The ACC Tournament is down to four teams now: Virginia, UNC, Georgia Tech and Florida State.
One of these is not like the others.
Florida State moves into Friday’s games without having yet played because Duke had to withdraw from the tournament after a Covid diagnosis.
That could be a plus or a minus. FSU will play UNC and the Heels have looked good so far and beat Florida State last time out. We’ll get back to that in a minute.
Virginia had the second thrilling ending in his year’s tournament, following Notre Dame’s remarkable play to finish off stubborn Wake Forest.
In this one, Reece Beekman, who at some point is likely to end up with a student-designed logo of his own, given his name, hit a clutch three on the right side of the circle with time running down.
It was his only points of the night and after he hit it, he took off downcourt, avoiding the dog pile and instead getting lots of pats on the back near the Syracuse bench. Quite a moment for the freshman.
It was a tough loss for Syracuse which nearly played its way to a Friday matchup with Georgia Tech and a game they might have won.
Virginia’s front court had a nice day: Jay Huff had 13 points and 12 boards while Sam Hauser scored 21 and Trey Murphy had 15.
Buddy Boeheim had another big game with 31 but Virginia put a blanket over Joe Girard (three points), Alan Griffin (three points and Marek Dolezaj (six points).
People don't seem to talk about this very much but one of the things that Virginia is just brilliant at is managing close games. It’s really pretty amazing how often they walk away with those wins.
Georgia Tech got a stiff game from the very admirable Miami Hurricanes before winning thanks to Jose Alvarado: Up just 68-66 with 24.7 left, Usher nearly threw the inbounds pass away.
Alvarado chased it down on the far baseline though, near the Miami bench, and tossed it back to Bubba Parham, who then gave it back to Alvarado who spotted Usher heading downcourt. He hit Usher, who made up for his mistake with a dunk, giving Tech a four-point lead with 16.5 left.
The last 17 seconds weren’t exactly brilliant for either team: Miami turnover, GT missed free throw, Miami missed three, GT turnover, Miami missed three.
But none of that takes away from the brilliance Alvarado showed on that play. It was very similar, though with more time and an easier shot, than the play Virginia’s Clark pulled off two years ago against Purdue to put that game in overtime.
It was a stunning play in a lot of ways: he bailed Usher out, saved the ball then spotted the open scorer.
All just like that.
It will go down in Tech history as one of the greatest plays by a Yellow Jacket in ACC Tournament history. Keep in mind that he could take advantage of the bonus year the NCAA is offering, but also that he’s a new dad and may want to start making a living too.
He could always compromise and transfer to Kentucky.
Miami showed such heart in Greensboro. On Wednesday, Jim Larranaga said his team was running on fumes and they almost won a third time. It reminds us of one of the things we disliked about Tony Bennett’s predecessor at Virginia, Dave Leitao, who said that only winning mattered and implied that great effort in losing was fundamentally irrelevant.
Well it’s not. What Miami did in Greensboro showed immense resilience and pride. This team lost nearly all of its starters and went to Greensboro with a seven player rotation and arguably only two of them ACC-level players.
We don't want to get carried away here by saying it was a heroic performance. We’ve seen a lot of heroes lately, many of whom have died. But those guys stuck together and did something that really seemed impossible on Tuesday. We could not be more impressed and we hope Miami fans realize what they just witnessed. In olden times, they would have written songs and poems about men who fought that hard against the inevitable.
UNC and Virginia Tech was interesting in different ways.
Like everyone else lately, the Hokies had fits with UNC’s size and rebounding. The four big men combined for 36 points, 28 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
You can talk all you want about positionless basketball and all the rest but the fundamental truth of basketball is inescapable: size matters. We don’t mean that you have to chain guys to the post but in basketball, big ultimately trumps little. Zion Williamson shooting 70 percent is better than a guard shooting 35 percent from three point range.
And all that talk sort of ignores rebounding and UNC, again, crushed it on the boards, winning the offensive end 15-7 and defensive boards 28-25.
It wasn’t as bad as what the Heels did to Notre Dame but all four big guys - Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler - are capable of a double-double on any given night.
It’s a major advantage and that doesn’t even get into defense.
So Friday’s bracket is set: Virginia and Georgia Tech will play at 6:30 while UNC and Florida State will square off at 9:00.
The UVa-Tech game is going to be very intense defensively and watch Alvarado and Clark go at each other. That’s going to be fun.
Moses Wright has had a remarkable career for Georgia Tech, coming in with no stars and now a senior and the ACC Player of the Year.
In two regular season meetings this year, Wright struggled against Virginia, scoring 13 in the first game and just eight in the second.
It’s also likely to be low-scoring. The first game was a 64-62 win for the ‘Hoos and the second was another Virginia win, 57-49.
In the first game, Virginia’s Jay Huff and Sam Hauser combined for 40 points; in the second, just 14. However, Trey Murphy and Kihei Clark managed 32 between them.
Georgia Tech can pull this off but they’ll have to up their normally very good defensive game or else get much more out of Wright and some other guys too.
The nightcap should be a higher-scoring affair. UNC and FSU split in the regular season with both games fairly close.
Unlike most ACC teams, Florida State can challenge UNC’s front line. They’re not as big and talented overall but Balsa Koprivica, at 7-1 and 240, won’t get pushed around too much. The ‘Noles also have Malik Osborne, who is 6-9 and 225, RaiQuan Gray, who is 6-8 and 260, and Quincy Ballard and Tanor Ngom, 6-11/240 and 7-1/236 respectively who at a minimum can push back.
They also have Scottie Barnes, and the 6-9 freshman can play at least four positions and kind of play them all at once. He’s just incredibly versatile and he can certainly defend. He should be valuable in this game.
But that’s not everything Florida State has to throw at the Heels. Leonard Hamilton can press and turn a team over and get a lot of points in transition. And he also has something increasingly rare in college basketball: a senior point guard in MJ Walker.
However, unlike Bennett, he’s not always good in close games and Florida State, at times, does incomprehensible things in close games.
But UNC has been erratic this year too. But they’ve won three straight and four of five since losing (badly) to Marquette at home on February 24th.
This game should be tight and dramatic and, somewhat like the UNC-Michigan championship game in 1993, may well come down to a late mistake.
Unlike that game though, we’re not absolutely certain that UNC’s opponent will be the team making the mistake.
One more transfer for Pitt: sophomore Gerald Drumgoole is gone. He’s not a huge loss.
Friday’s ACC Tournament Action
- #4 Georgia Tech vs. #1 Virginia || 6:30 || ESPN2
- #6 UNC vs. #2 Florida State || 9:00 || ESPN