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Special to theACC.com, by Max Skinner and Jacob Dennis
Duke Blue Devils (1 seed, South region)
Duke dominated San Diego State on Sunday, as the Blue Devils easily discarded one of the nation’s best defensive teams, 68-49. Coach K and company showed that they’re a solid defensive team in their own right, as the Devils held the Aztecs to just 32.8% shooting, including just 2-of-13 (15.4%) from distance.
Duke will go on to face Utah on Friday night in the Sweet 16 in Houston, Texas.
Big Man on Campus: Jahlil Okafor further solidified his status as the ACC’s best player, as the freshman center poured in 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting, to go along with six rebounds, two assists and three blocks.
Okafor flashed his post prowess against the Aztecs, easily picking apart the double teams that were thrown his way all game.
X-Factor: Justise Winslow was absolutely phenomenal against San Diego State, again proving that he is also one of the best freshmen in America. Winslow filled up the stat sheet, registering 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.
Preview: The Blue Devils will face Delon Wright and the fifth-seeded Utah Utes in Houston, Texas, Friday with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line. The Utes, like Duke’s last opponent, are also a great defensive team. Utah ranks 11th nationally in points allowed per game (56.9), 23rd in blocks per game (5.0), and 41st in rebounds per game (25.7). But the Devils have already shown that, at least in their case, good offense beats good defense, and the Utes likely won’t be able to slow the Duke’s high-octane attack. If the Devils’ defense can slow down Wooden Award nominee Delon Wright and seven-foot Austrian center Jakob Poeltl, expect to see Duke just one win away from Indianapolis.
How They Got There: Def. Robert Morris 85-56 | Def. San Diego State 68-49
Travel Log: After making the 144-mile trek from Cameron Indoor in Durham to Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte for the team’s first two games of the tournament, the Devils will be venturing far from home for the Sweet 16 against Utah. NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, is 1,180 miles from Durham, which is a near-17 hour car ride for most Duke fans.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3 seed, Midwest)
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey led the Irish to a thrilling and emotional 67-64 overtime win over Butler on Saturday. Hours after losing his mother to a heart attack at age 84, Brey’s team gutted out a hard-fought victory for their coach.
Notre Dame advances to the Sweet 16 where they will face No. 7 seed Wichita State in Cleveland, OH. The Fighting Irish will try to reach the regional final for the first time since 1979.
Big Man on Campus: One name that might not resonate with a ton of college basketball fans is Steve Vasturia. Well, now it should. The sophomore guard from Medford, NJ scored a team high 20 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals. If Vasturia continues to be aggressive at an efficient rate, it will strongly increase Notre Dame’s odds of winning a national championship.
X-Factor: There is no one else in the tournament that plays with as much passion and heart than Pat Connaughton. The senior guard finished Saturday’s game with 7 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. Although it wasn’t Connaughton’s best offensive performance, he made plays down the stretch when it mattered. Most notably, Connaughton blocked a potential game-winning shot as time expired, forcing OT.
Stat of the Game: Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton played in his school-record 137th game, breaking the record of former point guard Tory Jackson.
Preview: After beating Providence on Saturday, Notre Dame will travel to Cleveland to face a gritty Wichita State team. The Shockers, coming off a definitive victory over in-state rival Kansas, pose a major threat to Notre Dame. Wichi State (30-4) might be the most scrappy and defensive-oriented team the Irish have faced all year. Notre Dame must play at their own pace and score consistently throughout the game.
How They Got There: Def. Northeastern 69-65 | Def. Butler 67-64 OT.
Travel Log: Irish faithful only had to travel 372 miles from South Bend to Pittsburgh for the first two rounds. Now, Notre Dame only has to go 256 miles from South Bend to Cleveland for the Sweet 16. Luck of the Irish.
Louisville Cardinals (4 seed, East Region)
Terry Rozier had a career night and Louisville played its best game of the season in a 66-53 win over Northern Iowa.
