Column: Raiders Backstabbing Fans With Move to Vegas

Monday, the NFL owners approved for the Raiders to move from Oakland to Las Vegas.  The move will take effect once a stadium is built in Sin City, with an earliest realistic ETA of 2020.

By moving, the Raiders franchise is stabbing one of the most vocal and loyal fanbases in sports in the back.

Prior to last year’s AFC playoff appearance, the Raiders franchise had been in a prolonged slump.  After reaching Super Bowl XXXVII–which they lost to Tampa Bay 48-21–the team did not have another winning season until last year’s 12-4 campaign.  While that season ended in a disappointing playoff loss to Houston aided by several key late-season injuries, the future is very bright for coach Jack Del Rio’s team.

Now, as the franchise’s boisterous and devoted fans finally have a solid on-field product to watch, the Raiders executives are abandoning their supporters who have stayed with them through so many rough seasons.

Sure, the Raiders have actually consistently ranked in the bottom half in attendance over the last few years.  But every franchise would suffer at the box office if they were mired in a decade-plus of losing–and few other franchises have the culture and tradition of the Raiders, which they have enjoyed in good seasons and bad.  As the team’s fortunes improved in 2016, attendance did as well.

In addition to on-field struggles, the Raiders have one of the smaller stadiums in the NFL–the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum has a capacity of 63,132.  The Raiders share a market with the San Francisco 49ers, who play across the bay at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara; the Bay Area is by far the smallest two-team market in the NFL (behind New York and Los Angeles).

Combining all factors, the Raiders low statistical attendance makes sense.  However, the stats can’t show the atmosphere created in Oakland, especially in big games (even though there haven’t been many of them there in recent years).

Even as these fans are the ones hurt by the move, they are not actually the reason for it.

It’s no secret that for the team to stay in Oakland long-term, a stadium was necessary.  The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is shared with MLB’s Oakland Athletics and is, quite frankly, seen by many as a dump.

The City of Oakland has dragged its feet for years, but now has a stadium proposal which is realistic and feasible (but expensive).  A stadium plan approved by both the city of Oakland and Alameda County would cost the city $200 million, an investment group led by Raider legend Ronnie Lott $400 million, the Raiders franchise $500 million and the NFL $300 million (the league committed this money to a potential stadium proposal when it turned down the Raiders’ application to relocate to Los Angeles in favor of the Rams and Chargers moving there).

If a plan exists for the Raiders to remain in place, and especially in a place where all their fans and tradition are already established, then why are they so eager to move to Las Vegas and abandon their fans in northern California?

Sure, the NFL is a business, and there is a potential for tons of revenue in a previously untapped market that is also one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S.  But that being said, I’m not completely sold that the move will pay off in the long run.

Las Vegas is certainly a growing market.  Pro sports have stayed away in the past because of the connection the city has with sports gambling, but all four of the major North American pro sports leagues have softened their stance in recent years.  The city acquired an expansion franchise in the NHL that will begin play this fall, and now has convinced the Raiders to move from Oakland.

The city, theoretically, has a large enough population to support an NFL franchise, since it is as large or larger than several existing NFL cities.  But while cities like Green Bay and Buffalo both have well-supported franchises, other cities similar in size to Las Vegas have struggled with fan support; partially for this reason, St. Louis lost their franchise when the Rams moved to Los Angeles last year.

That said, Las Vegas is unlike any other city in America.  In the self-billed “Entertainment Capital of the World,” tourism is the biggest part of the economy.  Sure, the residents of the Las Vegas area would make some permanent fans, but the NFL is surely counting on tourism to provide additional filled seats in the Las Vegas stadium, which will be located just off The Strip.

This is an experiment, as no other NFL franchise will be so reliant on tourists being interested in its games, and one which may work–or may not.  Sure, fans will show up en masse at first, but once the novelty of a Las Vegas team wears off, it’s impossible to know if the visitors will keep heading to the stadium.

It’s telling that the NFL owners, who typically have little tolerance for unnecessary distractions, are moving a team to a city full of them.

As for the immediate future, while the Raiders wait for their Las Vegas home to be built, the Raiders will continue playing at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.  Their lease there runs through the 2017 season, with an option for 2018.

The earliest the Las Vegas stadium can be finished is likely 2020, meaning the Raiders would have to find a temporary home for that season, either in the Bay Area (more likely) or the Las Vegas area.  Conventional wisdom would say to play as few lame duck seasons in the Bay Area as possible, but there is not currently an attractive stadium option in Las Vegas to even use temporarily:  UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium has a maximum capacity of 40,000.

The Bay Area has three more likely options for a temporary home in 2019:  Levi’s Stadium (capacity 68,500), which they would share with the 49ers, Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto (cap. 50,000) or California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley (cap. 63,000).  Levi’s Stadium just opened in 2014, while California Memorial Stadium was renovated from 2010-12.

The move to Las Vegas is not the first time the Raiders have forsaken their long-standing fans in Oakland for a move to one of America’s centers of entertainment.  After playing in Oakland from 1960-81, the Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982, playing in the City of Angels for 13 seasons before moving back to Oakland after 1994.

