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ACC Tournament: Chasing The NCAA

Wednesday was a spectacular day in the ACC Tournament.

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NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Virginia Tech vs Notre Dame
Mar 7, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Austin Torres (1) reacts during the second half of a second round game of the 2018 ACC tournament against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Barclays Center. 
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga qualified for the NCAA Tournament Tuesday night – the 20th consecutive time the Zags have earned a bid.

How does that stack up?

It turns out that Gonzaga’s current run is the fourth best active streak in college basketball. It’s better than 14 of the 15 ACC schools.

Duke is the one exception. The Blue Devils are working on a streak of 22 straight bids – soon to be 23 when they qualify this year. The last time Duke missed was 1995 (the year of the bad back). Before that, Duke had 11 straight tournaments, so the Devils have been to 33 of the last 34 tournaments.

Michigan State last missed in 1997, so the Spartans are working on a 21-year streak (assuming they get in this year). But the record is held by Kansas, which has participated in every tournament since 1989 – this year will be the 28th straight.

That’s the longest streak in NCAA history – topping the previous best of 27 straight years that was set by North Carolina (1975-2001). Of course, the Heels were cheating during at least the last nine years of that streak, so take it with a grain of salt.

UNC also has the second-longest active streak among ACC schools. This year will be the eight straight bid they’ve received since missing in 2010.

The current NCAA streaks for ACC schools (not counting this season):

  • Duke – 22
  • UNC – 7
  • Virginia – 4
  • Notre Dame – 3
  • Miami – 2
  • FSU – 1
  • Virginia Tech – 1
  • Louisville – 1
  • Wake Forest - 1

The Deacs aren’t going to make is this year and Notre Dame is at least a question mark. The rest of the ACC schools listed should extend their streaks.

In addition, Clemson is going to end the third-longest streak of NCAA futility. The list of ACC schools that have missed the tournament:

Boston College – 9 seasons

Georgia Tech – 8 seasons

Clemson – 6 seasons

Pitt – 2 seasons

N.C. State – 1 season

Syracuse – 1 season

N.C. State is also likely to end its streak with a bid this week. Syracuse certainly has a chance.

All of that will be decided over the next three days. Heading into the quarterfinals lineup:

Game Eight

Noon: No. 1 Virginia (28-2) vs. Louisville (20-12)

A week after the greatest choke job in ACC history, Louisville gets another chance against No. 1 Virginia.

The Cardinals need the victory to assure an NCAA bid. Of course, had they held on last week – up four with two seconds to play – they’d be safely in the field. Now, who knows? But with a loss today, they probably play in Dayton if they get in.

Virginia is probably a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament no matter what. But the Cavs have won just two ACC championships (1976, 2014) in their history and certainly don’t want to blow a chance to add a third.

Louisville has had particular trouble against Virginia in the Tony Bennett era. The near victory last week came about because the Cardinals did a good job against the Virginia offense – helped by an injury that sidelined Kyle Guy late in the game.

David Padgett’s team needs to play with the same energy and offensive panache that the team showed against Florida State. At the very least, the Cards secured their first-ever ACC Tournament win.

Pomeroy gives the Cavaliers an 80 percent chance to win.

Game Nine

2 p.m.: No. 4 Clemson (22-8) vs. Boston College (19-14).

The Eagles are on a mini-run after beating Georgia Tech and N.C. State in Brooklyn.

Can they make it a major run?

The Tigers won the one regular season matchup by four in Chestnut Hills. If course, that was before Dante Grantham was lost for the season.

The Eagles are getting great play from their three guards, especially Jerome Robinson and Kyle Bowman. One key in Brooklyn has been the improved play of center Nick Popovic.

Clemson has been a team that has overachieved all season. But an accumulation of injuries has led to four losses in the last six games.

BC is playing with a lot of confidence and momentum at the moment. But its top players are playing a lot of minutes. Will that start to catch up with them?

Pomeroy rates Clemson a 71 percent favorite.

BTW: Jerome Robinson scored 26 against the Pack, raising his season average to 20.85 ppg. He’s still a bit behind Duke’s Marvin Bagley (21.0) for the ACC scoring lead – but its close.

Game 10

7 p.m. No. 2 Duke (25-6) vs. Notre Dame (20-13)

Notre Dame dodged the NIT (at least temporarily) with an incredible comeback Wednesday night against Virginia Tech. The Irish were down 21 points late in the first half.

Bonzie Colson did not have a great game, although he hit an incredible 3-pointer that proved to be the shot of the game. Matt Farrell was the Irish star – not only did he score 22 points, but he provoked VPI’s Chris Clarke into a game-turning technical.

Here’s the thing – when Duke beat Notre Dame in Cameron, neither Colson nor Farrell played. That’s the team’s two best players.

Notre Dame is healthy now, but playing its third game in three days. How much energy does the Irish team have left? There were times Wednesday night when they looked gassed against Virginia Tech – especially Colson – but they did come back to win late.

This will be the fourth straight year that Duke and Notre Dame have met in the ACC Tournament. The Irish beat Duke in the semifinals in 2015 en route to the title. Notre Dame staged a wild comeback into 2016 to win in overtime in a quarterfinal matchup. Duke won in the finals last season to claim the title.

Pomeroy gives Duke a 77 percent change to win this matchup.

