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Duke-State...Again...This Time In The 2015 ACC Tournament

One of the ACC's greatest rivalries resumes Thursday night in Greensboro.

Jan 11, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack forward Abu Abdul-Malik (0) pulls down a rebound in front of Duke Blue Devils forward Justise Winslow (12) during the second half at PNC Arena. North Carolina State won 87-75.
Jan 11, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack forward Abu Abdul-Malik (0) pulls down a rebound in front of Duke Blue Devils forward Justise Winslow (12) during the second half at PNC Arena. North Carolina State won 87-75.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

GREENSBORO - No two teams have met as often in the history of the ACC Tournament as Duke and N.C. State.

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They will meet for the 25th time in tournament play in Thursday night's semifinals of the 2015 ACC Tournament.

The two Triangle rivals met for the first time in the semifinals of the first ACC Tournament in 1954. Even though Duke had won both regular season matchups that season, N.C. State took the tournament victory and followed it up by beating Wake Forest in the next night's title game.

A year later, N.C. State knocked off Duke in the ACC championship game. Despite that loss, the Blue Devils made their first NCAA trip ever in 1955, since the Wolfpack was on probation.

That was the start of the tournament's greatest rivalry.

Over the years, Duke and N.C. State have met 24 times in ACC Tournament play. The next most prolific matchup is UNC-Wake (21 times), followed by Duke-UNC (20 times).

Duke had a tough time with Everett Case's Wolfpack in the early days of the ACC (and before that, in the last days of the Southern Conference). Between Case's first season (1947) and his retirement in 1965, State knocked Duke out of the tournament (either Southern of ACC) in 1948 (in the title game), 1950 (in the title game), 1951 (in the title game), 1952 (in the title game), 1954 (in the semifinals), 1955 (in the title game), 1956 (in the semifinals) and 1965 (in the title game).

Despite that early Wolfpack dominance of the series, Duke has fought back to gain a 15-9 edge in the series, including championship game victories in 1966, 2002 and 2003.

The Blue Devils have won six of seven tournament meetings since 1999, losing only in the first round in 2007.

Obviously, N.C. State won the only meeting this season, beating the Devils 87-75 in Raleigh.

The Wolfpack followed that win up with six losses in next eight games. But Mark Gottfried's team has finished strong, winning six of its last seven games. The one loss was a head-scratching defeat at Boston College, but the six wins (including victories at Louisville, at North Carolina and at Clemson) are impressive.

The Pack could hardly have been more impressive Wednesday night, blitzing Pittsburgh 81-70. N.C. State got a career game from sophomore guard Anthony "Cat" Barber. The blazing quick point guard exploded for 21 first-half points, hitting 4-of-4 3-pointers. He finished with 34 points and hit 12-of-12 free throws.

Barber got plenty of help from junior backcourt mate Trevor Lacey, who scored 21 points, and from the Pack's trio of low post bruisers - freshman Abdul-Malik Abu and sophomores Lennard Freeman and Bee Jay Anya.

N.C. State led Pitt by 14 at the half and was never seriously threatened in the second period.

A year ago, Duke beat N.C. State in the semifinals. But note this: in his first three seasons at N.C. State, Gottfried has reached the ACC Tournament semifinals each year. To do that this season, the Pack must get by Duke Thursday.

Whatever happens, it will be another chapter of the ACC Tournament's best rivalry.


The opening round of the ACC Tournament has come to be known as the Les Robinson Invitational. And Thursday's four games are clearly the quarterfinals.

But under the current format, what do we call the four games played on Wednesday?

I guess it could be the second round, but that doesn't have much flavor. Allow me to suggest a new name for Wednesday's games: The Bubble Round.

It seems to me that the four (or, in normal years when all 15 teams participate, the six) teams that play on Tuesday are not in the running for the NCAA Tournament. And the four teams that earn byes straight into the quarterfinals are almost always going to be NCAA Tournament locks.

But the teams that make their ACC Tournament debuts on Wednesday are the teams caught in that netherworld between certainty and despair. They are the teams that still have a dream, but need to bolster that dream. In other words, those are the bubble teams.

