A Sweet Sweet 16

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.
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Season End Recap- Why North Carolina Deserved a Chance in UNC-Iowa 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-

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Are the Cards poised for a repeat?

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?
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What, No Kansas?- Analyzing the Tar Heels’ Path to the Final Four

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.

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The Tigers Aren’t Finished Yet

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!

clemson

TJ Warren is ACC Player of the Year

TJ Warren has won the ACC Player of the Year award, a very bright spot in what has been a so-so season, though IMHO a much better one than last year.

Warren led the league in scoring at 24.8 ppg and while many fans and media thought the award would go to Duke’s Jabari Parker, Warren’s win is justifiable.  It is pretty clear that without the sophomore’s nearly automatic scoring touch the Pack could not have achieved 19 wins and a .500 conference record.  He scored 81 points in his last two games, so he is peaking at the right time. Continue reading

ACC Basketball: A Decade in Review and Prediction for the New ACC

The ACC records for the last decade of football was posted by acaffrey earlier this week so I thought it would be fun to see the numbers for the basketball side of the conference.  I believe the biggest surprise over the last decade of ACC basketball has been the emergence of Florida State as the third winningest program in the conference behind Duke and North Carolina, a period that includes an ACC tournament championship for the Noles.

1. Duke 123-39 76%:  Arguable one of the most successful decades in conference history.  Duke has won at least 10 conference games in 9 of the last 10 years.  During the last decade Duke has won one NCAA title, 3 ACC Regular Season titles, and 6 ACC Tournament titles.

2. North Carolina 117-45 72%:  The baby blue (UNC) and navy blue (Duke) have dominated the conference in hoops.  Although Duke has a better conference record, North Carolina won 2 NCAA titles during the Roy Williams era (which started in 2003-04).  The Heels have also won 6 ACC Regular Season titles and 2 ACC Tournament titles during that time.

3.  Florida State 85-77 52%:  How in the world did the biggest name in ACC college football climb so high in the basketball centric ACC?  Leonard Hamilton.  Hamilton’s teams consistently play above their talent level through hard work and relentless defense.  However, FSU could be hit the hardest from the most recent conference expansion as the competition for 3rd place in the conference gets considerably tougher.

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I’m Andrew Wiggins, and I’m a __________

At North Carolina, we have an awesome set of videos at the Dean Smith Center. During men’s basketball games, former Tar Heel greats appear on the video board in a montage where they take turns saying- I’m __________, and I’m a Tar Heel. Michael Jordan. Rasheed Wallace. Jerry Stackhouse. Antawn Jamison. Vince Carter. Tyler Hansbrough. It’s incredible. But there’s one guy that I want to see up there that isn’t there yet- Andrew Wiggins.

By now, you know who he is. The consensus #1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The best high school prospect since Lebron James. A guy they call “Maple Jordan.” Tomorrow is possibly the biggest day of the entire offseason for college basketball fans. At 12:15pm in a “low-key” ceremony, Wiggins will announce his decision between North Carolina, Florida State, Kentucky and Kansas. But where will he go?

I’m not sure. His coach says he’s not sure. Maybe even Wiggins himself doesn’t know….yet. But the official signing day window closes on Wednesday, so Wiggins is doing his due diligence and announcing at the last minute. In my opinion, there’s only one real option, and that’s to go to North Carolina. Stay with me, I know what you’re thinking. This guy’s name is “Mr. Tar Heel.” He’s a Carolina grad. He lives near Chapel Hill. OF COURSE he wants Wiggins to go to North Carolina. But no, really. It’s his best option.

Think about it. North Carolina is returning a suddenly veteran team with Marcus Paige, PJ Hairston and James Michael McAdoo. They’re receiving big-man help in top prospects Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks. They have an opening in the starting lineup that just happens to be at Wiggins’ position. And not only that, but the spot was vacated by a player from Kinston, NC- Wiggin’s father’s hometown. Wiggins’ North Carolina roots run deep. His father was raised here. He almost went to prep school here. And his father grew up wanting to play for North Carolina, only to be turned down by the legendary Dean Smith. So maybe the Wiggins’ family has a chip on their shoulder, I don’t know. Maybe his father still hates North Carolina? Or maybe he wants his son to realize the dream that he always had; to play on the biggest stage, with the best players, against the top teams. North Carolina is the only place he can do this.

