March Madness! The Big Dance! The Bubble! Every March, college basketball fans obsess about these topics. And then the brackets come out and everyone fills one out… trying to decide whether to be a homer or hedge against your school losing early. But what if your school is not in the bracket? If your schools stinks (see Northwestern), so be it. But when you are Syracuse and used to being in the field… it is extremely difficult for fans. Some may not even bother. For the rest of the Syracuse fans (and other schools’ fans stuck watching from afar)…regardless of who you PICK to win… who do you ROOT for?
Can you believe it? Two weeks from today, we will be doing our brackets. The question, of course, is how many ACC teams will be on those particular brackets.
Say what you will about the way the selection committee selected and seeded this years tournament, whether they seeded for TV match ups or not, but it was an incredible opening weekend. It featured a record six over time games and ample upsets for the underdog lovers. Our beloved ACC is down to Virginia and Louisville and the SEC went 7-0, who would’ve guessed that? The new Big East has been eliminated while the rest of the power conferences has lost at least half of their teams. The Sweet 16 is dominated by the power conferences with the lone exceptions being Dayton and San Diego State.
Another North Carolina Basketball season has come and gone. 24 wins. A Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament Championship. And for the first time ever, a Roy Williams coached Carolina team is back at home after the Round of 32 for two years in a row. For many fans, it’s been an interesting, yet unsatisfying, season. Summer drama led to early season losses. Disappointing outcomes led to surprising upsets. Big victories led to an almost unprecedented poor start in conference play. A wake up call led to a huge win streak. And the season ended early, yet again, in the most bizarre of circumstances. As we reflect on the 2013-2014 North Carolina basketball team and look to the future, here are a few observations from this year’s season-
Say what you will about the Louisville Cardinals 4 seed, rather deserved or not, but it is of no consequence now. Its time to dance. We all remember Louisvilles remarkable finish ending with the national championship to put an exclamation point on the “year of the Cardinals”. What are the Cardinals chances at a repeat performance?
Let’s go ahead and get the most obvious thing out of the way. No, North Carolina is not a favorite to make the Final Four. But could they get there? Absolutely. They have all the talent and tools to make a deep March run- defensive intensity, a wide rebounding margin, a star point guard, excellent bench play. Add a Hall of Fame coach to that list and you’ve got a pretty sure shot, right? The problem is, that the Tar Heels rarely exhibit all of these qualities at one time. This is the same team that lost to UAB (which finished with a losing record in lowly C-USA) and beat then #1 Michigan State (many media member’s pick to win it all) in the same WEEK. You never know what you’re going to get when they step on the court. A 12-game winning streak just became a 2-game losing streak courtesy of Duke and Pittsburgh, two teams which North Carolina had already beaten earlier in the season. So why do I think they still have a chance?
Because the Tar Heels always seem to show up when it matters most.
Picked to finish 14th in the ACC, Coach Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers surprised everyone when they ended the regular season 6th in the conference. Not to mention a season long, star performance by junior forward, K.J. McDaniels who was voted an ACC first team All-American and defensive player of the year.
The Tigers take on Georgia State in Littlejohn Coliseum tonight at 9pm on ESPNU in the first round of the NIT, a postseason honor not all ACC schools can boast about. The ACC is one of the toughest basketball conferences in the nation and you must give credit where credit is due to Brad Brownell. He took the underdogs and made them into competitors that demanded to be taken seriously.
With a heartbreaking overtime loss to Pitt at the end of the regular season, Clemson started the ACC Tournament right with a thrilling overtime win against Georgia Tech, just to be fortunate enough to move on to play Duke in the quarterfinals. What at one point looked like it would be a Blue Devils blowout, the Tigers fought back to bring the game back to within a few points, only to lose by 1 on a controversial call that sent Duke to the next round.
While Clemson won’t be entering “The Big Dance” this March Madness season, they do have a lot to be proud of. Players like Landry Nnoko, Demarcus Harrison, and Jaron Blossomgame improved to become vital assets to the team. Consistent players like K.J. McDaniels and Rod Hall gave another tremendous effort to show that at least one school in South Carolina knows how to play basketball.
This young team should be coming back in full force next season, but might be one short. K.J. McDaniels, while only a junior, is likely to enter the NBA Draft after this season concludes. While I can’t say I blame him, I do hope he’ll consider finishing out his career as a Clemson Tiger and seeing how far he can lead this team next season.
If you haven’t had the chance to watch the Tigers play this season, catch them on ESPNU tonight at 9pm in the first round of the NIT!