ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 3/17

Virginia has won the ACC Tournament for the first time in 38 years, and in doing so remains atop these rankings as they head into the NCAA Tournament.  While a couple of “middle five” teams did qualify for the semifinals in Greensboro, and the NCAA Tournament this week, for the most part the field, as it has for the last few weeks, stayed divided into a clear top four, middle five, and bottom six.

The Top Four

1.  Virginia (28-6 overall, 16-2 ACC, Last Week: 1st)
ACC Tournament:  Florida State (W, 64-51), Pittsburgh (W, 51-48), Duke (W, 72-63)
NCAA Tournament:  1 seed, will play 16 seed Coastal Carolina in Raleigh (Friday, 9:25 PM ET, TBS)
Virginia won their first ACC title since the Ford administration, and was rewarded with the top seed in the NCAA East Region.  Tony Bennett was the ACC Coach of the Year, and will be a candidate for national coach of the year.  We’ll see if they can transfer their success into a deep NCAA run, although many point to a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan State as the possible end for the Wahoos.  The Cavaliers also moved to 3rd in the AP Poll, their highest point since the Ralph Sampson era in 1983.

2.  Duke (26-8, 13-5, 2nd)
ACC Tournament:  Clemson (W, 63-62), NC State (W, 75-67), Virginia (L, 72-63)
NCAA Tournament:  3 seed, will play 14 seed Mercer in Raleigh (Friday, 12:15 PM ET, CBS)
Duke lost the ACC title game, which may have cost them (unfairly, I might add) in NCAA bracketing, as they are a 3 seed.  Some analysts all calling for Mercer to upset the Blue Devils, but I think Duke is too strong for that, particularly after being victimized by Lehigh in the Round of 64 in 2012.  Most are looking forward to a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan, as well as a potential Elite Eight matchup with Wichita State or Louisville.

3.  North Carolina (23-9, 13-5, 3rd)
ACC Tournament:  Pittsburgh (L, 80-75)
NCAA Tournament:  6 seed, will play 11 seed Providence in San Antonio (Friday, 7:20 PM ET, TNT)
The Tar Heels up-and-down season continued in Greensboro, with a loss to Pittsburgh.  The Heels were down 20 with under ten minutes remaining, before fighting back to close to within three at one point before falling by five.  Most are picking them against Providence, pointing to a potential grudge match with Iowa State on Sunday, but don’t overlook the Big East Champion Friars, in their first tournament since 2004.

4.  Syracuse (27-5, 14-4, 4th)
ACC Tournament:  NC State (L, 66-63)
NCAA Tournament:  3 seed, will play 14 Western Michigan in Buffalo (Thursday, 2:45 PM ET, CBS)
Syracuse seems like a team in free fall, having lost five out of seven, but just remember how close they were to sending the NC State game to overtime.  This is still a dangerous team, as teams won’t have much time to prepare for the famous Syracuse zone defense.  Potential road to Dallas includes Ohio State, Kansas, and Florida.

The Middle Five

5.  NC State (21-13, 9-9, 7th)
ACC Tournament:  Miami (W, 67-58), Syracuse (W, 66-63), Duke (L, 67-75)
NCAA Tournament:  12 seed, will play 12 seed Xavier in First Four in Dayton (Tuesday, 9:10 PM ET, TruTV)
This may be weird to think, but if Syracuse had gone 1-for-6 on that last possession (that’s just 17%) it would have kept NC State out of the tournament.  Or, for that matter, if SMU had taken care of business against Houston.  But the Wolfpack are in, and coach Mark Gottfried is very good at getting his teams to overachieve in March.  Remember 2012?  If the Pack can beat Xavier tonight, they would play Saint Louis in the Round of 64, then (likely) Louisville should they advance to the Round of 32.

6.  Pittsburgh (25-9, 11-7, 8th)
ACC Tournament:  Wake Forest (W, 84-55), North Carolina (W, 80-75), Virginia (W, 51-48)
NCAA Tournament:  9 seed, will play 8 seed Colorado in Orlando (Thursday, 1:40 PM ET, TBS)
Pitt looked good in the ACC Tournament, first blowing out Wake Forest, then blowing out North Carolina for the first 30 minutes (although they about blew it), then nearly beating Virginia in the semifinals.  This team is better than the 9 seed they got in the NCAA Tournament, but they will get the chance to prove that if they beat Colorado, as they would (likely) play overall top seeded Florida in the Round of 32.

7.  Florida State (19-13, 9-9, 6th)
ACC Tournament:  Maryland (W, 67-65), Virginia (L, 64-51)
NIT:  1 seed, will host 8 seed Florida Gulf Coast (Tuesday, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)
Florida State was one of the first few teams out of the NCAA Tournament, although that was expected.  I’m sure the Seminoles held out hope, but most others realized after the loss to Virginia that a bid was unlikely, due to a lack of big wins.  As one of the top teams in the NIT, they are one of the favorites to win it.

8.  Clemson (20-12, 10-8, 9th)
ACC Tournament:  Georgia Tech (W, 69-65, OT), Duke (L, 63-62)
NIT:  3 seed, will host 6 seed Georgia State (Tuesday, 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU)
Clemson’s NCAA hopes had pretty much ended after losing to Wake Forest, although they could have been rekindled with an ACC Tournament run.  They were one shot away from beating Duke to get to the semifinals, but fell short.  Considering the way the Tigers’ season had been projected by both me and numerous analysts, making the NIT is quite an accomplishment for coach Brad Brownell and his team.  Georgia State is a rare breed, however, as they have two five-star players while in the Sun Belt Conference; Clemson may have their hands against the Panthers.

