Nine ACC teams entered the NCAA Tournament, but only one made it through the first weekend. No. 2 Duke, No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Florida State and No. 5 Notre Dame were among the second-round casualties, as North Carolina is the last ACC team standing.
“I am very, very surprised,” former Tar Heel and current Westwood One college basketball analyst Eric Montross said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Duke losing to South Carolina, that was very surprising to me. If you look at Duke, they’ve got four 20-point scorers. (When) you see how good they are offensively, I thought that would be something that would eclipse most defensive efforts. Obviously South Carolina put the nix on that. . . . Is it shocking? It was very surprising to me, but you’ve got to really tip your hat to Frank Martin. Everybody says – and it sounds cliche – but defense wins, and Frank Martin’s team displayed a level of defense that they had not displayed up until that point. They just took it to a whole other level against Duke.”
No. 7 South Carolina trailed Duke 30-23 at halftime Sunday but erupted for 65 second-half points – the most ever scored against a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team – to win 88-81 and reach the first Sweet 16 in program history.
The Gamecocks (24-10) face No. 3 Baylor (27-7) this Friday at 7:29 p.m. ET.
“If South Carolina can continue to turn the ball over against folks and continue to pressure that backcourt and create deflections and get easy baskets, then I think they do have staying power,” Montross said. “They’re a team that I think was off the radar for most folks. But defense is what makes it and momentum is what you carry through this tournament, and they’ve created some.”
Florida State, meanwhile, was a favorite to reach the Sweet 16 for just the second time since 1993 but got spanked by No. 11 Xavier, 91-66, on Saturday. Montross said he was “maybe not quite as surprised” by the loss since FSU was “up and down” all year and was sub-.500 on the road.
Louisville’s loss, however, surprised him. The Cardinals led No. 7 Michigan (26-11) 36-28 at halftime but lost, 73-69.
“That’s a team that I really think is a physical, well-balanced team that has the veteranship to do well,” Montross said of Louisville. “Obviously (they) took one on the chin to Michigan, but Michigan’s a very good team.”
As it stands, North Carolina is left to carry the ACC torch. The No. 1 Tar Heels (29-7) face No. 4 Butler (25-8) this Friday at 7:09 p.m. ET. Butler, with its balanced attack, has three double-digit scorers and another four averaging between 6.5 and 8.9 points per game.
“It’s not the flash that you get with some other teams, but I think that they know and play within themselves and try not to do things that don’t jive with what their game plan is,” Montross said. “I think a lot of people would pick Carolina and you’d say, ‘Okay, can you throttle their offense?’ Well, Carolina’s offense was throttled the other night (by Arkansas) and barely got away with it. So again, it’s game-by-game. (Butler is) certainly capable enough to win.”