Trio of top seeds puts ACC in the spotlight
The Atlantic Coast Conference comes into the NCAA Tournament with three No. 1 seeds.
Putting three teams in the Final Four is a different matter.
The last time one league had three teams in the national semifinals was 1985, the year the field expanded to 64 teams. Georgetown and St. John’s arrived as Big East behemoths, only to be upstaged when conference rival Villanova took the title.
The ACC’s top-seeded trio this year is Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. The last time three No. 1 seeds won their regionals was in 2015, when Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin did it.
Only one other time has a league gotten three No. 1 seeds. In 2009, Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh did it for the Big East. Connecticut lost in the national semifinals, while Louisville and Pittsburgh went out in the Elite Eight. None of those teams are in the Big East anymore.
Here are a few more things to watch in the NCAA Tournament:
—REGIONAL OF CHAMPIONS: If the seeds hold, the Sweet 16 in the Midwest Regional could be quite a spectacle. Top-seeded North Carolina, second-seeded Kentucky and fourth-seeded Kansas would all end up in Kansas City. Even third-seeded Houston has some history to offer, having made the national title game twice during the 1980s.
With UCLA out of the picture this year, Kentucky’s eight titles are the most by any team in the field. North Carolina is second with six. Those teams have met in the regional finals twice in the past eight years, with Kentucky winning in 2011 and North Carolina in 2017.
Kentucky beat Kansas in the national title game in 2012. And of course, if North Carolina faces Kansas in the Sweet 16, that would pit Tar Heels coach Roy Williams against his former team — with plenty of Jayhawks fans in attendance to welcome him back.
—FAMILIAR FOES: Williams vs. Kansas can’t happen until the regional semifinals, but there are some intriguing potential matchups earlier than that. Duke and North Carolina Central, which are both located in the same city, could meet in the round of 64 if N.C. Central wins its First Four matchup with North Dakota State. Michigan will open against Montana, the same team the Wolverines beat to begin the tournament last year.
There are eight Big Ten teams in the field, and three of them are in the bottom half of the East bracket. Second-seeded Michigan State could face 10th-seeded Minnesota in the second round.
Buffalo would face its former coach if Bobby Hurley can guide Arizona State past its First Four matchup with St. John’s. If Duke meets Central Florida in the second round, Mike Krzyzewski would be up against UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. Dawkins was a star for the Blue Devils when they made their first Final Four run under Krzyzewski in 1986.
And of course, there’s the matchup between Minnesota and Louisville in the first round. The Gophers are coached by Richard Pitino, the son of former Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
—FIRST TIMERS: Gardner-Webb and Abilene Christian will make their first appearances in this tournament, and they’ll have their work cut out for them against top-seeded Virginia and No. 2 seed Kentucky. Two other teams snapped droughts dating to last century: Colgate made the field for the first time since 1996, when Adonal Foyle was there. Prairie View is in for the first time since 1998.
None of those four teams have won an NCAA Tournament game, and there are nine others also trying for a first victory: Belmont, Central Florida, Fairleigh Dickinson, Iona, Liberty, N.C. Central, Northern Kentucky, UC Irvine and Wofford. Of that group, Iona has the worst record at 0-12, and the Gaels are up against North Carolina this time.
Whoever wins the First Four matchup between Belmont and Temple could become a feel-good story. Belmont is an at-large selection from the Ohio Valley Conference that is winless in seven NCAA Tournament tries. Temple is coached by Fran Dunphy, who is stepping down at the end of the season. Dunphy has won only three NCAA Tournament games in 16 previous trips.
—IN THE NORTH: The Final Four is in Minneapolis this year, and Duke can hope that’s a good sign. The last two times the Final Four was held there — in 2001 and 1992 — the Blue Devils won it all.
The title game was also in Minneapolis in 1951, when Kentucky beat Kansas State for the championship.
Duke’s three other titles all came in Indianapolis.
—PLENTY OF SKEPTICS: There was some talk that the Pac-12 could be a one-bid league this year, but Oregon won the conference tournament, and Washington and Arizona State made it in off the bubble. The question now is how long that trio will be around.
Arizona State is playing in the First Four, and the other two teams are the lower seeds in their openers: 12th-seeded Oregon against fifth-seeded Wisconsin, and ninth-seeded Washington against eighth-seeded Utah State. The conference hasn’t put a team in the title game since UCLA in 2006 and hasn’t won a title since Arizona in 1997.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister