Yes, top-seeded Miami and Duke are the odds-on favorites. But unlike the top-heavy tourneys of yore, at least five teams—including North Carolina, N.C. State and Virginia—enter this weekend with a realistic hope of winning the ACC conference crown.
But no matter who cuts the nets down this Sunday, more ink will again be spilled chronicling and diagnosing the ongoing erosion of the college basketball conference tournament. Whenever articles are written on this subject, however, the true objects of lament are really the major conferences. Small and mid-major tournaments are thrilling as ever, as schools in the Ohio Valley or Big South tournaments aren’t just playing for conference glory; they’re fighting for their one shot at the Big Dance.
While major conference tourneys continue to publish capacity attendances, actual turnstile figures and the basic eyeball test tell a different story. The ACC released sold-out attendance figures for the 2010 tournament in Greensboro, but the average turnstile number per session was only 15,690. Despite changes in ticket allocation between the member schools beginning in 2011, empty seats pervaded Philips Arena in Atlanta throughout tournament weekend last year, particularly the perennially poorly-attended Thursday sessions.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM Whether or not it’s the greatest rivalry in college sports may be up for debate, but it’s the best rivalry in college basketball.
Maybe in basketball, period.
The Blue Devils won the men’s contest pretty easily last night at the Smith Center.
Today the women’s squads are squaring off for the ACC championship, in — with thanks to Warren G. Harding — a return to normalcy after last year’s bizarre Maryland-Georgia Tech final for which a great crowd showed up anyway.
Duke has won six straight in the series and of course won both regular-season meetings, destroying the Tar Heels 84-63 on Feb. 3 at Carmichael but winning only 65-58 a week ago at Cameron.
Both teams have fought hard to get here, as this week underdog teams have not gone away easily. The only real blowout in the tournament has been an upset, as No. 10 Wake Forest took out No. 7 Georgia Tech by 19 points in the first round.
This one isn’t close, as freshman Alexis Jones’ career high matches teammate Elizabeth Williams’ 24 points as the Blue Devils coast 92-73.
Duke marched into the Smith Center and calmly — and cruelly — scored the game’s first 14 points, instilling in UNC a sense of a panic from which the Tar Heels never recovered. Whatever other analysis you read elsewhere, one team took the court prepared to compete and the other simply did not.
Carolina never made a serious run. The Tar Heels hobbled into the halftime break down 42-24, and they failed to generate any sustained momentum during the second frame, ultimately falling 68-53. Duke’s meager second half scoring performance occurred because the Devils opted to slow the tempo and limit the number of possessions Carolina would have to creep back into the game.
Duke accomplished all this while shooting only 33 percent on threes, nailing them early but going cold as the game progressed. The bigger story was that the Devils attempted only 15. Knowing UNC would aggressively switch screens to deny them perimeter looks, Duke spread the floor and isolated Carolina’s smaller lineup to create high percentage attempts for drivers and center Mason Plumlee.
The senior center hasn’t played as consistently during the second half of the season but enjoyed a prime performance last night. He tallied 23 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 10-for-15 from the floor. Another senior, Seth Curry, contributed his most devastating blows early and scored 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
For the game, Duke shot 55 percent to Carolina’s 34 percent. That’s not an accident: Duke’s offense harmoniously created open shots, while the Devils’ defense simultaneously harassed UNC’s shooters into contested and increasingly desperate attempts.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM By the time we get to the second Saturday semifinal, only the three teams that have ever won the ACC Women’s Tournament in Greensboro are still around.
So one of the big teams has finally got to go.
The teams split a pair of regular-season meetings, with the Tar Heels prevailing 60-57 on Jan. 3 in Chapel Hill and falling 85-59 on Jan. 24 in College Park.
Both will be headed to the NCAA Tournament regardless.
It doesn’t look that way for quite a while, but this turns out to be the Tar Heels’ day.
Sparked by a career-high 17 points — all in the final nine minutes — from reserve sophomore guard Latifah Coleman, the Tar Heels trail 38-24 at the break before achieving the second biggest comeback in the tournament’s history in a 72-65 win.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM All the pretenders and Cinderellas are gone at the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The first game of the doubleheader features No. 1 seed Duke (28-2) against No. 4 seed Florida State (22-8).
Duke, ranked No. 6 nationally, is 6-0 against the Seminoles, ranked No. 23, all-time in ACC Tournament play.
And the Blue Devils won the only regular-season meeting 61-50 in Tallahassee on Feb. 22.
Duke prevails again but has to work very hard to get it done, advancing to the title game with a 72-66 win.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM UNC comes into the ACC Women’s Tournament with a pretty tough assignment.
But the teams seeded No. 8 and below have all overperformed so far in the tournament, and BC is on a two-game winning streak.
It almost goes to three, but Tierra Ruffin-Pratt pulls the Tar Heels together in the closing minutes of a 62-57 win.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM The last time Duke and N.C. State met in this building, the Wolfpack pulled a monumental upset.
Again Duke (27-2), which is ranked No. 6 in the country, is the tournament’s top seed. State (16-15), which escaped Clemson 56-45 in the first round on Thursday less than 20 hours before Tiger coach Itoro Coleman lost her job, is seeded No. 8.
State won 75-73 in this spot last season. And on Jan. 3 at Reynolds Coliseum, Duke had one of its closer calls this season in a 67-57 win.
This time Duke is better in the final few minutes, pulling away for a 79-65 victory.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM These two teams allegedly just don’t like each other.
The Seminoles are 21-8, ranked No. 23 in the latest AP poll and certainly headed for the NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes are 21-9 and may or may not be on the bubble.
FSU won both regular-season meetings, 86-65 on Jan. 13 in Tallahassee and 93-78 on Feb. 10 in Coral Gables.
Duke alumna Katie Meier coaches the Hurricanes.
Today FSU leads most of the way, holding on for a 70-58 victory.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM Marissa Kastanek repeated as the Kay Yow scholar athlete of the year in ACC women’s basketball, leading a group of eight Triangle-area players on the conference’s all-academic team.
Duke placed five players on the squad while the Wolfpack had three.
No other school had more than two.
Wolfpack teammates junior Kody Burke and freshman Ashley Eli also made the team.
Duke placed senior Allison Vernerey along with juniors Chelsea Gray, Tricia Liston and Haley Peters and freshman Alexis Jones.
Members of the team must have at least a 3.0 GPA from the previous semester and a cumulative 3.0 for their college careers.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM Lower-seeded teams have been overperforming all day long in the 36th ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament, and we’ll see if it continues in the nightcap.
The same two teams met in the first round last season, with the Cavaliers rolling 72-41.
The teams split a pair of meetings during the regular season, with Virginia winning 69-57 on Jan. 24 in Charlottesville while the Eagles won 61-49 on Feb. 14 in Chestnut Hill.
Duke alumna Joanne Boyle coaches Virginia.
Tonight BC comes out believing, then foils a Cavalier rally in the second half to escape with a 66-57 win.