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Special to theACC.com by ACCDN Guest Reporter Jacob Dennis
The top-heavy ACC landed six teams in the NCAA tournament this season, five of which earned a seed of four or higher. Duke’s overall résumé was strong enough to earn the Devils a 1-seed, making Coach K and company the only conference team to earn that designation in 2015. Notre Dame, the ACC Tournament champion, received a 3-seed in the Midwest Region, while Virginia’s early Greensboro exit at the hands of UNC pushed the Cavaliers to a 2-seed. Here is the complete breakdown of each ACC team’s draw in this year’s NCAA tournament:
1-seed - Duke - South Region
Duke has perhaps the most favorable draw of any 1-seed, as the Devils seemingly have a free pass to the Elite Eight. The freshmen-laden Blue Devils will face the Robert Morris/North Florida winner in the team’s opening game, followed by a matchup with San Diego State or St. John’s. Duke has already faced the Johnnies once this season, a 77-68 win in Madison Square Garden that made Coach K the first Division I men’s basketball coach to reach 1,000 wins.
Gonzaga and Iowa State, the only real threats to the Devils’ Final Four chances, are the 2- and 3-seeds in the South Region. The 25-8 Cyclones are an elite offensive team, but probably don’t match up well enough with Duke to have a legitimate chance to hang around for 40 minutes. Gonzaga, however, seems poised for a deep tournament run. Led by Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, the Bulldogs own the nation’s top field goal percentage (52.4%). Mark Few’s team shares the ball exceptionally well and has the potential to beat anyone on a given night. The Devils most likely won’t be tested early on, but a tough Zags team will be ready in the Elite Eight.
2-seed - Virginia - East Region
The 29-3 Cavaliers, a team that seemed destined for a top-seed for the entire season, earned a 2-seed after late-season losses to Louisville and North Carolina. There is no doubt that Tony Bennett’s squad is the best defensive team in the nation, but the ‘Hoos have major problems on offense. Justin Anderson, who was playing ACC Player of the Year-caliber basketball before he was injured, has finally returned to the team, but his Greensboro performance was mediocre at best. The Cavaliers need someone to step up offensively for the team to have a chance at the Final Four, and Malcolm Brogdon showed signs of being that guy in the team’s ACC Tournament loss to UNC. He scored 22 second-half points, single-handedly keeping the Cavs within striking distance.
Virginia will face Belmont, a team who has pulled early round upsets before on the strength of its exceptional shooting, before facing the Michigan State-Georgia winner. But Oklahoma, Louisville and top-seeded Villanova also reside in the East Region, and it’s hard to see Virginia making it to Indianapolis without a legitimate scoring threat emerging.
3-seed - Notre Dame - Midwest
The ACC Tournament champions have the most intriguing seeding of all ACC teams, as the 29-5 Irish will play in the Midwest Region with the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats and the 2-seed Kansas Jayhawks. Notre Dame, winners of five in a row and eight out of nine, is playing arguably the best basketball of any team in the country right now. The Irish, led by Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton, boast some of the best guard play in the nation and are one of the few teams capable of beating Kentucky, assuming the team can get past Kansas.
The Fighting Irish will face Northeastern in its tournament opener before facing the Butler-Texas winner. Notre Dame is one of four ACC teams with a legitimate shot of making the Final Four, as the Irish’s offense is second-to-none, as evidenced by the team’s 22-2 second-half run in the ACC tournament final.
4-seed - North Carolina - West Region
Fresh off of a run to the ACC championship game, North Carolina will look to continue its impressive play against Harvard in the NCAA tournament. Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson have really emerged as threats late in the season for the Tar Heels and, paired with a point guard like Marcus Paige, have put UNC on the national radar as a team capable of making a deep March run. Carolina is second in the nation in both assists (17.7) and rebounds (41.0) per game, but the team out-rebounded Notre Dame by just two in Saturday night’s 90-82 loss.
The Heels will face the Arkansas-Wofford winner in the team’s second game before a potential Sweet 16 matchup with 1-seed Wisconsin. Frank Kaminsky and the Big Ten champion Badgers have been great all season, but UNC actually matches up with the team reasonably well. Expect to see the Heels and Badgers play a closely-contested game for a spot in the Elite Eight.
4-seed - Louisville - East Region
Consensus opinion seems to be that Louisville was over-seeded, as the Cardinals, who dismissed Chris Jones late in the season, have lost two out of three, including an early exit at the hands of UNC in the ACC Tournament. Louisville will face UC Irvine in its opening round before meeting the winner of the Northern Iowa-Wyoming game. Both UNI and Wyoming have solid teams this season, and both fit the bill of potentially becoming 2015’s “Cinderella Story.”
Even if the Cards make it past an upset-minded opponent in the team’s second game, top-seeded Villanova would likely be waiting in the Sweet 16. Louisville ranks 22nd nationally with 38.2 rebounds per game, led by a talented junior forward Montrezl Harrell, who will be motivated to make one last tournament run before likely bolting for the NBA.
8 seed - NC State - East Region
North Carolina State is one of the more dangerous 8-seeds in recent memory, as the Wolfpack have already recorded wins over Duke, Louisville and North Carolina. State has two terrific guards in Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey who are capable of carrying the team deep into the tournament, but there’s one problem: assuming State beats LSU in its opening game, a matchup with top-seeded Villanova awaits.
Still, Mark Gottfried’s bunch has played as well as anyone at times this season, making Villanova the first 1-seed with a legitimate chance of falling. If NC State beats LSU, don’t be surprised to see the ‘Pack, a team that matches up will with Nova, to seriously challenge the East’s top seed for 40 minutes.