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

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