ACC Man's NCAA Big Dance Preview
Ok fans, with an interesting ACC Tournament behind us and six teams safely tucked into the Big Dance, it's time to see if any of our favorites can put together the six game winning streak resulting in an NCAA Championship. Listed below (by team) are thoughts on how the ACC teams enter the tournament and a review of their path to the Final 4.
Duke: Can injuries be a good thing? Boozer injury has resulted in Devils discovering that major contributors have been spending time on the bench. Love and Sanders have been providing timely rebounding and shot blocking and suddenly Duke's lack of depth is not nearly as much of an issue. Williams injury, supposedly not serious, actually allowed for nice 'rest period' - Coach K is worse I've ever seen for keeping starters in the whole game with a big lead. Anyway, East bracket looks very soft - Devils should cruise to Elite 8 and possible rematches with BC/UK winner. UK improved as season progressed, but much of the SEC played inconsistently down stretch to inflate their accomplishments. BC played over their heads all year in suspect Big East (just check their seedings) and probably is too undersized and undermanned for Devils or UK. So Duke-UK game appears probable where Devils should punch ticket to Minneapolis. Obviously Duke-UK conjures up memories of the 1992 Regional Final. As an aside, ACC Man had the privilege of attending 'the greatest game of all time' (still marvel at the level of play in that game when I watch the tape) and may get fired up to make a road trip as game is again being played in my old stomping grounds (Philly).
UNC: Heels limp into tournament with bruised bodies and egos. Probably shouldn't have gotten past dreadful shooting Tech team in ACC semis and not only played themselves out of a No. 1 seed but into the hardest bracket (Mich St., Florida, and Oklahoma). Even second round match-up vs. Penn St./Providence winner will not be easy. That being said, Heels have interior game to dominate anyone in the Tournament and if Forte can regain shooting touch they could once again play at the level where they were mid-January to mid-February. However, that's a lot of 'ifs' at this point and with so much top competition facing them, thought is that Heels will be hard pressed to make the Elite 8. Note: A trip to the Final 4 would break record for Final 4 appearances (currently tied with UCLA) and take heart UNC fans, Heels have marched into recent tournaments not on a roll and have still made it to the Final 4. In any event, a good test for Coach Doherty and will certainly be one of the most interesting ACC teams to follow through the tourney.
Maryland: Terps enter tournament healthy and with probable motivation after last second loss to Devils in ACC semis. West bracket looks relatively soft with most teams (except Wisconsin) willing to play Terps up-tempo style. Terps should waltz to Sweet 16 where a probable match-up with Iowa St. could be a very entertaining game - Cyclones were possible No. 1 seed entering last weekend and dominated underrated Big12 all year and Larry Eustacy is one of ACC Man's favorite coaches. Probable match-up with Stanford awaits in Elite 8 and Cardinal have had problems with athletic teams during the season. Many of the 'experts' have Terps in Minneapolis and ACC Man also sees them with a legitimate shot to get there. Keys will be getting over previous [Sweet 16] failures and having Terence Morris step up offensively (inside and outside) to take pressure of scoring off Dixon and Baxter .. remember, Morris was many people's pre-season pick as ACC Player of the Year.
Virginia: Remember the Jeckyl and Hyde analogy from ACC Tourney preview ... well, Hyde showed up for ACC Tourney and cannot afford to surface again! First round test against [sentimental favorite] Gonzaga could prove challenging, if not insurmountable. Zags bear strong resemblance to Tech team that Hoos couldn't find a way to beat all year. Also in ultra-tough South bracket with UNC so while Hoos have offensive firepower to play with anyone on 'a given night', their inconsistency would make it highly unlikely that they will advance far in tourney. Second round match-up with defensive minded Oklahoma could be as far as they go. On a positive note, Hoos have done well in previous NCAAs as 'middle of the pack' seed.
Wake Forest: Surprised that reeling Deacs made tournament and shocked they received a 7 seed. They obviously rode ACC coat tails, but I really can't fathom what the committee was thinking! Deacs haven't had a 'good win' since early in January and their heartless performance in ACC quarters against Terps should have had them NIT bound. All that being said, struggling Deacs should have their hands full with underrated Butler team in first round and a second round match-up with Loren Woods and Arizona should be more than enough to end Deacs tourney stay. On a positive note ... none comes to mind.
Tech: Also a surprise as an 8 seed, but kudos to Paul Hewitt for taking a team with average talent and having them play on a highly competitive level through most of the season. ACC Man doesn't like Jackets chances of getting by underseeded and well coached St. Joes team in first round and even if they do a second round meeting with Stanford could prove an embarrassment. Tech played Cardinal fairly tough during regular season, but Stanford will be much more focused this time around. An unexpectedly great season, a win in the tourney would be nice cherry on Tech's sundae.
Underseeded: BC, St Joes, Georgia St., Georgetown, Fresno St., Gonzaga, Western Kentucky, Providence Overseeded: Georgia, Ohio St., Tech, Cincinnati, Wake, Penn St. Low Seeds who could win a game or two: Utah St., BYU, Georgia St., Butler, Gonzaga, Temple, Providence Sleepers: Kansas, Ole Miss, USC, Gonzaga, Indiana, Tennessee
Ok, lock all the doors and windows, get comfortable in your favorite easy chair, and enjoy the best two days of the year (Thursday and Friday - hoops noon till midnight) ... and let's root for the ACC in spite of some of my dire prognostications. Hopefully through the good graces of RamFanatic I'll be sharing more thoughts with you as the tourney progresses.