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2018 ACC Tournament: The Final Four

As the ACC gets down to brass tacks

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NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Notre Dame
 Mar 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Trevon Duval (1) reacts after dunking against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard TJ Gibbs (10) reacts during the second half of a quarterfinal game of the 2018 ACC tournament at Barclays Center. 
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Duke and North Carolina have dominated the ACC – winning 38 of 64 championships between them.

It’s therefore no surprise that the two rivals have clashed in the ACC Tournament over the years. The two schools have met 21 times in ACC Tournament play with Duke winning 13 and UNC winning eight.

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels will meet again tonight in the 2018 ACC Tournament semifinals. And here’s an interesting omen – in 19 of the 21 previous meetings, the winner of the Duke-UNC game has gone on to win the tournament.

Of course, 11 of the 21 previous matchups have come in the finals (UNC actually leads 6-5 in championship games). The two have met nine previous times in the semifinals (Duke leading 7-2).

Here’s another omen – Duke has won six straight tournament games over UNC since losing the 1998 finals.

Tonight’s game will be huge. It’s obviously a steppingstone to the 2018 championship. It will most likely determine which of the two teams gets to play in Charlotte in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. And it will play a major role in NCAA seeding.

I notice a long bracketology debate on the DBR message boards as to Duke’s seeding.

I think it’s very simple – if Duke wins the ACC Tournament, the Blue Devils will almost certainly be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If Duke loses short of the ACC title, the Devils will be a No. 2 seed.

Of course, whichever Blue wins tonight’s second game, they are very, VERY likely to find Virginia waiting in the finals. That would almost be a Final Four quality game.

Game 12

7 p.m. – No. 1 Virginia (29-2) vs. No. 4 Clemson (23-8)

It’s amazing how many people were expecting Boston College to knock off Clemson in the quarterfinals. But, then, people have been underestimating the Tigers all year. It started with the ACC media – we may have underrated Virginia (picking them sixth in the preseason), but we also picked Clemson 13th … and that was before they lost Dante Grantham, the Tigers’ best player.

That said, I’m going to underestimate Clemson again. I think they have almost no chance against the Cavaliers. The two teams met in Charlottesville in preseason and the Tigers scored 36 points (losing (61-36).

It’s going to be ugly.

Pomeroy gives Virginia a 73 percent chance to reach the finals. It is worth noting that in 64 years of ACC basketball, Clemson has twice won in the semifinals (1962m 2007) – both times beating Duke.

Game 13

9 p.m. – No. 2 Duke (26-5) vs. No. 6 North Carolina (24-9)

In contrast to the first game of the night, there are no certainties about this matchup. Duke and UNC split the season series, each winning at home.

Duke has pretty much dominated the last decade in the rivalry, sweeping in 2010, 2013 and 2015, while winning two of three in 2011 and 2017. UNC has not won a season series since 2009.

The oddity in this year’s matchups is that the two teams have reversed styles – Duke becoming a big man dominated, force-it-inside team, while UNC has taken the Duke model and lives and dies with the three point shot. And, amazing, in Durham, K went to his bench more often than Roy.

Pomeroy makes Duke a slight favorite, giving the Blue Devils a 63 chance to win. Injuries could be a factor – both Joel Berry and Cam Johnson went down (and returned) in the second half against Miami, while Coach K said Wendell Carter was nursing a sore foot.

Exits

Kevin Stallings, Pitt – It’s true that Pitt suffered through one of the worst seasons in ACC history – 0-19 in the league and 8-24 overall.

But I think what hurt the former Vanderbilt coach most was his lousy season in 2017. It was not historically bad, but he inherited a team almost intact that went 21-12 (9-9 in the ACC) and turned it into a 16-17 team (4-14 in the ACC) – despite seniors James Artis, Michael Young, Chris Jones, Shelton Jeter and junior Cameron Johnson.

This year’s team suffered from the defection of Cameron Johnson (stolen by the Cheats) and the injury to Ryan Luther. It never had a chance.

The problem is that recruiting is going nowhere and while next year’s season might be a little better with Luther and some experienced players returning, the long-range outlook is as dismal as this season proved to be.

It will be interesting to see who Pitt lands as a replacement. They are talking about retreads such as Tom Crean and Thad Motta – but how are they any different than Stallings? Pitt needs an energetic young coach, willing to commit to a long-term rebuilding effort.

Louisville (20-13) – There is still an outside chance the Cardinals will earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but it seems unlikely after Thursday’s loss to Virginia.

This has been a disjoined season, starting with the dismissal of head coach Rick Pitino and most of his staff and continuing a couple of weeks ago when the program was stripped of its 2013 national title.

It’s going to be a tumultuous offseason. Will David Padgett be retained as head coach? Will there by a player exodus out of Louisville?

Quentin Snider and Anas Mahmoud will graduate. There is at least a chance that Deng Adel and Ray Spaulding bolt for the NBA. There are no significant recruits lined up.

The immediate future looks very uncertain for one of the nation’s best programs.

Boston College (19-14) – A great two-day run in Brooklyn solidified the Eagles as an NIT team, which would be a huge step forward for this program.

There are still more steps to take. The next step is to move into NCAA contention.

That should come next season as BC returns every key player off this year’s team and adds promising 6-8 Jarius Hamilton of Concord, N. C.

On paper, that should be a first-division ACC team, provided everyone returns as expected. There is some concern that Jerome Robinson, the ACC player of the year runnerup, will test the NBA waters.

Notre Dame (20-14) – The Irish are another ACC team that will sweat the next three days. Most of the bracketologists have them out.

It’s a shame that this season has been sidetracked by injuries. Mike Brey starts three seniors (Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben). He will have T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger back and injured D.J. Harvey should have a full year.

Brey is rebuilding with four top 100 recruits – a good class that will be the foundation pf another good Notre Dame team … in a couple of years.

Miami (22-9) – No doubt that Miami gets an NCAA bid, even with the loss to UNC. The Hurricanes are good enough to win a game or two in the tournament.

But this team won’t go real deep into the tournament.

It will be older next year with Lonnie Walker and Chris Lykes getting experience.

The question is who comes back? Will Bruce Brown return after missing most of this season with an injury? Will Lonnie Walker be one and done? What will Dewan Huell do?

Jim Larranaga has a lot of off-season questions to answer. So far, he does not have a lot of recruiting answers.

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