Game 11

9 p.m. No. 3 Miami (22-8) vs. No. 6 North Carolina (23-9)

Just as Louisville is trying to erase a bitter memory in the first game of the day, North Carolina gets a chance to exact revenge in the day’s final game.

Just over a week ago, Miami came into Chapel Hill and ruined UNC’s Senior Day. Everybody remembers J’Quan Newton’s 40-foot game winner, but the fact is the ‘Canes pretty much dominated the game until a late UNC rally tied things up in the final seconds.

Can Jim Larranaga’s team repeat that feat on a neutral court in Brooklyn?

Keep an eye on 5-foot-7 Chris Lykes, who is developing into the best small guard in the ACC since Muggsy Bogues.

The Hurricanes are entering the game on a four-game winning streak that includes wins at UNC and Notre Dame. Of course, the four wins have been by a total of eight points.

There are times when North Carolina looks like a national power, but there are times when they look quite ordinary. I think the difference is 3-point shots – like several recent Duke teams, the Heels can beat anybody when the shots are falling, but can be beat when they are not.

Exits

Florida State (20-11) – The Seminoles expect to get an NCAA bid Sunday – even after their first-half meltdown against Louisville in the ACC Tournament.

‘Expect’ to get a bid … but it’s not certain. And FSU could be going to Dayton for a play-in game. Simply, they didn’t help themselves in Brooklyn.

Either way, it’s very unlikely this team makes the second weekend of the tournament. FSU has gone 4-6 in its last 10 and has been unable to put together good performances. But in a one-game setting, they could be dangerous – this is a team that beat Florida, North Carolina, Miami and Clemson.

Next year?

The Seminoles had better accomplish something this year, because it’s going to be tough to be better next year. Leonard Hamilton will lose Phil Cofer and Braiain Angola, two of his steadiest contributors. So far, he’s not adding any significant new talent. So any improvement will have to come from within.

There are still a lot of talented athletes on hand --- maybe one or two of them will make significant strides in the off-season.

N.C. State (21-11) – Like FSU, N.C. State expects to get an NCAA bid. But it’s likely to be a very poor seed. Dreams of getting a 4-5-6 seed with a strong showing in Brooklyn were extinguished by the hot-shooting Eagles.

So the bad news is that N.C. State is likely to get a very tough opening opponent in the NCAA Tournament (unless they drop all the way to Dayton). The good news is that they have proven they can beat a very tough team – they knocked off Duke, Arizona, North Carolina and Clemson this season.

State has a bright future under Kevin Keatts. There could be a bit of a dropoff next season as Al Freeman, Sam Hunt, Abdul Malik-Abu and Lennard Freeman all graduate. But maybe not. Keatts has three more transfers practicing with the team. Torn Dorn, Braxton Beverly and Markell Johnson all return and are joined by four four-star recruits, including center Immanuel Bates out of Fayetteville.

The key to next year’s hopes may depend on Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven. A year ago, he entered the draft and withdrew. He blossomed as a sophomore under Keatts. Will he stick around for his junior year?

Virginia Tech (21-11) – Virginia Tech will make its second straight NCAA trip this year, although the team is likely to get a very poor seed that will make it tough to stick around for long.

The team did lose three of its last four games – the one exception being the last-second win over Duke in Blacksburg.

The Hokes do have a strong floor leader in Justin Robinson, a gifted all-around player in Chris Clarke and several capable 3-point shooters. There’s not any size beyond foul-prone center Kerry Blackshear.

Buzz Williams seems well set up going forward. He returns Robinson, Clark, Blackshear and gets Tyrone Outlaw, the best 3-point shooter in the league a year ago, back from injury. He’s adding two four-star recruits, but both are in the 6-4, 6-5 range. Unless Williams finds another big man or two, the Hokes look like a middle of the pack team again next year.

Syracuse (20-13) – Most of the experts think the Orange will miss the tourney with last night’s loss. Maybe – Jim Boeheim and company will definitely sweat the days before the NCAA selection late Sunday afternoon.

If the Orange miss the NCAA Tournament, I hope they will take the NIT more seriously than last year … or else refuse to participate.

The thing is, Syracuse is better poised than most ACC teams to make major strides next season. Every rotation player is schedule to return next season – and a couple of freshmen big men have the potential to be outstanding players next season as sophomore.

On top of that, the Orange has signed a spectacular recruit – five-star forward Darius Bazley of Cincinnati. BTW: Boeheim has also signed a three-star shooting guard named Buddy Boeheim.

That will be interesting to watch.

Durham passes away

Finally, a note about Woody Durham’s passing.

It’s one of the great coincidences of ACC basketball that the voice of the Tar Heels and the voice of the Blue Devils through so many decades of Duke-UNC dominance should have been childhood friends growing up in Salisbury, N.C., both attending Albemarle High School.

Bob Harris, now retired, and Woody were a standard of excellence in the broadcasting business.

Woody began his career as a student at UNC. His career pretty much covered the Dean Smith era in Chapel Hill.

Woody’s son – Wes Durham – is a first-rate play-by-play man today for the ACC Network. He is working the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. Offered the chance to take time off due to his father’s death, he elected to stay at the microphone.

For all the bitterness that has come to characterize the Duke-Carolina rivalry, Woody Durham was a good man and an excellent announcer. He will be missed.

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