When I first saw that four ACC teams would be playing on Sunday, I had a bad feeling. I had this ominous gnawing in my gut that things would go poorly and the ACC would lose three or four of those teams. That feeling grew even even stronger when Wake was bounced on Saturday night. I thought we were gonna see a reprise of Black Sunday.
Fortunately, that premonition turned out to be wrong. Nostradamus I’m not.
Things began looking good in the second half of the NC State game when the Pack turned into Dr. Jekyll and started carving up UConn. No team in the country has been more schizophrenic than State over past couple of seasons. When things are going poorly, their offense is dog ugly and they’ll go 8, 10, 12 minutes without a field goal. Then things will suddenly snap, and they’re Hickory High, picking, cutting and shooting with a purity that James Naismith never dreamed of. Fortunately, yesterday was a good day (and the State fans are happy).
The win over UConn was a great revenge game on several levels:
- For the conference, it was a perfect mirror of the Wake loss the night before. In that game, a team from the Big East, the ACC’s fiercest rival, rose up to knock out a mighty ACC 2 seed. The next day, State turned things around, knocking out the Big East’s 2 seed. UConn’s loss left the Big East without a real Final Four contender, and probably ended their argument for the title of toughest conference in 2005.
- For the program, the win over UConn avenged the loss in 2002, when UConn knocked State and a young Julius Hodge out in the second round. That game was probably the toughest of Herb Sendek’s tenure.
- For the team, the game exorcised the demons of last year’s collapse against Vanderbilt. In that game, the Wolfpack blew a late eleven-point lead. Yesterday, State lost a late eleven point lead, but managed to recover in time to get a lead – the final lead – back.
- For Julius Hodge, the win was nice retribution for a slight he has never forgotten. Back in 2002 he lost out in the voting for ACC Freshman of the Year to Georgia Tech’s Ed Nelson. Nelson was by no means a great player, but it was a weak year for conference frosh and he had the best numbers even though Hodge was the flashiest contender. Nelson transfered to UConn after that season and Hodge no doubt relished knocking in the game winner over him. To rub some salt in the wound, Nelson was called for a blocking violation on the play, giving Hodge one more point.
- For Sendek, the win was a sort of revenge over his critics, who are legion. Pack fans have long since moved past the phase where they are satisfied with just making the tournament. Making the Sweet Sixteen is different though. When you play on to the second week, it proves that you are a top program. Being among the final sixteen teams playing cements the fact that a team is top-25 material, which is what NC State fans think they should be. Very few programs have legitimate yearly Final Four aspirations, and State has never been one of those schools. So, making the Sweet Sixteen puts this team and program exactly where they should be. Pack fans have no room to complain until next season.
The one conference team to lose, Georgia Tech, lost poorly but really has little room to complain. They never lived up to their potential this season and rarely looked like a team that belonged in the Sweet Sixteen. The team they lost to is a legitimate Final Four contender (they are my pick). Yeah, the Jackets got whacked, but that’s how it happens sometimes when you play a team like Louisville with their up-tempo pace.
Carolina moved on with ease with their second big win in a row. The Tar Heels were the only high seed to win by 20+ points in each game. Unfortunately, that means nothing at this point. What matters more for Carolina is that their most talented regional rivals have all lost. The numbers 2, 3 and 4 seeds have all lost, meaning the Heels need only win a four team tournament with Villanova, Wisconsin and NC State. You have to like their odds in that field.
Duke had a much tougher fight, but did what they needed to do. Late in the season, Lee Melchionni had become a critical third outside scorer for the Blue Devils, but he has just disappeared in the last few games. With Redick struggling yesterday, Duke had a dogfight. They were lucky to survive. For them to get out of their region, they are going to need one of the role players, Melchionni, Sean Dockery, DeMarcus Nelson or Shavlik Randolph, to step up and score 12+ points.
With the good day, the ACC expanded their lead over the other power conferences. The ACC is now 8-2 in the NCAA Tournament, with three teams advancing to the second week. Only the Big 10 has as many teams. With Duke playing Michigan State and NC State meeting Wisconsin, the Big Ten(Eleven) has their big chance to exact revenge for the butt-kicking they took earlier this season.
Postseason performance through 3/20/2005:
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