Well, here we are, everyone’s favorite time of year – March Madness. The vibe is buzzing in the small towns and for the first-ever tournament berths or schools that have ended NCAA droughts. Will top-seeded Duke’s freshman trio crack under pressure against an underrated opponent? That’s just one of many questions are about to be answered throughout the next three weeks.
Three of the four No. 1 seeds are from the Atlantic Coast Conference, showing how deep the ACC is this season. If if you’re like me and your team didn’t make it to the tournament from the ACC (Miami) don’t feel bad – you were the worst of the best.
Expecting the unexpected makes the NCAA Tournament three weeks of Madness. Here are some upsets to look out for.
I really don’t see a plausible scenario in which Duke could possibly lose this game.
VCU vs UCF
UCF has gotten some attention in the last couple weeks but VCU is by far the better team. Despite an A10 tournament loss to Rhode Island, VCU is really good. They dominated the A10 in the regular season and they have KenPom’s 7th best defense.
The committee has spoken. The field of 68 is official. Millions of people across the world are creating their brackets right now. Numbers are being crunched, guts are being trusted, and everyone is picking their Cinderella. What should you look out for when creating yours?
Tonight’s ACC Championship game features two programs with vastly different histories. Duke is looking to win its 21st ACC title. Florida State, on the other hand, is aiming to bring home its second. Both teams are coming off of huge wins. Last night, Florida State took down 1 seeded Virginia, then Duke defeated rival North Carolina. The earlier matchup between these two teams ended in dramatic fashion, with Cam Reddish hitting a game-winning three as time expired. Can Florida State get their revenge?
Season Series: 1-0 Duke
Duke is without Marques Bolden due to a knee injury.
There are no reported injuries for Florida State.
Three Keys for a Duke win:
Ball Movement. Florida State is a deep, athletic team full of long, aggressive defenders. Duke will struggle all night if they play heavy iso ball. They have to keep the ball moving around the court if they hope to score with any consistency.
Limit Fouls. Florida State is comfortable going deep into their bench. They had 9 players play at least 11 minutes against Virginia. The Seminoles rank 30th nationally in percentage of bench minutes used, according to KenPom.com. Duke is the exact opposite, ranking 228th. Their usual rotation goes 8, maybe 9 players deep. They cannot afford to get into foul trouble.
Hit Threes. Last time these teams faced off, Duke shot 11-24 from three. Keep in mind that they played the second half of game one without Zion Williamson due to an eye injury. Another hot shooting night could bode well for the Blue Devils, especially with their biggest inside threat back on the floor.
Three Keys for a Florida State win:
Utilize depth. Florida State is one of the deepest teams in the country. The roster is full of high-energy, long, aggressive players that can overwhelm teams with their chemistry. There is very little drop off between lineups, and that can make them extremely difficult to plan for, especially for a shorter bench like Duke. Both teams are playing their third game in as many days, so expect coach Leonard Hamilton to make a steady flow of substitutions.
Force turnovers. The Seminoles come into this game ranked ninth in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Their identity lies on that end of the floor. Forcing turnovers and getting run outs will be essential, and will help them wear Duke down throughout the course of the game.
Control the paint. In the first meeting, Florida State won the rebounding battle 36-27, holding Duke to their second lowest total of the season. FSU grabbed 16 offensive boards as well, which was the second most allowed to an opponent by Duke. Another effort like that, combined with a concerted effort to clog the paint on defense, will put Duke in a tough spot, having to rely on their perimeter shooting.
Other Game Notes:
Both teams play exceptional defense, with Duke being sixth and FSU being ninth in defensive efficiency. (KenPom)
The matchups between these two teams over the past few years have been very close games. The last four games have been decided by an average of 4.5 points per game.
This game has huge implications in the NCAA tournament. Duke is attempting to make a case for a 1-seed, and a win here should solidify that. Florida State is currently projected as a 4-seed in the West portion of the bracket, but could move to the 3-seed, overtaking LSU after their loss to Florida in the SEC Quarterfinals.
When I think about March Madness, memories of watching guys like Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette carry their team on tournament runs always come to mind. It’s one of the most interesting narratives in the tournament-one guy putting the team on his back, especially offensively, and willing them to victories. Everyone loves watching a hero, here are this year’s candidates to play that role.