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NCAA hoopla: It’s all ACC on the right side of your brackets

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 25: Anthony Gill #13

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 25: Anthony Gill #13 of the Virginia Cavaliers dunks against Deonte Burton #30 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the second half during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at United Center on March 25, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images / Jamie Squire

It happened.

For the first time since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, four teams from the same conference will compete in the Elite Eight on the same side of the bracket. Yes, the ACC is guaranteed two spots in the Final Four and one in the championship.

No. 1 Virginia and No. 10 Syracuse will battle for the Midwest Regional final this evening and No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Notre Dame will follow in the East, the winners facing off Saturday in the national semifinals.

Since 1985, four teams from the same conference have reached the Elite Eight just once — 2009, Big East — but only Villanova and Pittsburgh squared off in that round. Two programs from the same league have met in the Final Four only five times, most recently in 2001, when the ACC’s Duke defeated Maryland.

The Big East’s expanded-field record of three Final Four teams — Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova in 1985 — will survive, thanks to No. 3 Miami (Fla.) and No. 4 Duke exiting in the Sweet 16.

Either the Cavaliers, Orange, Tar Heels or Fighting Irish will survive until the first Monday night in April, so you might as well get acquainted with each.

Yahoo for the Wahoos

Think Virginia fans were happy when Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State in the first round? The Spartans eliminated the higher-seeded Cavaliers in the 2014 Sweet 16 and the 2015 Round of 32, so yeah, that groan you heard out of Charlottesville on Selection Sunday was emitted by Hoos who could not believe Michigan State — a team many experts projected as a No. 1 seed — was the No. 2 seed in its region. Sunday was the date the two would have met.

You can bet beating the Spartans for a Final Four berth would have been sweet for Virginia, but the program will gladly accept any win in its first Elite Eight appearance since 1995. Virginia last reached the Final Four in 1984, when current coach Tony Bennett was 14 years old.

Orange ya glad

After Syracuse fell to Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament’s second round, its hopes of dancing were bleak. But here’s the Orange, one win away from its sixth Final Four and second this decade (2013). Syracuse fell to Virginia in its only meeting this season, but the 73-65 result is a tad misleading. The Orange trailed by three points with 28 seconds left. Nobody expected Syracuse to get this far, but Jim Boeheim’s bunch must think it can advance even further. And if this run hasn’t been enjoyable enough for Orange fans, the fourth-seeded women’s team upset No. 1 South Carolina in the Sweet 16, making Syracuse the only school with its men’s and women’s programs still alive.

Turn the Paige

Marcus Paige entered UNC’s Sweet 16 bout with No. 5 Indiana shooting 32.8 percent from the field and 28 percent from deep in his previous 20 games. For the record, that’s awful. Which made his performance against the Hoosiers all the more notable. Paige scored 21 points, shooting 7-for-12, including 6-for-9 from three.

When Paige is unconscious — like he was while converting all four of his first-half three-point attempts — UNC is extremely hard to beat. The Tar Heels, who rank 284th at 32.1 percent from deep, don’t need their shooters to step up to capitalize with their elite frontcourt, but that certainly helps.

Notre Drama

When was the last time Notre Dame played an NCAA Tournament game that did not end in dramatic fashion? OK, its Sweet 16 win over Wichita State last year. But other than that? The Fighting Irish survived a 2015 Round of 64 scare against No. 14 Northeastern, thanks to Jerian Grant’s last-second steal. Then they beat Butler by three in overtime and almost dealt Kentucky its first loss, when Grant nearly hit a three at the buzzer in the Elite Eight. As for this year? Notre Dame erased a 12-point second-half deficit to beat No. 11 Michigan, defeated No. 14 Stephen F. Austin on a last-second tip-in and closed on an 8-0 run in the final 20 seconds to beat No. 6 Wisconsin, 61-56.

This team has delivered one dramatic win after the next this tournament, and how dramatic would an upset of UNC be? The Tar Heels pounded Notre Dame, 78-47, in the ACC semifinals. UNC, which has throttled every foe in its path this tournament, has resembled that team more than the one that fell in South Bend, 80-76, on Feb. 6.

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