WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM It might be time for the biggest basketball games of the year and the finish of playoff chases in hockey, and Major League Baseball is already running.
But in the Triangle, it’s spring football time for the local ACC schools.
Duke plays the first of the spring games today in a little bit of heat after some morning rains looked like they might soak everybody.
David Cutcliffe’s squad is coming off a 3-9 season in which it was once again competitive and about three plays away from a bowl game. But the program seems to be at least getting on a solid foundation and with a few breaks, challenging the middle of the ACC.
Duke will be missing a boatload of injured players for its annual spring contest, which will pit the best offensive players on the Blue team against the best defenders on the White. And it will be a standard football game except for its 12-minute quarters and the absence of any kickoffs with offenses simply starting play at their own 25 following touchdowns.
Today the top defense is better than top offense, as the Whites score the first 14 points en route to a 38-24 win.
RALEIGH, NC—When a team is mathematically eliminated from the National Hockey League playoffs, newspapers put a lower-case “e” in front of the team’s name in the NHL standings.
The Carolina Hurricanes don’t have their “e” yet, but somewhere a typesetter has taken it out of the drawer and polished its leaden face.
Still, there are five games left, including home games Friday and Saturday against Winnipeg and New Jersey, and there are good reasons to go to them.
A win over the Jets on Friday would leapfrog the Canes into third in the Southeast Division. Although this isn’t much consolation for missing the playoff cut, it’s something worth acknowledging. Carolina’s been in the division’s basement almost all year. Beat Winnipeg and they tromp up the stairs to the guest bedroom.
PNC ARENA/RALEIGH It’s supposed to be the best matchup in the NCAA Women’s Elite Eight this season.
Notre Dame’s semifinal contest on Sunday was a snoozer, a 79-35 romp over a St. Bonaventure team that didn’t seem ready for this level of prime time. And the Terps had eliminated defending tournament champion Texas A&M 81-74 after recovering from an 18-point deficit.
A classic Goliath vs. Goliath clone matchup, right?
Not exactly. Charismatic Irish point guard Skylar Diggins puts together her school’s first triple-double in 22 years, with game highs of 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in an 80-49 romp that looks like a typographical error.
Kendall Marshall was unable to play for the second straight game after fracturing his wrist versus Creighton last weekend, and his absence doomed UNC’s offense during the second half versus the Jayhawks.
Considering that backup point guard Dexter Strickland’s season ended in January after he tore his ACL, and that John Henson labored through a wrist sprain since the ACC Tournament and an ankle injury suffered early against Kansas, the Heels performed to reasonable expectation.
Harrison Barnes simply couldn’t achieve the level he did in last season’s tournament. He shot 5-for-14 to finish with 13 points. He missed all five three-point attempts, and the team as a whole made just 2-for-17 behind the arc. My very first column this season focused on Carolina’s suspect jump shooting and whether the Heels could improve their fortunes for the 2011-12 campaign, and they never proved able to stroke the ball consistently.
But while poor shooting regularly hampered these Heels, rebounding became a supreme strength. That’s why KU’s 40-30 edge on the glass surprised so many onlookers, though Henson’s numbed left wrist — he took a shot and applied cream for pain prior to the game — definitely contributed to the problem here, as he played only 25 minutes and hauled down just four rebounds (he averaged more than 10 per game).
Nearly as shocking is that Kansas doubled the Tar Heels in free throw attempts: 24-12. All-American big man Thomas Robinson scored 18 points and, along with center Jeff Withey, combined to shoot 11 free throws. Kansas was the stronger, more physical team, and the Jayhawks opted for a triangle-and-two defense — in effect, focusing on Zeller and daring UNC’s perimeter players to shoot — so KU always had a numbers advantage on the defensive glass.
PNC ARENA/RALEIGH Maryland will be carrying the ACC’s banner into the Raleigh Regional, and the Terps’ path to the Final Four is not an easy one.
Of course if Brenda Frese’s Terps get through this one they’ll look to take their winning streak to 12 games on Tuesday night, probably against last season’s NCAA runner-up and No. 1 seed Notre Dame (32-3) and glamorous point guard Skylar Diggins.
Maryland is one of three teams in the four-team field that has won an NCAA title, that coming in 2006 while Notre Dame got its championship in 2001. The outlier is No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure (31-3).
