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