Now, history is repeating itself as the Raiders move to Las Vegas.  But this time, even if they return to Oakland in another decade as they did before, the forsaken fans may not.

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Fast Five: Sentimental Favorites in the Sweet 16

As the NCAA Tournament enters its second weekend, certain teams always seem to capture the hearts of fans, many of whom are looking for another rooting interest after their own team has been eliminated.

This year there are not necessarily any “Cinderella” teams, but there are still a fair share of teams who can be sentimental favorites as the Sweet 16 begins tonight.

Honorable Mention:  Arizona (32-4, 2-seed, West Region)
Sweet 16:  Tonight vs. #11 Xavier, 10:09 pm ET, TBS

It’s odd to include a traditional power like Arizona on this list (that’s why they’re an honorable mention), but a potential Wildcats run to the title has its share of storylines, considering the Final Four is in Phoenix, and Arizona is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their last national title in 1997.

Honorable Mention:  Whoever is playing UCLA
Sweet 16:  Friday vs. #2 Kentucky, 9:39 pm ET, CBS

The sports social media world keeps buzzing over the crazy things Lavar Ball, the father of Bruins point guard Lonzo Ball, has said.  I’m all for parents being involved in their kids’ lives and athletic careers, but Lavar Ball is completely over the top, considering at this point he’s making headlines on almost a daily basis.  If UCLA loses, maybe he’ll shut up–at least until his other two sons are playing college basketball in the near future.

5.  Gonzaga (34-1, 1-seed, West Region)
Sweet 16:  Tonight vs. #4 West Virginia, 7:39 pm ET, TBS

It’s strange to put a team on this list who is a 1-seed, and has participated in every NCAA Tournament since 1999.  However, the Bulldogs are still the little brother to fellow 1-seeds North Carolina and Kansas, and many aren’t even favoring the Zags to win the regional, since they may face Arizona in the regional final.  To even get there, they face a tough matchup with 4-seed West Virginia in tonight’s regional semifinal.

Gonzaga reaching the Final Four would be a feel-good story because they have come close but fallen short in their previous tournament runs.  Mark Few has led the Bulldogs to eight Sweet 16 appearances and two Elite Eights (1999, 2015), but have yet to reach the Final Four, despite having one of the most consistent programs in the nation.

The Zags play in the West Regional in San Jose, and the Final Four is in Phoenix, should they reach it; both locations should allow their fans to join them.

4.  Butler (25-8, 4-seed, South Region)
Sweet 16:  Friday vs. #1 North Carolina, 7:09 pm ET, CBS

The Bulldogs have been the sentimental favorite before–they were back-to-back national runners-up in 2010-11, losing national finals to Duke and UConn–and now they return to the list seeded higher than either of those years (Butler was a 5-seed in 2010 and an 8-seed in 2011), as they make their first Sweet 16 appearance since the 2011 run.

But despite their recent success, the Bulldogs are still far and away the least accomplished team in the South Regional, which also includes North Carolina, who Butler meets Friday night, as well as Kentucky and UCLA.  Those three schools have combined for 24 national championships and 54 Final Four appearances.

Few expect Butler to make any noise in Memphis, but the Bulldogs program has been in this situation before.

3.  Xavier (23-13, 11-seed, West Region)
Sweet 16:  Tonight vs. #2 Arizona, 7:39 pm ET, TBS

The Musketeers are on this list at the lowest-remaining seed.  Xavier has reached the Elite Eight twice, in 2004 and 2008, but has lost in the Sweet 16 four times since that 2008 appearance.

Xavier, who has been a near-perennial NCAA Tournament team for the last two decades, has had tough luck losing good coaches to jobs at bigger programs:  Skip Prosser (Wake Forest), Thad Matta (Ohio State) and Sean Miller (Arizona).

Now current Xavier coach Chris Mack will face former coach Miller in the Sweet 16.  Miller, who was coach the last time Xavier reached the Elite Eight, left in 2009 to succeed Hall of Famer Lute Olson at Arizona.

This will be a tough test for Xavier; the Wildcats are one of the favorites to win it all, and the game is in San Jose, which should give Arizona a crowd advantage.  Even if Xavier wins tonight, the Gonzaga-West Virginia winner would be no easier of an opponent on Saturday.

2.  Michigan (26-11, 7-seed, Midwest Region)
Sweet 16:  Tonight vs. #3 Oregon, 7:09 pm ET, CBS

On Wednesday, March 8, as the Wolverines were departing Ann Arbor to head to Washington D.C. for the Big Ten Tournament, their team plane (with the team, coaches, family members, band and cheerleaders aboard) skidded off the end of the runway due to high winds.  Miraculously, no one was injured in the accident.

Michigan flew to Washington early the next morning to play their noon opener in the Big Ten Tournament, where they wore practice uniforms since their game jerseys were on the crashed plane.  The Wolverines beat Illinois comfortably that Thursday, before beating Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin to remarkably win the conference title.

After starting their NCAA Tournament with a 92-91 win over Oklahoma State, the Wolverines upset 2-seed Louisville on Sunday (and became a further sentimental favorite by knocking the scandalous Louisville athletic department out of the field), advancing to their third Sweet 16 in five years.

Since the accident, the Wolverines have seemed to play more loosely, and have no doubt played better than before.  Tonight, they face an Oregon team that lost its best player, forward Chris Boucher, in the Pac-12 Tournament.  Should the Wolverines advance to the Elite Eight, they would either encounter a Big Ten title game rematch against Purdue or a rematch of their classic 2013 comeback win over Kansas in the Sweet 16.

Sure, the Michigan program has had tremendous success in the past–the Wolverines have reached five Final Fours, including 2013, and won the 1989 national title–but the story of this team in their run to the Sweet 16 has been incredible.  Now, as they face an uphill climb as the lowest seed in the Midwest Regional, the Wolverines will try to continue to play out this movie-like scenario and write their Hollywood ending.

1.  South Carolina (24-10, 7-seed, East Region)
Sweet 16:  Friday vs. #3 Baylor, 7:29 pm ET, TBS

Sure, the Gamecocks happen to be a team I pull for, but that’s not why they are at the top of this list.

The Gamecocks are a sentimental favorite because of their program’s history (or, really, a lack thereof).  This tournament marks just the ninth appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the program, and the first since 2004, after the Gamecocks were snubbed from the field last year.  Before last year’s NIT bid, the program had just one winning season since 2006.

After a first round win over Marquette–their first NCAA Tournament win in 44 years–the Gamecocks shocked the world and beat Duke 88-81, eliminating one of the biggest favorites to win the national title.

Beating Duke is enough by itself to make the Gamecocks a sentimental favorite for some, but especially when the win got South Carolina to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1973.  Now, the Gamecocks face Baylor (you know, that school that turned a blind eye to sexual assaults committed by student-athletes) as they try to reach their first Elite Eight in program history.

The East Region, at Madison Square Garden in New York, is wide open:  3-seed Baylor is the top remaining seed, and 4-seed Florida meets 8-seed Wisconsin (who beat 1-seed Villanova) in the other regional semifinal.  South Carolina, led by SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell (21.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.9 APG), have arguably the best player on any team in the East Region.

South Carolina is trying to complete a unique trifecta for its state:  Coastal Carolina won the baseball national championship in June and Clemson won the football title in January.  Schools from one state have not held all three titles simultaneously since 1975.

 

 

Sweet 16 Schedule (all times ET)

Midwest Region (Thursday, Kansas City)
#3 Oregon vs. #7 Michigan, 7:09 p.m., CBS
#1 Kansas vs. #4 Purdue, appr. 9:39 p.m., CBS

West Region (Thursday, San Jose)
#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m., TBS
#2 Arizona vs. #11 Xavier, appr. 10:09 p.m., TBS

South Regional (Friday, Memphis)
#1 North Carolina vs. #4 Butler, 7:09 p.m., CBS
#2 Kentucky vs. #3 UCLA, appr. 9:39 p.m., CBS

East Regional (Friday, New York)
#3 Baylor vs. #7 South Carolina, 7:29 p.m., TBS
#4 Florida vs. #8 Wisconsin, appr. 9:59 p.m., TBS

It’s March

It’s March.

A month synonymous with the stunning upsets, startling buzzer-beaters, and scintillating battles that make up the NCAA Tournament.

March was the goal for 351 teams when practice began in October, and games in November.  Just 68 accomplished their goal of making it here, while the dreams of the rest ended in agony and heartbreak.

For each it is the consummation of a season’s-long effort, whether they are here for the 57th time, like Kentucky, or the first, like Northern Kentucky.

For the fortunate field of 68 who accomplished their goal of being alive come March, their goal now shifts to still being alive come April, and becoming one of the four to earn a fateful trip to Phoenix.

The journey there will require skill, determination, and perseverance in each individual contest to achieve victory, as the number of those still alive quickly dwindles.

The goal for each contest is to survive and advance.  The goal for this thrilling three weeks is to be the only one still surviving and claim the crown of a championship.

It’s March.

It’s madness.

Fast Five: Double-Digit Seed Sleepers to Reach the Sweet 16

As the first round of the NCAA Tournament gets underway, everyone tries to pick the big upset or two, in an attempt to say “I called it!” if it actually happens.

But in this year’s bracket, there are multiple teams with double-digit seeds who have a realistic chance at winning not just one, but two games, and advancing to the Sweet 16.

These Cinderellas haven’t just been invited to The Big Dance; they may still be on the dance floor when the tournament enters its second weekend.

While I did not pick all of these teams in my bracket (in fact, I only picked one to advance to the Sweet 16), they are the teams that have the best opportunity to make a run through the first two rounds, based on both matchups and their own abilities.

 

Honorable Mention:  Marquette (19-12, #10 seed, East)

Marquette’s draw is tough, against South Carolina in the Palmetto State, then potentially against Duke, but consider this:  South Carolina has lost five of seven and hasn’t won a tournament game since 1973, while Golden Eagles coach Steve Wojciechowski was an assistant under Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, and teams led by Coach K proteges tend to play well against Duke.

