Championship week has arrived for college basketball! Conference tournaments abound across the country from coast to coast featuring all the power conferences, mid-majors, and small conferences that make up Division I in the NCAA. There will be great performances by teams, individuals, and coaches while the games themselves are bound to feature some come-from-behind efforts that pluck victory from the jaws of defeat with some buzzer beaters. This is what makes the month of March so special. It is the madness before the madness of the NCAA Tournament. It will feature bubble teams that solidify their spot in the NCAA field and bubble teams who see their bubble burst. Seedings for the NCAA Tourney are on the line and will be impacted by what happens over the next seven days. Quite simply it is couch potato heaven for college basketball junkies across the land.
While this years’ heavyweights such as Kansas, Gonzaga, Villanova, and North Carolina look to show why they are the cream of the crop for likely NCAA #1 seeds, there are plenty of other national title worthy contenders like Kentucky, Arizona, UCLA, Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Oregon. Other schools like Big East competitors Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall, Providence, and Marquette all won at least 10 conference games this season and could make some noise in March. Smaller schools from less worthy conferences like Vermont (27-5, 16-0) of the America East and Middle Tennessee (27-4, 17-1) of Conference USA could make a run. Both schools are riding winning streaks with Vermont having won 19 straight and Middle Tennessee seven. Both Vermont and Middle Tennessee have produced significant upsets in NCAA history. In 2005, 13th-seeded Vermont upset a fourth-seeded Syracuse team that was fresh off a Big East Tournament Championship. Middle Tennessee, a 15th seed, upset second-seeded Michigan State in last year’s tournament. Results like these explain why March is so thrilling and dramatic. It captivates audiences across the country based on upsets by the little schools like these. They get on a run and gain the support of their schools so much that it can carry them on a fairy tale ride.
Before we get that far, the conference tournament championships are to be decided this week. In the process, the NCAA field will be determined with some teams sneaking in, others being left out, and others altering their seed and positioning for better or worse. Here is a look at one of the power conferences, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and how its’ conference tournament shapes up this week. The ACC Tournament Championship game will be played Saturday night March 11 at 9 pm EST and it can be seen live on ESPN.
North Carolina (26-6, 14-4), #1 seed
The ACC Tournament is being held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY for the first time ever. North Carolina enters the tournament as the outright ACC regular season champion and is the defending tournament champion. The Tarheels (26-6, 14-4) ended the regular season with a 90-83 win over arch rival Duke on Mar. 4 to split the annual season series. North Carolina has played in the ACC Tournament Championship game each of the last two years, falling to Notre Dame 90-82 in the 2015 title game before beating Virginia 61-57 in last year’s finale.
Head coach Roy Williams has his team playing at a high level yet again after coming within a whisker of winning an NCAA title last
year. Despite losing four-year starting guard Marcus Paige and Associated Press All-American forward Brice Johnson, North Carolina has enjoyed another stellar season. Both took key production with them as Johnson averaged 17.0 points-per-game and 10.4 rebounds a game while Paige scored 12.6 points-per-game and dished out 128 assists on the season. Yet the heels have retooled this season and may be a better all-around team. Junior forward Justin Jackson was just named the ACC Player-of-the-Year and leads the team with 18.3 ppg. He also dishes out 2.6 assists and hauls in 4.7 rebounds-per-game. Junior guard Joel Berry II adds 15.1 ppg and dishes out a team best 3.7 apg while senior post player Kennedy Meeks scores 12.5 ppg and leads the team with 9.1 rpg. Berry is the team’s best 3-point shooter at 42.4 percent (75-for-177) while Jackson has made a team-high 85 trifectas on the season.
North Carolina’s victories over Florida State, Louisville, and Notre Dame this season allowed them to create a two-game cushion
and ultimately win the ACC regular season title. They will likely have to face one of these teams in the ACC tournament again and this can always be interesting a second time around. Carolina will have to bring the same intensity and high production on offense that saw them score 85.2 ppg in the regular season if they are to beat these same teams again in postseason play.
Florida State (24-7, 12-6) is the second seed followed by Notre Dame (23-8, 12-6) and Louisville (24-7, 12-6) as the third and fourth seeds respectively. These three schools along with North Carolina all received a double bye and won’t play until the quarterfinal round beginning on Thursday March 9. You can easily make a case for any of these top four seeds to win the tournament championship as they were very competitive against each other during the season. While North Carolina beat each of the other three to create separation from them in winning the regular season crown, all four teams were very competitive against each other.
Florida State beat both Louisville and Notre Dame at home and lost at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish split home and home wins with both Florida State and Louisville while Louisville lost to Florida State and split home and home wins with Notre Dame. Basically, the top four seeds in this year’s ACC Tourney beat up on each other in the regular season. Even though North Carolina beat the other three teams, the games between the four teams were very competitive and could of gone either way. What each team learned from the other one in those games should be a factor in preparation for potential matchups among the quartet this week. Read the rest of this entry →