Luke DeCock

Bracket complaints aplenty, but not for NC State, UNC or Duke

For Duke’s Tyus Jones (5) and Quinn Cook, the road to the Final Four begins close to home on Friday in Charlotte, where the Blue Devils take on the North Florida-Robert Morris winner.
For Duke’s Tyus Jones (5) and Quinn Cook, the road to the Final Four begins close to home on Friday in Charlotte, where the Blue Devils take on the North Florida-Robert Morris winner.

On a Selection Sunday that included some of the most bizarre decisions and selections in a long, long time – UCLA?!? – the three Triangle schools can exhale. The NCAA bracket couldn’t have gone much better for them.

Duke became the first No. 1 seed since 2009 not to win its conference regular-season or tournament title, and the Blue Devils were provided what should be a relatively smooth path to the Final Four, or at least a familiar one. They start close to home in Charlotte before following the same Houston-Indianapolis route as 2010. Gonzaga is the least frightening No. 2 seed, and the No. 4 seed is perennial postseason bust Georgetown.

The fact that Duke is a No. 1 seed at all is a victory for the Blue Devils. Virginia beat them out in the ACC regular season, and both teams exited the tournament in the semifinals, but Duke ended up claiming the No. 1 seed, with committee chairman Scott Barnes citing Duke’s win in Charlottesville as an “important aspect.”

“Certainly the number of elite quality wins Duke has had played a part in that decision as well,” Barnes said. “You think about Wisconsin as an example, Virginia, North Carolina a couple times, Notre Dame, Louisville, Michigan State.”

North Carolina ended up with a No. 4 seed in Jacksonville, Fla., in a pod with Harvard and the Arkansas-Wofford winner, and the Tar Heels will feel pretty good about getting to the second weekend for the first time since 2012. They’ll feel even better that they’re nowhere near Kansas for the second straight year, a minor victory in itself.

And N.C. State, despite some anxious moments not all that long ago, was safely in the field and will feel pretty good about an opening draw against an SEC team, the unavoidable drama of Ralston Turner facing his former school aside, in Louisiana State. Pittsburgh is a convenient spot – both North Carolina and N.C. State avoided being shipped out west – and the Wolfpack won’t be frightened of Villanova should it advance.

All three teams avoided Kentucky’s bracket, not to mention each other, both nice bonuses in the bracketing process. None can complain about its seed, nor its location, nor its potential opponents. It’s a nice tidy package for the Triangle.

After Miami was denied a No. 1 seed two years ago despite sweeping the regular-season and conference titles, the ACC once again fared pretty well this time around. Virginia might be the No. 2 seed behind Villanova, but it’s hard to see much difference between the two, while Louisville (No. 4 in the East) and Notre Dame (No. 3 in the Midwest) were treated kindly.

Maybe it was just a good year to be from a power conference, as UCLA’s baffling inclusion over Temple and Colorado State would attest, but when that’s the case the ACC should benefit, and it did.

A bigger issue for the ACC is getting only six teams in, even if five of them were on the top-four seed lines. A 15-team ACC should be pushing to have seven or eight in the field, but the seeding confirms what everyone could see on the court in Greensboro: The ACC is a top-heavy league split between haves, who come for the weekend, and have-nots, who are quickly dispatched Tuesday and Wednesday.

North Carolina’s win over Virginia was the biggest upset of the tournament, which says more about the Tar Heels’ regular season than it does the upward mobility of the league.

Without a legitimate bubble team – Miami might have had a chance to make a case at the tournament, a slim one, but bowed out quickly – the ACC tournament was completely devoid of the usual posturing and pleading by the winners on behalf of their conference brethren to the selection committee. The ACC went into Greensboro with six NCAA teams, and that’s what it had Sunday, all of them given due respect.

No greater respect was given than that to Duke, which was treated like a champion even though it wasn’t one.

“Let’s not forget the eye test,” Barnes said.

Apparently, to the committee, Duke just looked like one. Others might complain about that. Duke won’t.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

Five random thoughts on the bracket

1 At the very beginning of college basketball season, during ESPN’s Tipoff Marathon, Northern Iowa won at Stephen F. Austin in a battle of teams that could make some noise over the next few weeks. Northern Iowa faces a potential path of Wyoming, Louisville and Villanova on its way to the East Region final. Stephen F. Austin has a pretty good chance to be Duke’s first opponent in Houston.

2 Fifty-one teams exhaled when they avoided Kentucky’s quadrant of the bracket, but there are a few teams in the Midwest Region that could knock off the Wildcats in the right circumstances, and not just Kansas. Maryland or West Virginia would provide a difficult second-weekend test for the Wildcats at their motivational low point.

3 Other double-digit seeds with favorable matchups: Davidson (vs. Iowa), Texas (vs. Butler), Wofford (vs. Arkansas), Eastern Washington (vs. Georgetown), UC Irvine (vs. Louisville).

4 Arizona will benefit from favorable geography should it advance to Los Angeles. The other three top seeds have a long way to go to get there: Wisconsin, Baylor, North Carolina.

5 Give me Kentucky, Duke, Arizona and Northern Iowa in Indianapolis, where the Wildcats will make history.

Luke DeCock

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer