ACC is looking awfully sweet after NCAA opening weekend
Tilt an ear toward the East, and you can almost hear the chant emanating from the opposite seaboard: “A-C-C, A-C-C!”
The NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 is saturated with Atlantic Coast Conference members, seven of whom avoided getting scratched off brackets.
Wait, what? Maryland, perpetually linked to the ACC, moved to the Big Ten? Then make it six.
Still, the representation doubles that of the Big 12 and Big Ten. And it eclipses the record of five set a year ago by the ACC.
An outbreak of upsets in the opening round spilled over to the weekend.
Though all No. 1 seeds remain standing, Wisconsin’s contested buzzer-beating three-pointer axed Xavier, leaving only a pair of twos and threes. (No, Sparty, your mystifying dud against Middle Tennessee State was not a bad dream.)
Let’s break down what is left of the regions, beginning with one that shifts to our backyard.
West (Thursday/Saturday in Anaheim): The Pac-12 banner might be feeling heavy for Oregon, the lone team left from the league to hold it up.
The Ducks, who triumphed over St. Joseph’s with little room to spare, bump up against Duke in a potential points-fest. Co-featured on the Blue Devils are scoring machine Grayson Allen and possible top NBA draft pick Brandon Ingram.
There are comebacks, and there is what Texas A&M achieved Sunday. The Aggies, who smudged out a 12-point deficit in the closing 44 seconds of regulation and finished off Northern Iowa in double overtime, gear up for Oklahoma.
The Sooners’ Buddy Hield, presumptive player of the year, has amassed 63 points in two games and attracted triple-teams late in a narrow win over Virginia Commonwealth.
South (Thursday/Saturday in Louisville, Ky.): This region has nearly gone as planned, with the three prime seeds plus the No. 5 Terrapins surviving.
Kansas and Villanova breathed a collective sigh of relief after victories that could have powered a regatta. The Jayhawks were ousted at that stage the past two seasons, while the Wildcats were toast after the first weekend in their last four appearances.
The elephant in the room, as Villanova Coach Jay Wright has referenced, found an escape hatch.
A Kansas grad, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon will set aside his academic allegiance and plot to sink the overall leading seed. The preseason AP polls foretold this meeting, though perhaps not until the Final Four. Maryland was ranked third, Kansas fourth.
Villanova’s Wildcats, who have obliterated two foes by an aggregate 49 points, draw Miami and its sublime point guard, Angel Rodriguez.
East (Friday/Sunday in Philadelphia): It is not the championship game, but North Carolina versus Indiana drips with nostalgia. The Hoosiers brought the Tar Heels to heel in Philly for the title 35 years ago.
Though seeded four rungs lower, No. 5 Indiana is capable of repeating the feat. Point guard Yogi Ferrell is the Rodriguez of this region. These Hoosiers, the fifth-most accurate team in the nation on three-pointers and sixth-most on twos, shoot as well as the characters in the cinematic classic “Hoosiers.”
Carolina has played to type most of the season — potent offense, suspect defense — but has buckled down on both ends recently.
Notre Dame got a new lease on NCAA life when Rex Pflueger, who played beach volleyball recreationally while growing up in Dana Point, volleyed a rebound into the hoop with 1.5 seconds left for a one-point victory Sunday over Stephen F. Austin.
The Fighting Irish face the plodding Badgers, who cut it even closer and atoned for being party to the least watchable game of the week. Bronson Koenig’s three-pointer from the dead corner as time expired broke a tie and rescued Wisconsin, which previously slogged to a 47-43 win over Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame, with its fluid offense and shaky defense, assures more entertaining viewing.
Midwest (Friday/Sunday in Chicago): Opposites attract here too, in the marquee matchup as Virginia and its snail’s-pace offense deal with Iowa State, which operates at a cheetah’s clip.
Not to be overlooked is the Cavaliers’ No. 6 rank in the Ken Pomeroy Ratings for offensive efficiency, three slots behind the Cyclones. On defense, Virginia is fourth, which elevates it to tournament favorite’s status among KenPom acolytes.
If the Cyclones’ Georges Niang scores 28 points for the third consecutive game, this one will have gone quadruple overtime.
The other encounter guarantees that a double-digit seed will proceed to the Elite Eight.
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim will partake in his 18th and least likely round of 16. The Orangemen seemed NIT-bound after opening the season at 10-7 as the coach observed a nine-game ban by the NCAA.
They have justified the unexpectedly high 10th seed — yet the school’s lowest ever — with wins by a combined 44 points. No. 11 Gonzaga, similarly seeded lower than normal, awaits.
Then it’s on to the Final Four in Houston, which could boil down to an ACC intramural affair. The league’s half-dozen entrants are scattered among the regions.
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