Seeding: UNC Wilmington, had they lost to Charleston in the final of the CAA tournament, would’ve had something of an argument to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. I don’t think they would have been on the right side of the bubble, but there would have been a push to get them in the same way there was a push to get Murray State in. They have six top 100 wins, four of which came away from home, and they’re 29-5 on the season. They might even be able to get up to a No. 12 seed, where they will be such a trendy 5-12 upset pick.
Names you need to know: The best player on this team is probably Chris Flemmings, who has a phenomenal story, joining the program as an unrecruited walk-on transfer from a Division II program who recruited the coaching staff. But sophomore wing C.J. Bryce is going to be a star in the CAA for a long time, and point guard Denzel Ingram is one of the most entertaining players in the country at this level.
Stats you need to know: Head coach Kevin Keatts is a Rick Pitino disciple and plays a style that will invoke memories of Shaka Smart’s VCU teams. They press, they run and they force turnovers. They also lead the nation in offensive turnover percentage, meaning they protect the ball better than anyone, but they also are a train wreck defensively if they don’t force a turnover. In other words, they are going to be a fun team to watch.
Big wins, bad losses: Losses to Elon and William & Mary, combined with the fact that UNCW’s best win is probably St. Bonaventure, is what forced them into needing the automatic bid.
How’d they get here?: This is the second straight season that the Seahawks are headed to the NCAA tournament, and they did it by storming through the CAA with a 15-3 mark before beating Delaware, William & Mary and Charleston in the league tournament.
Outlook: I think this team has a very real chance of pulling an upset in the first round. It’s going to depend on matchups, as it always does, but UNCW gave Duke a fight in last year’s first round and this team is better than that team.
How do I know you?: They are the proud owners of one of my favorite NCAA tournament dunks of all-time:
March Madness 2017: ACC Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards
ACC Player of the Year: Justin Jackson, North Carolina
This is the hardest league Player of the Year pick to make. There are three legitimate candidates for the award, and one of them — Luke Kennard of Duke — made the NBC Sports all-american first team over Jackson. But to me, Jackson was the best player during ACC play, the most consistent player during league play on the best team in the league, the one that won the ACC regular season title by multiple games.
ACC Coach of the Year: Mike Brey, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish lost Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste after last season. That came a year after they lost Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. That is a lot of talent to lose for a program that doesn’t traffic in one-and-dones to overcome, and yet, in a year where the ACC is as tough at the top as it has ever been, Mike Brey steered a team led by Matt Farrell, a 6-foot-nothing point guard from the Jersey Shore, and Bonzie Colson, a 6-foot-5 power forward, to a second-place finish in the league. Give the man his due.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina (POY)
Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard has been phenomenal all season long, and his second half performance against Wake Forest, when he scored 30 points and went 10-for-10 from the floor, was the best half of basketball any individual played this season.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Mitchell’s ascent to dominant scorer early in ACC play turned Louisville from a really good team into a national title contender.
John Collins, Wake Forest: You may not know the name, but you should. At one point in league play, he scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games.
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson averaged a double-double and was the leading scorer for Notre Dame as a 6-foot-5 power forward.
The Tar Heels are not only the best team in the ACC, they may be the best team in the country. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II make up one of the best 1-2 punches in all of college basketball, and when Isaiah Hicks is healthy — and out of foul trouble — they pound the glass better than anyone in college hoops. As long as their defense is good enough, which it has been of late, they are a dangerous team.
And if they lose?: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame got a bit lucky with the way that the ACC tournament bracket shook out. They won’t have to play North Carolina, Duke or Louisville — for my money, the three best teams in the league — until the finals. When their threes are going down, they are as tough to beat as anyone in the conference.
FloridaState: The Seminoles have to love how the ACC bracket shook out. They’re on the other side of the field from the top three teams in the league and will likely get Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals.
Louisville: The Cardinals got a tough draw with the way the bracket shook out, likely getting Duke and North Carolina in their first two games in the ACC tournament, but they are elite defensively and have one of the league’s best in Donovan Mitchell.
Duke: The Blue Devils, in just about every game they play, are going to have three of the four best players on the floor with Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen. But they’re going to have to win three games — and beat Louisville and North Carolina — just to get to the finals.
Sleeper: Virginia Cavaliers
UVA is the best defensive team in the country once again. Their issue has been their ability to score, and it looks like the reintroduction of Kyle Guy into their rotation has solved those problems for the time being. They shook off a rough February to win their final three games, including a win over North Carolina last week.
The Bubble Dwellers:
Syracuse: The Orange are probably on the right side of the bubble as of today, but given the number of losses they have on their résumé and just how many games they’ve won at home this season, I’d recommend beating Miami in the opener to feel comfortable.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are right there on the cut-line. They get Boston College in the first round and would square off with Virginia Tech in the second round should they win. I think they need to get to the quarters.
Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner’s done a terrific job with this team, but I think they need to beat both Pitt and Virginia to have a real chance at getting an at-large bid.
Clemson: Clemson is still in the mix, but they need to win at least two, and maybe three, games to really have a chance. If they get to the semifinals, they will have beaten N.C. State, Duke and Louisville. That might be enough.
Defining moment of the season: Duke. Everything about them. They’ve been the most intriguing team in the country for so many reasons, whether it’s the drama surrounding Grayson Allen and his tripping habit to the all-world freshmen that can’t crack the rotation to Coach K’s back surgery, there’s a reason this team has dominated the headlines all year long.
CBT Prediction: Duke over Notre Dame in the finals.
College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kansas back atop the rankings
Scott Phillips and Travis Hines join the podcast today to discuss, among other things, the Missouri job opening, whether or not one-bid leagues should hold conference tournaments, the implications of the Missouri Valley tournament final and the weirdness of the Big East’s bubble. We also roll through the NBC Sports All-American teams.