Not everybody that starts play in the Bubble Round is on the Bubble. Nothing short of an ACC championship run would get Clemson or FSU into this year's NCAA Tournament. And Pittsburgh was almost as desperate - maybe, just maybe - the Panthers could have made it by winning three games and losing to Virginia in the title game. Obviously, that's moot after the Panthers' loss to N.C. State - they are NIT bound.

At the other end of the spectrum, fifth-seeded North Carolina is as certain of getting into the NCAA field as Virginia or Duke. The Tar Heels are merely playing for seeding position - and the ACC championship, of course.

That leaves two real bubble teams in this year's Bubble Round. Oddly, sixth-seeded Miami is usually considered to be on the wrong side of the bubble, while seventh seeded N.C. State is usually rated on the right side of the bubble.

Of course, bubble speculation is just that. Nobody - not Joe Lunardi, not Jerry Palm and certainly not me - know what the committee is going to do. I do know that what happens here in Greensboro is not happening in a vacuum. The outcome of a dozen other conferences tournaments will impact the bubble chances for the ACC's bubble teams.

Here's what I think:

(1) N.C. State was probably in anyway, but after Wednesday night's victory over Pitt, the Pack is not only in, but likely to miss the play-in round at Dayton.

(2) Miami still has work to do. Wednesday's victory over Virginia Tech wasn't much help. A victory over the last-place ACC team (and one that ranks outside the top 100 of the RPI) isn't much of an addition to the Hurricane resume.

Now, a win Thursday over third-seeded Notre Dame would be a different story. Let the 'Canes win that one and I suspect they would be in. Lose it and they can join Pitt in the NIT.


Olivier Hanlan, the ACC's scoring leader, averages 4.2 assists a game - not bad (9th best in the ACC), but nothing spectacular.

Boston College coach Jim Christian suggests that Hanlan's assist totals are deflated by the lack of talent around him.

"He's really our only good 3-point shooter," Christian said. "But he's also so good at driving the late and kicking out to an open 3-point shooter on the perimeter. It's just that we don't have the shooters to take advantage of that. Put him on a good shooting team and he'd average eight assists a game."

All coaches are aware that assists require a teammate to finish the play. A point guard can make the best pass in the world, but if his teammate misses the shot or gets fouled while shooting, there is no assist.

That's why many coaches use an internal stat that's usually called "a coach's assist." Dean Smith was famous for telling coaches after the game "ah, the way we keep assists …" He was not suggesting that the stat keeper was short-changing his player, merely that for coaching purposes, a better number was how many passes should have led to assists.

All playmakers lose assists when teammates miss. But is Christian right that Hanlan in particularly vulnerable?

I tried to keep track of coach's assists during BC's two games in Greensboro.

Hanlan was officially credited with five assists and one turnover against Georgia Tech. By my count, he lost two assists on interior passes - one when John Cain Carney blew a layup and one when Aaron Brown was fouled when shooting. But Christian was right about the 3-point setups. Hanlan drove and kicked to a wide open shooter six times against the Jackets. His teammates made two of those six shots. He also had three drive and kicks where he set up a shooter for a wide open shot and the teammate refused to pull the trigger.

Against North Carolina, Hanlan finished with four assists. I counted six drive and dishes to a wide open 3-point shooter. Aaron Brown hit one (he also had an air ball). Hanlan also fed Dennis Clifford twice inside for easy shots. He drew the two shot foul on one and missed the other.

I think Christian's estimate of eight assists a game with better teammates is reasonable.


John Prouty was one of college basketball's pioneer statistical gurus. He created the ACC Stat Book in 1993 and began developing a player ranking system in 1994.

His system is built on what he calls the "Grant Hill Theory." He knew that Hill was the ACC's best player in 1994, but the Duke star led the ACC in no significant statistical categories. So he devised a system that would reflect Hill's superiority. It includes numbers that measure shooting efficiency, total offensive contribution per minute played, net possessions gained and a win rating (measuring how much contribution a player makes to a team's wins).

Prouty calls his system "semi-advanced metrics."

His 2015 rankings have not been widely publicized, but are interesting. His systems ranks Notre Dame's Jerian Grant as the top ACC player in 2015. But the next three players on his list play for Duke: No. 2 Jahlil Okafor, No. 3 Tyus Jones and No. 4 Quinn Cook. Justice Winslow comes in at No. 11 in the league.

