The field is set and NCAA Tournament time is finally here. The ACC leads the nation with nine teams in. The conference has had more than its share of NCAA Tourney success and there are multiple Final Four threats coming out of this year’s version. Each week we take a look at the most interesting and important happenings around the league that made college hoops a national phenomenon, this time with tidbits on each ACC team in the dance.
THE BIG BREAKTHROUGH: A lot has been made of the fact that, for all his other success, Virginia coach Tony Bennett has yet to make the Final Four. He came tantalizingly close in an Elite Eight loss to Syracuse two years ago and enters this year’s tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. But in nine seasons at UVa and 12 total as a head coach, the final weekend has eluded him.
Could this be the year that changes? If so, it would put him on pace with many of the game’s other great coaches. Bill Self spent eight seasons at Illinois and Kansas, 15 total as a head coach, before busting down the door with his first Final Four and national championship in 2008. Jim Boeheim didn’t get there until his 10th season at Syracuse. John Calipari was a head coach for eight years before he got to a Final Four. Rick Pitino, seven.
Terry Holland, the best coach in UVa history before Bennett’s arrival, spent 12 years in coaching and seven in Charlottesville before riding Ralph Sampson all the way to the Final Four.
Or, consider a couple of other guys you may have heard of. Mike Krzyzewski’s first Final Four was in his 11th season and John Wooden coached 15 years, 13 at UCLA, before reaching a Final Four or offering even a hint of the dynasty to come.
The point is, reaching a Final Four is hard and often requires some good fortune. Roy Williams got to a couple early in his career before a decade-long drought. But a coach who routinely gets to the tournament and frequently earns a high seed like Bennett has started doing eventually gets there.
Is this the year Bennett gives Virginia its third Final Four appearance in school history and first since 1984? History and the current level of play for the Cavaliers suggest it is a strong possibility.
IS ANYBODY ELSE GOING TO SAN ANTONE? Could the team from the ACC with the best shot at getting to the Final Four be the one who earned the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament and lost at home to Wofford?
Well, North Carolina is playing at a much higher level than it was back when it suffered that embarrassing defeat and made it all the way to the ACC title game before falling to Virginia. The Tar Heels also have, arguably, the most friendly le brackets among the No. 2 seeds.
UNC gets to open the tourney in its backyard at Charlotte, while fellow No. 2 Duke got shipped to Pittsburgh. The Tar Heels are in a region with Xavier, perhaps the weakest of the No. 1 seeds and also see Michigan and Ohio State potentially standing in the way. The Wolverines are hot right now and the Buckeyes had a fine season, but it’s worth noting they put together their impressive records in the Big Ten, which is just the sixth-best conference according to RealTimeRPI.com.
- Speaking of Duke, one bright spot in the Blue Devils ACC Tournament loss to UNC was the reemergence of Wendell Carter Jr. After three straight games in single digits, he put up 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocks against the Tar Heels.
- Looking for a senior who could carry a team on a surprisingly deep run? Look at Clemson’s Gabe Devoe, who really stepped up in the second half of the season after Donte Grantham was lost to injury.
- Eight-seed Virginia Tech and No. 9 N.C. State aren’t the kind of teams a No. 1 likes to see in their region with each capable of knocking off a top team. The Hokies have victories against Virginia, Duke and North Carolina. The Wolfpack knocked off the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, along with Arizona and Clemson.
- Loyola Chicago over Miami has become a popular upset pick, but it is worth noting the Missouri Valley champs didn’t play at Top 25 team all season.
- Florida State’s size advantage could play an even bigger role against Missouri with Tigers starting power forward Jordan Barnett suspended after a DUI arrest.
- How did Syracuse sneak into the field? Non-conference games against St. Bonaventure and Buffalo looked like lackluster regional matchups early in the season, but wound up being a big boost to the strength of schedule with RPI’s of 24 and 25.