9.  Maryland (17-16, 9-9, 5th)
ACC Tournament:  Florida State (L, 67-65)
After losing in the Greensboro on a buzzer beater dunk, the Terrapins were the most notable NIT snub, and their season is over.  Therefore, an era of ACC basketball has ended, as Maryland moves to the Big Ten next season.

The Bottom Six

10.  Georgia Tech (16-17, 6-12, 10th)
ACC Tournament:  Boston College (W, 73-70, OT), Clemson (L, 69-65, OT)
Brian Gregory’s second season had its bright spots, although the Yellow Jackets fought injuries issues all season long.  Although they lose seniors Daniel Miller and Trae Golden, the future should be better in Atlanta.

11.  Miami (17-16, 7-11, 11th)
ACC Tournament:  Virginia Tech (W, 57-53), NC State (L, 67-58)
The title defense season for coach Jim Larranaga was a difficult one, although Miami lost all five starters from that championship team.  That being said, for such an inexperienced team to be competitive, and even beat North Carolina, coach Larranaga has done quite a job.  It will be tough again next year, as four players who played significant minutes will graduate, including All-ACC honoree Rion Brown.

12.  Wake Forest (17-16, 6-12, 12th)
ACC Tournament:  Notre Dame (W, 81-69), Pittsburgh (L, 84-55)
Wake Forest officials considered accepting a bid to the CBI, before declining, therefore ending coach Jeff Bzdelik’s fourth season.  Will it be his last?  We may have to wait to find out, with athletic director Ron Wellman currently performing his duties as NCAA Selection Committee Chairman.  The ACC Tournament win was Wake’s first in seven seasons

13.  Notre Dame (15-17, 6-12, 13th)
ACC Tournament:  Wake Forest (L, 69-81)
This was certainly a disappointing year for the Irish, and the worst season for coach Mike Brey in his 14 years in South Bend.  The Irish never recovered from the loss of leading scorer Jerian Grant back in December due to academic issues, and struggled through their inaugural ACC season, although they did get to celebrate a win over Duke on January 4.

14.  Boston College (8-24, 4-12, 14th)
ACC Tournament:  Georgia Tech (L, 73-70, OT)
Despite reports last week that he would return, today coach Steve Donahue and the school “parted ways” after four seasons.  This won’t be a “top job” in the ACC, but it’s still an ACC job that will give someone a great opportunity.

15.  Virginia Tech (9-22, 2-16, 15th)
ACC Tournament:  Miami (L, 57-53)
After the close loss to Miami in Greensboro, coach James Johnson has been fired after two seasons, becoming only the fifth coach in ACC history to last two years or less, and the first Duke’s Neill McGeachy in 1974.  Johnson had been an assistant under Seth Greenberg, and was promoted after Greenberg’s controversial firing in 2012.

I forgot to put this in the last post:  My ACC All-Tournament team (which agrees with the official one):
Joe Harris (Virginia), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Jabari Parker (Duke), Talib Zanna (Pittsburgh), TJ Warren (NC State)

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Virginia Wins First ACC Tournament Title Since 1976

ACC Tournament Championship Recap

#1 Virginia 72, #3 Duke 63

For the first time in 38 years, the Virginia Cavaliers cut down the nets at the ACC Tournament.  Coach Tony Bennett and his team defeated Duke, winning by nine, and in doing so, with the help of a Michigan loss later on Sunday, secured a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

After an expectedly low-scoring game in the first half, with a 28-25 Virginia lead at the break, it was, ironically enough, the Virginia offense’s ability to get into a rhythm and score in the second half that put them over the top, as they outscored Duke 44-38 after halftime.

Malcolm Brogdon led the Cavaliers with a career high of 23 points, while senior Joe Harris had 15.  Anthony Gill was solid off the bench, as he had been all tournament, scoring 12 points and 7 rebounds.  Akil Mitchell only scored 7, but grabbed 15 rebounds.

Freshman Jabari Parker led Duke with 23 points and 8 rebounds, while Rodney Hood scored 13 and Amile Jefferson added 11.  Quinn Cook had 6 assists off the bench.

Virginia began the game on a 13-4 run over nearly 8 minutes out of the gate.  Duke came back to within three on a couple of occasions in the first half, but other than leading 2-0 at the start, never tied the game or took the lead before halftime.

Through the first ten minutes of the second half, Duke never led, but tied the game twice and was never down more than 3.  It was at the 8:39 mark in the second half when Duke took its first lead since the game’s opening seconds, at 47-46, but it was short-lived.  After four free throws by Anthony Gill, and layups by Gill, Joe Harris, and Malcolm Brogdon, and a tip-in by Akil Mitchell, the Cavaliers were up 57-53 with five minutes remaining.

From there, it was all Virginia.  Duke’s high-octane offense started to crumble under the pressure of Virginia’s top-ranked defense, while Virginia’s offense was executing plays as well as it has all year.  Duke cut the lead to two at one time, but a big three by Joe Harris with 2:00 on the clock gave the Cavaliers a 64-57 lead, and Brogdon scored the rest of the points, with a layup and 6 free throws, never giving Duke a chance to recover.

With the Cavaliers taking control, they left no doubt who the best team in the ACC was this particular week, which is appropriate as they were the best team all season long.

The last time Virginia won the ACC, they did so as the sixth seed in a seven-team tournament, and defeated the top three seeds in consecutive days.  That 1976 Tournament, by the way, was played in Landover, Maryland, becoming the first ACC Tournament played outside North Carolina.

So this is the first ACC title for the Cavaliers in the state of North Carolina, which is significant since 51 of the 61 ACC Tournaments have been in the Old North State.

