Earlier in the season, there was a meme/media consensus that the basketball schools collectively known as Tobacco Road (it's not very complimentary if you read the actual book, by the way) were all, if not done for, then at least on hiatus. On Saturday, the Triangle schools blew that whole idea out of the water.
Duke had a memorable and taut game with Maryland, which the Devils won. Carolina took body blows from Pitt and emerged with another win - six in a row now, actually.
In Syracuse, only a turnover and a questionable call separated State from taking down #1 and undefeated Syracuse on its homecourt. Imagine - this is the team which lost to NC Central earlier this year (as we've learned since, for anyone who's paying attention anyway, Central is a good team and likely to end up with a shot at Duke in the NCAAs). And Duke had a mesmerizing game with Maryland, particularly the last 10 minutes or so.
So those rumors of Tobacco Road demise? Not anymore.
Pitt has now lost four of six since the Duke game. Notre Dame is just 13-12 and mired in 12th place. Only Syracuse is dominant, and it's a very thin dominance, largely because the Orange has Tyler Ennis and no one else does.
And against State, the super composed freshman was a bit rattled and actually made some critical mistakes, including fouling Ralston Turner while shooting a three. Then he was called for charging. We haven't really seen that from him.
TJ Warren broke loose and nearly scored a layup but was fouled by Trevor Cooney and since Syracuse was under the limit, instead of a three point play or a pair of foul shots, State had to take the ball out with 14 seconds left. With just seven seconds left, Syracuse stole the ball and Ennis - who else? - hit CJ Fair for a layup and a one-point lead.
State still got two more shots but missed them, and so the chance for a remarkable upset disappeared.
State fans, used to psychic trauma, took to Twitter and vented rather hilariously. But they're missing the point.
How in the hell does a team return just three players, lose early to Central, and get good enough by February to nearly take out the #1 team in the country - on its own court? It's hard work by the players and brilliant coaching. Mark Gottfried was not without controversy when he was hired, but we don't think anyone would be too upset about State didn't do on Saturday night. Focus instead on how radically improved this team is, and that Gottfried is looking like an excellent coach. Other than a handful of mistakes, State was superb in the Dome.
As for UNC, a few weeks ago, this team was not going to beat Pitt. And despite UNC's improvement, it was really close. Check it out (Pitt's first):
Field goal percentage: 40.6% to 44.3%.
Free throws: 15-23 to 15-25.
Rebounds: 40 to 40 and 17 offensive to 16.
Turnovers: 14 to 13.
The difference? Surprisingly, three point shooting. Pitt hit 4-15 while UNC hit 6-14.
James Michael McAdoo hit 11-18 from the floor and finished with 24, while Marcus Paige managed 18 including 5-6 from three point range.
With the win, UNC moves into fourth place and State is within stalking distance of the fourth and final bye.
Wake Forest was somewhat less felicitous. The Deacs started off brilliantly against Florida State but couldn't sustain it and lost 67-60, blowing a 16 point lead in the process.
Needless to say, this won't help Jeff Bzdelik with the folks who want him gone and the sooner the better. At 14-11, the argument for keeping Bzdelik is growing weak.
Virginia has really struggled at Clemson the last several years, but the Cavs broke through and won 63-58.
Mike Tobey was 7-9 from the floor, and he and Malcolm Brogdon hit 14 each. Joe Harris added 16 and a critical late three pointer.
Virginia has now won nine straight and since January have only lost to Duke.
Miami and Virginia Tech had a tussle and somewhat surprisingly, Virginia Tech won. It was just the Hokies second ACC win. Miami falls under .500 again.
Just one game on Sunday as Notre Dame and BC face off. By any logic, Notre Dame should be favored, but BC has shown some signs lately.