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On To The NCAA Tournament

Losing the ACC championship is disappointing, especially since Duke had such a good chance to win. The Blue Devils took an early knockdown punch from the Cavaliers, then got off the floor and traded blows on an even basis until just under three minutes left, when Virginia fashioned a quick spurt that Duke could not match.

Mar 16, 2014; Greensboro, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker (1) scores as Virginia Cavaliers guard London Perrantes (23) defends. The Cavilers defeated the Blue Devils 72-63 in the championship game of the ACC college basketball tournam
Mar 16, 2014; Greensboro, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker (1) scores as Virginia Cavaliers guard London Perrantes (23) defends. The Cavilers defeated the Blue Devils 72-63 in the championship game of the ACC college basketball tournam
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Jabari Parker won four state championships in his high school career.

After Duke lost the 2014 ACC championship game to Virginia Sunday, a reporter asked the freshman star how it felt to lose for a change. He seemed baffled by the question - the Virginia loss was more like losing the city championship to him. He understands that the ultimate title chase starts this week.

"In the past, I've lost city championships, but I changed my mentality to get a state championship," he said. "I know it's going to be twice as hard. Now, it's zero and zero and you've got to move on. I don't get a second chance anymore."

Losing the ACC championship is disappointing, especially since Duke had such a good chance to win. The Blue Devils took an early knockdown punch from the Cavaliers, then got off the floor and traded blows on an even basis until just under three minutes left, when Virginia fashioned a quick spurt that Duke could not match.

With the 72-63 victory, Virginia adds the ACC Championship to the regular season title that the Cavs won earlier. Any quibbles we might have with the unbalanced ACC regular season schedule have to be put to rest by Virginia's performance in Greensboro this weekend.

The Cavs are the true ACC champs - no debate.

By winning the ACC, Virginia earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke ended up with a No. 3 seed with the loss. Interestingly, both teams will start their NCAA journey this week in Raleigh.

Krzyzewski believes that his team is ready for the challenge.

"The heart of our team is great," Coach K said after the Virginia game. "Our kids played with great heart. So going forward into the NCAA Tournament, I think these three games have really helped us get to another level. I'm excited about our group and proud of them."

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It's possible that Duke got out of its month-long 3-point shooting slump in Greensboro. After a terrible long-range performance against Clemson (3-of-13), the Devils were back on target against N.C. State in the semifinals, hitting a solid 7-of-17 3-point tries (41 percent).

Duke was even better from long range against Virginia, hitting 8-of-14 attempts (57 percent).

The Devils averaged almost 43 percent from 3-point range in the first two-thirds of the season. If the last two games in Greensboro are any indication, Duke could be back on target going into the NCAA Tournament.

Duke has made the Final Four once as a No. 3 seed - in 1990, after a disappointing exit from the ACC Tournament in Charlotte, when Phil Henderson berated his teammates as "a bunch of babies."

That team was tough enough to reach the national title game in Denver.

For now, this team can worry about beat Mercer Friday.

Blue Devil fans should catch the play-in round from Dayton Wednesday. Iowa and Tennessee will meet with the winner taking on UMass Friday Raleigh in Duke's bracket.

One other piece of good news in the brackets. If Duke can win two games in Raleigh, the Blue Devils will advance to play in the Midwest Regional at the Lucas Oil Arena in Indianapolis, a very familiar and comfortable location for Coach K and this Duke team.


Through the 1995 ACC Tournament, every member of the media voted for the tournament MVP.

That year, two fringe media members - a pair of young ladies from a Washington, D.C., television station, cast ridiculous ballots with five Maryland players on the first team with Joe Smith as the MVP. Considering Maryland wasn't even in the finals (and Randolph Childress completed the greatest tournament performance in history), it was an embarrassing outcome.

In reaction, the ACC reluctantly decided to limit the voting pool. It's still a large group, but every voter is a legitimate journalist. I've been lucky enough to vote every year, except 2001, when I flew back from Atlanta on Sunday morning to write an NCAA story for my paper.

In that time (and in the 20 seasons before 1995), I have twice voted for a tourney MVP who didn't make the first-all-tourney team.

The first was J.J. Redick of Duke in 2003. It was ridiculous, the ACC picked up the ballots way too early and many voters missed Redick's late explosion - 20 points in the final 10 minutes or so to rally the Devils past N.C. State in the title game.

The second was Sunday, when I thought Akil Mitchell was the key player for a Virginia team that won the championship with defense and rebounding. Saturday, it was Mitchell who controlled Pitt's Talib Zanna (who was playing GREAT) down the stretch. Against Duke, he defended Jabari Parker - forcing the Duke star to take 24 shots to score 23 points.

"He should be one of the greatest defensive players in Virginia history," Parker said afterwards.

Mitchell scored just seven points against Duke, but he pulled down 15 rebounds, had two blocks and a steal.

He played a decisive role in the key moment of the game.

With three minutes left, Rasheed Sulaimon hit a long two-point jumper to pull Duke to within 59-57. At the other end, Malcolm Brogdon missed a shot, but Mitchell took the rebound away from Parker and Amile Jefferson and put it in to stretch Virginia's lead to four points.

Duke came down and went to Parker. But Mitchell took the ball away from him and passed up ahead to Joe Harris, who was wide open in transition and drained what proved to be the game-clinching 3-pointer.