The Terps rise up from oblivion not once but twice during the game, scoring the last eight points over the final 3 ½ minutes to win 81-74. The other game isn’t nearly as competitive, as the Irish dominate from start to finish in a 79-35 rout.
TBS—One possession separated N.C. State from destiny: their first trip to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament since 1986 and, more tantalizing for North Carolina sports fanatics, arguably the most significant basketball game between the Wolfpack and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the schools’ storied rivalry.
In the end, N.C. State’s 60-57 loss to the Kansas Jayhawks at the Midwest Regionals in St. Louis unfolded like most Wolfpack games against ranked competition this season: shooting was poor, rebounding was strong, and turnovers were a bit high. And, like so many losses this season, the Pack squandered an early lead, were nearly put away by their opponent in the second half yet managed to stay close until the ignominious end.
And it’s certainly not the one we saw dismantle Duke in Durham early this month, before Kendall Marshall fractured his wrist last weekend against Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
So this compromised, ragtag and yet still very talented team closed its eyes and endured a potential nightmare against Ohio tonight. The Heels survived a harrowing second half— falling behind after building an early 15-point lead — to prevail 73-65 over the Bobcats and advance to the Elite Eight on Sunday.
Harrison Barnes came this close — I mean, this close — to becoming infamous for an epic choke on the big stage. Pundits everywhere called for the Black Falcon to soar in advance of this game, resuming the heroics he displayed last season, but Barnes shot just 3-for-16 and committed five turnovers. He did recover in overtime, however, knocking in a jump shot and critical free throws to help push the Heels to victory.
Tyler Zeller enjoyed a quietly spectacular game, if that’s possible. He racked up 20 points and 22 rebounds along with four blocks, but he did commit six turnovers and generally struggled to get inside position during the second half.
PNC ARENA, RALEIGH—I am skilled, as it turns out, at avoiding jinxes.
In order to snap my team out of a bad stretch of play in a game, I can sense just when to change clothing or turn my jersey inside-out. To fend off a favorite player’s injury in his first game back after a long concussion absence, I recently ate a hard-boiled egg while doing a handstand, knowing that such an absurd act would prompt the hockey gods to protect his noggin from further harm.
How, then, to approach the description of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 3-1 victory Wednesday night over the division-leading Florida Panthers? The primary storyline of this, the Canes’ fourth straight win, is obvious: the team’s now only five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with eight games remaining in the regular season. But, surely, even mentioning the playoffs at such a fragile moment would be a terrible jinx.
The Canes would essentially have to win out the rest of their schedule and hope for each of Washington, Winnipeg, and the streaking Buffalo Sabres to drop at least half their remaining games. Breathe a word about that and its mathematical possibility tumbles off the skate blade it’s balanced on. No jinx.
After all, there are plenty of other secondary storylines to yammer about after this win.
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL It’s pretty sure to be a good battle when No. 4 seed Georgia Tech takes on No. 5 seed Georgetown in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament on UNC’s home court.
These programs are almost mirroring each other at the moment.
Tech (25-8) has a senior class of five players that has the best four-year record in school history at 96-37.
Georgetown (23-8) has a senior class of seven players that has the best record in school history at 92-41.
And MaChelle Joseph’s Yellow Jackets have never been to a Sweet 16.
Until this time.
The Jackets take charge after the opening minutes and roll on to a comfortable 76-64 decision.
Nevertheless, the ACC beat writers for Indyweek Sports—which is what we’re calling ourselves nowadays; click and follow our new Google+ page for further proof—have been faithfully churning out copy. Adam Sobsey was our eye and ears for last weekend’s happenings in Greensboro, while Mike Potter has been tracking the NCAA Women’s Tournament from Chapel Hill and Raleigh.
Next weekend, North Carolina and N.C. State will fly to St. Louis for the Midwest Regional Finals, both teams one win away from the most epic showdown in the history of the schools’ basketball rivalry. After I offer some thoughts on N.C. State’s seemingly improbable run to the Sweet 16, Rob Harrington looks at the strategic fallout for North Carolina in the wake of Kendall Marshall’s injury. Finally, Mike Potter updates the recent (mis)fortunes of ACC teams in women’s postseason tournament play.