If you ask anyone who’s not from the United States to name a college basketball player, they’ll almost always go back to Michael Jordan. Why? Because not only was he greatest ever, but he was the most visible ever. He made himself a brand. THE brand of college basketball. North Carolina is one of the most recognizable, if not THE most recognizable brands in all of college sports. Lebron James is on record stating that he wanted to go there. So is Kobe Bryant. And Dwight Howard. It’s not hard to see that Wiggins might like to be a part of that legend. So why not? Without Wiggins, the team’s ceiling is high for next year. With Wiggins, it’s immeasurable. Where else can he have this kind of schedule?-

Conference                        Non-Conference

Duke (twice)                      Kentucky

NC State (twice)               Michigan State

Syracuse                              Louisville (possible Hall of Fame Tip-off matchup)

Notre Dame (twice)

Virginia

Maryland

Pittsburgh

The answer? Nowhere. That’s basically a who’s who of NCAA tournament success past and present. And as any North Carolina fan knows, you can go ahead and add Kansas to that list too because the NCAA will continue to match us up with them in the Tournament until they disband. To be a star on the biggest stage, Wiggins has to be on the biggest stage.

He can’t do that at Kentucky. Sure, there’s a lot of hype surrounding John Calipari’s program right now. But did anyone watch last year’s NIT flame-out fiasco? It’s not like those players weren’t the top recruiting class either! Having great players doesn’t guarantee success. You have to have a great TEAM. Kentucky just hasn’t shown that, there’s too much ego. After all, Calipari just isn’t the kind of coach that people give him credit for. The reason he gets so many players to the NBA isn’t because he develops prospects into NBA stars. It’s not his own doing. These guys are ALREADY NBA-ready players. He just babysits them for one semester. If they didn’t have to go to college, they wouldn’t. The one reason they probably stay? Money. Yes, I said it! Think about it. What other coach has gotten so many Final Fours vacated? Right, Calipari stands alone. There has to be something going on. Of course he wasn’t “implicated” in any of the charges, but that’s a weak excuse. Neither was Butch Davis, or Cam Newton, but don’t tell me those guys didn’t do anything wrong. There was money exchanged. And the sin of omission is just as bad as the sin of commission. You can’t claim ignorance if it’s your job to know. If anything, John Calipari is guilty as charged with the utmost gross negligence. It’s his program. He should know what’s going on. Is he a bad coach? Absolutely not. It takes talent to get to the level that he’s on. Is he a nice guy? Maybe, I’m not sure, I’ve never met him. But he isn’t the Midas of the NBA draft. Kentucky isn’t guaranteed a title next year. Williams and Self are the better coaches in this bunch anyway.

But Kansas just doesn’t seem like a great fit for Wiggins either. The Big 12 is weak, and no, Marcus Smart’s return doesn’t change that. It only makes it a two-horse race. Kansas will probably walk through the conference again like they always do, because there’s really no competition outside of a few teams. The Jayhawks also lost a lot from last year’s squad. They just don’t have the veteran presence of some of the other teams on Wiggin’s list. Not to mention that there’s an ongoing scandal surrounding last year’s top player Ben McLemore now. Does Wiggins really want to be associated with that? What if the NCAA comes down hard on the Jayhawks in his only season? Don’t get me wrong, Bill Self IS a great coach. I’ve seen that enough times by watching his team beat my team in the NCAA tournament. But why go to a place that he really has no connection to? No family, no history, and really, a weaker roster than some of his other choices. It just doesn’t make sense.

Which brings me to Florida State. If he was going to go there because of his family connection, why didn’t he just decide that a long time ago? That would have saved a lot of people a lot of time, and a lot of money. It makes you wonder. One thing the Noles have going for them is a very similar schedule to North Carolina. In fact, they get to play North Carolina while the Tar Heels have to play an FSU team that looks weak with the loss of sharpshooter Michael Snaer. But if that wasn’t enough, Wiggins’ best friend Xavier Rathan-Mayes has already signed on to move to Tallahassee. So maybe that is enough for Wiggins. I’m a family guy, so I can totally respect that. I’d even cheer for him when he wasn’t playing North Carolina. But even with Wiggins, the Noles aren’t a Final Four contender. Sure, they’d be better. A LOT better. But they just don’t have the firepower, or experience needed to go all the way.

So what will he do? We’ll find out tomorrow afternoon. I hope that whatever he chooses, he’s happy. Certainly, everyone hopes for that. As a North Carolina fan and graduate, I’d love for him to come to my school. But if he didn’t, I wouldn’t regret it. I just hope he wouldn’t either.

ACC Fans… Are You Rooting For Syracuse and Louisville?

There is no secret here… Syracuse is joining the ACC later in 2013 and Louisville will be joining in 2014.  While the two went to bowls games this past season in football, both schools are known for having near-elite, if not elite, basketball programs.  It is not the least bit surprising that Syracuse and Louisville are part of this Final Four.  The question is whether YOU, the grizzled ACC fan raised on a rivalry with the Big East, will be rooting for Syracuse.