5. Florida Gulf Coast (26-7, #14 seed, West)

I know they’re a 14-seed, but this wouldn’t be fun without one really low seed on the list.

In 2013, FGCU captured the nation’s hearts with an improbable run to the Sweet 16, upsetting 2-seed Georgetown and 7-seed San Diego State, advancing further than any 15-seed in tournament history.  Here’s the thing:  this team is actually better.

The 2013 Eagles actually didn’t win the Atlantic Sun regular season title, but won the league tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament.  This year, FGCU did win the regular season title with a 12-2 league record, and the team is 19-2 since Dec. 17, including seven straight wins.  The 2013 team, nicknamed “Dunk City,” had 148 dunks, but this year’s edition has 157, while this year’s team also has two more wins entering the tournament than the 2013 Eagles did.

They have their work cut out for them against Florida State, the 3-seed in the West Region, but while the Seminoles have had a great year with some really big wins, they also have been slightly inconsistent.  The ‘Noles are an impressive 7-3 against the Top 25, but have four losses against teams that missed the NCAA Tournament.  The game is in Orlando, so both teams will have a large fan turnout.

Looking ahead to a potential second round matchup, the Florida State-FGCU victor will face either 6-seed Maryland or 11-seed Xavier, and either will be beatable.  Maryland enters the tournament having lost four of their last six, while Xavier lost six straight from Feb. 11 to Mar. 1 after point guard Edmond Sumner was lost for the season with an injury.

4. Vermont (29-5, #13 seed, Midwest)

The hottest team no one is talking about entering the tournament is Vermont, who has the nation’s longest winning streak at 21 games.

The champions of the America East Conference, the Catamounts have not lost a game since Dec. 21, and three of their five losses on the season came to fellow tournament teams.

Purdue is the regular season champion of the Big Ten, although this has been a “down year” for the historically strong conference, and the Boilermakers were one-and-done in the Big Ten Tournament.  Purdue also has a knack for inability to finish games in the tournament; the last two years they have blown big leads late to lose in overtime in the first round.

For a team to stop Purdue (34th in nation with 80.1 PPG), they need a good defense, and Vermont has it (61.6 PPG allowed is 11th nationally).  One would imagine Vermont will have to overcome adversity to beat a team like Purdue, but that will be no problem for coach John Becker–before Vermont, he coached at Galludet, the nation’s leading university for the deaf.

5-seed Iowa State, the Big 12 Tournament champions, are a possible matchup for Vermont in the second round, although a potential defeat of the Cyclones by 12-seed Nevada is a trendy first round upset pick; such an upset would set up a second round matchup of two double-digit seeds should Vermont beat Purdue.

3. UNC Wilmington (29-5, #12 seed, East)

The regular season and tournament champions of the Colonial Athletic Association enter the NCAA Tournament having won 18 of their last 21.  Last year as a 13-seed, the Seahawks played 4-seed Duke close, losing 93-85 after leading at halftime, and this year they will play 5-seed Virginia in the first round.

When people think Virginia, they think defense, and rightfully so:  the Cavaliers allow a national-best 55.6 PPG.  However, the Seahawks have the offense to match, ranking 10th nationally at 85.2 PPG.  Devontae Cacok is shooting 79.9 percent from the field, a mark that is over five points better than the existing NCAA single-season record.

Virginia has, at least theoretically, underachieved in the last three tournaments as a 1- or 2-seed, and they have also lost their last three tournament games when they were a 5-seed or lower.  The Virginia-UNCW game will tip at 12:40 pm ET this afternoon, and early afternoon games have a knack for producing upsets.

The winner of Virginia-UNCW will face the winner of Florida-East Tennessee State in the second round.  While 4-seed Florida would be a tough matchup for the Seahawks (as they would be for anyone else in the field), it is within the realm of possibility that East Tennessee State could upset the Gators, as the Buccaneers are dangerous with four senior starters.  Either way, UNC Wilmington has the tools to potentially compete with either team and threaten to make the Sweet 16.

2. Middle Tennessee State (30-4, #12 seed, South)

Last year, Middle Tennessee State pulled off arguably the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, shocking 2-seed Michigan State 90-81.  Even after three players from that team graduated, this year’s Blue Raiders are even better, winning the C-USA regular season title (last year’s team did not), then backing it up with the league tournament title.

The Blue Raiders have won 20 of their last 21, led by four seniors and three players averaging at least 14.5 PPG (JaCorey Williams, Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw).  The Blue Raiders rank 11th nationally in field goal percentage; their first round opponent of Minnesota ranks 213th.

Minnesota is 24-9, but has lost two of their last three, and a five-game losing streak in January is a dark spot on their resume.  The Golden Gophers are coached by Richard Pitino, the son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino (the pair are becoming the first father-son duo to coach in the same NCAA Tournament, although they cannot meet until the Final Four).