The list does have some debatable results - the top Virginia player is Malcolm Brogdon at No. 8 and first-team All-ACC pick Olivier Hanlan comes in way down at No. 21 (hurt by a very low win rating).


Florida State 76, Clemson 73

The first game of the Wednesday session looked like the first clunker of the tournament as Florida State built a 20-point lead over an inept Clemson team with nine minutes to play.

Then something happened … I'm not sure what.

Before most of the 14,000 or so fans in the Greensboro Coliseum realized it, the Tigers were back in the game. And with about two minutes to play, FSU forgot how to inbounds the ball and that gave Clemson a hell of a chance to stage one of the most remarkable rallies in ACC Tournament history.

Senior Rod Hall, who might have just played the last game of his college career, led the comeback with a career high 25 points. He had a chance to tie in the final 20 seconds, but his driving layup - the way he scored most of his points - hung on the rim for an agonizing second before it dropped off.

Clemson got one final chance as FSU's Phil Cofer missed one of two free throws at the other end, but freshman Gabe DeVoe, who had hit a couple of extremely long-range 3s, missed from in front of the Clemson bench and Jaron Blossomgame, who rebounded, missed the follow shot at the buzzer - which, come to think of it, was a bonehead play since even if his shot goes in, the Tigers still lose by one.

The hero for Florida State was freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who set an FSU Tournament scoring record with 30 points. The 'Noles earned a shot at top-seeded Virginia in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon.

For Clemson, it's a trip home and a long wait for the NIT selection show. At 16-15 the Tigers are definitely on the NIT bubble.

UNC 81, Boston College 61

Any chance Boston College had of pulling the upset was dashed when Olivier Hanlan came out cold.

Actually, the BC star hit the first shot of the game, a ridiculously easy driving layup.

But Hanlan missed his next seven shots and finished the half a frigid 2-for-10. He stretched that to 2-of-14 before he finally made a few late. He finished with 18 points on 5-of-19 shooting, including 1-of-5 from 3-point range and 7-of-10 from the line.

Credit UNC - especially J. P. Tokoto - with playing some physical, aggressive defense on the BC star, but he still missed quite a few shots he normally hits - shots he would have had to hit to threaten an upset. It didn't help that senior Patrick Heckmann picked up his third foul early in the game and had to sit out the last 10 minutes of the first half.

Even with all that and with UNC off to a torrid start from 3-point range (5-of-9 at one point), the Eagles still had a ghost of a chance with 11 minutes to play. They had trimmed a 15-point deficit to 54-46 and had four chances to cut the margin further.

But Hanlan had a 3-pointer go halfway down and pop out; Heckmann threw the ball away; Heckmann missed a wide open 3 and Dimitri Batten missed as he tried to post Marcus Paige in the lane.

UNC then scored six straight points and the game was essentially over.

It was a good opener for the Tar Heels. Roy Williams was able to give center Kennedy Meeks the game off - he watched on the bench in street clothes - and he cleared his bench, giving guys like Jackson Simmons and Isaiah Hicks plenty of strong minutes.

UNC (22-10) will take on No. 4 seed Louisville Thursday in the late afternoon game.

Miami 59, Virginia Tech 49

It wasn't pretty, but Miami made the plays down the stretch to take out a stubborn Virginia Tech team.

The Hokies couldn't match Tuesday's offensive brilliance. VPI hit just 3-of-15 3-point attempts and freshman Jalen Hudson, who scored a spectacular 32 points against Wake Forest, came in with just five points on this occasion.

Still, it was a 44-43 game with just over five minutes left when Miami's Davon Reed connected on a clutch 3-pointer from the top of the key off a pass from soph Manu Lecomte. Moments later, Lecomte hit two free throws and Deandre Burnett hit another 3-pointer to give the 'Canes some breathing room.

Miami wrapped it up with some solid free throw shooting down the stretch.

Neither team was brilliant, but it was the 21st victory of the season for Miami. Beating the Hokies (11-22) probably didn't get them into the NCAA Tournament, but it does give them a chance to add a more significant win Thursday against Notre Dame.