The Confidential will argue that you should  A Syracuse-Louisville matchup will look that much better for the 2013-2014 preseason.  Recruiting battles can be won by these two schools if they meet in the Championship game. Sure, these recruiting battles may be won anyway–but why not want them to have every edge.  You WANT these programs to be good.

The SEC is a great football conference because it is so very deep.  The Big East has been a great basketball conference because of its depth.  The ACC needs to put together that kind of basketball depth too.  The football should be deep, but it just is not there yet. Until the football teams rise up in out-of-conference games and the best programs stop getting upset, the ACC will have to ride its basketball teams.

Well, that starts this weekend.   Syracuse and Louisville may not have placed in the ACC standings in 2012-2013 (except here, of course), but they will be soon enough.  The better they do, the better for the ACC.

So you tell us… if you are not a fan of Syracuse or Louisville, are you going to be rooting for your future ACC brethren this weekend?

 

NCAA Tournament- Final Four Conference Breakdown

The tickets to Atlanta have been punched, and this time, only two major conferences remain. What’s left is a who’s who of the future of the ACC, an upstart underdog and a Michigan team that looks a lot like the Fab Five. Let’s see how they got there.

ACC

Tournament Teams (4)- Duke, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State

Remaining Tournament Teams (0)-

Verdict- No one was going to beat Louisville after what happened to Kevin Ware. No one. Not Duke, not the Miami Heat. No one. The raw emotion that Ware’s gruesome injury caused among his teammates, his coach and the crowd, were just too much to overcome for the Blue Devils. So while they went mostly cold in the second half, they can hang their heads high. After all, the season ended in a much better way than last year’s first-round flameout against Lehigh. An Elite Eight, while the standard for such a high-level program, is still an accomplishment. Coach K loses highly-productive seniors Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry this offseason, but he reloads next year with a class headed by #2 recruit Jabari Parker.

Big East

Tournament Teams (8)- Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Villanova, Georgetown, Syracuse, Marquette

Remaining Tournament Teams (2)- Louisville, Syracuse

Verdict-  We should really just merge this section with the  one for the ACC, but we won’t, because the Big East deserves one last send-off. It really is incredible that a conference that had such a bad first round has been able to rebound with such a great Final Four. It’s things like this that make the Tournament so incredible , and it’s what we’ll miss so much when basketball season ends. Syracuse looked impressive in a 55-39 sleeper against soon-to-be former conference rival Marquette, while Louisville cruised to an emotional win over soon-to-be conference rival Duke in the Elite Eight. Both teams have the potential to go all the way, and they proved this during this past round, but Louisville has the better matchup on paper this weekend. Since both remaining teams will be heading to Greensboro in the next few years, we’re not sure what type of foundation this leaves the “new” Big East…

 Big Ten

Tournament Teams (7)- Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois

Remaining Tournament Teams (1)-  Michigan

 Verdict- And one remains. The story all year has been about how great the Big Ten is, and here we are, with Michigan in the Final Four. Does this silence the critics? It’s hard to tell. The Wolverines have a lot to prove, but they look up to the challenge. Sunday’s game against Florida proved that they ‘re capable of handling elite teams and hanging with high-level programs. That’s a good sign. And it’s not to say that Michigan isn’t a high-level program too, but they haven’t experienced the same kind of success that the Gators have recently. That’s just a fact. Michigan is really quite an interesting team. They’re a talented team, but they’re not a surprise team like Wichita State. They’ve been a good team, but they weren’t expected to be here like Louisville. Can they finally bring a banner back to Ann Arbor? This time they won’t have to take it down…

 SEC

Tournament Teams (3) - Missouri, Ole Miss, Florida, Kentucky

Remaining Tournament Teams (0)-

Verdict- It’s hard to explain what happened to Florida. They just…couldn’t do it. They’re definitely as talented as Michigan. And Billy Donovan is a great coach. But sometimes it’s just not mean to be. Teams come out cold. They lose focus. They get in a hole early. And that’s what happened to Florida on Sunday. Unfortunately for them, it meant the end of their season. And unfortunately for the SEC, it meant the end of their tournament. While the conference may never be a hoops powerhouse, Kentucky once again becomes a team to watch in 2014. If they’re able to add Canadian phenom Andrew Wiggins, they just might cut down the nets again next year. Not bad for a team that couldn’t even win one game in the NIT.

It all ends in less than a week. It’s been an exciting basketball season, and it really is too bad that it’s almost over. While there haven’t been any truly exceptional teams this year, the parity seen has created one of the most unpredictable tournaments in years. Don’t be surprised if the Shockers win it all on Monday.