the field. While 45% as a team is certainly an attractive figure, the ‘Hawks will need to make more threes than twos in this game to pull off a possible upset. Unfortunately, they have struggled from beyond the arc overall, hovering at just under 33% on the year.
If the gang from Wilmington catches fire from beyond the arc, anything can happen. Ultimately though, I’m not sure who on the UNC-Wilmington roster will be able to defend Brandon Ingram one-on-one. Ingram has developed into a lighting rod on offense, and has been equally as impressive on defense and on the glass, especially in the latter stages of the season. I envision the combination of Ingram and sharpshooter Grayson Allen to ultimately be too much for the Seahawks to overcome.
#4 Duke 77 #13 UNC-Wilmington 66
#16 Hampton (21-10) Vs. #1 Virginia (26-7), 3:10 ET on TruTV
- Defense, Defense, Defense. It’s nothing new for Tony Bennett’s club, as Virginia is sitting pretty at 4th nationally in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Additionally, the Cavaliers allowed only 59.7 points per game as a team this season, which was second in college basketball.
- Hampton relies heavily on a three-headed monster at guard. Seniors Reggie Johnson, Quinton Chievous, and Brian Darden combine for 48.5 points per game.
Because of Virginia’s style of play, they are never going to blow teams out. Hampton is a team that could theoretically cause problems due to the shot makers that they have on the roster. However, Virginia didn’t get handed their ranking as one of the top defenses in the country; they earned it. The Cavaliers have played far more talented shooters and rosters overall from top-to-bottom than Hampton’s, but don’t be surprised if the Pirates hang around.
Ultimately, the best player on the court is Malcolm Brogdon, as the Virginia senior is one of the nation’s best all-around players. Offensively, the Cavaliers go as he goes, but he doesn’t have to have a huge game offensively for Virginia to win comfortably. His defense will be the part of his game that is more heavily relied on, as the ‘Hoos attempt to stymie the Hampton scoring attack.
In the paint, Virginia senior big Anthony Gill will be the X-Factor. Whether or not this turns into a rout, or a more tightly contested game that the ‘Hoos bargained for will ultimately rest on his shoulders. Hampton is not going to have an answer for him down on the block, and his offense could help ultimately separate Virginia in the second half.
Plus, a 16-seed has never defeated a top-seed, so don’t expect anything different on Thursday afternoon.
#1 Virginia 84 #16 Hampton 66
#14 Buffalo (20-14) Vs. #3 Miami (FL) (25-7), 6:50 ET on TNT
- Miami has been one of the ACC’s most consistent teams for the majority of the season. The veteran-laden group under battle-tested head coach Jim Larranaga, pairs their 12th-ranked offense with a top 50 defense, according to KenPom.
- Buffalo has been impressive under first-year head coach Nate Oats. The Bulls won the MAC again and are in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. The scoring load is extremely balanced for Buffalo, as they have seven players who average 7.2 points per game or more, with sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden leading the charge at 13.6 points per game.
Miami has been one of my favorite teams to watch in the ACC all season long. Coach Jim Larranaga always gets the most out of his teams, and this year has been no different.
It all starts with senior point guard Angel Rodriguez, who I feel like has been playing college ball since I was in middle school (I’m 23). Rodriguez is averaging 11.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per contest this season.
While Rodriguez makes the offense go, senior wing Sheldon McClellan is who really determines the wins and losses. McClellan is the team’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game on 50% shooting from the floor, and is one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball, shooting 84% from the line and nearly 40% from three point land.
Buffalo has a balanced attack offensively like I mentioned above, which is a major reason why they will be able to hang around in this game. Their issue, like most mid-majors that I’ve written about thus far, is that they do not have the size to contend with Miami’s Tonye Jekiri in the paint. Jekiri can kill you on the glass, as rebounding is a specialty of his. At 8.0 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, he is a human Swiss army knife down low, doing a little bit of everything for the Hurricanes.
Because of the advantage that I believe Miami will have on the rebounding front, I’ll take Miami comfortably to win their first round match-up.
#3 Miami (FL) 88 #14 Buffalo 70
#16 Florida Gulf Coast (21-13) Vs. #1 North Carolina (28-6), 7:20 ET on TBS
- UNC is scary good when they defend like they did in the ACC Tournament. The Heels raced to the conference crown after holding their opponents (Pitt, Notre Dame, Virginia) to just 58.3 points per game.
- The offense is dynamic for the Tar Heels, but they are still awaiting veteran guard Marcus Paige to break year-long shooting slump. Despite going 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the ACC Title Game against Virginia, Paige was 6-for-12 in the previous two conference tournament games against Notre Dame and Pitt.
- Florida Gulf Coast aka “Dunk City” is just as fun to watch as they were a few years back when they made their improbable run to the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed. The Eagles quickly dispatched Fairleigh Dickinson in the First Four play-in game on Tuesday, winning 96-65 behind Marc-Eddy Norelia’s 10-for-11 shooting night (20 points).
Florida Gulf Coast plays a high-paced, exciting brand of basketball for such a small school. They are still throwing alley-oops and thriving off of the mistakes of their opponents. The issue that the Eagles run into on Thursday, however, is that the Tar Heels don’t make a ton of mistakes on offense, and their defense is coming into their own at the right time of year.
UNC’s Brice Johnson has been everything that Roy Williams has hoped he would be, and more in his senior season. Johnson (16.6 ppg. 10.6 rpg) has quickly become one of the top forwards in the nation, excelling in his role as a stretch four. Johnson attacks the glass at a high clip, and is as athletic as they come. In the end, that will be the difference in this game, as Johnson and company will have way too much in the way of athleticism and length for the Eagles to handle.
#1 North Carolina 94 #16 Florida Gulf Coast 67
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