UNC, Duke's Tatum star in opening round; Florida State raises questions
No, the ACC -- which has more teams in the NCAA tournament than any other conference -- wasn't perfect in the first round.
But losses by No. 9 seed Miami, No. 9 Virginia Tech and 11th seed Wake Forest (in the First Four) can't dampen the vibes in the league's Greensboro, N.C. headquarters, as its national title contenders flexed their muscles and the ACC emerged victorious in two of the opening days' most frenetic finishes.
These are the moments, performances and players that defined the ACC in the tournament's opening round.
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Biggest Statement: North Carolina
The obvious should be stated: the Tar Heels steamrolling Texas Southern 103-64 Friday is status quo material when it comes to a No. 1 vs. a No. 16. This, though, was about a mission as North Carolina seeks redemption for last year's buzzer-beating loss to Villanova in the title game.
Coming in 65th in field goal percentage defense, the Tigers were held to 36.7 percent in the game. That's the fifth time in the last eight games that Roy Williams' crew has kept that figure under 40 percent, and a sign that a team that can score at will has found its grit and grind with the season's most important games ahead of them.
There was at least one hiccup as point guard Joel Berry II rolled his right ankle and shot poorly -- hitting one of eight shots -- though he returned, and the result was the Tar Heels' third biggest margin of victory in their storied tourney history.
But in building a double digit lead just 5:37 into the game, North Carolina left little doubt. Now, can it carry that momentum into a matchup with eighth-seeded Arkansas? It's an all too familiar scenario for the Razorbacks, who will meet the Tar Heels for the third time in their last three tourney appearances.
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Big Man On Campus: Jayson Tatum, Duke
Bacon was the ACC's leading scorer in the first round, Virginia's London Perrantes totaled 24, Virginia Tech's Zach LeDay had 23 and North Carolina's Justin Jackson -- the conference player of the year -- dropped in 21.
So Tatum didn't lead the league's teams in scoring in the first round, but he put on the kind of show that's every bit the reason he's being considered as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Tatum had 18 points and 12 rebounds ... and an exclamation point kind of block to end the first half when he pinned a layup attempt Jeremy Hollimon to the backboard.
That was the highlight, but in all Tatum provided the first double-double by a Blue Devil freshman in his tourney debut since Danny Ferry in 1986. It continued an impressive run as Tatum has averaged 21.2 points over his last five games.
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Most Concerning: Florida State
From a pure talent standpoint, Leonard Hamilton has more than enough on his roster to get to the Final Four, what with Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac at his disposal. But if the Seminoles play like they did for much of Thursday's 86-80 win over No. 14 seed Florida Gulf Coast, they won't last until Glendale, Ariz.
The Seminoles' athleticism won out, on display by the aforementioned Bacon (25 points, including one hellacious dunk) and Isaac (17 points and 10 rebounds) in helping them to leads of nine in the first half and 11 in the second.
What was so concerning though was how badly this team shot from distance (2 of 13), and didn't get its first 3-pointer until Isaac made one with 12:45 left in the game. Then there was the free throw shooting (24 of 39), which again reared its head for a team that came in 221st in the country at 68.8 percent.
This was the Seminoles' first tourney appearance in five years, meaning this was an entirely new stage for everyone on the roster. So from that end, this ultra-talented team might deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Plus, a matchup with Xavier, which averages 12.6 turnovers a game could play into a Seminoles strength. They scored six of their first 12 points vs. FGCU off turnovers.
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Best Second-Round Matchup: Michigan vs. Louisville
Both of the league's No. 5 seeds -- Notre Dame and Virginia -- have intriguing matchups. Bonzie Colson and the Fighting Irish get a No. 4 West Virginia team that is No. 1 in extra scoring chances per game with 11.7 compared to Notre Dame's 1.5, and the Cavaliers -- predicated by the nation's stingiest defense (56.1) -- face a fourth-seeded Florida squad that is allowing 66.5 per game.
The most alluring second-round meeting, though, is a rematch of the 2013 title game with Louisville vs. Michigan.
The Cardinals have won by an average of 15 points in Indianapolis, including 78-63 over Jacksonville State in this tourney Friday. Plus there's the little nugget that this is the third time Louisville has been a No. 2 seed in this tourney, and the other two resulted in national titles.
But the Wolverines are absolutely rolling, winning six straight behind 81.5 points per game in that stretch and hit a school-record 16 3-pointers in dispatching Oklahoma State on Friday. It's not a deep team, with four guys playing at least 38 minutes vs. the Cowboys, but Rick Pitino's rotation isn't exactly dripping with experience in this event.
Remember, the Cardinals sat out last year in the wake of an NCAA investigation, and after the win over Jacksonville State, Pitino noted that one of his players thought CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson was in the huddle stealing plays to take to the opposition.