That 1976 team lost in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32, which at the time was the first round.  This team’s goal is obviously to advance further, as they earned the tournament’s fourth #1 seed and will play in the East Regional as they make their first March Madness appearance since 2012.  In the Round of 64 they will play on Friday in Raleigh against 16 seed Coastal Carolina, as former Clemson and Auburn coach Cliff Ellis has led the Chanticleers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993.  Top seeded teams are 116-0 all-time against 16 seeds, dating back to the expansion to 64 teams back in 1985.  While many fans take these matchups for granted, coach Tony Bennett should be smart enough to take the Chanticleers seriously.  Should Virginia advance, they would play the winner of Memphis and George Washington in the Round of 32 on Sunday.

The Tournament hasn’t been to New York City in 63 years, but the East Regional will be at Madison Square Garden this year.  If the Cavaliers win their first two tournament games, they will be among the teams to appear in the long anticipated tournament games at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”.  There are some excellent potential matchups, should the expected teams advance to the Sweet 16 and/or Elite Eight.  Michigan State, who is just a 4 seed due to mid-season struggles but is currently playing well and is one of the tournament favorites, could meet Virginia in the Sweet 16.  2 seed Villanova, 3 seed Iowa State, and 6 seed North Carolina are all potential Elite Eight matchups.  Then again, any team that makes a deep run in March will be a part of some great matchups, because to be the champion or to even reach the Final Four, that team will have to compete against those among the nation’s best.

As for Duke, their first two tournament games are also in Raleigh as a 3 seed, with their Round of 64 matchup coming Friday against 14 seed Mercer.  Should Duke defeat the Bears, as expected, they would face the winner of the game between Massachusetts and the Iowa/Tennessee.  If Duke reaches the Sweet 16, they could potentially play 2 seed Michigan.  Should it happen, it would be one of the most anticipated Sweet 16 matchups in recent memory.  Texas, Arizona State, and Wofford are all also potential Sweet 16 matchups.  A potential Elite Eight would see Duke play (most likely) either 1 seed Wichita State, 4 seed Louisville (which would be a rematch of last year’s regional final), or 8 seed Kentucky.  There’s also an outside chance, should NC State (the last at-large bid into the tournament) make a run, that the Wolfpack would meet Duke for the third time this season in the regional final.

Other ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament include Syracuse (3 seed, plays Western Michigan on Thursday in Buffalo), North Carolina (6 seed, plays Providence on Friday in San Antonio), Pittsburgh (9 seed, plays Colorado on Thursday in Orlando), and NC State (11 seed, plays Xavier in the “First Four” in Dayton on Tuesday; will play Saint Louis on Thursday with a win).

For what it’s worth…
My first round record:  2-1
My second round record:  3-1
My quarterfinals record:  4-0
My semifinals record:  2-0
My championship record:  1-0
Tournament Total:  12-2

ACC Tournament Semifinals Recap, Championship Preview

While semifinal Saturday at the 61st ACC Tournament in Greensboro didn’t produce any buzzer beaters, 30-point performances, or jaw-dropping upsets, it did produce a pair of competitive, exciting games, as well as a great championship matchup for Sunday.

Here is a look at both semifinal games:

#1 Virginia 51, #5 Pittsburgh 48
The Cavaliers advanced to their first ACC Tournament final since 1994, as they try for their first title since 1976, defeating Pittsburgh after Justin Anderson blocked James Robinson’s three-point attempt in the closing seconds.  The game was closely contested all the way through, with the largest lead being eight for the Cavaliers with 9:50 remaining, before Pitt closed to within one before Anthony Gill’s clutch free throws just before the game-clinching block.  Virginia had a very balanced attack, as Joe Harris led the team with 12 points, Malcolm Brogdon had 10, Anthony Gill had 10 off the bench, and Akil Mitchell had 8 points and a team-leading 8 rebounds.  Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson both had 15 for Pitt, and Zanna added 9 rebounds after his 21 rebound performance on Friday.  Virginia held Pitt to just 11 points scored on field goals outside of 5 feet, with the Panthers shooting 4-for-25 on such shots.  The Cavaliers become the eighth top seeds in the last nine years to advance to the championship game.

#3 Duke 75, #7 NC State 67
The second semifinal featured a back-and-forth duel between ACC Player of the Year TJ Warren for the Wolfpack and ACC Freshman of the Year Jabari Parker for the Blue Devils.  The highest two scorers in the conference were the highest two scorers in this game, with Warren scoring 21 and Parker 20, but it was Parker’s Blue Devils who scored more overall and got the win.  Warren was just 4-for-13 after halftime, which was part of an overall trend for the Wolfpack, who shot 67% in the first half and just 36% in the second half.  After Duke led by one at half, with NC State’s shooting struggles, the Blue Devils were able to pull away, eventually leading by as many as 12.  That lead stayed between 8 and 12 points for the final 10 minutes, with State getting within 6 only once the clock was all but gone.  Parker’s scoring effort was aided by 16 points from Rasheed Sulaimon, 14 from Rodney Hood, and 12 off the bench, including a trio of threes, from Quinn Cook.  Warren was helped by Wolfpack freshmen Lennard Freeman and Anthony Barber, who added 13 and 12, respectively, off the bench.  Duke advances to their 31st ACC Tournament title game, and they are 19-11 in their previous appearances.

#1 Virginia vs. #3 Duke, 1:00 p.m.

Ironically enough, in the age of conference expansion and realignment, the championship game of this first-ever 5-day ACC Tournament will be between two of the conference’s remaining seven charter members, Duke and Virginia.

This should be an excellent matchup between two teams that were consistently the best all season long (Syracuse was good, but not consistent).  For starters, each team has two players honored among this year’s All-ACC teams, with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood for Duke and Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon for Virginia each being honored.

In addition, this is a great coaching matchup, between the legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, in his 34th season at Duke, going for his 14th ACC Tournament title, and one of the nation’s best up-and-coming coaches, Virginia coach Tony Bennett, in his 5th season with the Cavaliers.

These teams met once in the regular season, on January 13 in Durham, when Duke won 69-65.  Until last Sunday, the loss to the Blue Devils was Virginia’s only ACC loss.   Duke led the whole game before a furious rally, which included an 11-0 run, gave Virginia a one-point lead in the final minute, and a Rasheed Sulaimon go-ahead three clinched the win for Duke in the closing seconds.  That was Duke’s 26th straight win at home, a streak that has since been stretched to 33 games.

Virginia isn’t a team that will put up big numbers, but they are certainly a well-oiled machine.  The saying “defense wins championships” applies to this season’s ACC regular season, because Duke’s offense, which is the best in the conference, led them to a 14-4 conference record, but Virginia’s defense, which allows fewer points than any other defense in the nation, led them to a regular season title.

However, the ACC does not officially recognize its regular season champion.  The only champion recognized is the team who cuts down the nets about 3:00 on Selection Sunday.  And Virginia hasn’t done that since 1976.  Duke has done it 19 times, including 15 since the Cavaliers’ last title.  That might be motivation enough for Virginia.

Virginia senior guard Joe Harris, who was a first team All-ACC preseason selection, has had reduced numbers from last year’s very productive season.  But the team has won, and Harris has been a big part of that success, as he has made sure the team remains balanced on both ends of the floor and he helps his teammates to score, particularly Malcolm Brogdon, who was voted second team All-ACC this postseason.  Even with Harris’ “down year”, he was voted third team All-ACC by the media, and second team by the coaches.

As the season progressed forward, this Virginia team had more and more of a feeling of destiny to it, and that was never felt more than it was two weeks ago when they defeated Syracuse by 21 at home to clinch the top seed in the ACC Tournament.  While Duke has played better than Syracuse as of late, I still think Virginia’s team is very solid all-around and has the toughness, both physically and mentally, to win a title.

Duke may also be due; they have won 5 straight championship game appearances, dating back to a 2004 loss to Maryland, and 10 out of 11 dating back to a 1998 loss to North Carolina.

Virginia 60, Duke 56.

 

For what it’s worth…
My first round record:  2-1
My second round record:  3-1
My quarterfinal record:  4-0
My semifinal record:  2-0
Tournament Total:  11-2

ACC Tournament Quarterfinals Recap, Semifinals Preview

The third day of the ACC Tournament may have been the best day yet in the 61st edition, including a pair of upsets.  Here is a look back at the action from quarterfinal Friday.

#1 Virginia 64, #9 Florida State 51
Cavaliers senior leader Joe Harris had 20 points and Anthony Gill added 16 off the bench as top-seeded and 6th-ranked Virginia pulled away from Florida State.  With the win, the Cavaliers earned their first trip to the ACC semifinals since 1995.  The 13-point win was after the Cavaliers had beaten the Seminoles by 12 points in each of their two regular season meetings.  After leading 32-27 at the half, Virginia led by 10 by the 13:57 mark and by 15 at the 9:51 mark, and never looked back.  Okaro White led the Seminoles with 17, as their fate now rests in the hands of the NCAA Selection Committee, with ESPN projecting the Seminoles as one of the “First Four Out” of the NCAA Tournament.  Virginia will play Pittsburgh on Saturday after their first ACC Tournament win since 2010.

#5 Pittsburgh 80, #4 North Carolina 75
North Carolina nearly came back from a 20-point deficit midway through the second half to beat Pitt, but the 19 points and 21 rebounds for Talib Zanna of the Panthers proved to be too much for the 15th-ranked Heels to handle.  Zanna’s 21 boards were the third most in a single game in ACC Tournament history. Pitt guard James Robinson added a career high 19 points, as the Panthers erased any doubts whether or not they were worthy of competing in the NCAA Tournament, after a late-season slide had them on some projected bubbles.  As mentioned, the Tar Heels trailed 61-41 with 7:22 remaining, and 70-54 with 4:31 left, but made a furious rally to get to within 3 within the closing seconds, before running out of time.  20 of Marcus Paige’s 27 points were in the second half, as the Heels will now await their NCAA tournament seeding and opponent, to be announced Sunday night.  Pitt will continue in the ACC Tournament, taking on Virginia on Saturday.

#7 NC State 66, #2 Syracuse 63
NC State blew a 10-point lead in the second half before a Ralston Turner 3 with 2:28 remaining gave the Wolfpack a lead they would not relinquish.  While they kept the lead and got the win, it didn’t happen without drama, as 11th-ranked Syracuse missed six shots on their final possession, over the final 24.6 seconds, including 4 three-pointers.  ACC Player of the Year TJ Warren of the Wolfpack played all 40 minutes, scoring 28 points and 8 rebounds, while no other NC State player scored more than 10, the amount scored by center Jordan Vandenberg, who was 5-for-5 from the floor.  Tyler Ennis had 21 for Syracuse, and teammate Jerami Grant added 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Orange leading scorer CJ Fair struggled to 9 points, hitting just 3 of 16 field goal attempts.  Syracuse is now 2-5 since starting the season 25-0, and will likely be a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament after spending much of the season in the top 5, and three weeks in February at #1.  NC State may have put themselves in the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid, and will get a chance to strengthen their résumé in the semifinals Saturday against Duke.

#3 Duke 63, #6 Clemson 62
Duke’s Rodney Hood had 17 points, including a pair of free throws with 3.8 seconds left, to help lift the Blue Devils to a one-point win over Clemson in Friday’s nightcap, as ACC Freshman of the Year Jabari Parker led Duke with 18 points.  Rasheed Sulaimon added 14 points off the bench, and Amile Jefferson led the team with 13 rebounds.  The 7th-ranked Blue Devils led by 13 with 12 minutes left, before a late 15-5 Clemson run which ended with a Rod Hall runner with 7.4 seconds left gave Clemson their only second half lead.  Hall led the balanced Tigers with 13 points, as KJ McDaniels had 12, Jordan Roper had 11, and Landry Nnoko had 10.  Hall drove the length of the floor just before the buzzer, and lost the ball before he could get up a shot after being defended by Tyler Thornton.  Clemson and their fans wanted a foul call, although replays showed no foul was committed.  Duke was able to avoid their third consecutive postseason loss in the Greensboro Coliseum, and advances to play NC State in the semifinals, while Clemson will likely play in the NIT.

After an exceptional set of quarterfinals on Friday, it will be difficult for the semifinals to produce as good of a set of games.  That being said, here is a look at an intriguing set semifinal matchups, both of which match up a top 10 team against an unranked opponent.

#1 Virginia vs. #5 Pittsburgh, 1:00 p.m.
Virginia and Pittsburgh play in the first semifinal, as Virginia plays their first semifinal in 19 years, and Pitt plays their first ever as an ACC member.  This is a rematch of one of the best ACC games from the regular season, which Virginia won, 48-45, on a three at the buzzer by second team All-ACC honoree Malcolm Brogdon.  Many don’t remember the game, because it was played on Super Bowl Sunday, but the rematch will be played on a much bigger stage, in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.  Virginia is playing in their first ACC semifinal since 1995, and will attempt to reach their first championship game since 1994.  Pittsburgh is in their first ACC Tournament, but hasn’t been to any conference final or semifinal since winning the 2008 Big East Tournament.  While Virginia was able to coast on Friday, Pittsburgh was not after nearly blowing a 20-point lead against North Carolina.  While I don’t know that physical fatigue will be an issue, as the teams are at the same disadvantage of playing on less than 24 hours rest, mental fatigue might, after Pitt had to hold on in their game Friday.  If the game comes down to which team is more mentally tough, I’ll take Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers all the way.
Virginia 54, Pittsburgh 47.

#3 Duke vs. #7 NC State, appr. 3:30 p.m.
In-state rivals Duke and NC State meet in the second semifinal, as the Blue Devils, in their 43rd semifinals appearance and sixth in seven years, will try to reach the finals for the first time since winning three straight titles from 2009-11, and the Wolfpack try to advance to the championship game for the first time under coach Mark Gottfried, who has guided State to three straight semifinal appearances.  The Wolfpack are trying to reach the final for the first time since 2007, and haven’t won the ACC since Jim Valvano was coach in 1987.  These teams met once in the regular season, back on January 18 in Durham, and Duke won 95-60, scoring 33 points off 21 Wolfpack turnovers.  But these two teams, and particularly NC State, are much different now.   The Pack were 1-4 in the ACC after that loss, but have gone 10-5 since, with a current four-game winning streak including Friday’s win over Syracuse.  Duke survived Clemson, and has now won eight out of 10 since losing to Syracuse on February 1, and 13 out of 16 since losing to Clemson on January 11.  NC State needs the win to make a strong case for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid (although a win would leave them a win on Sunday away from an automatic bid), but the Duke juggernaut may be too much to handle.  This game will surely be closer than that drubbing in Cameron in January.
Duke 78, NC State 72.

For what it’s worth…
My first round record:  2-1
My second round record:  3-1
My quarterfinal record:  4-0
Tournament Total:  9-2

ACC Tournament Second Round Recap; Quarterfinals Preview

The second day of the ACC Tournament has concluded, and while the top four teams in the conference have yet to play, the intensity certainly picked up with Thursday’s set of games.

#9 Florida State 67, #8 Maryland 65
Seminoles center Boris Bojanovsky had 12 points and 12 rebounds, for his first career double-double, and slammed home the game winning dunk in the final second to give Florida State the win.  6 of his 12 boards were on the offensive end of the floor, as he helped lead the Seminoles to a 39-26 rebounding margin.  Ian Miller of Florida State led all scorers with 17 points, with Aaron Thomas adding 14.  Maryland had led at halftime, but had trailed by 11 midway through the second half before battling back to tie the score in the closing minutes.  Guards Seth Allen and Dez Wells both had 18 for Maryland, as Allen hit four three-pointers.  The Seminoles shot 54% in the second half, while the Terrapins shot just 35%.  While the Seminoles now advance to play top-seeded Virginia, Maryland’s 61-year run in the ACC comes to an end, as they depart for the Big Ten next year.

#5 Pittsburgh 84, #12 Wake Forest 55
Pittsburgh entered their first ACC Tournament in a big way, victimizing Wake Forest in the biggest Tournament blowout since Clemson’s 82-48 win over Boston College in 2008.  Senior forward Lamar Patterson had 24 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and a block in a stellar performance that included four made threes.  Deacons senior Coron Williams had 16 points in likely his final collegiate game, a step down from Wednesday’s 25-point performance against Notre Dame.  The Pitt lead had hit double figures just five and a half minutes into the game, and the Panthers never looked back, coasting into a quarterfinal matchup with North Carolina.

#7 NC State 68, #10 Miami 57
ACC Player of the Year TJ Warren had 24 points for the Wolfpack, and teammate Ralston Turner added 22 points, including five threes, in a win over Miami that was in a game much closer than the score indicates.  Hurricanes senior Rion Brown finished his ACC career with a 22 point performance, and at times it seemed like Warren, Turner, and Brown were the only three players on the floor.  Miami led 53-51 with four minutes left, before a 12-0 run gave them a ten-point lead with too little time remaining for the Canes to come back.  16 of Turner’s 22 points came in the second half, as the Pack advance to play 11th-ranked and 2nd-seeded Syracuse in the quarterfinals.

#6 Clemson 69, #11 Georgia Tech 65, overtime
Georgia Tech senior Daniel Miller hit the shot that got the game into overtime, a 15-footer in the final second of regulation, before a missed dunk and a turnover late in overtime were partially responsible for the outcome of the extra session.  Miller, a third team All-ACC honoree, had just 4 points in his final collegiate game (although he did have 9 rebounds), trailing behind Clemson counterpart and first team All-ACC player KJ McDaniels, who had 18 points despite going just 4-for-15 from the floor.  Demarcus Harrison added 12 for the Tigers, including 6 in the final minute of overtime, and Rod Hall added 10.  Trae Golden was superb in the losing effort for the Yellow Jackets, scoring 23 points, including 3 three-pointers, and teammate Robert Carter Jr. also had 13 points and 9 rebounds.  Like Tech’s first round game, they had a lengthy scoring drought late in the game, going 7 minutes without a field goal late in the game, as part of a 13-2 Clemson run, but this time they weren’t able to get away with it.  Clemson advances to play Duke on Friday.

Here are the previews and predictions for Friday’s quarterfinal round.  The tournament’s intensity will increase as the top four teams in the conference each make their first appearance of the tournament, including Syracuse’s first appearance ever.

#1 Virginia vs. #9 Florida State, 12:00 p.m.
Virginia enters the tournament as the top seed for the first time in 33 years, so their fans have waited for this moment for a long time.  Florida State’s fans have too, if all season counts as a long time, because, while the Seminoles are on the NCAA bubble, they lack a résumé win, but certainly have the chance for one in playing the 6th-ranked Cavaliers.  Expect this to be a low-scoring game, as Florida State’s teams under Leonard Hamilton have always been hard-nosed, strongly defensive-based teams, and Virginia sports a defense allowing the least points per game in the nation.  Florida State’s game with Maryland came right down to the wire, but they played well in the contest, showing they may bring some momentum to the Greensboro Coliseum on Friday as well.  While some will say Florida State’s fatigue may be a factor after playing yesterday, Virginia’s rust could be equally as much of a factor, as this is just their second game since March 1, and they lost the first.  In the end, while Florida State probably needs the win more, it seems more feasible for Virginia to find a way to win.  By the way, this is the third meeting of the season, with Virginia winning by 12 in both, although the most recent was on January 18.
Virginia 55, Florida State 50.

#4 North Carolina vs. #5 Pittsburgh, appr. 2:30 p.m.
For anyone who doubted whether Pitt could still be dominant, the Panthers silenced the critics yesterday with a 29-point win over a Wake Forest team that had won 2 out of 3 coming in.  While many will point to Tar Heel guard Marcus Paige as the “x-factor” in this game, I’ll point to Pitt forward Lamar Patterson.  Patterson played extremely well early in the season, to the point that he might would have been the ACC Player of the Year if the award had been given at the end of February, but struggled in February, before getting back on track with a 30 point performance in an overtime win at Clemson.  He followed that up against Wake, scoring 24 points in just 29 minutes of action.  When Patterson plays well, Pitt can play with anyone, as evidenced by their losses to Syracuse and Virginia at the buzzer.  The Heels won the last time these two teams met, 75-71, on February 15 in Chapel Hill.  Carolina lost their last game, Saturday night at Duke, so you know they will be ready to go for this game.  But if the Panthers can play the way they are capable of playing, and can continue their momentum from Thursday, it will be tough for the Tar Heels to avoid the mild upset.
Pittsburgh 75, North Carolina 69.

#2 Syracuse vs. #7 NC State, 7:00 p.m.
The last time these two teams met, back on February 15, the game turned on a continuation no-call, and ended with a game-winning goaltend.  If Friday’s quarterfinal game has half the drama of the first meeting, we’ll all be in for an excellent basketball game.  Syracuse won that meeting, 56-55, at home in New York, and comes into their first ACC Tournament as the second seed, and as the 11th-ranked team in the nation.  While most programs would easily accept the 11th-place ranking in mid-March, it must be a disappointment for the Orange, who spent most of the season among the top 2 or 3, including a three-week stint at #1.  Before Sunday’s win over Florida State, the Orange had lost four out of five, including head-scratchers against Boston College and Georgia Tech, both at home.  NC State comes into this game on a three-game winning streak, including their win over Miami in the second round on Thursday.  Coach Mark Gottfried has led the Wolfpack to the semifinals in both of his seasons at NC State, although it is an uphill climb to return there this season.  Then again, with Syracuse’s struggles, and with the Wolfpack seeming to peak at the right time, and considering the fact it is March (the “madness” has begun), and the fact this is about as close to a home game as a team can get in the conference tournament, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Wolfpack raise some eyebrows with a win.  To do it, ACC Player of the Year TJ Warren will have to play well, but considering the way he’s played in his last ten games, that’s almost a given.
NC State 61, Syracuse 58.

#3 Duke vs. #6 Clemson, appr. 9:30 p.m.
The winningest program in ACC Tournament play, the Duke Blue Devils, will be the last of the 15 teams to make their inaugural appearance in the 2014 edition of the Tournament.  They will meet Clemson, who defeated Georgia Tech in overtime, 69-65, to reach Friday’s quarterfinal round, and defeated the Blue Devils, 72-59, in the only previous meeting of the teams, on January 11 at Littlejohn Coliseum.  The matchup will see the ACC Freshman of the Year, Duke’s Jabari Parker, matchup with the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year, Clems0n’s KJ McDaniels.  Both players, as part of their first team All-ACC seasons, lead their teams in scoring, rebounds, and blocks.  As mentioned, Clemson has already beat Duke this year, although that game was in Duke’s worst stretch of the season in which they lost two out of three to unranked opponents, with the other loss to a Notre Dame team that would go on to finish 13th in the conference, and nearly fell out of the rankings for the first time in seven years.  This team is much different now, and if you take out one outlier game against an emotionally-charged Wake Forest team on their senior night, Duke has gone 12-2 since the Clemson loss, with the only losses at Syracuse and North Carolina (even including the Wake loss, they’re still on quite a run).  Clemson has been streaky all year, with the season including a two-game and a three-game losing streak, as well as a five-game and three-game winning streak.  They’ve won three out of four now, with the only loss in overtime to Pittsburgh, so perhaps their on a good run now, but they had to use a lot of physical and emotional energy just to get over 11th-seeded Georgia Tech in a second round overtime game.  It’s the ACC Tournament; I’m too smart not to pick Duke.
Duke 65, Clemson 54.

For what it’s worth…
My first round record: 2-1
My second round record: 3-1
Tournament Total: 5-2

ACC Tournament First Round Recap, Second Round Preview

Day one of the 61st annual ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament is in the books.  Here is a look back at Wednesday’s action:

#12 Wake Forest 81, #13 Notre Dame 69
Wake Forest senior Coron Williams scored a season-high 25 points, hitting 3 three-pointers, and sophomore Devin Thomas added 19 points and 10 rebounds as the Deacons grabbed their first ACC Tournament win since 2007, back when Skip Prosser was the coach in Winston-Salem.  The Deacons led wire-to-wire, leading by double digits for a large portion of the contest.  The loss ends a disappointing, under-achieving season for Notre Dame, who had one at least one game in each of their last five conference tournaments in the Big East before losing their inaugural tournament game in the ACC.  Junior Pat Connaughton led the Irish with 19, and senior Eric Atkins had 13 points and 7 assists in his final collegiate game.

#10 Miami 57, #15 Virginia Tech 53
The defending ACC champions, Miami, beat Virginia Tech for the first time in three tries this season to advance to the second round.  While Hokies senior Jarell Eddie led all scorers with 16, and senior Rion Brown led the Hurricanes with 15, the spotlight shined on Miami senior Erik Swoope, who scored 14, including the go-ahead basket with 2:42 remaining and a pair of game-clinching free throws, as well as a pair of monster dunks in the first half.  Swoope scored nearly ten points better than his season average, making sure the game would not be his last in a Miami uniform.  Freshman Davon Reed added 14 off the bench for the Canes.  The Hokies shot just 26% in the second half, leading to a season-ending loss with a 9-22 record.

#11 Georgia Tech 73, #14 Boston College 70, overtime
Robert Carter Jr.’s double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds led Georgia Tech to their third win over Boston College this season.  The win came, in a bizarre game, without the benefit of a field goal in the final 5:28 of regulation and with only one in overtime, as the Yellow Jackets scored most of their late points from the free throw line.  Tech blew a 13-point advantage over the final eight minutes of regulation, as the Eagles stormed back, led by Patrick Heckmann’s strong perimeter play, as he led all scorers with 21 points.  The game was delayed briefly in the first half due to a power outage in the Greensboro Coliseum, before Georgia Tech picked up their first ACC Tournament win since the semifinal round in 2010.

With that, here is a preview, and prediction, for each of the matchups in the second round:

#8 Maryland vs. #9 Florida State, 12:00 p.m.
This will be the third meeting of the season between the Terrapins and Seminoles, after the Seminoles won 85-61 on January 12, and the Terrapins won 83-71 on February 8.  Both teams will be playing their first game of the tournament, and both teams want a shot at top-seeded Virginia, who the winner will play Friday.  Florida State wants the shot because they currently sit on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and could use a so-called résumé win.  Maryland wants another shot at a team they just upset on Sunday, as they want to prove it was no fluke and they need the win to join the Noles on the bubble.  These are two very even teams, and both are playing very well right now, so this matchup should come down to the wire.  Considering Maryland beat Virginia in their last game, and Florida State lost by 16 to Syracuse in theirs, I think Maryland ekes one out to extend their final ACC season by at least one more day.
Maryland 60, Florida State 58.

#5 Pittsburgh vs. #12 Wake Forest, appr. 2:30 p.m.
Wake Forest enters the second round after beating Notre Dame on Wednesday, and will play an opponent playing their first ever ACC Tournament game for the second consecutive day.  This time the opponent is Pittsburgh, who beat the Deacons in Pittsburgh, 80-65, in the season’s only meeting on January 11.  Wake seemed to play with more purpose and effort on Wednesday than they had for most of the season, with their win over Duke being an exception.  However, they will be playing on consecutive days for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend, and will be playing a team that hasn’t played since Saturday (Miami and Georgia Tech face the same dilemma).  While Pitt’s purpose and effort has also sagged at times in the second half of the season, they have still been a very competitive team, and still have basketball left when they leave Greensboro, with an almost certain NCAA bid on the way.  The moderate level of discrepancy between the teams in player talent and coaching will also show itself here.  Wake will shine early, but fade late, and Pittsburgh will advance to play North Carolina on Friday.
Pittsburgh 74, Wake Forest 65.

