It would be remiss to say that #1 Region seeds Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina are feeling extra pressure due to any events that occurred on Thursday. All 3 Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouses are set to tip-off their March Madness bids on Friday, and all are already under intense scrutiny and surrounded by NBA Draft and national-title buzz.
But gamblers who bet big on the ACC in their brackets are definitely feeling the heat after Day 1.
Remember that the ACC numbered 7 of the tourney’s 64 teams when the Round of 64 began, tying a record with a trio of top-seeded bids in 2019. Did those numbers put a target on the conference’s back, as USA Today argued earlier this week?
You be the judge. Following Thursday’s action, there are only 5 ACC schools remaining alive in March Madness. Not only did the sport’s dominant league lose 2 out of 3 games – to higher seeds in each case – the lone victory didn’t come easy at all.
West Region #4 seed Florida State withstood a brave small-ball rally from #13 seed Vermont, trailing the Catamounts in the 2nd half before putting together an excellent final 10:00. Seasoned big man Mfiondu Kabengele posted a double-double for the ‘Noles.
6’7” guard Terance Mann also scored 19 points for FSU, about which there is only one thing to say.
If the Seminoles keep winning, people from Tallahassee will come, Ray. They’ll come to Minneapolis for the Final Four, and they’ll be darn sure why they’re doing it.
(Yes, yes, I know “Terence Mann” from Field of Dreams has a differently-spelled name, is approximately 200,000 years older than the Seminole cager, and is not even a real-life person. But what’s the Big Dance without a little fun?)
It didn’t go so well for another pair of iconic ACC programs in the Round of 64.
#10 seed Minnesota upset Louisville in an East Region contest, giving the Golden Gophers their first March Madness win in 6 years.
The Cardinals were the team that had led Duke by a billion points in February only to have Coach K hypnotize them out of their scoring touch and eventually the win. But on Thursday, Louisville had issues containing Minnesota’s frosh marksman Gabe Kalscheur and fell behind by double-digits in an 86-76 elimination.
Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse squad entered Thursday as the 8th seed in the West. The Orangeman merely had to beat Baylor, a school which had lost 4 games in a row coming into the tournament, in order to advance and face Gonzaga in the Round of 32. The Bears took command late in the 2nd half, however, preying on the Orange weakness on the defensive glass and eliminating the lower seed 78-69 in Salt Lake City.
Buddy Boeheim finished the contest with a meek 2 points, while Makai Mason starred for Baylor despite obvious injury woes.
Does the conference’s surprising 1-2 record on Thursday portend anything about the favorites from Duke, UNC and UVA? Not much, no – except that we might reconsider just how powerful the mid-tier of the ACC really is. The 3 schools are top seeds in March Madness due to their league records. Perhaps that epic comeback against Louisville wasn’t a sign that the Blue Devils are the division-killer Vegas believes them to be.
Bill Walsh used to say that it’s not about where an NFL player is drafted, it’s about what kind of pick he’s going to turn out to be. The same can be said about NCAA Tournament teams. It’s not always about where they’re seeded, but about how much they can ball. Duke is likely to look phenomenal against North Dakota State on Friday, but the Blue Devils can’t impress a neutral audience any more than Ja Morant and the #12 seeded Murray State Racers did while clobbering Marquette of the Big East a sunrise prior.
Still, I wouldn’t expect any major trouble for the remaining ACC teams in the tourney for a while, or at least not in the immediate future. Saint Louis will likely see its miracle run come to a halt against Virginia Tech on Friday, and Virginia should be able to salve the pain of 2018’s Round-of-64 exit with a win over Gardner-Webb. North Carolina and Duke will also be executing lay-ups – literally and figuratively.
Would any fellow advancing #4 seed want to swap spots with Florida State for the Round of 32 though? Not a chance. FSU may have saved the ACC’s honor on Thursday by squeaking past Vermont…but Morant and Murray State loom in the next meeting.
Duke remains a (-170) favorite to win the East at MyBookie, while the VT Hokies are a (+900) futures bet in the same market. North Carolina and Virginia are (+200) and (+120) favorites to reach the Final Four.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.