Thursday’s quarterfinal action at the ACC Tournament saw each of the top four seeds take care of business to advance to Friday’s semifinal round. Although Miami took its collective foot off the gas to allow Wake Forest to make things close down the stretch in Thursday’s opener, the Canes led comfortably throughout most of the second half, and showed signs of a team that can make a lot of noise in the next couple of weeks.
Speaking of noise, that’s exacly the sound that will come from the thousands of Duke fans who will cram into the Greensboro Coliseum Friday night as the lone in-state representative left in the field.
Blue Devil fans must have woken up elated on Friday morning, knowing that all three of their in-state rivals - and their biggest competition for ACC Tournament tickets the next two days - were all beaten on Thursday. While Tobacco Road mainstays Wake Forest, UNC, and N.C. State were eliminated by Miami, Virginia, and Clemson, Duke shot a blistering 62.1 percent from the floor in blowing out Pittsburgh.
The Duke-Miami showdown will not only determine one of the slots in Saturday night’s championship game, but it may also determine which ACC school gets the highest seed in the Big Dance.
Although Miami finished ahead of Duke in the regular season standings by one game - the two teams split a pair of regular season matchups - the hot finish for the Blue Devils, combined with a high-pressure March victory on a national stage, should be just the thing for Duke to catapult ahead of Miami in the seedings on Selection Sunday. The same goes in reverse for the Canes.
Meanwhile, Virginia and Clemson will meet in another battle of old-school ACC bluebloods who are also seeking to improve their NCAA Tournament positioning. Both the Cavaliers and Tigers used their well-earned double byes to their advantage Thursday night, looking strong in dispatching the two local sentimental favorites, North Carolina and N.C. State. It all makes for an interesting night of basketball to come at the Greensboro Coliseum.
No. 4 Duke (24-8, 14-6) vs. No. 1 Miami (25-6, 15-5), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
It can be argued that few, if any, teams in the country could have beaten Duke on Thursday afternoon. The Blue Devils could do little wrong against a familiar face in Jeff Capel and Pittsburgh, as they made 11 3-pointers and committed just eight turnovers. Duke breezed to an early 12-0 lead and never looked back, leading by as much as 36 points at one point in the second half. Blue Devils head coach Jon Scheyer probably wishes he could have saved a few of those 3-pointers for Friday night, knowing they’ll need them against a Miami team that will likely be much more stingy on the defensive end of the floor.
On its way to a berth in the semifinal round, Miami held Wake Forest to just 40.9 percent shooting in Thursday’s opening game, and led by 15 points heading into the final minutes before the Demon Deacons made a spirited last-gasp rally. By and large, the Canes looked like the ACC regular season champion against Wake Forest, as they shot 52.5 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Demon Deacons. But the late meltdown is certainly cause for concern for head coach Jim Larranaga, as a similar slip-up against the Blue Devils could mean going home.
Friday night’s game features a head-to-head showdown between two of the more talented players in the league in Duke’s Kyle Filipowski and Miami’s Jordan Miller. Filipowski was sensational on Thursday, igniting Duke’s fast start with two early 3-pointers, and then overcoming a brief ankle scare by finishing with 22 points on a remarkable 8-of-10 shooting from the floor in just 15 minutes of action. Likewise, Miller was outstanding in leading the Canes to victory over Wake Forest, scoring 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting. The matchup alone is worth the price of admission.
It could be said a week ago that Duke is the hottest team right now in the ACC. But after taking down North Carolina in Chapel Hill and completely dismantling Pitt on Thursday, the case can now be made that the Blue Devils may be the hottest team in the entire country. That theory will get put to the test in a big way on Friday night against Miami. But with a supportive crowd behind them, the Blue Devils are poised for another big win.
The pick: Duke 79, Miami 76
No. 3 Clemson (23-9, 14-6) vs. No. 2 Virginia (24-6, 15-5), 9:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Although the battle between Duke and Miami will get most of the national attention heading into Friday night, the second semifinal between Clemson and Virginia has just as much intrigue. Both looked like top seeds in their quarterfinal wins on Thursday. Virginia limited UNC to 35.8 percent shooting and put together an 11-0 second half run that proved decisive against the Tar Heels, while the Tigers shot 50 percent from the field and held N.C. State to just 19 second half points in their 26-point romp.
The Tigers had four players in double figures in scoring in the victory, led by P.J. Hall and Ian Schieffelin’s 15 points. Any doubt that Clemson wasn’t a deserving NCAA team should be over after the way Brad Brownell’s club dominated N.C. State in the second half on Thursday night.
One of the keys for Clemson all season has been defensive rebounding. The Tigers ranked second in the ACC this winter with 26.4 rebounds an outing. Attacking the glass will be especially vital against a Virginia team that eats up clock and limits opposing scoring opportunities with its relentless defense. Clemson can’t afford to give the Cavaliers a lot of second-chance scoring opportunities on top of controlling the clock.
Although Virginia looked brilliant at times on Thursday night, they will need an even more consistent effort on Friday night to beat a Clemson team with something to prove. It would appear as though the Tigers have taken on some of this NCAA talk this week with a chip on their shoulder. Despite the naysayers, the Tigers completely dominated a N.C. State team that many had ahead of Clemson in the NCAA Tournament prognostications despite Clemson’s higher seeding, and their blowout regular season win in Raleigh.
The pick: Clemson 73, Virginia 69
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