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Al Featherston On Friday At The ACC Tournament!

TAMPA --When Miami coach Frank Haith was growing up in Burlington, N.C., he learned just how important the ACC Tournament is on Tobacco Road. He can remember going to school and seeing the teachers wheel out television sets on the Friday of the ACC Tournament.

Haith is young enough to think of the ACC Tournament in its modern Friday-Saturday-Sunday incarnation. But the truth is that until 1982, the tournament was traditionally played on Thursday, Friday night and Saturday night. There was a one-year aberration in 1978, when ABC’s Wide World of Sports wanted to televise the championship game on Sunday afternoon. To make that work, the conference played its first round on Thursday and the semifinals on Friday as usual, then skipped Saturday. The Duke-Wake Forest game that Sunday afternoon was the first ACC title game to be nationally televised.

The tourney returned to its old format the next year and didn’t morph into its current form until 1982 in Greensboro, when the James Worthy-Sam Perkins-Michael Jordan North Carolina team edged Ralph Sampson and Virginia, 47-45, in a Sunday afternoon finale. The spectacle of those two great teams holding the ball for most of the second half -- in front of a national TV audience -- helped ignite the drive for a shot clock.

The ACC’s various expansions have gradually made Thursday relevant again. And Friday has gone from being the real opening day of the tournament (as it was for almost two decades) to a by-way on the path to the tournament title.

Of course, there is no way that this year’s four Friday games could match the drama that Thursday’s first round produced at the St. Pete Times Forum. Four games … four classics (unless you happen to be a Duke, Maryland, Clemson or Georgia Tech fan).

The day had everything -- great performances, a controversial ending, a monumental upset (all four first-round games were technically upsets, but Miami’s victory over Maryland was truly stunning), three overtimes and the highest scoring game in ACC history. By the time Anthony Morrow’s potential game-tying jumper rolled off the rim and the buzzer sounded at the end of the second overtime of Wake Forest’s 114-112 victory over Georgia Tech, it almost 1 a.m. and everybody involved -- players, fans, media, coaches, officials -- were drained.

“When you’re playing in that atmosphere, you don’t realize what’s going on -- you’re just playing the game you love,” Wake Forest sophomore Harvey Hale, who scored 21 points AFTER the end of regulation -- said. “They just kept fighting and we kept fighting and guys were tired and guys were let down … we just give a lot of credit to Georgia Tech because they didn’t lay down and we didn’t lay down. There has to be a winner and a loser and we just came out with the win today.”

There was no way that Friday’s four games could match Thursday’s drama. Indeed, the opener was a stinker. Florida State was fighting to stay in the game with North Carolina as the first half wound down. The ‘Noles actually had the ball with a chance to cut into a 30-26 lead with a minute to play. But Toney Douglas missed an ill-advised 3-pointer and Carolina scored six straight points -- including four in the final six seconds. The way the half ended so infuriated Leonard Hamilton that he drew a technical foul that UNC shot to open the second half. Hamilton, probably understanding that the game had gotten away from his team as the half ended, stormed off the floor, shouldering his way past poor Doris Burke, who was waiting to do a quick ESPN interview with him.

North Carolina, up 12 after Wayne Ellington opened the second half with two technical foul free throws, cruised the rest of the way to a 73-58 victory, improving Roy Williams’ ACC Tournament record to 3-3.

Williams doesn’t try very hard to hide his distain for this event. He recently pointed out that every one of his four Final Four teams (three at Kansas and one at UNC) reached the national semifinals after losing in the conference tournament. He once called the ACC Tournament “the world’s biggest cocktail party” -- a phrase he repeated after Friday’s win.

“Everybody acts like I pooh-pooh the ACC Tournament because there’s this thought process that you play people for nine weeks, why do you have to play them all again in three days?” Williams said. But he also added, “Since we’re here, I want to win the sucker.”

Winning the tournament might mean something to North Carolina -- the Tar Heels are still playing for a No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. As of Friday morning, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi listed UNC as a No. 2 seed, while Jerry Palm of still had the Heels as a No. 1.

As it now stands, Ohio State is the only team with a No. 1 seed locked up. UCLA’s loss to California Thursday probably helps UNC’s chances of landing a top seed. But Kansas, Florida, Wisconsin and maybe even Pittsburgh could make a case if they win their conference tournaments.

The quarterfinal loss leaves Florida State very firmly on the NCAA bubble. Both Palm and Lunardi had them as one of the last at-large teams in -- as of Friday morning. But after last season’s disappointment, Hamilton won’t rest until he sees (or doesn’t see) FSU’s name on the board Sunday night.

“We’ll handle it,” Hamilton said about the wait. “There aren’t many teams in the country that have played as many top 40 teams. We haven’t lost to anybody in the top 50. We think we’ve met the criteria to get in.”

Hamilton’s point about playing top 40 teams is interesting, since almost all the top teams in that category are from the ACC. In fact, Duke, UNC and Georgia Tech have played the most top 40 teams (12 apiece), while FSU and Clemson have played 11. Maryland, N.C. State and Boston College have played 10 each. The top non-ACC team is Kentucky, which has played nine top 40 opponents.


Friday’s other three games had far less NCAA Tournament impact. Boston College, Virginia Tech and Virginia are safely in the field -- they’re merely playing for a better seeding. Miami, N.C. State and Wake Forest aren’t going to be invited unless they win the ACC Tournament title and the automatic bid that goes with it.

Well, maybe there are NIT ramifications for the Wolfpack and Deacons. There’s a website -- -- that tracks the NIT seeding process in much the same way that Lunardi and Palm track the NCAA selection procedure. As of Friday morning, that site listed Clemson as an NIT No. 1 seed and had N.C. State projected as the last at-large team in the field. Wake Forest was one of eight NIT bubble teams (isn’t that mind-boggling … there’s now an NIT bubble?) that was on the outside, looking in.

Duke fans, in the aftermath of their abrupt ejection from the tournament, have to be wondering about the Blue Devils’ seeding. Only twice in Krzyzewski’s tenure (out of 22 NCAA appearances) has Duke been seeded lower than a No. 3 -- in 1985 when the Devils were a fifth seed and in 1996, when Duke was a No. 8.

This year’s seed will not be a top three spot. Palm projects the Devils after their loss to N,C. State as a No. 7 seed, while Lunardi has them as a No. 8. While neither bracketologist is perfect, both have a track record of getting the great majority of their picks within one seed. That means Duke will most likely be seeded somewhere between a No. 6 and a No. 9.

That’s going to make it tough to reach the Sweet 16, since a seed in that range guarantees a second-round game against one of the top teams in the tournament.

Does Duke have a case for a better seed?

Well, its current No. 16 RPI would suggest a No. 4 seed. Its 22 wins were compiled against the nation’s No. 3-rated schedule. Nobody played as many games against the top 50 as Duke’s 18 -- and only UNC had more top 50 wins than Duke’s nine. With non-conference opponents Davidson, Holy Cross, Marquette, Georgetown, Indiana and Gonzaga certain to be in the field, Duke will have played at least 14 games against teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament. If Georgia Tech, Florida State, Kent State and Air Force also make the field, Duke could play as many as 19 games against NCAA teams.

Against all that is a 1-8 record against the top 25 RPI teams and a 4-6 record in the final 10 games.

To be honest, anything between a No. 6 and a No. 8 seed would seem reasonable. ***

Miami offered a flashback to Thursday’s magic in Friday’s second game. The last-place Hurricanes did to Boston College exactly what they’d done to Maryland in the first round. In both cases, Haith’s underdogs opened a big lead, the tried to hold on for a narrow victory at the end.

Maryland couldn’t make the shot it needed to close the gap in the final seconds. Boston College did get that shot -- specifically a 3-pointer in the final minute of regulation from sophomore point guard Tyrese Rice. His high-arching shot from the top of the key hit the front of the rim, bounced off the backboard, then dropped in to force overtime.

It looked like he was channeling Harvey Hale or Anthony Morrow from the early hours of Friday morning.

At any rate, it was enough for Boston College, which pulled out the 74-71 victory in overtime when Miami, down one with 30 seconds left, ran 25 seconds off the clock and then threw up a hopeless shot (that hit the side of the backboard).

The win improves Al Skinner’s record in ACC Tournament play to 3-1, making him one of just three active coaches in the league with a winning record in tournament play -- Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (42-16) and N.C. State’s Sidney Lowe (2-0) are the others. UNC’s Williams (3-3) is, as of this moment, at .500.


There must be a lot of magic in that hideous red sports coach that Sidney Lowe has taken to wearing.

He wore it for the first time on the afternoon N.C. State upset North Carolina in Raleigh. He also wore it Thursday night when the Wolfpack upset Duke in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Lowe was also wearing it in Chapel Hill when N.C. State lost at UNC, but the Wolfpack fans I’ve spoken to refuse to count that game as a loss for the coach, since Lowe collapsed at halftime and was in the hospital as his team collapsed in the second half.

So Lowe is 3-0-1 in the red coat after Friday’s amazing 79-71 come-from-behind victory over Virginia.

“I’m going to try it again,” Lowe promised. “I hate to kill you people with it, but I’ve got to try it again.”

Lowe said he brought just the one red blazer to Tampa.

“It’s going to the dry cleaner right away,” he said, quickly adding, “But I’m changing everything else. I brought four pairs of pants, four shirts, the ties and the undergarments [to last four days].”

