Semifinal Saturday at the ACC Tournament
It isn’t called March Madness for nothing.
Only in Conference-USA, where the Memphis Tigers look like they will never lose another game, have upsets been few and far between. “Carnage” is the only word that can adequately describe what’s been going on with the nation’s top teams this weekend throughout various conference tournaments.
In the ACC, Clemson got bounced on Thursday and Wake Forest fell on Friday, but the big shocker came on Saturday afternoon when No. 1 seed North Carolina went down to Florida State. Granted the loss was less surprising given the absence of ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson, but it stunned the college basketball world nonetheless. Some good news for the Heels? Duke does not get a chance to avenge its two regular-season losses against a Lawson-less North Carolina squad.
Florida State 73, North Carolina 70
There’s actually more good news for North Carolina. Because only fringe NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds Memphis and Louisville took care of business in their respective conference tournaments this weekend, the Heels are in no danger whatsoever of getting bumped down to a No. 2. Michigan State (Big 10), Oklahoma (Big 12), Pittsburgh and Connecticut (Big East) all failed to get the job done. Secondly, UNC now gets an extra day of rest prior to the Big Dance. At the very least the Tar Heels will have four days off before their next game. Lawson, nursing a much-publicized ankle injury, will have no less than six days before he is needed in a competitive game (North Carolina should be able to beat any No. 16 seed by at least 30 points even without Lawson playing a single second). Florida State, meanwhile, continues its steady climb up the NCAA Tournament s-curve and is in line for a No. 3 seed. Not bad for a school almost synonymous with the moniker “bubble team.” As for the game itself, FSU went toe-to-toe with Carolina for all 40 minutes, and–most surprisingly–the underdogs were the better team in the clutch moments. With his team down by one, Toney Douglas drained two free throws to put the Seminoles ahead. After a Tyler Hansbrough turnover (no, that’s not a misprint), Derwin Kitchen calmly sank two from the charity stripe for a three-point cushion. Both Wayne Ellington and Danny Green missed game-typing attempts in the final seconds, giving Florida State the win. In front of throngs of family and friends in his hometown of Atlanta, Douglas dropped 27 points one night after pouring in 25 against Georgia Tech.
Duke 67, Maryland 61
Semifinal Saturday at the ACC Tournament presented Maryland with an opportunity to take itself off the bubble and all but put itself squarely in the Big Dance. The Terrapins, however, could not capitalize and will have to suffer through a tense Selection Sunday after a six-point loss to Duke. But chances are good that Maryland’s two victories this weekend–highlighted by a quarterfinal win over No. 2 seed Wake Forest–are enough to put Gary Williams and company on the right side of the bubble. Thanks to Jon Scheyer, Duke was not about to give the Terrapins a free pass into the NCAA Tournament (and the ACC Tournament final). Scheyer scored 22 points and consistently drilled key three-pointers and free throws whenever Maryland thought about making a second-half run. Eric Hayes hit nine of 13 field-goal attempts for a career-high 20 points to keep the Terps relatively close, but the game was not as competitive as the 67-61 final suggests. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, most likely guaranteed themselves a No. 2 seed by avoiding an upset. They could have dropped to a No. 3 with a loss, and even a win over Florida State on Sunday won’t be near enough to garner a No. 1.