A few things to discuss before I get into the meat of the my predictions for the first weekend of the tournament. Everything about Sunday sucked, except the return of Sunday (and now collarless) Tiger. The new selection show was terrible, Notre Dame got snubbed, and Ernie Johnson, arguably the most likable man in basketball broadcasting, became Public Enemy #1 for Notre Dame fans. Such a demeaning way to announce the snub. I couldn’t find the video, but if you’re reading this, then chances are you saw it.
Time for a whiny Notre Dame fan to air his grievances. How in the HELL does Oklahoma have any business being in the tournament? Sure, ESPN covers their new Steph Curry all day long, but when his team goes 4-11 to close out the season — with everyone healthy, no less — to finish 18-13, that team should be torched by the committee immediately. Notre Dame has immense talent, and with a healthy Bonzie Colson finally back in the lineup, the Irish pulled off a monumental comeback against Virginia Tech. Granted, they got killed by Duke the next day, but 20-14 isn’t ugly, especially considering the strength of schedule and their formidability with Bonzie in the lineup. Unfortunately, the committee went by the word of ESPN, not logic. Come to me a year from now when the Irish sit at 30-4 as a 1 seed, though, and tell me how this season was a bad thing to fuel the fire of the returning players. Yes, NCAA, the Irish will be back, and if there’s one thing the Irish are good at, it’s holding grudges.
In other news, my ACC tournament predictions were almost dead on. Sure, I think I missed the BC win (which in turn made my Clemson quarterfinal loss prediction incorrect) and the Louisville win, but other than that, I didn’t get anything wrong. I know my stuff, at least a little bit.
Okay, got all that out of the way. Now, I’ll do a short preview of every Round of 64 matchup of every ACC team in the tournament and how I see it panning out. It should be another year of optimism, as Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina lead the nation’s tourney favorites.
#1 Virginia vs. #16 UMBC
This game is so lopsided you shouldn’t even have to watch it. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed, and this won’t change in this game. Virginia by about 20.
#6 Miami vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago
Miami got a tough draw here, as feisty Missouri Valley champion Loyola is a team that doesn’t roll over easily. Shooting over 50% and ranking as an elite defensive team, the Ramblers are a popular upset pick. Don’t count out the Hurricanes, though; despite being hot and cold, recent ACC wins, including one over North Carolina, should inspire hope for fans of the well-balanced team.
#8 Missouri vs. #9 Florida State
Florida State is going to have its hands full against newly-healthy future lottery pick Michael Porter Jr., who could lead Mizzou to an unprecedented tourney run. But if the Seminoles can slow the torrential downpour of threes from the Tigers, they should get a first round win.
#2 North Carolina vs. #15 Lipscomb
North Carolina will win this game easily, though 15 seeds aren’t necessarily a sure thing. Lipscomb likes to play fast, but can’t shoot the three well and turns the ball over a ton. The Tar Heels match up well with mistake-prone teams, and should move on without too much trouble.
#8 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Alabama
Virginia Tech is one of my favorite tournament teams. Perennially an 8 or 9 seed (at least recently), the high-powered offense generates consistent high-percentage looks for a team that can shoot. However, the looming threat of Collin Sexton, the star Alabama guard, makes a win no sure thing. Limiting Sexton should be the Hokies’ primary focus on Thursday.
#8 Seton Hall vs. #9 NC State
As I further read up on NC State, I realized that they’re strikingly boring. They’re not bad, but they’re just a little above average on offense and about average on defense. This can surely lead to wins, as evidenced by those over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, and Arizona, but does not make for an intriguing multi-round run possibility. Seton Hall has been cold lately, though, and Kansas does have an inclination for early exits, so don’t count the Wolfpack out just yet.
#5 Clemson vs. #12 New Mexico State
Clemson specializes on defense, even without Donte Grantham. They hold teams to few foul shots, but NMSU may prefer this, being a terrible free throw shooting team. NMSU is nothing special on defense, though, and a key to warding off the upset for Clemson will be knocking down shots and keeping the balance on offense.
PLAY-IN SPECIAL: #11 Syracuse vs. #11 Arizona State
Two teams worse than Notre Dame face off in this play-in game, but I give Syracuse the edge here because of ASU’s brutal stretch. They used to be ranked #3 before an Oklahoma-esque collapse doomed them to a First Four play-in game. It’s a toss-up for this game, but Syracuse has been better in conference play and has proven to be a better team down the stretch, so I’d give Syracuse the win.
WITH A WIN: #11 Syracuse vs. #6 TCU
TCU lives and dies by the three ball, so Jim Boeheim will be game-planning heavily around defending the perimeter. Remember the last time Syracuse was a double-digit seed in a play-in game, though? Syracuse will look to repeat that magic, and that starts with a win over TCU (assuming a win over Arizona State, of course).
#2 Duke vs. #15 Iona
Iona snuck into the tournament by playing quickly and draining the three. However, they’re bad defensively, are small, and can’t get boards, so Marvin Bagley should have a field day against the Gaels. Duke has a history of bowing out early to #15 seeds, though (hello, C.J. McCollum!), so Grayson Allen may need to butt-trip some Gaels on Thursday to ensure a Blue Devils win. He shouldn’t have to, though; Duke is most likely a Final Four team.