Minnesota is over-seeded, at least in my opinion, while Middle Tennessee State is under-seeded; as a result, even though this is a 5-vs-12 game as seedings go, ESPN’s BPI gives Middle Tennessee State a 46 percent chance to win.  That’s the fourth highest percentage for any double-digit seed, and by far the highest for any team seeded 12 or worse.

As far as a potential second round matchup, the Minnesota-MTSU winner will face the winner of Butler and Winthrop.  Butler is a heavy favorite, and is responsible for two of Villanova’s three losses, but have shown they are beatable with a trio of “bad losses.”  Winthrop is a heavy underdog, but may have the best player on the floor on Thursday in Keon Johnson, a 5-foot-7 guard who scores 22.5 PPG.

1. Rhode Island (24-9, #11 seed, Midwest)

Rhode Island enters their first NCAA appearance in 18 years with wins in eight straight games and 12 of their last 14, having played their way onto the tournament bubble, then off of it by winning the Atlantic-10 Tournament (and automatic NCAA bid).  The Rams are looking to repeat the success of the last time they were an 11-seed:  in 1988, they went to the Sweet 16.

The Rams’ first round opponent is Creighton.  The Blue Jays started the season hot, but are just 8-7 since losing guard Maurice Watson Jr. for the year, with half of those wins coming against the bottom three teams in the Big East.

An intriguing individual matchup to watch is on the inside, between Creighton’s Justin Patton and Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin.  Patton has a decided height advantage (7-foot to 6-foot-7), but Martin plays bigger than his height and has led the A-10 in blocked shots four straight seasons.

Creighton is a 61 percent favorite in ESPN’s BPI, and just a 2-point betting favorite, despite the 6-vs-11 seeding of the matchup.

In the second round, the Rams could potentially meet Oregon or Iona.  Oregon is without post-man Chris Boucher, who blew his knee in the Pac-12 Tournament and dealt a big blow to Oregon’s chances at a deep run.  The Ducks won the first NCAA Tournament in 1939, but haven’t been back to the Final Four since.

14-seed Iona is capable of upsetting Oregon if leading scorer Jordan Washington (17.9 PPG) can stay on the floor; he averages just 21.7 minutes per game.  Whether Oregon or Iona wins, the potential second-round matchup would play to Rhode Island’s favor.

 

 

NCAA Tournament

East Region
#1 Villanova vs. #16 Mount St. Mary’s (Thursday, Buffalo)
#8 Wisconsin vs. #9 Virginia Tech (Thursday, Buffalo)
#4 Florida vs. #13 East Tennessee State (Thursday, Orlando)
#5 Virginia vs. #12 UNC Wilmington (Thursday, Orlando)
#3 Baylor vs. #14 New Mexico State (Friday, Tulsa)
#6 SMU vs. #11 USC (Friday, Tulsa)
#2 Duke vs. #15 Troy (Friday, Greenville)
#7 South Carolina vs. #10 Marquette (Friday, Greenville)

West Regional
#1 Gonzaga vs. #16 South Dakota State (Thursday, Salt Lake City)
#8 Northwestern vs. #9 Vanderbilt (Thursday, Salt Lake City)
#4 West Virginia vs. #13 Bucknell (Thursday, Buffalo)
#5 Notre Dame vs. #12 Princeton (Thursday, Buffalo)
#3 Florida State vs. #14 Florida Gulf Coast (Thursday, Orlando)
#6 Maryland vs. #11 Xavier (Thursday, Orlando)
#2 Arizona vs. #15 North Dakota (Thursday, Salt Lake City)
#7 Saint Mary’s vs. #10 VCU (Thursday, Salt Lake City)

Midwest Region
#1 Kansas vs. #16 UC Davis (Friday, Tulsa)
#8 Miami (Fla.) vs. #9 Michigan State (Friday, Tulsa)
#4 Purdue vs. #13 Vermont (Thursday, Milwaukee)
#5 Iowa State vs. #12 Nevada (Thursday, Milwaukee)
#3 Oregon vs. #14 Iona (Friday, Sacramento)
#6 Creighton vs. #11 Rhode Island (Friday, Sacremento)
#2 Louisville vs. #15 Jacksonville State (Friday, Indianapolis)
#7 Michigan vs. #10 Oklahoma State (Friday, Indianapolis)

South Region
#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Texas Southern (Friday, Greenville)
#8 Arkansas vs. #9 Seton Hall (Friday, Greenville)
#4 Butler vs. #13 Winthrop (Thursday, Milwaukee)
#5 Minnesota vs. #12 Middle Tennessee (Thursday, Milwaukee)
#3 UCLA vs. #14 Kent State (Friday, Sacremento)
#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Kansas State (Friday, Sacremento)
#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Northern Kentucky (Friday, Indianapolis)
#7 Dayton vs. #10 Wichita State (Friday, Indianapolis)

 

Tournament Tweeting: Duke Wins Their 20th ACC Tournament Title

Duke used a clutch, efficient and balanced offensive attack to beat Notre Dame, 75-69, and win their first ACC Tournament since 2011 and their 20th in program history, extending a tournament record.

