Another day in the ACC, and two more exciting games, as Wake and State battled to an impressive finish, and UNC survived a great effort by Florida State.
The Pack won after overcoming a seven point lead late in the game, and one of the great closing shots of recent years: after Ish Smith hit (another) clutch basket to tie the game,
65-65. Ben McCauley threw the ball in to Gavin Grant, who came down and took a shot,which missed. McCauley was trailing and dunked it home, bringing up, inevitably, echoes of Lorenzo Charles and his famous dunk in Albuquerque. Barry Jacobs breaks it down nicely here. State and Wake are both a ways from getting a bid still, but the Pack could conceivably pull it off with another strong close. As for Wake, the young Deacs will need to learn how to win on the road.
|ACC STANDINGS & DBR Best Bets!|
|In Like Flynn|
|Can still make the field|
|Hanging by a thread|
|NIT-bound if they finish above .500, although
Miami could still make a move.
Toss out the Duke game, and since getting blown out by UNC and Clemson, State is playing much, much better - and really, the Duke game was a question of the second half. They could go 6-3 down the stretch, and a 20-win, 9-7 ACC record might do the trick.
Then again, they could still freak out. This is Team Turmoil, even in remission. You just never know.
On another nice note, there are always a few guys around the conference we like and pull for. Lately it's been Chas McFarland, Bombale Osby, Matt Causey, Ben McCauley, and Trevor Ferguson. We talked about him a bit last year - he seems like a bright, eager guy and someone who would be a great teammate. Nice to see him get some opportunities in this game.
Okay, we know everyone wants to get started on Duke-UNC, so let's go, via FSU. The most important development in this game, which UNC won in overtime, was the injury - a high ankle sprain - to Tywon Lawson. He went down early and said after the game that he doubts he'll be ready for Duke on Wednesday.
For the uninitiated: this is the classic UNC James Brown routine. Meaning? Well, if you ever saw James Brown live (and what a pity if you didn't), he always had a routine where "the hardest working man in show business" was too tired to go on, and someone would come to escort the exhausted superstar off the stage. Wrapped in a cape, he would go hobbling off, leaning on his helper. Then, at the last second, he would throw off the cape, dramatically revive, rush back to the mike, and kick things into overdrive.
That's the normal routine when UNC has a player listed as "doubtful." So don't be surprised to see Lawson thorw off the cloak and rush back to the mike, or in his case, the point, and run his team with aplomb. It's an ancient tradition in Chapel Hill and a very effective one.
The injury looked quite ugly, though, and there was no fakery about the pain he expressed. Ryan Reid - you'll recall he's the guy who slapped Greg Paulus - pulled him down with the ball and rolled over his leg. But never discount the James Brown routine.
But give FSU credit: the 'Noles are drowing in the rough waters of the ACC, crippled by injuries and a depleted frontcourt, but they went down swinging in this one, taking UNC to overtime before yielding. Who expected that? FSU gave Duke a game before falling behind, but they've now lost five of their last six conference games.
UNC is still an imposing team. You don't have to like Tyler Hansbrough to respect his amazing productivity, and truth be told, every team in the ACC would love to have him. We're quite sure Mike Krzyzewski has thought from time to time that he and Hansbrough are on the same wavelength when it comes to intensity. He doesn't have Christian Laettner's love of being the villain or his clutch instinct, but he's got some of his meanness. And UNC has some wonderful athletes. Will Graves might get some serious minutes at Duke since he could bring a big athletic body to the frontcourt. At UNC, he gets garbage time. Duke could find a lot to do with Deon Thompson or Alex Stepheson, too. Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard - these are all really good players, and beating them isn't going to be easy, even without Lawson.
However, the perception of UNC as a juggernaut, as an inevitable Final Four team, that's probably over. They have as good a shot as anyone, and they'll probably be a #1 seed, probably should be in fact, but the story line has changed.
Before, if they failed to make it, it would have been seen as a massive failure. Now, they are a team with two point guards out (although Lawson won't be out indefinitely, but a high ankel sprain is often a nagging problem) and some real uncertainties. If they make it, it'll be that they overcame, and people will write about their grit and character.
If they don't, there are very logical explanations and it would be a season of lost potential, but not as devastating as, say, Duke's 1999 loss to UConn, or, for that matter, UNC's loss to B.C. when they had Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse, among other future NBA players.
For Florida State, odds are that the new A.D., whoever he ends up being - oh wait, they just found someone, Randy Spetman of Utah State, via the Air Force Academy - will take a long, hard look at the basketball program.
Spetman will be introduced Sunday. Spetman inherited Stew Morrill at Utah State, where he's been for nine years, but remember all that success at Air Force recently? He's the guy who got that ball rolling. Think about that for a second: this guy came into a dead-end job, basketball-wise, and managed to hire the right guy to make them seriously dangerous. He might have done it twice (we're not familiar with the entire chronology).
There's no particular reason FSU should consistently stink at basketball, of course, and there are some striking young talents he could pursue. Anthony Grant, of course, Butler's Brad Stevens, Arizona assistant Josh Pastner, Xavier's Sean Miller, SIU's Chris Lowery - Leonard Hamilton has basically broken even for his run at FSU. Is that good enough?