The day before the brackets for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament were revealed, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski elected to stump for his conference brethen and take a shot at the Atlantic 10.
At the time, it appeared as if the ACC would only get five teams — Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia — into the field of 68. The A-10 on the other hand was expected to send six into the tournament.
“I’ll get in trouble probably for saying it. Like the Atlantic 10, they’re a really good conference,” Coach K said. “I hear people saying there are six teams in there. Come on. I mean, they’re good, but put them in our conference and go through the meat grinder that our conference has to go through. But really … our league should get more respect. The fact that Pitt comes in here and people are saying they have to do something, come on. Come on, man. I don’t get it. The Clemson team we played (Friday) night is a heck of a basketball team.”
Nearly 24 hours following Krzyzewski’s comments, both conferences were rewarded with six schools in the tournament. Of the 32 leagues which sent at least one representative into this year’s field, the Big Ten and the Pac 12 matched the ACC and the A-10 with six teams. Only the Big 12 had more programs selected with seven.
After the first week of games that whittled the teams from 68 to 16, Coach K was partially correct in questioning the strength of the A-10 but also a little too bias in regards to the strength of the ACC as both conferences have just one team remaining in the big dance.
The A-10’s top three teams in the tournament — St. Louis, VCU and UMass — went a combined 1-3.
St. Louis, the No. 5 seed in the Midwest, was the only team out of this trio to win a contest. But it needed overtime and a meltdown by No. 12 N.C. State to advance, 83-80. St. Louis was eliminated in the third round by No. 4 Louisville, 66-51.
VCU, the No. 5 seed in the South, was promptly bounced out in the second round by No. 12 Stephen F. Austin, 77-75. UMass didn’t fare much better in its opening game. The No. 6 seed in the Midwest was run out of the gym by No. 11 Tennessee, 86-67.
George Washington, the No. 9 seed in the East, and St. Joseph’s, the 10th seed in the East, were ousted in the second round.
The ACC’s big three — Virginia, Duke and Syracuse — fared a little better, but not by much, going 3-2. Only Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the East, is still alive heading into the Sweet 16. It avoided the first loss by a top seed to a No. 16 team with an 11-point win over Coastal Carolina before breezing past Memphis, 78-60.
Syracuse’s late-season woes continued, losing to the A-10’s sixth team — Dayton — in the third round. The Orange were the No. 3 seed in the South, while the Flyers were seeded 11th.
Duke, the third seed in the Midwest, was the only ACC team to not pick up at least one win in the tournament and for the second time in three years lost in its tournament opener, falling to Mercer 78-71.
North Carolina, No. 6 in the East, edged Providence in its opener before falling to Iowa State in 85-83 in the third round. Pittsburgh, the ninth seed in the South, blasted Colorado in the second round and was eliminated by the tournament’s top seed Florida. N.C. State downed Xavier in a First Four contest before falling in overtime to the A-10’s St. Louis.
The A-10 is 3-5 in the NCAA Tournament so far with two victories in head-to-head matchups with the ACC and one team standing — Dayton. The ACC is 6-5 with just Virginia battling for the national championship.
No one can fault Krzyzewski for wanting to push the ACC and get as many teams into the tournament as possible, perhaps he would have been wiser to have pointed his remarks towards the Big East and its four teams. The Big East had a No. 2 seed (Villanova) and a No. 3 seed (Creighton) as well as Providence and Xavier make the field and none are alive and kicking.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.