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Bracketology: All Hail the Wolverines

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With Duke’s home loss to Syracuse, and with the status of Blue Devils’ point guard Tre Jones uncertain following a shoulder injury, Michigan climbs the final rung on the latest Seed List ladder.

The Wolverines hold the No. 1 overall position in today’s bracket, followed closely by Virginia and Tennessee.

The real debate involved the fourth No. 1 seed position.

One could make a compelling case for Duke, Kansas, or Michigan State.

The Blue Devils were without two of their primary players for much of the loss to Syracuse.

In the end, however, the Jayhawks’ eight Group 1 wins, plus victories over both Tennessee and Michigan State, proved to be the difference.

UPDATED: January 17, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION VCU vs. Pittsburgh
WEST REGION Texas vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION Norfolk State vs. Prairie View
EAST REGION Sam Houston vs. UMKC

SOUTH Louisville   EAST – Washington, DC          
Columbus Columbia
1) MICHIGAN 1) VIRGINIA
16) PR VIEW / NORFOLK ST  16) SAM HOUSTON / UMKC
8) NC State 8) Kansas State
9) Mississippi State 9) Minnesota
Salt Lake City Des Moines
5) Florida State 5) VILLANOVA
12) LIPSCOMB 12) VCU / Pittsburgh
4) Marquette 4) Maryland
13) GEORGIA STATE 13) YALE
Des Moines Jacksonville
6) Nebraska 6) Indiana
11) SAINT LOUIS 11) Arizona
3) HOUSTON 3) Kentucky
14) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 14) VERMONT
Jacksonville Tulsa
7) LSU 7) Auburn
10) TCU 10) Syracuse
2) Duke 2) Texas Tech
15) RIDER 15) UTSA
WEST – Anaheim MIDWEST – Kansas City
Tulsa Columbia
1) KANSAS 1) TENNESSEE
16) WEBER STATE 16) WAGNER
8) Purdue 8) Ohio State
9) St. John’s 9) Seton Hall
Hartford San Jose
5) Iowa 5) Louisville
12) Texas / Arizona State 12) MURRAY STATE
4) North Carolina 4) Oklahoma
13) HOFSTRA 13) UC-IRVINE
San Jose Hartford
6) Iowa State 6) BUFFALO
11) WOFFORD 11) Temple
3) NEVADA 3) Virginia Tech
14) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Salt Lake City Columbus
7) Wisconsin 7) Ole Miss
10) Cincinnati 10) WASHINGTON
2) GONZAGA 2) Michigan State
15) RIDER 15) LEHIGH

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
TCU Texas Butler Clemson
Cincinnati Arizona State UCF San Francisco
Temple VCU Florida Fresno State
Arizona Pittsburgh Alabama Dayton

TOP SEED LINE: Michigan is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Virginia, Tennessee, and Kansas

Breakdown by Conference …

Big 10 (10): MICHIGAN, Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Minnesota

ACC (9): VIRGINIA, Duke, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Pittsburgh

SEC (6): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State

BIG 12 (6): KANSAS, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas

Big East (4): VILLANOVA, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. John’s

American (3): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, Temple

Pac 12 (3): WASHINGTON, Arizona, Arizona State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

Atlantic 10 (2): SAINT LOUIS, VCU

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), UTSA (C-USA), Georgia State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Weber State (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Sam Houston (SLND), Wofford (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Murray State (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), UMKC (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Orange land a plum: $150,000 donation follows Syracuse upset

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — A central New York businessman says he’s following through with a pledge to donate $150,000 to area Boys & Girls Clubs in the aftermath of Syracuse’s upset of No. 1 Duke.

Adam Weitsman, a well-known Orange fan and owner of recycling and shredding business, posted on Facebook before the game that he would make the donation if Syracuse won. The visiting Orange upset the Blue Devils 95-91 in overtime Monday night.

Weitsman tells the Post-Standard of Syracuse that on the way to the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium he was reading about a Syracuse recruit who learned to play the game at the Boys & Girls Club in Rochester, New York.

That’s when the idea of the donation came to him. Weitsman’s grandfather was a founding member of a Boys & Girls Club in New York. Also, the foundation of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and wife Juli supports branches of the organization.

Weitsman was among a group of Syracuse fans that sat behind the team bench for the victory. He says “it’s amazing to be able to help them out.”

