Beyond the ACCtion: Who's Ready for March Madness?

March 21, 2013

Beyond the ACCtion

ACC Staffer Steve Phillips helps you get ready for the ACC's ACCtion in March Madness.

For anxious ACC basketball fans, Friday can’t come soon enough.

While the 2013 NCAA Tournament began with first-round games on Tuesday and swings into full-scale action with 16 second-round games on Thursday, the ACC’s four teams in the field play a waiting game.

The wait ends shortly after noon on Friday, when Duke takes the floor against Albany in Philadelphia. By early Friday evening, ACC champion Miami, NC State and North Carolina will have joined the Blue Devils in taking the plunge.

Duke (27-5) drew the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, which includes overall No. 1 seed Louisville and perennial NCAA contender Michigan State. Miami (27-6) is seeded second in the East Region, which sports Indiana as the No. 1 seed, Florida at No. 3, and Michigan and Virginia Commonwealth a respective 4 and 5.

The Hurricanes’ gauntlet is the same one faced by NC State (24-10), which drew the No. 8 seed in the East Region. The Wolfpack opens against Temple on Friday at Dayton, Ohio and faces a potential date with Indiana should it win. And in the South Region, North Carolina (24-10) also received a No. 8 seeding. Should the Tar Heels’ survive a tough matchup with Villanova in Friday night’s opening round, they could be facing top-seeded Kansas in Sunday’s second round game, which would be played in (gulp) Kansas City.

Indeed, none of the four ACC teams faces an easy road, but the path to an NCAA title seldom runs smooth. While each has cause for concern, each has equal reason for optimism and motivation.

Duke’s most recent national title came in 2010, but the Blue Devils saw each of the previous two seasons end in disappointment. After falling in the West Region semifinals in 2011 and coming up short in the second round last season, Duke’s focus is squarely on returning to the Final Four for the 16th time and winning its fifth national title under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The return of 6-foot-10 Ryan Kelly from a foot injury in the final two weeks of the regular season, gives the Blue Devils an inside presence alongside All-America center Mason Plumlee, as well as an outside shooting presence to complement ACC Coaches All-ACC first-team selection Seth Curry .

For those who believe in omens, the fact the Blue Devils begin their NCAA journey in Philadelphia appears to bode well. Duke owns a 4-0 all-time postseason record in the city, including the historic win over Kentucky on Christian Laettner’s buzzer shot in the 1992 East Regional final.

Miami is riding a wave after sweeping both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles for the first time since joining the league for the 2004-05 season. The Hurricanes’ quest to make more history begins with Friday’s second-round game against Pacific in Austin, Texas.

Like much of this season’s magical ride, the next step will be new to Miami’s current group of players. A total of 137 different schools have played at least one game in the NCAA Tournament since the Hurricanes’ last appearance in 2008.

Still, March Madness doesn’t breed total unfamiliarity. Head coach Jim Larranaga is 5-5 all-time in NCAA Tournament play and oversaw George Mason’s unlikely march to the Final Four in 2006. Current Hurricanes Julian Gamble and Kenny Kadji have both been to the NCAA Tournament, albeit both as redshirts in 2008 – Gamble with Miami and Kadji with Florida.

An eighth seed should not seem overly daunting to NC State, a program in the midst of celebrating the 30th anniversary of the “Cardiac Pack” continually beating the odds en route to the 1983 national championship. Last season saw the Wolfpack reach the semifinals of the St. Louis Region as a No. 11 seed before suffering a three-point loss to eventual region champion Kansas.

The parts remain in place for a Wolfpack team that was picked to win the ACC in preseason. With Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie anchoring the inside and Scott Wood among the nation’s most dangerous 3-point threats, NC State boasts a multi-dimensional team and the only NCAA Division I club with five players averaging over 12 points per game. Point guard Lorenzo Brown leads the ACC in both assists (7.2 per game) and steals (2.0 ).

Mark Gottfried is now the first coach in NC State's storied basketball history, and only the third in the 60-year history of the ACC for all schools, to take his first two teams to the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina hopes the smaller lineup implemented by head coach Roy Williams in mid-February will continue to pay dividends as the Tar Heels enter NCAA Tournament play for the 44th time. Led by the 3-point accuracy of P.J.Hairston, Reggie Bullock and Marcus Page, UNC reached the finals of the ACC Tournament before falling to Miami in an epic matchup last Sunday.

The Tar Heels’ hopes of making an extended run in the NCAAs will depend heavily on their ability to continue making shots, as well as the smaller lineup’s ability to defend and rebound against larger opponents. UNC has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 2.4 per game.

UNC has a fair amount of history on its side as a No. 8 seed. The Tar Heels drew that slot in 1990 and upset top-ranked Oklahoma in the second round en route to the Sweet 16. UNC was again seeded eighth in 2000 and upset top-seeded Stanford in the second round en route to the Final Four.

Of note: Duke, Miami and North Carolina are among 23 schools to send both the men’s and women’s basketball teams to the NCAA Tournament this season … Miami is the first team not to receive a No. 1 seed after sweeping both the ACC regular-season and ACC Tournament championships … UNC’s 44 NCAA Tournament appearances are the second-most among all schools.