ACC faces possible tourney heartache
As people enjoy penciling in teams on their brackets across the nation, local fans should take caution before observing old-school customs of automatically advancing schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Quite simply, this is not your father's ACC. During a season when parity was celebrated and conferences like the Atlantic 10 placed five teams in the NCAA Tournament, the 12-team league received just four bids.
North Carolina, N.C. State, Miami and Duke are the lone participants in this year's field. That's not all. For a third consecutive season, the conference may very well lack a representative in the Final Four.
Since Duke won the national championship in 2010, the Blue Devils have not returned to the national semifinals, losing in the first round to Lehigh last year after bowing out in the regional semis to Arizona in 2011. The Tar Heels fared better last season, falling one game shy of the Final Four despite playing without their point guard.
Yet again, North Carolina finds itself in a region with Kansas — the team that ended its season last year. This time, however, the two blue bloods would potentially square off in the second round due to Carolina's poor No. 8 seed.
After losing four starters from last year's squad, coach Roy Williams had to retool quickly. With freshman Marcus Paige running the point, the team has seen its share of ups and downs but has won eight of its last 10. Playing his best basketball of the season, P.J. Hairston led a resurgence and had the Heels on the cusp of another ACC Tournament Championship on Sunday until Miami lowered the boom.
For their efforts, the tournament committee rewarded the players with arguably the most difficult segment of the bracket. Even if Carolina does get past Villanova in the first game, the group's crack at revenge against the Jayhawks comes in Kansas City, less than an hour's drive from Lawrence.
On the flip side of things, N.C. State was also assigned a No. 8 seed. The Wolfpack has Indiana to look forward to if it advances past Temple. Mark Gottfried's cooled considerably in conference play after beginning the season ranked in the top 10 of every major poll.
Despite representing more than a token challenge for the Hoosiers, C.J. Leslie and company just does not match up well with the most efficient offense in the country.
One team that does have a legitimate chance to make the Final Four is Miami. The well-balanced Hurricanes have the most sizable frontcourt in college basketball and two of the nation's most dynamic guards in Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. They've proven they can win in a number of ways, torching the nets from long distance, bruising teams inside and stifling opponents' guard play.
Unfortunately for Jim Larranaga's veteran group, it too would likely have to play Indiana. As a part of the East Region to which State belongs, Miami is a No. 2 seed with what looks to be favorable matchups until a potential regional final against the Hoosiers. Perhaps a magical season for the ACC regular season and tournament champion continues, but the last step is a doozy.
That leaves the aforementioned Blue Devils with the ACC's best chance to reach Atlanta. Only, not really.
Duke is seeded as a No. 2 in the Midwest Region, where Louisville is the No. 1 overall seed and favorite to win it all. Besides that, a matchup with Tom Izzo cannot be what coach Mike Krzyzewski was hoping for when the bracket was unveiled Sunday night. Izzo has six Final Fours to his credit — all with Michigan State — and happens to have a physical Spartans' team this year which is one of the nation's best.
If the Blue Devils survive this weekend, they would presumably get Izzo and coach Rick Pitino's Cardinals the following weekend. All of this seems to bode poorly for the ACC.
In a couple years, these same Louisville Cardinals — as well as Syracuse and Pittsburgh — will join the preexisting core of teams in the ACC to form a basketball mega-conference. But until then, it looks like sports fans in the southeast may have the opportunity to turn their attention to Opening Day of baseball season sooner than expected after another relatively disappointing season for the boys in blue.
Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or firstname.lastname@example.org.