Syracuse upsets shorthanded No. 1 Duke in overtime, 95-91

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48 hours ago, Syracuse was putting the finishing touches on a 73-59 loss in the Carrier Dome to Georgia Tech, an ACC cellar dweller that was set to be the fifth team to beat the Orange this season.

Picked as a preseason top 20 team, Syracuse had already lost to Oregon, UConn, Buffalo and Old Dominion on the season, the latter two on their home court. So the Orange, once again, find themselves in a tough spot when it comes to the NCAA tournament.

And, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Jim Boeheim and company seem to have found their way out of the hole that they dug for themselves. On Monday night, the Orange went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off the Blue Devils, 95-91, in overtime. Tyus Battle led the way for the Orange with 32 points and four assists while Elijah Hughes added 20 points and Franklin Howard chipped in with 16 points and five assists.

Cam Reddish did not play for Duke — he’s battling an illness — and Tre Jones left the game with 14 minutes left in the first half after suffering a shoulder injury, but that does not matter one iota for the Orange. The NCAA tournament selection committee doesn’t take into consideration who was injured for the teams you beat, so on Selection Sunday, Syracuse is going to have a road win against a top three team*, and that may very well end up being the best win that anyone in the country has this year.

So, like I said, this is a game-changer for the Orange, the kind of win that is going to just about ensure that they are in the NCAA tournament field as long as they don’t do anything stupid the rest of the season.

That asterisk, however, is important.

Because at this point, there is no guarantee that Tre Jones is going to be back this season.

After the game, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters that Jones did not break his collarbone, which was the initial fear when he went down the way he did, but that he sprained his shoulder. He was questionable to return for this game, but he was in too much pain to make it back onto the floor. So that is good news.

The bad news is that K also told reporters that Jones will be out “a while,” and Duke later send out a release confirming that Jones separated the AC joint in his shoulder and that he is “out indefinitely”.

His absence totally changes this Duke team.

I’m not going to say that Tre Jones is the most valuable player on this Duke team because he’s not. Zion Williamson is, and R.J. Barrett is probably second in line. But Jones is the most indispensable, because no one else on the roster can provide the things that he provides.

Offensively, he is the guy that sets the table, the player that initiates offense and sets the table for the rest of the roster. Against this vaunted Syracuse zone, he’s the guy that would have been able to get into the lane and create, although I’m not sure that would have mattered on a night where the Blue Devils shot 9-for-43 from three.

It’s on the defensive end of the floor where he changes games, and if you don’t believe me, just look at the six minutes where he actually played. When Jones was injured, he already had four steals, Syracuse had only scored four points and Duke was already leading this game 14-4. We know Duke struggles in the halfcourt against teams that are willing to dare them to shoot and that have the length to clog the lane, and losing the free points that Jones would have created simply by forcing turnovers and getting easy buckets in transition is the difference between losing to Syracuse in overtime and beating Texas Tech by 11.

That’s it.

It’s Tre Jones. There is no one else on the roster that can do the things he does, and Duke cannot win a national title if he cannot return from this injury before the tournament starts.

And if you didn’t understand how indispensable he is for this Duke team before Monday night, you do now.

Eye poke leaves Zion Williamson with double vision

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It may seem at times that it would take 10 defenders to corral Duke star Zion Williamson. It took something close to that to sideline him Saturday.

Williamson missed the second half of No. 1 Dukes 80-78 win over No. 13 Florida State after experiencing double vision following being poked in the eye, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.

“I’m not saying it was intentional,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game, per the News & Observer, regarding FSU’s Trent Forrest catching Williamson in the face. “But he got poked right in the eye. He’s better now. So hopefully he’ll be able to play on Monday. But that’s a big loss. It’s a big loss. For this game? Are you kidding? Especially with the athleticism we were facing.”

The Blue Devils were able to survive Williamson’s absence thanks to Cam Reddish delivering a game-winning 3-pointer with under 1 second remaining, but spent much of the second half with Williamson on the bench eyeing a second loss.

The good news for the Blue Devils and WIlliamson is that he did not experience headaches after the incident and already had clear vision following the game, according to the News & Observer. That would seem to be a good indication that Williamson will be back on the court sooner rather than later, but Duke has a quick turnaround with a home game Monday against Syracuse. Williamson entered the game Saturday averaging 20.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Perhaps more notably, the Blue Devils have a home date with No. 4 Virginia next Saturday. It’s a loss for college basketball if Williamson can’t go for that one.

