With the ACC getting seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, it was inevitable that two or more more schools within the league were going to get put into the same bracket. As it turned out, this year’s undisputed ACC champion North Carolina, the top seed in the East Region, has two league mates, Notre Dame and Pitt, also playing in its bracket.
North Carolina, in collecting its record 15th No. 1 seed, predictably landed the top spot in the East after winning the ACC tournament Saturday night. UNC has claimed seven out of eight wins since the Tar Heels dropped that devastating 74-73 game in the Smith Center to Duke Feb. 17. The only setback was a 5-point loss at Virginia, who went undefeated this winter at John Paul Jones Arena.
Head coach Roy Williams received a tremendous amount of criticism after UNC’s home loss to the Blue Devils — some of it justified, a great deal of it petty and unjustified. But nobody can deny that the Hall of Famer has found a way to reach this particular group in the last few weeks.
UNC is playing its best defense of the year, having held two solid clubs in Notre Dame and Virginia to just 104 combined points in the semifinals and championship game of the recently-concluded ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C.
The fact that Carolina has been making more outside shots while maintaining its fast pace and continuing to get offensive rebounds has certainly helped in its recent victories. But it’s been the defense that has paced UNC’s surge to the top of the seedings. After giving up 79 points to UVa in Charlottesville in its last loss back on Feb. 27, the Tar Heels haven’t given up more than 72 points since.
UNC has been more aggressive on the boards, haven’t been allowing as many second-chance opportunities, and have been finding more ways to create havoc on the defensive end. If they can continue to do that the next couple of weeks, the Final Four is there for the advancing.
Playing in front of what will undoubtedly be a very favorable crowd on Thursday in Raleigh’s PNC Arena, the Tar Heels will play either Florida Gulf Coast or Fairleigh Dickinson. Those two schools will play on Tuesday at 6:40 pm in Dayton, Ohio, for the right to face UNC.
Florida Gulf Coast, who needed overtime to win the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game and punch its ticket to the Big Dance, has a successful recent history in March Madness, having reached the Sweet 16 back in 2013. Fairleigh Dickinson, champions of the Northeast Conference, are making their fifth all-time NCAA Tournament appearance.
Assuming the Tar Heels don’t lose a game of historic proportions, and they advance to the Round of 32, they would face either 21-12 Southern Cal or Providence, who comes in at 23-10.
Most of the early prognosticators seem to… Get access to the rest of this article and unlimited access to the rest of ACCSports.com when you upgrade to Premium Access! Click on the button below to view all the benefits of becoming a Premium Access member.
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