The Blue Devils shot a season-high 61 percent from the floor (31-51), including hot shooting performances from Jayson Tatum (7-11), Frank Jackson (4-6) and Amile Jefferson (7-8).  Defensively, Duke held Notre Dame to 40 percent (27-67), and 24 percent from three (6-25).

Tatum led Duke with 19 points and eight rebounds, with Luke Kennard adding 16 and Jefferson netting 14.  Grayson Allen scored 10 points with four assists.

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, who played much of the second half favoring an ankle injury, led all players with 29 points and nine rebounds.  V.J. Beachem scored 15 for the Irish and Matt Farrell scored 13 with seven assists.  But despite Colson’s MVP-caliber performance, Duke outscored Notre Dame 44-32 in the paint and blocked the Irish five times.

Duke dominated the opening half, leading as big as 31-22, although an 8-0 Notre Dame run in the final two minutes pulled the Irish within two before Allen beat the buzzer to give Duke a 38-34 halftime edge.

Notre Dame came out firing in the second half to take a 56-48 lead with 11:35 left.  Duke responded with a 10-1 run to take a 58-57 lead with 7:08 remaining, and after a back-and-forth stretch over the next few minutes, Colson tied the game at 65-65 on a three with 2:27 left.

Duke answered, taking the lead on a free throw by Tatum, adding to the lead on Tatum’s layup on the next possession, the stretching the lead to 71-67 with 0:48 left on a clutch three by Matt Jones, his only made shot of the game.  After a Beachem dunk got the Irish within two, a Tatum dunk made it 73-69, before single free throws by Tatum and Kennard put the game away.

The win for Duke avenged losses in the last two ACC Tournaments to Notre Dame, led by former Duke assistant Mike Brey.

Duke becomes the first team to win four games in four days to win the ACC Tournament, and is the first 5-seed to ever win the event.  Their 20th title is the second most in any conference tournament, behind only Kentucky (29 SEC titles).

The title is the 14th in the ACC Tournament for coach Mike Krzyzewski, passing Dean Smith for the most all-time in the same tournament in which he passed Smith for the most wins in ACC Tournament play; Krzyzewski is now a remarkable 61-22 in ACC Tournament play.  Legendary Duke broadcaster Bob Harris, who is in his 41st season and is retiring at season’s end, called his 17th ACC Tournament championship by the Blue Devils.

Duke (27-8) now awaits their NCAA Tournament fate as the ACC’s automatic qualifier, and some pundits suggest their ACC title may be enough to earn the Blue Devils a 1-seed, although a 2-seed is more likely.  The Blue Devils will almost certainly begin their tournament run in Greenville, S.C.  Notre Dame (25-9) is also a lock for an NCAA at-large berth, with the field and pairings set to be announced Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

 

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

 

All-Tournament Team

My Ballot:
MVP:  Notre Dame F Bonzie Colson
First Team:  Colson, Duke G Jayson Tatum, Duke G Luke Kennard, Notre Dame G Matt Ferrell, North Carolina F Isaiah Hicks
Second Team:  Duke G Grayson Allen, Notre Dame G Steve Vasturia, Virginia Tech C Zach LeDay, North Carolina F Kennedy Meeks, Clemson F Jaron Blossomgame

Media Selections:
MVP:  Duke G Luke Kennard
First Team:  Kennard, Duke G Jayson Tatum, Notre Dame F Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame G Matt Farrell, North Carolina F Isaiah Hicks
Second Team:  Duke G Grayson Allen, Duke G Frank Jackson, Duke F Amile Jefferson, Notre Dame G Steve Vasturia, Virginia Tech C Zach LeDay

 

 

Play of the Tournament

Greg McClinton, 80-foot buzzer-beater to end first half for Wake Forest, Second Round vs. Virginia Tech

 

 

For what it’s worth….
My ACC Tournament Record:  9-5

First Round
Record:  2-1
Second Round Record:  3-1
Quarterfinals Record:  3-1
Semifinals Record:  1-1
Championship Game: 0-1

 

2017 ACC Tournament

Championship Game
#5 Duke 75, #3 Notre Dame 69

Semifinals
#5 Duke 93, #1 North Carolina 83
#3 Notre Dame 77, #2 Notre Dame 73

Quarterfinals
#1 North Carolina 78, #9 Miami 53
#5 Duke 81, #4 Louisville 77
#2 Florida State 74, #7 Virginia Tech 68
#3 Notre Dame 71, #6 Virginia 58

Second Round
#9 Miami 62, #8 Syracuse 57
#5 Duke 79, #12 Clemson 72
#7 Virginia Tech 99, #10 Wake Forest 90
#6 Virginia 75, #14 Pittsburgh 63

First Round
#12 Clemson 75, #13 NC State 61

#10 Wake Forest 92, #15 Boston College 78
#14 Pittsburgh 61, #11 Georgia Tech 59

Tournament Tweeting: ACC Semifinals Recap and Championship Preview

Semifinals Recap

First, some general tweets about the tournament:

 

 

#5 Duke 93, #1 North Carolina 83

For 26 minutes, North Carolina looked invincible, leading Duke 61-48 with 13:53 to play.  But after Joel Berry II went to the bench with four fouls, Duke held a 45-22 advantage for the duration of the game, including a 15-2 run over the next 3:18, to come from behind and stun their rivals to advance to the ACC championship.