If Williamson is sidelined for any length of time, that hurts Duke, which will have to soldier through with just three five-star freshmen and likely first-round picks. It’s nice to have backup plans.

Bracketology: Duke leads opening field of 68

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With a new year upon us, the countdown to Selection Sunday is officially underway.

Through two months of play, Duke reigns over the NCAA’s new NET rankings (No. 1 through games on January 1) and also reigns over our opening in-season bracket.

The Blue Devils are joined on the top line by Kansas (Midwest), Michigan (South), and Tennessee (West).

Virginia, Gonzaga, Nevada, and Michigan State are next in line.

With conference play just beginning, we’re at an awkward stage.

Some teams have tested themselves against tough schedules.

Others have largely filled up their resumes with holiday cupcakes.

We’ll learn lot more about both groups in the next two months.

UPDATED: January 3, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION VCU vs. UCF
SOUTH REGION Purdue vs. Temple
EAST REGION Morgan State vs. Niagara
MIDWEST REGION Abilene Christian vs. St. Francis (NY)

EAST Washington, DC              MIDWEST – Kansas City
Columbia, SC Tulsa
1) DUKE 1) KANSAS
16) MORGAN ST / NIAGARA  16) AB-CHRISTIAN / ST. FRANCIS 
8) Villanova 8) Iowa
9) Maryland 9) LSU
San Jose Des Moines
5) Mississippi State 5) North Carolina
12) OLD DOMINION 12) UNC-GREENSBORO
4) HOUSTON 4) Wisconsin
13) LIPSCOMB 13) TEXAS STATE
Tulsa Hartford
6) NC State 6) BUFFALO
11) VCU / UCF 11) Kansas State
3) Texas Tech 3) Ohio State
14) SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 14) PENN
Columbus Salt Lake City
7) SETON HALL 7) Louisville
10) Clemson 10) Florida
2) Michigan State 2) GONZAGA
15) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
WEST – Anaheim SOUTH – Louisville
Columbia, SC Columbus
1) TENNESSEE 1) MICHIGAN
16) TEXAS SOUTHERN 16) LEHIGH
8) Minnesota 8) St. John’s
9) Iowa State 9) TCU
Salt Lake City Des Moines
5) Marquette 5) Virginia Tech
12) CHARLESTON 12) Purdue / Temple
4) Oklahoma 4) Kentucky
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) BELMONT
Jacksonville Jacksonville
6) Auburn 6) Cincinnati
11) Texas 11) SAINT LOUIS
3) Indiana 3) Florida State
14) UC-IRVINE 14) VERMONT
Hartford San Jose
7) ARIZONA STATE 7) Nebraska
10) Creighton 10) Washington
2) Virginia 2) NEVADA
15) RADFORD 15) MONTANA

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Clemson VCU Vanderbilt Butler
Washington UCF Syracuse Ole Miss
Texas Purdue Arizona Notre Dame
Kansas State Temple Missouri Alabama

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Kansas, Michigan, and Tennessee.

Breakdown by Conference …

Big 10 (10): Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Maryland, Purdue

ACC (8): Duke, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, NC State, Louisville, Clemson

SEC (6): Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU, Florida

BIG 12 (6): Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas, Kansas State

Big East (5): Seton Hall, Marquette, St. John’s, Villanova, Creighton

American (4): Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): Arizona State, Washington

Atlantic 10 (2): Saint Louis, VCU

Mountain West (1): Nevada

West Coast (1): Gonzaga

ONE BID LEAGUES: Southern Illinois (MVC), Niagara (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Abilene Christian (SLND), UNC-Greensboro (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Charleston (CAA), Radford (BSO), Morgan State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), St. Francis-NY (NEC), Texas Southern (SWAC)

ACC Reset: Does ACC title run through Durham or Charlottesville?

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College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.

To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?

Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?

What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?

What is still left for us to figure out?

We break it all down here.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the ACC.

MIDSEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Zion Williamson, Duke

This decision really is not all that difficult. As of today, Zion Williamson is likely the favorite to win National Player of the Year; he’s been atop the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings for more than a month. The numbers he is putting up for the No. 1 team in the country more than speak for themselves — 19.8 points, 9.4 boards, 2.3 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.9 blocks — but it is more than that. He’s the most unstoppable force in college hoops. He is the piece that allows Duke to play the way they want to play this season. His versatility defensively is a major reason the Blue Devils are one of the top three teams in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric while his ability to grab-and-go in transition and make plays using his out-of-this-world physical gifts is why the Blue Devils are an impossible matchup.

Williamson is a special, special talent. By the end of the year, even the world’s biggest Duke haters will be forced to agree.

THE ALL-ACC FIRST TEAM

  • ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
  • R.J. BARRETT, Duke: There are 353 teams in college basketball, and Barrett is ninth nationally in scoring and putting up those numbers while playing on the No. 1 team in the country. Let’s not overthink this.
  • DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia: Kyle Guy is Virginia’s leading scorer and Ty Jerome is arguably their best player, but for my money Hunter is the guy that needs to be recognized on this list. He’s the most talented player on the roster and is the guy that allows the Wahoos to be matchup proof.
  • NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech: Not only is Alexander-Walker one of the best players in the conference — he’s averaging 18.5 points, 4.3 boards, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals while shooting 46.8 percent from three — he’s probably the most improved as well. He’s turned into a knockdown jumpshooter than is a playmaker defensively and thrives initiating offense and running pick-and-rolls. He’s become a lottery pick.
  • CAMERON JOHNSON, North Carolina: North Carolina’s best player to date this season, which is odd considering Luke Maye was their preseason all-american, Nassir Little is the future top five pick that can’t seem to crack the starting lineup and Coby White is the freshman getting all the hype.

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

  • NCAA: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State, N.C. State, Louisville, Syracuse, Clemson
  • NIT: Miami, Boston College, Notre Dame, Pitt
  • OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech
(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. DUKE’S FRESHMEN ARE WORTH THE HYPE

This is hardly breaking news.

Zion Williamson has been absolutely sensational. R.J. Barrett is a guy that has his flaws as a basketball player, but those flaws will not be all that visible when he’s playing against college athletes. Cam Reddish is struggling to find his role on this Duke team and has still managed to put up 13.5 points in just 23.8 minutes while shooting 35.6 percent from; if only all freshmen could struggle like that.

And then there is Tre Jones, the unsung hero on this Duke roster. He is a game-changing defensive presence, precisely the kind of point guard that Duke has been looking for since … well, since Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils are the favorite to win the national title this season because of those four players.

So yes.

Duke’s freshmen are worth the hype.

2. VIRGINIA MIGHT BE BETTER THAN THEY WERE A YEAR AGO

This is my favorite storyline of the season to date. Coming off of the most embarrassing loss in the history of college basketball, the Wahoos entered this season carrying the burden of being the only No. 1 seed to have ever lost to a No. 16 seed, and they’re doing so while already being saddled with the reputation of being a choke artist.

Let’s call it like it is: In the last five NCAA tournaments, Virginia has either blown a lead they shouldn’t have blown or lost earlier in the tournament than they should have based on their seed. People remember things like that, since that is the time when the most people are paying attention to college basketball.

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Now stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this might actually be the best Virginia team that we have seen in the Tony Bennett era. They’re as good defensively as we have become accustomed to this program being, but this team is better offensively than a typical Virginia team. Kyle Guy has been very good once again this season. Ty Jerome continues to play like a future pro. Freshman Kihei Clark has given them the lineup versatility that we knew they were lacking. Most importantly, De’Andre Hunter has given Virginia a dynamic combo-forward than can defend up and has NBA ability on the perimeter.

This is a dangerous basketball team.

3. “THE REST” IS LOADED THIS YEAR

Before the season started, one of the questions that we had about the ACC what who would be the team that would be the best of the rest; who would win the race for fourth in a league that is going to be dominated by Duke, Virginia and North Carolina.

As it turns out, there is more than one team vying for the title of “best of the rest”, and there is legitimate reason to wonder whether or not each of those teams can crack the top three in the league.

Let’s start with Virginia Tech, who has emerged as the best team that Buzz Williams has produced in Blacksburg. We knew, coming into the season, just how good Justin Robinson was, but with the emergence of Nickeil Alexander-Walker as a legitimate star in the league, the Hokies all of a sudden look like they have the best backcourt in the ACC. They start four seniors, they are betting quality minutes off their bench and we still haven’t seen Landers Nolley or Chris Clarke. This team is for real.

I think the same can be said for Florida State. While M.J. Walker has not quite taken the step forward I think everyone expected him to take, Mfiondu Kabengele has developed into one of the most productive players in the ACC. Trent Forrest has embraced the point guard role while Terance Mann is playing the best basketball of his life. If Phil Cofer can get back to where he was last season, the Seminoles are a very real threat to get back to the Elite Eight.

I also believe that N.C. State belongs in this conversation as well. I have so much respect for what Kevin Keatts is able to do when running a program, and it only took him one year to get the Wolfpack to be what he wants a basketball team to be: They’re loaded with guards, they love to press, they have a number of guys that can really shoot the rock and their bigs are good enough to get the job done. They’re probably third-best of this group, but that still leaves them as something close to a top 15 team this season.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW

1. CAN A GROUP OF FRESHMEN WIN A NATIONAL TITLE?

Only twice in the one-and-done era has a team that was built around freshmen won the national title. Kentucky did in in 2012 with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist running the show. Duke did it in 2015, as Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow carried them to a title. This Duke team, however, is different in the sense that their four-best players are all freshmen. Neither the 2012 Kentucky team nor the 2015 Duke team had this little upper-class influence on their roster. 

That said, I think the reason that there is a very real shot Duke can get this done is the presence of a couple of key veterans pieces. Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden don’t play all that much, but the options that they provide Duke — Bolden with his size and rim protection, DeLaurier with his versatility and shot-blocking — let Mike Krzyzewski change looks based on opponent.

But the two biggest reasons why I think Duke can avoid the fate of other freshman-led teams — besides, you know, the fact that their Big Three is awesome — is the presence of Jack White and Tre Jones. Those two are elite level glue guys that make a major difference in the way Duke can play. We took a deep dive into their impact on the program last month.

2. WILL SYRACUSE TURN THIS THING BACK AROUND?

The Orange are the team in the ACC that has been the toughest to figure out early on this season. On the one hand, this is a team that wasn’t all that good last season that managed to gather quite a bit of preseason hype due to the fact that they won three NCAA tournament games and returned everyone of note from last year’s team.

So I get it.

But it’s also worth noting that this is a team that was elite defensively last season and not only added a couple of talented offensive weapons, they brought back Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle, the former a sophomore expected to make the leap and the latter and all-american and NBA draft hopeful. I know that they have lost to some teams they should not have lost to, but I think the ceiling is still there.

That said, it seems like the best place for Syracuse to be heading into the NCAA tournament is as a No. 10 or No. 11 seed. So maybe the Orange are right where they want to be.

3. WHAT HAPPENS WITH NASSIR LITTLE VS. ROY WILLIAMS?

The most annoying topic of discussion this season has been the debate over whether or not Nassir Little deserves more playing time for North Carolina. The truth is this: Little plays a position where North Carolina has depth to spare. We know Roy Williams wants to play with two big men. We also know that he already has Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson on the roster. If Little wants to get minutes, he is either going to have to outplay one of those guys — one of whom was an all-american last season and the other who has been playing at an all-american level this season — or be good enough to convince Williams to play small.

And while Little has been effective this season, he hasn’t done either of those things. It might happen as he continues to get acclimated to the college level and figures out what Williams wants from him, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The reason Little isn’t playing more isn’t a conspiracy. He just has a lot in front of him to beat out.

(Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. VIRGINIA WINS THE ACC TITLE AGAIN

The Cavaliers are legit this season. I’m on board with the idea that this is Tony Bennett’s best team in Charlottesville, and I think they prove that with their fourth ACC regular season title in the last six seasons.

2. DUKE JOINS VIRGINIA IN THE FINAL FOUR

I also think this is the year that Virginia breaks through and makes it to the Final Four. The narrative will always be “you can’t win the big one” until you win the big one. Ask Jay Wright. Or Bill Self. Or Mark Few. Or Jim Calhoun. Tony Bennett is the next on that list.

Duke will join them there as well, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The Blue Devils are my pick to win the title.

3. THE ACC GETS AT LEAST THREE TEAMS INTO THE ELITE EIGHT

I really believe in the depth of this league, and I already told you I think that they are going to get two teams into the Final Four. This means that one of the other four top 15 teams find a way to win three games in March. That’s very doable.