ACC Man's Sweet 16 to Final 4
Well ACC fans, unfortunately only two of our teams survived the opening weekend of the upset happy tournament; making ACC Man a good prognosticator, but an unhappy camper. In communicating with RamFanatic, he made observations how he thought the ACC had apparently been overrated and out-quicked, out-played, and out-coached by their competition the past four days ... how sadly true RamFanatic. Hobnobbing with other wizards also brought out much commentary how the ACC needs to reexamine recruiting and game strategies. We'll make a few comments here before letting the losers lick their wounds and head towards next year .. and focus in on the teams still alive. UNC is probably biggest disappointment as even ACC Man expected a Sweet16 appearance. However, after dismantling a below average Princeton team in first round and seemingly taking early control of game against Penn State, the Heels went into an inexplicable funk the rest of the game. If not for the inspired play of Julius Peppers, the Heels may very well have been blown off the court in similar fashion to the last two Duke fiascos. Their lack of cohesive offensive execution was appalling and leaves many questions relative to what might have been and really 'just how good was this team' ... perhaps we'll never know. Credit to Virginia and Tech - both played teams that [obviously] should have been seeded higher and both gave a good accounting of themselves - the UVa-Gonzaga game was a joy to watch and made me wish every college game could be played that way. And Wake, what can I say - their embarrassing performance just confirmed thoughts that they belonged in NIT. Ok, on to who's left and how we see the weekend unfolding:
Duke-UCLA: Bruins have depth and confidence to give Devils some concerns. Probable return of Boozer should offset inside presence of Gadzuric. Watson one of few guards who can match up with Williams, though prone to foul trouble, especially off the ball. Bruins have wing players to effectively guard perimeter as they showed against brick laying UtahSt. All that being said, Devils look like a team poised to reach Final 4; their effortless offensive execution and superior help defense give them [opponent's practice] unduplicatable advantages. A close game into the second half, Duke should pull away down the stretch.
USC-UK: Trojan starting five can play with anyone in the country, but suspect officiating almost cost upset of BC. Wildcats playing with confidence, but still a shadow of recent UK teams. Trojans will have trouble matching up against Prince and Bogans while 'Cats will have trouble with SC's athletic big men. Granville gives Trojans decided point guard edge, but Tubby Smith can coach circles around Henry Bibby. If Trojans can stay out of foul trouble, should be a very close game and ACC Man is going out on a limb and picking SC in an upset.
Stanford-Cincy: Cardinal got wake up call from feisty St Joe's squad. Contributions from 'second tier' players and perfect free throw shooting down stretch sealed victory. Bearcats got an assist from Indiana to break second round exit streak. Bearcats playing as well as they have all year, but don't have inside strength or overall depth to compete with Cardinal. Stanford should wear down Bearcats and get a relatively easy victory.
UMd-Georgetown: DC rivalry western style gives unique flair to match-up both teams have attempted to sidestep during regular season scheduling for many years. Unorthodox Hoyas give any teams fits, but inept offense won't get them past Terps. Maryland needs to guard against looking past Hoyas to next round game with Stanford, but all around depth advantage should prove the difference. Hoyas hang for awhile until Terps find offensive rhythm and then cruise.
Note: Will post an article Friday reviewing Elite 8 match-ups involving above teams
Illinois-Kansas: Illini with two easy ones so still untested. Jayhawks dismantling of Syracuse have them with the look of a team that could be finding their stride at just the right time. Both teams lean towards half-court game and physical style of play so hopefully whistles won't disrupt the action too much. Athleticism of Gregory will be tough match-up for Illinois while strength of Williams will overmatch Kansas guards. ACC Man has had a feeling for a long time that one of Roy William's lesser touted teams will surprise and get on one of those Arizona/Utah (recent years) rolls ... so going out on a second limb and picking Jayhawks to advance.
Arizona-OleMiss: Undersized Rebels get most from talent and have that intangible knack of 'finding a way to win'. ACC Man finding increased respect for Coach Rod Barnes each time he sees Rebels play. Unfortunately, running into Zona team starting to play up to it's preseason No. 1 ranking. If Rebels can find a way to control pace they could stay in game, but Wildcats interior superiority and size/strength guard advantage could make game very non-competitive .. in any event, Wildcats should prevail.
Kansas-Arizona: Both teams looking like they could make a run at the title ... but one won't survive this game. Once again, Zona guard combo's size and strength will prove tough challenge for Jayhawks. Will be interesting to see if Roy Williams learned anything from '97 Sweet16 match-up where Cats ran right thru flat-footed No. 1 Jayhawks. Based only on strange vibes noted above, ACC Man is picking Jayhawks to squeeze by Wildcats in closely contested game. If Kansas loses to Illinois however, the pick here would be Arizona.
MichSt-Gonzaga: Zags should change name to Chameleons with their uncanny ability to beat other teams while playing their style. Cinderella Zags will be a great tournament memory (over last three years) as the years roll by. It's a pleasure to watch Spartans hit the offensive glass; an overlooked finer point of the game that gives them decided advantage over competition and may very well be difference in this game. Battle tested Spartans probably too much for Zags, but wouldn't be totally suprised to see shocker and definitely expect a close one.
Temple-PennState: Huh - who woulda thunk it? Owls and Lions both coming off big-time upsets and need to get regrounded. Ironically both teams employ similar styles with deliberate set offenses often leading to untimely or ill-advised three point attempts. Owls 'match-up zone' vastly overrated and Lions have advantage of having played [and beaten 66-60] Temple this year ... however, Chaney gets big edge for [successful] tournament coaching and we all know how bad the hangover was for last team to stun Heels .. so Owls in a close, low scoring affair.
MichSt-Temple: Owls come to a screeching (no pun intended) halt. Spartans defensive intensity will dominate Owls suspect offense and Spartans offensive board work will be major factor against relatively slow Temple interior. Owls may be allowed to dictate pace of game, but don't be suprised to see something in the 67-45 area which is a blow out of Temple. If by chance Zags pull stunner in previous round, this game could give them a chance to reach Final 4 and cement their place in tournament lore.
Well, there you have my analysis and best guestimates. While the tournament still has many storylines and exciting moments to unfold, ACC Man has already started to feel a little of that empty feeling that comes on all too quickly as another college basketball season reaches it's climax. Just a week ago sixty-four teams were dancing and the whole country was at a fever pitch with excitement ... after this weekend only four teams will remain. There's nothing quite like the NCAA Tournament, but the emotional roller-coaster sure makes it tough on us fans.
See you soon