Lowe is not the first coach to find a superstitious outfit. Back in 1978, Duke’s Bill Foster wore the same mismatched plaid pants and blue sports coach during the Blue Devils’ magical March run. And N.C. State’s Norm Sloan treasured a red plaid sports coat during the Pack’s 1974 NCAA title drive. It became such a trademark that when N.C. State played a Heritage game in Reynolds Coliseum after Sloan’s death, then-coach Herb Sendek draped the distinctive coat over a chair.

Oddly, Jim Valvano, who had a million superstitions during his 1983 title run, was too much a sartorial dandy to lock into one lucky outfit.

Maybe Dave Leitao should visit a clothier.

The Virginia coach has done a great job this season with a team that features two very talented guards and not much else. But it’s becoming increasing obvious that the Cavaliers share of the ACC regular season title was primarily due to the easiest schedule in the unbalanced ACC and the league’s most impressive homecourt advantage.

Virginia is 16-1 at home this season. The Cavs are 4-9 away from the new John Paul Jones Arena, including a 1-3 mark on neutral courts. Despite winning a share of the ACC regular season title, Virginia came into Friday’s game with a mediocre No. 43 RPI -- one spot better than Clemson and seven spots worse than Florida State.

That’s not to suggest that the Cavaliers are a bubble team as FSU and Clemson clearly are, but don’t be surprised to see Virginia get a lower seed than several ACC teams that finished below the Cavs in the ACC standings.

[Note: Virginia’s overall record is actually 19-10 according to the NCAA, including a 3-9 mark on the road. The Cavs’ 59-52 victory over Division II UPR-Mayaguez in San Juan, P.R., on Dec. 21, doesn’t count in the NCAA’s eyes].


Virginia Tech put a stop to all the underdog foolishness late Friday night, knocking Wake Forest out in the second half after a tight first 20 minutes.

It was similar to UNC’s victory over Florida State in the first game of the quarterfinals. Those are the only two lopsided outcomes in the tournament’s first eight games.

Even if the victory was not memorable, it will be one that the Hokies will cherish. It’s the first ACC Tournament win for Seth Greenberg’s team. Virginia Tech was one-and-out in 2005 and 2006.

By getting a win in their third try, the Hokies tie North Carolina, which also lost its first two ACC Tournament wins. Georgia Tech and former league member South Carolina each lost three straight tournament games before getting their first win.

The record belongs to Clemson (who else?) which lost its first eight ACC Tournament games before finally getting a victory in its ninth try. It might be a good omen -- when Clemson finally won in 1962, the Tigers won their 10th game to reach the 1962 ACC Tournament finals.

To get to the finals this season, Virginia Tech will have to do what it hasn’t been able to do this season -- beat N.C. State. The Hokes lost to the Pack in Blacksburg and in Raleigh.



-- It was not a good day for Coach K’s protégés.

-- Jeff Capel, in his first year at Oklahoma, lost to top-seeded Kansas in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, while Tommy Amaker’s Michigan Wolverines put up a good fight, but lost to No. 1 ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.

That loss was not unexpected, but Michigan probably needed a win to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Amaker, who has not made an NCAA appearance in his six seasons at Michigan, doesn’t need another trip to the NIT. He’s under a lot of pressure -- immediately after the loss to Ohio State, the Detroit Free Press posted a poll titled: “Should Michigan Fire Tommy Amaker?”

Capel, of course, is still in his honeymoon period in Norman. He’s got a year or two before his fans start demanding that he beat the best team in that league.

Notre Dame’s Mike Brey is under a little more pressure, but even with Friday night’s hard-fought 84-82 loss to Big East regular season champion Georgetown in that league’s semifinals, the Irish are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. That will be the fourth NCAA trip in six years under Brey -- pretty good for a team that had not been in more than a decade before his arrival.

-- N.C. State’s comeback from a 40-26 halftime deficit against Virginia was the second best second-half comeback in tournament history.

The Pack was the victim of the top rally. Maryland erased a 45-26 deficit against N.C. State in the 2004 semifinals in Greensboro. That comeback was helped by one of the most bizarre technical fouls in ACC history -- Larry Rose called a momentum-changing T on a Wolfpack manager for taking too long to wipe the floor after a timeout.

-- Wolfpack freshman Brandon Costner added 22 points in the quarterfinals to the 30 he scored against Duke in the first round. He’ll still need 27 points Saturday to break the three-game record for an ACC freshman (78 by Phil Ford in 1975).

His 30-point performance against Duke tied him for the third-best freshman performance in tournament history. Georgia Tech’s Mark Price had a 33-point effort against Virginia in 1983; Wake Forest’s Chris King scored 31 against Duke in the 1989 quarterfinals; J.J. Redick scored 30 against N.C. State in the 2003 finals and Chris Paul scored 30 against Maryland in the 2004 quarterfinals.

It’s interesting that Costner and Redick were the only two freshmen to top 30 points in a victory. All of the others had their big scoring games in losing efforts.