In the second half, Duke shot 59 percent (13-22), while North Carolina shot 29 percent (12-42).  For the game, Duke was 59 percent from three (10-17), including five triples from Grayson Allen, while North Carolina shot 23 percent (5-22).  Both teams shot well from the foul line, but Duke attempted 19 more free throws (Duke 33-37, North Carolina 14-18).

Duke’s Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 24 points and co-led the Blue Devils with seven rebounds.  Luke Kennard scored 20, including a 10-10 night at the free throw line, while Allen scored 18 with five assists and Frank Jackson scored 15.  Harry Giles was a force defensively, with seven rebounds, four blocks and one steal in 15 minutes.

North Carolina, who outscored Duke 50-26 in the paint and outrebounded the Blue Devils 43-32, was led by their big men inside.  Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks co-led the Tar Heels with 19 points each, and Meeks grabbed 12 rebounds.  In the backcourt, ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson (6-22 from the floor) scored 16, while Berry scored 10 and Theo Pinson dished out eight assists.

In possibly the most intense rivalry in college sports, the Blue Devils won their second game in three meetings this season, and won their sixth straight ACC Tournament meeting with the Tar Heels.

Duke (26-8) advances to Saturday’s final, where they will try to become the first team to win four games in four days to win the ACC Tournament, and the first 5-seed to ever win the ACC Tournament in its 64-year history.  North Carolina (27-7) will await their NCAA Tournament seeding, where there is a strong possibility the Tar Heels will be one of the four top seeds, and it is almost certain they will play their first two games in Greenville, S.C.

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

 

#3 Notre Dame 77, #2 Florida State 73

Notre Dame was efficient from three and took advantage of Florida State’s mistakes to defeat the Seminoles and advance to the final.  While the final margin was just four points, the Irish led comfortably from the late stages of the first half through the second half before withstanding a late Seminole surge.

The Irish made 13 threes, shooting 48 percent from distance (13-27), while holding the Seminoles to 33 percent from three (5-15), and none over the game’s first 26:36.  Notre Dame scored 21 points off 18 Florida State turnovers, while the Irish only committed nine.  Florida State held a 41-23 rebounding edge, with Jonathan Isaac tying a tournament high with 15.

Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson led the Irish with 18 points, and Matt Farrell scored 15 with six assists, while Matt Ryan scored 11 off the bench; both Farrell and Ryan hit three triples.

Notre Dame led 42-26 at halftime, and led by as many as 18 early in the second half, before an 11-3 run by Florida State made the game closer late, but Colson and Rex Pflueger put the game away at the free throw line.

Notre Dame (25-8) advances to the championship game against Duke, as the Irish try to win their second title in three years after never previously winning a conference tournament in school history.  Florida State (25-8) will await their NCAA Tournament matchup, and is likely to play their first two NCAA games in Orlando.

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

 

Championship Preview

 

#3 Notre Dame (25-8, 12-6) vs. #5 Duke (26-8, 11-7)
9:00 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Notre Dame- 6th, Duke- 5th
AP Poll:  Notre Dame- 22nd, Duke- 14th
Regular Season:  Jan. 30 in South Bend:  Duke 84, Notre Dame 74

 

For commentary throughout the ACC Tournament and most major sporting events, follow me on Twitter:  @cstiles24

 

For what it’s worth….
My ACC Tournament Record:  9-4

First Round
Record:  2-1
Second Round Record:  3-1
Quarterfinals Record:  3-1
Semifinals Record:  1-1

Tournament Tweeting: ACC Quarterfinals Recap and Semifinals Preview

Quarterfinals Recap

First, some general tweets about the tournament:

#1 North Carolina 78, #9 Miami 53

The Tar Heels used a dominant performance on both ends of the floor to comfortably beat Miami, never leading by less than 11 over the last 12:10 and pulling away for the 25-point win.  After a 7-0 Miami run to close the first half pulled the Hurricanes to a 34-29 deficit, the Tar Heels held a 44-24 advantage over the final 20 minutes.

North Carolina shot 53 percent from the field (28-53), 83 percent from the free throw line (15-18). The Tar Heels had more assists (21) than Miami field goals (19), holding Miami to just 36 percent from the floor (19-53) and 24 percent from three-point range (5-21), while forcing 15 Hurricanes turnovers that led to 21 Tar Heel points.

Four double-figure scorers paced the Tar Heels, with Isaiah Hicks leading the way with 19; ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson scored 12, Joel Berry II netted 11 with five assists, and Kennedy Meeks added 10 with seven rebounds.  Theo Pinson scored nine, but led the Tar Heels with six assists.  Bruce Brown, with 21 points and seven rebounds, was the only Miami player to score more than seven, while the Hurricanes tallied just seven assists.  Brown was 9-13 for the floor; his teammates were a combined 10-40.

