If you were in need of a convenient reminder that March Madness is more than just a catchy nick name, you got it in spades on Thursday, as upsets abounded in both the ACC and Big East Tournaments. If Thursday’s action is any indication of what the rest of the weekend, and the coming weekends as the Big Dance gets underway, will have in store, then brace yourself for a bumpy and likely unforgettable ride.
Maybe the Big East will have to rethink their tournament strategy again, as the double byes, designed to perpetuate the fortunes of the league’s top four seeds, turned out to be just that for three of the four teams lucky enough to receive them. In the Big East this season, bye + bye = bye-bye for #3 Syracuse, #10 Villanova and #16 Pittsburgh all suffering close but disappointing losses to lesser seeded teams who seem to have benefited from getting a warm up game on the previous night. In fairness, in order to pull off those upsets, the Hoyas, Golden Eagles and Fighting Irish respectively, all had to fight off teams that had played and won the previous night too, and didn’t seem to have any trouble with it. Only #6 West Virginia managed to take advantage of their double bye, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that they were the only double bye team to face a team with two tournament games already to their credit. The Bearcats were game, but just didn’t have what it took to finish down the stretch.
Day four of the Big East Tourney begins today at 7:00, when the Georgetown tips off against Marquette. The Golden Eagles are a game better in conference play, and a higher seed, but it’s the Hoyas who sport the little number next to their name, ranked 22nd in the nation. The Hoyas lost their only previous meeting this season, 62-59 at Marquette in January.
In the nightcap, at 9:00, the 6th ranked Mountaineers will try to deal with Notre Dame, their “new” 6th man extraordinaire in Luke Harangody, and their painfully methodical style of offense. West Virginia lost their only other meeting with the Irish, 70-68, in January. On paper, both games look like potential barnburners, but little has worked out the way that it looked on paper so far in the Big East.
In much the same way, day one of the ACC Tourney began with upsets being the prevailing theme. And just like in the Big East, the lower seeded teams won three of the four ACC games held on Thursday. With Virginia, Miami, and NC State, knocking off Boston College, Wake Forest and Clemson respectively, only the match up to determine the Terps’ opening round opponent, between Carolina and Georgia Tech went the way that it was supposed to.
Raise your hand if you would have ever dreamt that you’d wake up on Thursday pulling for the Tar Heels. Indeed there were few even willing to concede early on that Carolina might be playing in a Thursday play in game at all. But when the Tar Heels took the court against Georgia Tech yesterday, given the way that the Terps had performed against both teams, Carolina definitely looked like the lesser of two evils from a Terps fan’s perspective. As the game wore on however, and Carolina seized and exerted their control from down 13-7, to up 24-13, the realization that both of these teams were far more talented than either of their records would indicate began to set in; as did the creeping feeling that a Carolina / Georgia Tech winner in their opener is a heck of a reward for winning a co-conference title. In the end, I found myself cheering for overtimes, lots and lots of overtimes. Instead, if the Terps are going to win, they’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way, and earn it.
All things considered, the Terps probably would have been better off facing a Carolina team that they not only had their way with this season, but also one that for all intents and purposes had nothing left to play for. Instead, they’ll get a Yellow Jackets club that matches up really well with them, one that still has NCAA Tournament aspirations and could really use another resume building win, and also one probably feels like the Terps may have stolen one from them in their last meeting with improbable and unforgettable heroics.
The Jackets are tough up front with Gani Lawal and All-World freshman Derrick Favors. Jordan Williams will have his hands full with whichever of those two Tech decides to impose on his side of the lane, but it’ll take a bigger than average effort defensively from Milbourne or whomever draws the other side of the post to keep their other options in check. If the Terps can successfully defend the frontcourt, they’ll still have their work cut out for them in containing Tech’s shooters. Peacock, Oliver, Bell and Rice all play significant minutes for Tech and all shoot 40% or better from 3-point land. Moreover, Shumpert and Udofia both seemed to find a bit of rhythm in last night’s opener, and along with D’Andre Bell provide the Yellow Jackets with a number of possible perimeter options.
Starting quickly will likely be a key to the Terps fortunes. It seems that even over their current 7-game winning streak, the Terps have been lethargic and somewhat disinterested at times. They seem to be operating under the pretense that they can turn it on whenever they need to, and so far they’ve been able to do just that, the likelihood of that continuing through the weekend and beyond though, gets slimmer as the price of poker continues to go up. The Terps will have to survive Tech’s early barrage, and whatever rhythm they may carry over from last night’s win, in order to be able to wear them down and take advantage of fresh legs in the end game.
In today’s other ACC action, the Cavaliers will try to capitalize on their momentum when they open the day at noon against #4 Duke. The Blue Devils were an 18-point winner in their only other meeting this season.
At 2:00, Miami will try to keep things rolling after an impressive win on Thursday. They’ll face a Virginia Tech team with whom they split home wins, with the Hokies winning 81-66 at home in January, and Miami returning the favor 82-75 in Miami two weeks later.
After the Terps play at 7:00, the Wolfpack will try to extend their season at 9:00 against the Seminoles of Florida State. The Wolfpack took the only meeting between the two clubs this season, beating the Noles, 88-81 in Raleigh.
All tolled, ESPN is listing 38 games on the tournament schedule for Friday, after 47 on Thursday. There are conference tourneys going on all over the country, and up and down your TV dial. And the real madness has yet to even begin, hold on, it should be quite a ride.