The Cardinals disposed of UNI, a team that was a pre-tournament “trendy” pick to reach the Elite 8. With the win, Louisville earns a matchup with NC State in the team’s fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.
Big Man on Campus: Terry Rozier was undoubtedly the best player on the floor for Louisville as evidenced by the sophomore guard’s near-triple-double. Rozier scored 25 points, grabbed five boards and dished out seven assists. He had just two turnovers, a trend that must continue for Louisville to advance further into the tournament.
X-Factor: Wayne Blackshear’s night was not particularly outstanding from a numbers standpoint, but he made arguably the most important play of the night for Louisville. UNI had an easy fast break dunk that would have drawn the team to within four points with less than 5 minutes to go, but Blackshear seemingly appeared out of nowhere to contest the shot and force an unlikely miss. Montrezl Harrell had a thunderous dunk off a lob from Rozier on Louisville’s next possession, and that’s as close as Northern Iowa got. Blackshear finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
Stat of the Game: Terry Rozier scored or assisted a whopping 43 of Louisville’s 66 points (65.2%). But while the Cards’ offense was good, the team’s defense was even better. Northern Iowa’s high-octane offense managed to shoot just 18-of-46 from the floor (39.1%), nearly 10 points below the Panthers’ season average.
Preview: Coming off of its best performance of the season, Louisville will face one of the hottest teams in the nation in conference foe NC State. The Wolfpack just stunned top-seeded Villanova with an all-around great performance, and Gottfried’s crew is obviously peaking at the right time.
NC State and Louisville both rely on crashing the boards and generating second chance opportunities. Both teams also have very respectable backcourts. State’s dynamic duo of Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey have proven to be one of the tournament’s best backcourts. The Cardinals and Wolfpack met just once this season, a 74-65 NC State victory at the KFC Yum! Center on February 14.
How They Got There: Def. UC Irvine 57-55 | Def. Northern Iowa 66-53
Travel Log: The Cardinals had to travel a whopping 2,400 miles from Louisville to Seattle for their first two games of the NCAA Tourney. Louisville now only has to travel about 700 miles from Louisville to Syracuse, NY for the Sweet 16.
North Carolina Tar Heels (4 seed, West region)
Led by Marcus Paige’s 22 points, North Carolina confidently beat Arkansas 87-78 on Saturday. With the win, the Heels advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years.
UNC advances to play No. 1 seed Wisconsin in the West Regional next week in Los Angeles. It will be Carolinas 26th appearance in the Sweet 16.
Big Man on Campus: After missing seven of eight shots in the first half, Marcus Paige took over in the second half. During a 5-minute stretch, Paige scored 13 of his teams’17 points. The junior guard finished with 22 points, six rebounds and a whopping five steals.
X-factor: UNC forward J.P. Tokoto added 13 points, eight assists and no turnovers. He also had five rebounds to go along with two steals. Besides a great stat line across the board, Tokoto was the catalyst in transition, assisting on six of UNCs nine transition baskets.
Stat of the Game: With Saturday’s win over Arkansas, UNC coach Roy Williams tied the late Dean Smith for second-most NCAA Tournament wins with 65.
Preview: UNC moves on to face No. 1 seed Wisconsin in the West Regional in Los Angeles. Wisconsin is loaded with experienced seniors, led by Wooden-finalist Frank Kaminsky. The Heels need to continue to play in transition and to not allow Wisconsin to slow it down to their own pace.
How They Got There: Def. Harvard 67-65 | Def. Arkansas 87-78
Travel Log: The Tar Heels only had to travel 450 miles from Chapel Hill to Jacksonville for their first two games of the Tournament. UNC has a long road to Los Angeles for the Sweet 16. The Heels have to travel 2,514 miles from Chapel Hill to L.A.
NC State Wolfpack (8 seed, East Region)
A 71-68 win over top-seeded Villanova stunned America and busted the brackets of many, but ACC fans aren’t shocked that Mark Gottfried’s team is playing Cinderella.
