By ACCSports.com Staff
March 23, 2005
For the first time since 1989, all three of the ACC's Triangle teams have advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Final 16. N.C. State, Duke and North Carolina all play Friday night for a chance to move on to Sunday's quarterfinal matchups.
The Wolfpack have become the ACC's feel-good story of the tournament. While Duke and North Carolina have made numerous appearances each to the round of 16 since 1989, it was Jim Valvano -- and sensational scorer Rodney Monroe -- who last led N.C. State to the tournament's second weekend.
N.C. State labored under its preseason expectations and at one point in February appeared a marginal, even unlikely, NCAA selection, but the Pack showed great resiliency in knocking off Charlotte and defending national champion Connecticut last weekend.
Wolfpack senior Julius Hodge finally was able to laugh last. Facing metaphorical and literal low blows throughout the season from the likes of fans, media and Chris Paul, the wiry New York native delivered an unforgettable game-winning shot over the Huskies to secure his legacy in Raleigh.
On that memorable play, Hodge demonstrated the irrepressible determination, superb skills and brash celebrating that illustrate why he's been one of the conference's most compelling and controversial figures the past four years.
And then there's coach Herb Sendek, who in stark contrast to Hodge offers a very modest persona. Like his senior leader, however, Sendek faced heavy scrutiny at every turn and (again) was rumored to be on his way out. When the final buzzer sounded Sunday afternoon, both Sendek and Hodge found themselves subjected to an entirely different tone of howling from the Wolfpack faithful. It's been a long time since 1989. Next up, the Wolfpack face Wisconsin. Like Herb Sendek's club, the Badgers utilize a methodical style offensively and attempt to use their opponents' impatience and lack of discipline against them.
The Badgers do boast ample size along the frontline and could be tough for the Wolfpack to match in the paint. Shooting is not the team's strength, however, and athletically they don't begin to approach the top ACC teams or Connecticut.
OLD HAT FOR DEVILS
It's understandable if Mike Krzyzewski feels a little ho-hum about advancing to the Sweet 16. Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have made the regional semifinal for the eighth straight season and, as always, won't be satisfied unless they accomplish something greater.
Ironically, it was Pete Gillen's Providence Friars who last ousted the Devils prior to the round of 16, back in 1997.
Delaware State was game but ultimately overmatched by Duke. Even with J.J. Redick struggling from the field, the Devils used strong play by Shelden Williams to control the game.
But Duke's second round opponent, Mississippi State, could be a case study on how to knock out the Devils. Powerful big man Lawrence Roberts was able to hold his own against Williams, and the Bulldogs took care of the ball and limited the Blue Devil's easy scoring opportunities.
The Blue Devils will play tall, strong Michigan State on Friday, which it handled at home early in the season. The Spartans have improved since then but remain vulnerable on the perimeter.
Perhaps the best news for the Devils is that they've won despite two poor shooting efforts from Redick. That's highly unlikely to continue, and when he's hot it will be tough for anyone to stop Duke.
HEELS A FAMILIAR FACE
For such a hallowed program, it's a little surprising that North Carolina hasn't advanced as far as the Sweet 16 since their Final Four run under Bill Guthridge in 2000. Of course, for fans enduring the Matt Doherty years, it may seem an even longer wait than that. Truth is, first time or not, the current group of thoroughbreds at Carolina likely face the most pressure of the ACC teams remaining in the tournament. The marquee recruiting Class of 2002 has won only three NCAA Tournament games in its three years on campus, and with at least one or two NBA defections likely, this is their best chance to live up to their initial promise. The Tar Heels certainly appeared up to the task last weekend. Both Oakland and Iowa State were slaughtered in efforts that resembled the Heels' early-season performances. Rashad McCants appears healthy, and Sean May continues to be an incredibly dominant post presence. With Raymond Felton and super freshman Marvin Williams also in top form, this UNC team looks stronger than any Tar Heels' club since at least 1998.
Villanova finds itself short-handed headed into its Friday night game versus Roy Williams' crew. Curtis Sumpter, one of the Wildcats' three true scoring threats and their top rebounder, suffered a season-ending knee injury last weekend in Florida.
On paper, then, perhaps the Tar Heels' greatest challenge Friday night will be to avoid a letdown similar to the one that got caused them to be dumped unceremoniously from the ACC Tournament. If they can accomplish that, it's tough to imagine anyone else emerging from the Syracuse regional.
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