#7 NC State vs. #10 Miami, 7:00 p.m.
Both Mark Gottfried of NC State and Jim Larranaga of Miami are known as coaches who get the most out of their players, particularly when it comes to tournament time.  Both of Gottfried’s previous NC State teams have made appearances in the ACC semifinals, with the 2012 edition also running to the Sweet Sixteen, while Larranaga won the ACC Tournament with Miami a year ago, and took 11th-seeded George Mason to the Final Four back in 2006.  So, we know this rematch from last year’s semifinals should be well-coached and well-played.  This is the third meeting between the teams this year, with the road team winning both previous matchups.  The Wolfpack won in Coral Gables on February 8, 56-55, while the Hurricanes won in Raleigh on March 1, 85-70, although that game was much closer than it sounds.  One thing a team needs to do to win games in several consecutive days to win the tournament is conserve energy.  However, while NC State watched from their hotel on Wednesday, Miami had to use a lot of physical and emotional energy to get past a bad Virginia Tech team in the first round.  While they won’t necessarily be “out of gas” in this game, State will have “fresher tires”, both mentally and physically, which will allow them to survive and advance to play Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
NC State 63, Miami 56.

#6 Clemson vs. #11 Georgia Tech, appr. 9:30 p.m.
The nightcap of Thursday’s action features the I-85 rivalry between Clemson and Georgia Tech, after Clemson won both regular season meetings.  On February 4, the Tigers won one of the most defensive ACC games of the shot clock era, 45-41, at home in Littlejohn Coliseum.  February 22 in Atlanta, there was a little more offense, with the Tigers winning 63-55.  While I’ve mentioned fatigue as a factor for the teams that won on Wednesday and have to play on Thursday, that will be even more of a factor for Georgia Tech, who needed overtime to dispatch Boston College.  I’ve often heard the theory that, in the situation when one team has played a game in the arena (like Georgia Tech) and the other has had a bye (like Clemson), the team that has already played has gotten familiar with the surroundings and “gotten the butterflies out”, and often jumps out to a good start.  However, considering the Yellow Jackets only made one field goal for the last 10:28 of their win over the Eagles, relying on free throws for the victory, they don’t have much momentum to work with, and may still have those shooting woes on their mind while playing the nation’s third best scoring defense.  Clemson is also coming off an overtime game, although theirs was a loss back on Saturday to Pittsburgh, so they will be ready to get that behind them, and will also be ready for a rematch with Duke, who they beat back in January.
Clemson 58, Georgia Tech 51.

For what it’s worth…
My first round record: 2-1
Tournament Total: 2-1

ACC Tournament First Round Preview

The new ACC Tournament format means there will be games on Wednesday for the first time in history.  Here is a look at the first round’s matchups:

#12 Wake Forest vs. #13 Notre Dame, 1:00 p.m.
This is a matchup of a pair of teams disappointed to even be playing on Wednesday in the first place.  Wake Forest started the year 4-3 in the ACC, before a midseason 7-game losing streak ruined their chances for an NCAA or NIT bid and their chances for an ACC Tournament bye.  Notre Dame defeated Duke on the opening weekend of conference play, but has struggled mightily since, going 5-12 in the ACC after the win, with only one win over a team not in the conference’s bottom third.  The Deacons won the only regular season meeting between the two teams back on January 25, although that was at home, where they play much better.  The Deacs have not won an ACC Tournament game under coach Jeff Bzdelik (they haven’t even been close), while his counterpart Mike Brey has a nice postseason résumé.  And I think Notre Dame has a better shot at pulling some upsets and making a deep run than Wake Forest does.  I also think this game will be close, and the Irish have done better in close games than the Deacons have.  The winner of this game will play Pittsburgh in the second round on Thursday.
Notre Dame 66, Wake Forest 64.

#10 Miami vs. #15 Virginia Tech, appr. 3:30 p.m.
This matchup has some intrigue because, although Virginia Tech was clearly the worst team in the ACC this season, struggling to a 2-16 record in conference play, they won both of their meetings against Miami.  In December, in Coral Gables, the Hokies won 61-60, in overtime.  In February, in Blacksburg, the Hokies won 52-45.  However, Miami is playing better now than they were at the time of either of those meetings, and coach Jim Larranaga tends to have his teams peak at the right time.  In addition, its hard for any team to beat another team three times in a season; it will only be that much tougher for Virginia Tech to beat a team three times.  Judging by the pattern of the two previous meetings, this should be a close, low-scoring game, with the winner advancing to play NC State on Thursday.
Miami 52, Virginia Tech 46.

#11 Georgia Tech vs. #14 Boston College, 7:00 p.m.
Georgia Tech enters this game coming off of their first back-to-back conference wins of the season, over Syracuse and Virginia Tech.  Boston College, since their upset over Syracuse, has lost four out of five.  Like Miami and Virginia Tech, these two teams have already met twice this season.  Georgia Tech won both meetings, by scores of 68-60 and 74-71.  While I don’t see Georgia Tech firing coach Brian Gregory, Boston College’s Steve Donahue could be coaching for his job in this game after a very disappointing season.  The Eagles are also trying to avoid a horrific piece of history; unless they win a game in the ACC Tournament, the Eagles will match the 2010-11 Wake Forest team for the worst overall record by an ACC team in the last 25 seasons, at 8-24.  Should they beat Georgia Tech and then lose in the second round, they would be 9-24 and avoid the dubious distinction.  However, although the Eagles have some motivation for this game, and although it will be hard for Georgia Tech to beat Boston College a third time, the Yellow Jackets are peaking at the right time, and while that may not mean they will win the tournament, they should get out of the first round and advance to play Clemson on Thursday.
Georgia Tech 64, Boston College 60.