Winners, Losers, and What to Watch
Here’s a look at this week’s winners and losers and Saturday’s premier match-up.
Winner: Virginia Cavaliers
With one game left in the regular season, Virginia is seemingly a lock for a one seed in the NCAA tournament. At 27-2 overall, 16-1 in the ACC, the Cavaliers have been the most consistent team in college basketball this season, although they may not be the flashiest team we’ve ever seen. The Virginia offense scores 67.5 points per game, 310th nationally, but allows only 52.6 points per game—the best in the nation. This formula has yet to get Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers to the Final Four, but the three headed back court of Kyle Guy, Devon Hall, and Ty Jerome, combined with De’Andre Hunter, who has been an X-factor off the bench, this group may have what it takes. After losing to Virginia Tech at home, Virginia has rattled off four consecutive victories. Most recently, the Cavaliers came back to beat Louisville on the road on a banked in three at the buzzer by Hunter. Virginia closes out the regular season on Saturday at 4pm at home versus Notre Dame.
Loser: Rhode Island Rams
Rhode Island once had a chance at a four or five seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Rams began Atlantic 10 play 13-0 before losing to St. Bonaventure on February 16. After losing to the Bonnies, Rhode Island has gone 2-2 down the stretch, including two losses in the last week of the regular season to St. Joseph’s (by 30 on senior night) and Davidson (at the buzzer). Although the Rams won the A-10 regular season, their recent struggles, combined with a poor showing in Washington D.C. in the conference tournament could land them as low as an eight seed, which could negatively impact their chances of making the second weekend. If Rhode Island can turn it around, the tandem of Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews could present the Rams as a formidable foe for a major conference opponent in the “Big Dance.”
Premier Match-Up: #9 North Carolina at #5 Duke (8:15pm ESPN)
Saturday’s premier match-up takes us to Tobacco Road for the greatest rivalry in college hoops. The North Carolina Tar Heels will enter Cameron Indoor Stadium with the hopes of sweeping the regular season series over Duke and spoiling Grayson Allen’s Senior Night. Both teams are looking for a win after losing games earlier this week. North Carolina lost to Miami on a buzzer beater by Ja’Quan Newton, while the Blue Devils lost to Virginia Tech on a last second offensive rebound put-back by Chris Clarke.
Prior to losing to the Hurricanes, the Tar Heels had won six straight and put them in position to come away with either a two or three seed come “Selection Sunday.” North Carolina seniors, Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, would like nothing more than to upset the Cameron Crazies one last time. Berry II and Luke Maye are averaging 18.2 and 17.9 points per game, the best duo since Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins in the early 1980’s.
Prior to losing at Virginia Tech, Duke had won five consecutive games after losing to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, NC. Not only will it be Senior Might for Allen, but it will likely be the last home game for freshman Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. who are expected to be lottery picks in this year’s NBA Draft.
In the first meeting, both defenses struggled in the first half, but North Carolina got the stops they needed down the stretch to come away victorious. The Blue Devils have switched, almost entirely, to a 2-3 zone since and have held teams to an average of 56.8 points per game since.
Expect the Crazies to be out in full force and Duke to get revenge in a close win Saturday night.