North Carolina (27-6) advances to meet rival Duke in the semifinals, while the 25-point loss was the worst of the season for Miami (21-11), who awaits their NCAA Tournament selection.

Tweets from throughout the game:

#5 Duke 81, #4 Louisville 77

Playing a second straight day with little depth against a rested Louisville team was no problem for Duke, who came from behind late to beat Louisville in a top-15 matchup.

After Duke held a 39-37 halftime lead, Louisville used a 24-10 run over the first 6:53 of the second half to take a 61-49 lead.  From that point, Duke held a 32-16 edge over the last 13:07, with three Luke Kennard threes and another by Jayson Tatum keying Duke’s run.

Tatum, who was 9-15 from the field, led all scorers with 25 points, before fouling out in the final minute.  Kennard had 24 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season, while Grayson Allen scored 18, breaking out of his recent slump in the second half.  Tatum, Kennard and Allen combined for 41 of Duke’s 42 second half points.

Deng Adel led Louisville with 21 points, while Quentin Snider scored 15 with five assists.  First team All-ACC selection Donovan Mitchell was held to eight points, shooting 3-14 from the field.

With his 59th career ACC Tournament win, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski passed North Carolina’s Dean Smith for the most all-time, and his Blue Devils (25-8) will meet North Carolina in the semifinals.  Louisville (24-8) will play in the NCAA Tournament after falling to 0-2 all-time in ACC Tournament play.

Tweets from throughout the game:

#2 Florida State 74, #7 Virginia Tech 68

Florida State used a physical gameplan to overmatch an undersized Virginia Tech team in the second half and earn their first semifinal appearance since 2012.

The Seminoles outrebounded the Hokies 45-31, including 18-8 on the offensive glass, and outscored them in the paint 42-20.  The Seminoles used a 16-1 run to turn a 52-52 tie with 9:17 to play into a 68-53 lead with 4:01 left, then withstood a late 10-0 Virginia Tech run to advance.

Dwayne Bacon led the Seminoles with 17 points despite struggling from the floor (4-17), hitting nine of his 10 free throws.  Jonathan Isaac scored 11 with 12 rebounds and Terance Mann netted 11 with nine rebounds.  Xavier Rathan-Mayes had nine points with six assists.

Zach LeDay, who scored a tournament-high 31 points on Wednesday, had 22 points and nine rebounds , yet appeared oversized at times on the boards against bigger Florida State players.  Seth Allen had 17 points and five assists, while Justin Robinson scored 14 with six assists.

Florida State (24-7) will meet Notre Dame in Friday’s semifinals, while Virginia Tech (22-10) will begin preparations for their their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.

Tweets from throughout the game:

#3 Notre Dame 71, #6 Virginia 58

In a surprising role reversal, the Notre Dame defense held Virginia in check while the Irish offense was efficient against Virginia’s defense, resulting in a convincing, nearly wire-to-wire win for the Irish.

Notre Dame, who had never beaten Virginia since joining the ACC in 2013 (0-5) and has typically struggled against Tony Bennett’s packline defense, shot 52 percent from the field (24-46), with an identical 12-23 mark in each half, while holding the Cavaliers to 39 percent (22-57).  The Irish were more proficient in more activity at the free throw line (Notre Dame 18-25, Virginia 7-12).

First team All-ACC honoree Bonzie Colson led all players with 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Irish.  Matt Farrell scored 14, while V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia each netted 12, and Vasturia added five assists.  Devon Hall and Darius Thompson led Virginia with 12, with Hall adding nine rebounds, while Ty Jerome and Marial Shayok each scored 10 and Jerome dished out six assists.  Virginia team leader London Perrantes was held to three points, while Kyle Guy was held scoreless; the pair combined to go 1-17 from the floor.

Notre Dame (24-8) advances to challenge Florida State in the semifinals, while Virginia (22-10) will await their NCAA Tournament seeding.

Tweets from throughout the game:

Semifinals Preview

#1 North Carolina (27-6, 14-4) vs. #5 Duke (25-8, 11-7)
7:00 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  North Carolina- 1st, Duke- 5th
AP Poll:  North Carolina- 6th, Duke- 14th
Regular Season:  Feb. 9 in Durham:  Duke 86, North Carolina 78;  Mar. 4 in Chapel Hill:  North Carolina 90, Duke 83

#2 Florida State (24-7, 12-6) vs. #3 Notre Dame (23-8, 12-6)
appr. 9:30 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Florida State- 3rd, Notre Dame- 6th
AP Poll:  Florida State- 16th, Notre Dame- 22nd
Regular Season:  Feb. 18 in Tallahassee:  Florida State 83, Notre Dame 80;  Feb. 11 in South Bend:  Notre Dame 84, Florida State 72

For commentary throughout the ACC Tournament and most major sporting events, follow me on Twitter:  @cstiles24

For what it’s worth….
My ACC Tournament Record:  8-3

First Round
Record:  2-1
Second Round Record:  3-1
Quarterfinals Record:  3-1