I have no problem with anybody who voted Joe Harris - who did in fact win it - as the MVP. And I can see the case for Brogdon, who was very strong in the title game. But in my eyes, Mitchell was the player who made the difference in the championship game and in the tournament.

Anyway, I thought that since I ridiculed writers who made some oddball votes on the All-ACC team, I'd own up to my own eccentric choice.


Mike Krzyzewski picked up his first technical of the season in the first half.

Here's what happened from my vantage point (on the second press row, directly across from Coach K).

Krzyzewski wanted to complain about something (I think it was to argue that Andre Dawkins was fouled on the turnover he had just committed) to ref Jamie Luckie. But Luckie was on the other side of the court and refused to even make eye contact with the angry Duke coach. At first, Coach K barked at Jerry Heater, the backup ref who was seated at the end of the scorer's table nearest Krzyzewski. A few moments later, ref Tim Nestor came over and exchanged words with Coach K. The exchange didn't appear to be heated and after a few seconds, Nestor walked away. K gave Luckie another stare, then whirled and tossed a pen under his chair.

Luckie, who had been carefully avoiding making eye contact with Krzyzewsski, somehow saw the pen toss and immediately whistled the T.

After the game, Krzyzewski was pushing the bounds of ACC rules of coaching conduct with his comments about the T. He admitted that he threw a pen.

"Yeah, but you can throw a clipboard too," he said. "I didn't do it in reaction to anything. I can hit my head on the floor. I can do a handstand. I can tumble, as long as it's not a reaction to anything.

"There's no way there should have been a technical foul on that. I mean, that was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Shameful. Shameful."

Krzyzewski was as visibly upset about the officiating as I've ever seen him. He littered his postgame comments with subtle jabs about how the game was called. For instance, he was asked to comment about Jabari Parker's performance.

"He took 24 shots and only three free throws," the Duke coach said.

Actually, that's wrong. Parker got two of his free throws on a missed shot early. Statistically, that shot didn't count in his total attempts, but if you're going to match free throws and field goal attempts, it should be three free throws on 25 attempted shots. Some of that was because Parker settled for perimeter jumpers on a number of occasions … but he also consistently drew contact in the lane without getting a call.


Obviously, the announcement of the NCAA Tournament field Sunday night supersedes the work of the professional bracketologists. Guys like Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm can go back into hibernation until next fall, when they'll start updating their way-too-early 2015 brackets.

The question is: How did they do, compared to the real thing?

-- Lunardi and Palm agreed on the four No. 1 seeds: Florida, Arizona, Wichita State and Michigan.

I will give them a pass on Michigan, since it's clear that the lopsided loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game knocked the Wolverines off the No. 1 line. However, neither ever suggested Virginia as a No.; 1 candidate - as of Sunday morning, both had the Cavs as a No. 3 seed.

-- They disagreed on the No. 2 seeds. Both had Wisconsin and Villanova, but Lunardi also had Duke and Kansas … Palm had Iowa State and Louisville.

Advantage: Lunardi. He had three of four No. 2s, missing only on Duke. But like the Michigan miss at No. 1, that was before Duke's loss to Virginia in the ACC title game. Palm clearly overrated Iowa State and Louisville/

-- Lunardi's last four in were BYU, Xavier, Nebraska and Dayton. Palm's last four were BYU, Xavier, SMU, Tennessee.

Neither mentioned N.C. State (which was apparently the last team in) as even a possibility. Lunardi did get all four of his last four in, although No. 10 seed BYU was not in the last four. Palm was three for four, but missed on SMU, which missed the field due to a ridulously weak non-conference schedule.

The two bracketologists different wildly on the placement of the ACC's five teams. Lunardi was much more favorable to the ACC with Duke as a No. 2 seed, Virginia and Syracuse on the No. 3 line, UNC at No. 5 and Pitt at No. 9. Palm also put Virginia at No. 3, but he had Duke and Syracuse on the No. 4 line, UNC at No. 5 and Pitt at No. 10.

Although neither was right, give Lunardi the edge - the committee had a far more favorable view of the ACC than Palm's projection - Virginia at No. 1, Duke and Syracuse at No. 3, UNC at No. 6, Pitt at No. 9 and N.C. State in a play-in game.

Overall, I have to give the edge to Lunardi. That kills me because I've known and liked Jerry Palm for years and I always thought he was the best bracketologist. But this year, I'm afraid he was off his game.


There is no simple statistical way to rate the best players. At least there is none that has garnered widespread acceptance in the basketball community. Len Elmore has his system. Ken Pomeroy has is system.

John Prouty, who published the ACC Stat Book in 1993 and runs the website, has a rating system that several schools embrace. Prouty, a Maryland native who attended Wake Forest, has always focused on the ACC.

John showed me his ACC player ratings early in the week. His numbers measure offensive and defensive efficiency, but adds a third factor - percentage of minutes played multiplied by the team's winning percentage.

His overall season ratings had Duke's Jabari Parker No. 1, followed by C.J. Fair, Marcus Paige, Tyler Ennis with T.J. Warren and Lamar Patterson tied for fifth place.

But when John ran the numbers for ACC-only games, he got a different order. Topping the list was Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon, followed by Parker, Paige, Ennis and Fair. ACC player of the year T.J. Warren comes in at No. 7 on this list.

Obviously, those rankings aren't definitive, but they do provide an interesting perspective on the ACC this season.