From the all-ACC right side of the bracket comes North Carolina and Syracuse, just like we all imagined. Or not. The Tar Heels might have been Final Four picks since October, but few saw Syracuse taking down No. 1 Virginia -- as even Orange coach Jim Boeheim admitted after the game. UNC and Syracuse played twice in the regular season, with the Tar Heels winning both, but there are few teams in the nation that would relish the chance to face Syracuse after this tournament run. On paper, the Tar Heels are the far better team -- first in the nation in 2-point attempts and makes; second in the nation in rebounds and offensive efficiency -- but as we've seen, Boeheim's escape artists have plenty of experience coming from behind.
Margins of Victory, NCAA Tournament
Class for Top Eight Players in Minutes Played
Players to Watch
G Michael Gbinije, Syracuse So many times this tournament, Syracuse's chances have seemed close to dead -- starting, of course, on Selection Sunday, when many doubted the Orange would even make the field. Then, down nine to Gonzaga late in the second half. Down 16 to No. 1 seed Virginia. Enter Michael Gbinije: a go-ahead layup against Gonzaga; an 11-point, six-assist, two-steal performance against Virginia. None of it comes as any surprise to his teammates: This season the senior is averaging 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, and led the ACC in steals (1.9). Now Gbinije and his teammates will take that talent to Houston -- and, just maybe, shock the world once again.
F Brice Johnson, North Carolina Back in October, Marcus Paige was getting all the accolades as the ACC preseason POY pick, and Brice Johnson was one of the lowest vote-getters on the second team. Now, Johnson is the All-ACC Tar Heel, one of only two unanimous selections (on the first team, thank you very much). That's what a breakout season -- in which the senior averaged 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game -- will do, especially when it's for a team that was considered a lock for the Final Four way back in the preseason. Johnson's double-double against Notre Dame was his 23rd this season, setting a new Tar Heel record. If he records a few more in Houston, the Tar Heels will be hard to beat.
In the first half against Virginia, Malachi Richardson shot 0-5 with three turnovers. In the second half, Richardson scored 21 of his 23 points on 6-11 shooting and no turnovers.
In four games against ACC teams in the ACC and NCAA tournaments this year, the Tar Heels outscored their opponents by 66 points. In two games against Syracuse during the regular season, UNC won by a combined 16.