In 2011, the Big East had 11 teams get in to the field of 68. I think I could honestly make the argument that the Big East tournament used to be better than the actual NCAA tournament. Those teams, the history, the Garden, there was absolutely nothing in college basketball that even compared to the Big East tournament in my own, humble opinion. 11 teams in 2011 set a new record for bids by one particular conference, which would technically make the 2011 Big East the best conference in the history of the sport.
They may not get 11 this year, but I’m going to say this: The 2017 ACC, from top to bottom, is the best conference in the history of college basketball, period. Let me back this up.
In 2011, the bottom 4 teams in the Big East went 3-45 against the 11 teams that made the NCAA tournament. Look at what the bottom four teams in this year’s ACC did this season. The Pitt Panthers finished 14th in the ACC this season. They beat Florida State and Virginia in conference play, beat a Marquette team that would be in the field right now, and went on the road to beat Maryland by double digits, the 2nd best team in the Big 10. NC State is ranked 13th in the ACC, they went on the road to Cameron Indoor and beat Duke. The 12th place Clemson Tigers lost to Florida State by 2, Duke by 2, Syracuse by 1, Virginia by 4, Virginia Tech by a combined 3 points in two meetings, and beat a nationally ranked South Carolina team that is probably in the field. The bottom of this conference is 10x stronger than the 2011 Big East. This is the best conference in the history of the sport, people.
So, the stage is set for an unbelievable show this week at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Here’s a look at the bracket.
I’m not going to go through and preview this round by round, because I really think we’re in for a whole lot of madness in this tournament. I honestly believe that there are 8 different teams that can win this tournament, but I’m gonna give you the five that I think have the best shot. In no particular order, here they are.
Wow, bold call Nick! Way to go out on a limb and say that the 1 seed can win the tournament! I’ll just get this one out of the way, but this is a really good Carolina team. Like, a really good Carolina team. If there’s one area I’m a little bit skeptic about it’s on the defensive end. They rank in the bottom half of the conference in terms of defensive efficiency, so they’re just average on the defensive end of the floor. Where they aren’t average is on the other end of the floor. They led the ACC averaging just over 85 points a game, and they’ve got no problem hanging 90 on you. The best part, they’re so unselfish. They led the conference with 18 assists per game, and there are so many different guys that can hurt you. Jackson, Pinson, Berry, Meeks, Hicks, you name it and they’ll hurt you. It would be a huge disappointment if this team’s season doesn’t end in Glendale at the Final Four, and Roy’s bunch will be a favorite to win the whole thing. Hit it Roy, right in our face.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, a Mike Brey team finished the regular season in the top four of its conference. This will be the 10th of his 17 teams that he’s led to a top four seed or higher in South Bend. The last time this team was a 3 seed in the tournament, they won the whole thing. I think when you look at this ND team, you have to start with Matt Farrell. Find me a more improved player in the country, I dare you. This guy went from playing about 13 minutes a game averaging 2 points per game, to playing just about the entire game and averaging 15.4 PPG. Without him playing the way he has all year long, this ND team doesn’t have nearly the same amount of success. It’s an experienced bunch who is going to need double-double machine Bonzie Colson in a big way this week, but the Irish can absolutely win this thing. Oh, one other thing. They’re the best free throw shooting team in the country. They’ve had 18 games decided by 10 points or fewer and it’s not a coincidence they usually win them. Watch out for this Mike Brey team.
Find me a more battle tested team in the country this season than Louisville. This team ranks 3rd in the RPI standings, and you could argue that they played the toughest schedule in the country. How’d they find a way to pull off 24 wins? They defend you, they defend you, and then they’ll defend you some more. Their offense comes and goes, and it’s been very inconsistent all year long. But, if you hold teams to 65 points per game and 39% shooting, you’re going to put yourself in a position to win every game. They’re very long, which makes them a really tough team to attack from an offensive perspective. Oh, and Donovan Mitchell is the best player in this conference that you’ve never heard. Take a look at this really fast.
If Rick Pitino’s bunch can get hot at the right time, they’re going to be a tough out in this tournament.
Duke closed out the regular season by losing three of four games on the road by seven points or less. In seven of the eight losses they have, their opponents have shot over 50% from beyond the Arc. I have yet to watch a Duke game where I say to myself, “Wow, these guys can really defend you.” Nope. You could probably find a better defensive team in your youth parochial league than in Durham. So why the hell do I think they can win this thing? Because they can flat out score. If Duke gets hot, it’s like watching Golden State. It’s out score you or lose, that’s the 2017 Duke Blue Devils mentality. Luke Kennard led the conference in points per game, Grayson has shown time and time again in the tournament that he comes to play when it counts (although we hate to admit it), and Jayson Tatum has come on really strong towards the end of the year. If they get hot, watch out. I think the Blue Devils can get it done this weekend.
Here’s my upset special. The Orange are coming in to the conference tournament in a very similar situation that they were in last year. Last year they barely got a big, and ended up making a Final Four run. The plus side of ‘Cuse is this: They are scoring at their highest pace since 2010. They can shoot the three, they can go down low, and they come at you in waves if they’re making shots. If they can get through Miami, they run in to a North Carolina team that has a tendency to struggle on the defensive end. The bracket could play out nicely for the Orange to run the table in Brooklyn. The negative side is that the Orange haven’t proven they can win outside of the Carrier Dome. They’re 2-10 outside of Syracuse this year, and that’s a big time concern for this team. But, give me Jim Boeheim and a high scoring team and I guess I’ll take the Orange as a long shot.
The other three teams that can win this tournament are Florida State, Virginia, and Miami. All three of those teams have legitimate chances to make a run and win this tournament this week in Brooklyn. It’s going to be one of the best conference tournaments ever, so buckle up and enjoy.
My Prediction: Duke 86 Notre Dame 82. I’m saying the Devils get hot and find some sort of defense this week. All aboard the Grayson train!!