The Wolfpack are extremely talented and have shown signs of being an elite team, as proven by the team’s regular season wins over Duke and UNC. The Pack dominated the glass against Villanova to the tune of a +13 rebounding margin. Trevor Lacey was brilliant in a 17-point performance, but he was just one of four State players who registered over 11 points.
Big Man on Campus: Trevor Lacey led NC State in points, assists and steals against Villanova. The Alabama-transfer hit a big shot down the stretch to hold off a furious rally from the East’s top seed. He also drilled a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer that extended State’s lead to four and allowed the team to carry momentum into the game’s final 20 minutes. He hit 2-of-5 from distance and didn’t miss a foul shot, but a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio will need to improve in a matchup against Louisville’s stifling defense.
X-Factors: Forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman owned the paint against the Wildcats, as each player registered 12 rebounds, including a whopping nine offensive rebounds, six of which were grabbed by Abu. The duo had more rebounds than Villanova’s entire starting five. Freeman far eclipsed his season average of 5.7 boards per contest, but he will need to repeat his round of 32 performance against a tough Louisville frontcourt led by junior Montrezl Harrell.
Stat of the Game: Per ESPN Stats & Information, the last time NC State beat Duke, North Carolina and a 1-seed in the same season, the team went on to win the National Championship.
Preview: Louisville, like NC State, is a tremendous rebounding team, so the battle on the glass will be something to keep an eye on when the two ACC foes meet on Friday. The Cardinals usually rely on a stout defense to win games, but Louisville coach Rick Pitino was complimentary of his team’s spacing and ball movement on offense in the win over Northern Iowa.
NC State guards Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey must attempt to keep Louisville guard Terry Rozier in check Friday, as the sophomore has game-changing talent. In the two teams’ regular season meeting, Barber and Lacey combined for 35 points, while Rozier had just seven in an NC State comeback win.
How They Got There: Def. LSU 66-65 | Def. Villanova 71-68
Travel Log: The Wolfpack played their first two tournament games in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an arena just over 500 miles from Raleigh. NC State will play the Cards in the Carrier Dome, the familiar home of ACC member Syracuse, which is about 650 miles from campus for Gottfried and company.
Virginia Cavaliers (2 seed, East Region)
Virginia’s magical season came to a disappointing end on Sunday afternoon after the Cavaliers were upset by Michigan State, 60-54, for the second year in a row.
For Virginia fans, this loss leaves a bitter taste in their mouths. After starting the season 28-1, the Cavs lost three times in the last two weeks. For whatever reason, it seems like UVa lost their mojo down the most important stretch of the season.
On Sunday, Michigan State controlled the majority of the contest. The Spartans seemed to play with a little more intensity and physicality than the Cavaliers.
UVa senior Darion Atkins shared this sentiment after the game. To paraphrase, Atkins claimed that his teammates weren’t playing with enough passion and that they played soft.
Atkins apologized to his teammates on Monday, but you can’t blame the fiery senior for making those comments in the heat of the moment.
Regardless of finger pointing, it came down to making shots. Virginia had good looks all game long, but had its worst shooting performance of the season. UVa shot an abysmal 17-57 (29.8%) from the field and even worse from 3-point land.
Stat of the year: Virginia won 30 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The Cavaliers also won two straight ACC regular season championships outright, another first in school history.
What’s next: Losing the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Darion Atkins, will hurt Virginia’s toughness inside. However, the majority of this impressive team should be back next season. Malcolm Brogdon has already announced that he will return and barring Justin Anderson leaving for the NBA draft, UVa should contend for a championship run in 2016.
Don’t hang your heads UVa fans, your Cavaliers had an amazing season. Tony Bennett won ACC Coach of the Year and USBWA National Coach of Year. Malcolm Brogdon made First-Team All ACC, Justin Anderson made Second-Team. Anthony Gill Third-Team, and London Perrantes was an honorable mention.
Darion Atkins won ACC Defensive Player of the Year, the first time for a UVa player and Mike Tobey won ACC 6th man of the year. Just look what Tony Bennett has done with the program in only six seasons. Things are surely looking up in Charlottesville.