March 9, 2011
By Wes Durham
“Urgency & Unknown Highlight First Day”
When the 58th ACC Tournament starts at noon on Thursday in Greensboro, the bottom eight teams of the conference take the floor. As the event begins, it appears that only four-teams are locks for next week’s NCAA Tournament. Regular season champ North Carolina, runner-up Duke, along with Florida State and Boston College appear to be “locks” going into the event.
That would leave No. 4 seed Clemson in need of a win to perhaps lock up a spot on Sunday. The Tigers play the winner of Boston College and Wake Forest on Friday. The Eagles are in the field of 68 according to most projections, but a win wouldn’t hurt them either. So that means there will be a sense of urgency with at least two teams as play begins on Thursday. There is also an “unknown” with a couple of others, who have either stumbled down the stretch or not lived up to their expectations or others during the course of the season.
#8 Virginia v. #9 Miami, 12 Noon (ACC Network)
These two teams only met once during the regular season (February 5), and the Hurricanes rallied from behind late in regulation and eventually won the game in overtime. Miami appeared to be finishing the regular season with a kick, but after Sunday’s loss in Atlanta to Georgia Tech, the unknown of the `Canes is back…and sometimes that’s not a good thing. During ACC play, Miami lost 4-straight and won three straight during a seven-game stretch. See what I mean.
Nobody in the ACC can touch the number of close games that Frank Haith’s team has played this year. 10 times this year they have been involved in games that were 5-points or less, or went to overtime (Miami went 3-5 v. ACC in that area). The tightness of the tournament shouldn’t bother them.
Virginia finished with a kick. The Cavaliers win at Maryland capped a five-game run that saw Tony Bennett’s second team post 4-wins, including road victories at Georgia Tech and Maryland, to close the regular season. But the hidden secret in Virginia’s success is that in their last four games, they have averaged 7.2 turnovers per game. Both of these teams had hoped to find a spot in the NCAA field, but might have to settle for an NIT invite next week. That being said, it doesn’t prevent either from making some noise in Greensboro.
#5 Boston College v. #12 Wake Forest, 2 p.m. (ACC Network)
After meeting last Sunday at Chestnut Hill, the Eagles and Deacons square off again. Steve Donahue’s first run through the ACC has been admirable, posting a 9-7 record, including 5-3 during the second half of the league season. Reggie Jackson earned first-team All-ACC honors along the way as well, which should boost the Eagles in Greensboro.
BC hit 58% of their shots against Wake on Sunday. In two of their last three games, the Eagles hit 50%+ from the floor. Shooting like that can carry you along way this weekend.
Wake Forest set a conference record on Sunday, and its one they would have rather not accomplished. The Deacons became the first team in ACC history to lose 15-conference games. Jeff Bzdelik’s first edition is one everyone wants to forget, including the coach himself.
The Deacons have lost 10-straight ACC games, and only two of those have been by less than 10-points. In fact, 13 of the 15 losses in conference play have been by 10 or more points. Ouch.
One encouraging note for Greensboro is their loss at Boston College on Sunday, the Deacons shot 50% from the field for just the second time this year against an ACC foe. In Greensboro, if the Deacons can win the boards, they might have a chance. Only once in conference play, did Wake have an edge in rebounds, but alas, it was in a 14-point loss at Clemson.
Travis McKie was named to the All-Freshman team earlier this week. In a dark time for Wake Forest, McKie is a bright spot for the future of the Deacons. If his improvement from this year to next is shared across the board by the rest of the Deacons, then Bzdelik’s second team could be very different from his first.
#7 Maryland v. #10 NC State, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
I don’t know what to make of Maryland’s final three-games. The Terps were poised to make a February run toward the NCAA field, then all of a sudden, a losing skid punctuated by poor shooting. The 11-point loss at Carolina can be accepted. A 14-point loss at Miami raised some eyebrows, but then another 14-point loss at home to rival Virginia, has caused a stir.
The Terps might be the biggest unknown in Greensboro. Jordan Williams has been sensational in his sophomore season, but Maryland has to score more points and get production from other guys. The magic number for them in Greensboro is 75. They are 13-2 when they score 75 points this season.
NC State went to the semi-finals last year before falling to Georgia Tech. Again this March, the Wolfpack find themselves in the role of “spoiler” at the tournament. Sidney Lowe has yet to finish above 9th in the ACC regular season during his tenure at West Raleigh.
The Pack limped home to close the regular season, losing four of their last five games, and eight of their last 11 ACC games. Only four-times in conference play did the Wolfpack shoot over 45% or better from the field. They also posted 10+ turnovers in their last five games, and seven of their last eight.
The one thing State has going for them is success in the tournament. A semi-final run last year, but don’t forget that Lowe took a lower-seeded State team to the finals in 2007, at Tampa. At this event, that intangible means something, particularly since expansion, when the lower-seed upset has become common place.
#6 Virginia Tech v. #11 Georgia Tech, 9:30 (ACC Network)
Here’s the “urgency” portion of the first day. Once again, Virginia Tech finds itself in peril of making the NCAA tournament. 12-days ago, the Hokies looked like a “lock”. Even Dick Vitale put Seth Greenberg’s team into the tournament after the home win over Duke. Now, after losses at home to Boston College and a road loss at Clemson, Virginia Tech finds itself in trouble.
The Hokies can ill afford to have a slip up against the Jackets, but in late January, Georgia Tech handled Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Then the tables got reversed three-weeks later in Blacksburg. The difference in the two games is simple: rebounding.
Georgia Tech was -1 on the boards in the first game, and -21 in the second game. That stat along with the Jackets Brian Oliver pouring in 28 points at home, and being sidelined with a broken bone in his left thumb for the second game, could be the difference.
While Oliver makes his return to the floor Thursday night for the Jackets, they’ll need more than the sophomore sharp-shooter against a team that might possibly need to win two-games in Greensboro to solidify their spot in the field for Sunday night. In the end, the game is worth watching because of Malcolm Delaney and Iman Shumpert. Delaney popped the Jackets for 33 points in Blacksburg (9-14 FG, 5 ast/5 to), but had just 8 points (3-11 FG, 5 ast/8 to), in the game at Atlanta. Shumpert had a triple-double (22 pts., 12 reb., 11 ast) in Atlanta, and netted 27 points (9-18 FG, 6-13 3FG) in the loss at Blacksburg.
The two players might be worth the late bedtime on Thursday night.
Once again, Randy Waters and I are honored to join our colleagues in the ACC with IMG College for complete coverage of the tournament. Randy and I will broadcast the Georgia Tech – Virginia Tech game Thursday night, but we will also be involved with other games as well through the weekend. I’ll be doing the Miami-Virginia game at 12 noon Thursday, with Mark Freidinger, the longtime analyst of the Wake Forest Network.
Throughout the event, you’ll be treated to play-by-play from my great friends, Bill Roth (Voice of the Hokies) and Stan Cotten (Voice of the Deacons), and Thursday, legendary Duke voice Bob Harris joins our production for Maryland-NC State. You’ll get great insight from analyst like “Dinger”, Mike Burnop (Virginia Tech), and two former head coaches (Dave Odom & Wimp Sanderson). We hope you enjoy listening, because it’s a blast to work with these talented folks.
Randy and I will have full coverage of the semifinals and finals for you as well, along with some treats during the weekend too.