What a weekend.
The first two rounds (technically three rounds, but the "first round" in Dayton is the play-in games that I refuse to call an actual round) of the NCAA Tournament provided us with an abundance of upsets and feel-good stories, one of which probably wasn't your bracket.
Along with the many surprises—Dayton vs. Stanford is a Sweet 16 game!!—there were also many disappointments.
Wichita State losing to Kentucky, the Big East not putting a single team in the second weekend, Kansas losing to Stanford, and Oklahoma State not advancing out of the Round of 64 were all major letdowns to basketball fans.
But nothing was more disappointing than the ACC's performance in the first weekend.
The conference does have a 6-5 record so far in the tournament, but only one team—conference champion Virginia—of the six that made the big dance advanced to the Sweet 16.
NC State, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina were not expected to get there solely based on their seeding (more on them later), but Duke and Syracuse were. And they fell flat on their faces.
The Blue Devils came into the season as a top-5 team with expectations of challenging for the national title. They had the most talent of any Mike Kzyzewski coached team—led by super-freshman Jabari Parker and potential lottery pick Rodney Hood—since the days of Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, and the rest of that 2001 national championship team.
Duke did have their struggles throughout the year, losing to Notre Dame, Clemson, and Wake Forest, but they were looking stronger coming into the tournament.
Then they went and lost 78-71 to Mercer in the Round of 64.
The Bears played a great game and capitalized on Duke's overly-obsessive love of the three-point shot, but there's no way the Devils should lose to a team like Mercer when the stakes are this high, plain and simple. Warning signs may have been there that would indicate this was a possibility, especially against a senior-laden team like the Bears, but that should never happen.
It seemed like a blessing at the time, but the Orange left wishing they had played the Buckeyes.
Dayton totally exploited Syracuse's known problem of not being able to score. The Orange did not make a shot from long range in that game, and only made one shot outside of the paint. ONE.
When you struggle that much from the outside, all you have to do is pack the paint, which the Flyers did.
And yet even with those struggles, Syracuse had a chance to win it at the end. They needed a shot from the outside, but they couldn't make it and lost 55-53.
For a team that started 25-0 and was at the top of all the national polls for numerous weeks, losing in the Round of 32 was a disaster. It might not be all that surprising in looking at how the Orange played down the stretch, losing six of their last nine games, but it's really disappointing for a team with Final Four and championship aspirations.
Even though Duke and Syracuse were the two higher seeds (both were #3-seeds), the rest of the ACC was also disappointing.
NC State did take care of business in the First Four against Xavier, and were close to pulling the upset over #5-seed Saint Louis in the Round of 64.
But when you're up 16 in the second half against a team that really struggles to score, like NC State was, and still find a way to lose, like NC State did, that's disappointing.
Blowing that lead would have been the story of the day around the tournament if, you know, Mercer hadn't upset Duke.
However, in the Cyclones' previous game, their star center Georges Niang broke his foot and was ruled out for the rest of the tournament. This would cause Iowa State to become very perimeter-oriented, creating a mismatch in favor of the bigger UNC team.
Carolina's post players all had big games as a result, but Iowa State managed to stay even in the rebounding battle, and had a major advantage there for most of the game.
For a team that's as good on the glass as UNC is against a team who isn't and was missing their center, they should've dominated on the glass. Had they done that, they would've gotten more possessions or limited Iowa State's, and probably won the game.
Even Virginia, the last ACC team standing, struggled mightily to get past #16-seed Coastal Carolina and trailed for most of the game.
The Cavaliers did rebound and played very well against Memphis, but that first game was scary.
Only Pittsburgh, who won by 30 against Colorado in the Round of 64 and pushed top-seeded Florida before losing, really took care of business.
So in a season that was supposed to be a banner year for the conference with the new additions from the Big East, putting just one team in the Sweet 16 can only be considered a failure.
Virginia is the ACC's last hope to restore some sort of pride in the conference, which they can do if they beat Michigan State in this weekend's Sweet 16 Matchup.
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