So... the ACC didn’t have the greatest first couple of days in the NCAA Tournament, huh? Despite three of the top four overall teams in the tournament being from the ACC, the conference faced a lot of scrutiny this year for being top-heavy with not too much quality past the top four or five teams. Some of us, myself included at times, dismissed this as the kind of talk that the best conferences always get. The ACC landed 7 teams in the tournament, which wasn’t great but was still second only to the Big Ten. Their performance in the first weekend, though, wasn’t exactly inspiring. Let’s recap, and see where we go from here.
Midwest #1 UNC
We’ve covered this team’s weekend plenty here, so a quick reminder: UNC had some initial trouble with #16 Iona before putting them away late, then lacerated 9th seed Washington’s zone to cruise to the Sweet 16, where they’ll face #5 Auburn on Friday night in Kansas City at 7:30. Particularly in the latter game, they’ve looked as comfortable as a #1 seed should, and national media is taking notice.
South #1 UVA
There were memes aplenty as UVA struggled in their first-round game against Gardner-Webb, being down at the half by 6 points before pulling away for a 71-56 win and managing to avoid repeating the biggest embarrassment in NCAA Tournament history. Just like with UNC, their second round game looked a lot more comfortable, as they let #9 Oklahoma hang around for much less time: They led 31-22 at the break, and as we know, a 9-point hole against Virginia might as well be 20. They took their foot off the gas pedal in the second, content to just trade baskets, and won 63-51. Thanks to the one real upset of the Round of 32, they’ll play 12th-seeded Oregon in the Sweet 16 on Thursday at 10:00 PM. They’ll be in a familiar spot, because the South Regional Semifinals and Finals are going to be in the Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
East #1 Duke
Like the other two ACC #1 seeds, the Blue Devils struggled more than you’d have expected them to in the Round of 64. They were down late in the first half against North Dakota State before hitting a few shots late to take a 4-point lead into the break, which quickly ballooned into a double-digit lead early in the second half that never went back down. They won 85-62. Unlike the other two ACC #1 seeds, Duke also struggled in their second game, against 7’6 Tacko Fall and #9 UCF, needing a series of missed calls and minor miracles (this is still agonizing) to escape with a 77-76 win to book their ticket to Washington DC, where, on Friday at 9:40 PM, they’ll face...
East #4 Virginia Tech
The return of Justin Robinson has, unsurprisingly, been a boon for the Hokies, who might have had the easiest time of any ACC team so far in the tournament in their first multiple-win NCAA Tournament since Lyndon B. Johnson was president. They raced past St. Louis in the first round, winning 66-52 in a game that wasn’t nearly that close, then quickly snuffed out Liberty’s bid to be this year’s Cinderella. They were down at the half, 32-29, but quickly tightened up and won the second half by 12 points to finish with a winning score of 67-58, which, again, belies how much better VT looked than their opponents. With their point guard back and some role players playing inspired basketball, the Hokies are going to look to repeat their regular-season victory over Duke on Friday.
West #4 Florida State
Weirdly, the Seminoles might be playing their best basketball of the season so far. Terance Mann in particular has been ridiculous this tournament, averaging 18.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game on 68.4% shooting across the two games. Despite that, the Seminoles had some early trouble with #13 Vermont before Mann took that game over near the end and helped his team pull away with a 76-69 victory. But it was their second game that’s got people calling them a bit of a dark horse to make a run, because they absolutely boatraced Ja Morant and the Murray State Racers, winning 90-62 in the second round’s biggest blowout. First, though, they’ll have to take out #1 Gonzaga, whom they’ll face at 7:10 PM tomorrow in Anaheim.
East #7 Louisville
It looked like Louisville had been un-broken in their last few games before the NCAA Tournament, after their heartbreaking loss to Duke had left them reeling for a few games. They had twice beaten Notre Dame convincingly and put up respectable fights against UVA and UNC, which contrasted with the previous games: a loss to Boston College and absolute blowout losses to UVA and Syracuse. But when they got to the Big Dance, the yips seemed to return, as they decided not to play defense as Richard Pitino’s Minnesota team rained three-pointers on them and buried them in a 19-point hole before letting up to create a misleadingly close final score of 86-76. Chris Mack had a good season, but he’s very clearly got to figure out how better to mentally prepare his team after awful games.
West #8 Syracuse
The ‘Cuse lost starting point guard Frank Howard to suspension the night before their game against Baylor, and while he’d had an inconsistent season, losing a starting point guard would hurt any team. That’s even more true with him spearheading the Syracuse zone, which Baylor shot over to the tune of 16 made threes on the way to a 78-69 win. Combined with Syracuse’s obvious fatigue from the shortened bench and subsequent inability to make shots, this game, like the Louisville game, looked over long before it actually was, and a 9-point final margin undersells how decisively the Bears took this game. Jim Boeheim’s got an interesting offseason ahead of him, too, with Tyus Battle almost definitely gone, Howard and Chukwu graduating, and a general reset looming.
So all in all, the ACC has 5 teams left, three of which are 1 seeds and the other two of which are playing one seeds. If you’re watching the ACC this weekend, you’ll be watching some good basketball. Too bad that couldn’t be said for more of the conference.