1. The ACC had a Rough Weekend
Heading into the tournament, many viewed the ACC as being the deepest and most talented in the country. It was the only conference featuring a one seed (North Carolina) and two No. 2 seeds (Duke, Louisville). The ACC had a conference-leading nine teams in the field, and one more (Syracuse) with a legitimate case to have been included.
Though the hype was immense coming in, the conference thus far has landed with a proverbial thud.
There’s only one ACC team remaining in the field — with North Carolina narrowly defeating a game Arkansas team. Five programs lost in the round of 32. Higher seeds Duke and Louisville were upset by lower seeds in South Carolina and Michigan, respectively. No. 3 Florida State was blown out by Xavier, and West Virginia soundly defeated Notre Dame.
The Tar Heels can certainly still help the ACC save face with a title win, but the conference appears to be not as formidable as previously thought.
2. The South Region is the Best Remaining Side of the Bracket
The South Region is the only one with the top-four seeds (North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Butler) still remaining in the tournament.
It’s a region chock-full of star-power at the top. North Carolina’s plethora of elite athletes is led by junior Justin Jackson. Kentucky has two top-10 draft choices in Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. UCLA has arguably the best player in the tournament in Lonzo Ball. Ball likely will be a top-two pick once the 2017 NBA Draft rolls around this upcoming July.
There are also an array of extremely good complementary pieces playing within the region (Bam Adebayo, Aaron Holiday, Joel Barry, Isaiah Hicks, T.J. Leaf, Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh, Kelan Martin, Andrew Chrabascz, Kennedy Meeks).
UCLA, Kentucky, and North Carolina are legitimate title contenders at this point. The winner of this region certainly will be tested to the fullest.
3. Wisconsin has Ingredients for Final Four Run
With the upset victory over No. 1 Villanova, Wisconsin has made its fifth Sweet 16 appearance in the last six seasons.
The NCAA Committee most definitely under-seeded the Badgers — especially considering Minnesota inexplicably was ranked as a No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region.
Wisconsin starts four seniors (Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter, Bronson Koenig) to go along with super sophomore Ethan Happ. It’s a team capable of beating you down low with the likes of Happ and Hayes, and can also make it rain from deep with Koenig, Showalter, and D’Mitrik Trice (all three are shooting at least 39-percent from three-point range).
The Badgers have also made two Final Four appearances since 2014. The core of this team truly understands what it takes to win at the highest level.
4. Oregon Proved Mettle Versus Rhode Island
Oregon was tested before the tournament even started. During the Pac-12 Tournament, forward Chris Boucher suffered a torn ACL in practice. As a result he was lost for the season.
Boucher was by far the team’s best bench player. He was third on the team in scoring (11.8), second in rebounding (6.1), and led the squad in blocks per contest (2.5). After narrowly losing to Arizona in the conference title game, many questioned whether the Ducks would be able to overcome Boucher’s injury.
In the first round, Oregon comfortably beat Iona. In the second round, Rhode Island tested Oregon big-time. The Rams were up by eight at halftime, and held a double-digit lead in the second half.
Dana Altman’s team engineered a furious comeback on the shooting of guard Tyler Dorsey. The sophomore went 9-of-10 from the field for 27 points. He constantly made the big shot when Oregon needed it most. As a result, the Ducks came away with a hard-fought three-point victory.
The Ducks will look to continue with this sort of momentum — as they square off versus a very hot Michigan squad in the Sweet 16.
5. South Carolina’s Offensive Statistics Have Been Kooky
With all due respect to Michigan’s blistering offensive output over the last two weeks, there was some reasonable expectation that a team led by two eventual NBA draftees (Wilson and Wagner) and two exceptional scorers (Walton Jr. and Irvin) would get clicking on offense eventually. South Carolina’s output on the other hand is coming seemingly out of nowhere. And pinpointing the cause of this outburst is a bit complicated.
The Gamecocks entered the tourney as a run-of-the-mill offense. Ranked 12th in field goal percentage and 13th in true shooting percentage in the SEC, there really was no reason to believe that the defensive minded South Carolina would suddenly light up the baskets.
South Carolina trots out one truly gifted offensive player in Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell led the SEC in scoring through the regular season, and has all of the tools of a great scorer, from getting to the foul line with regularity to shooting the three effectively. The rest of the team however is filled with defensive-minded players that aren’t looking to score first.
All of the typical reasons as to why a team starts scoring in bunches don’t check out for the Gamecocks. They don’t have a singular guy that is lighting up the nets – Thornwell has played well, and is averaging 27.5 points per game through the two games, but it’s nothing out of his ordinary. And they haven’t shot the three ball remarkably well – 15 for 46 combined through both games.
What the Gamecocks have done is taken care of the ball and turned their stingy defense into easy offensive opportunities. The Gamecocks only turned the ball over 20 times total in their first two match ups, while forcing 18 turnovers themselves in each game for a total of 36. South Carolina took it to Duke and Marquette – two offensively-minded clubs – by simply getting more looks at the basket than them.
It paid off, the Gamecocks looked like a juggernaut offense in the second half of both games – 119 of their 181 total from the weekend came after the halftime break. They’ll have to sustain this pace if they want any chance of making it to Phoenix, but either way they look like a much scarier team than they did just a week ago.
Source: Kyle Terada, Brian Spurlock/ USA TODAY Sports