What a weekend it was across the ACC basketball landscape. In a year where college hoops as a whole has embraced the unlikely and unpredictable, this last two days across the conference was no different, with upsets and storylines galore.
Virginia Tech Upsets Florida State, Likely Knocking the Seminoles Off the Bubble
Virginia Tech entered play on Saturday afternoon at home against Florida State as loser of seven out of their past eight games. In the first half of their match-up against the Seminoles, it did not exactly look promising for the home team, as they struggled mightily from the floor and the free throw line, while giving up open looks on the defensive end that would make any coach cringe. The Hokies needed a life line and they needed it fast if they wanted any hope of salvaging their Saturday afternoon and earning a win against a hungry Seminoles squad that sat squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Seth Allen to the rescue. The redshirt junior guard scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, including a huge three with under two minutes to play to seal the victory. He, and fellow guard, freshman Justin Robinson (13 points), took turns burying crucial three point field goals down the stretch, as the Hokies completed the contest on a 25-9 run over the final nine minutes to earn the 83-73 victory. In a losing effort for Florida State, freshman guard Dwayne Bacon scored 22 points, while sophomore guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes finished with 14.
While it was a great victory for a young Virginia Tech team, this is a gut-wrenching defeat for the Seminoles, as they could not afford an upset if they had any hopes of getting to the NCAA Tournament. While Virginia Tech is a better basketball team than in years past, this will absolutely go down as a “bad loss” on the Florida State Tournament Resume. Now, more than likely, the only hope for the Seminoles is that they win the ACC Tournament, as they probably aren’t going to get in without winning the conference crown and earning the automatic bid.
Realistically, the ‘Noles will probably have trouble with their remaining three regular season games, as they have to go on the road to Duke, before closing their schedule with dates at home against Notre Dame and Syracuse. A tough schedule, plus a loss against a team like Virginia Tech, does not spell a recipe for success for the Seminoles, who are now looking at an NIT berth straight in the face unless they are able to pull some late season magic in Tallahassee.
North Carolina Recovers From Duke Defeat, Stomps Miami at Home
North Carolina needed a meaningful victory to get some positive mojo back around the program. After a tough Wednesday night loss to Duke at home in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels entered Saturday’s tilt with 11th-ranked Miami Hurricanes as losers of three of their previous five games. The last two and a half weeks or so dropped the ‘Heels from “clear favorite” in the ACC, to just another really good team in an extremely competitive basketball conference.
Roy Williams’ squad did not hesitate to answer the bell, as the Tar Heels dominated the home game against Miami from start to finish, throttling the Hurricanes 96-71. Senior forward Brice Johnson continued to stake his claim for ACC Player of the Year, as he followed up his 29 point, 19 rebound effort against Duke with a 16 point, 15 rebound performance in a victorious effort on Saturday. His motor seemingly never stops, and while his fit may not be obvious at the NBA level, he has made it obvious that whatever team ends up taking a chance on him will not regret doing so, as he has played well and made meaningful hustle plays in big moments throughout the season for North Carolina.
With the win, the Tar Heels were able to emerge alone at the top of the ACC standings, as they are now one game clear of Miami, Virginia, and Louisville (who is ineligible for postseason play) for the top seed in the ACC Tournament.
Louisville Edges Duke in Saturday Showdown at the Yum!
It was a pretty obvious spot for Duke to endure a letdown, as they were facing a tough road test against the relentless Louisville Cardinals less than 72 hours after an emotional road win against bitter rival North Carolina. Rick Pitino’s squad has looked every bit the part of a top 20 team, and has shown a ton of resilience of late, as they have managed to play extremely competitive basketball over the past few weeks, despite the self-sanction due to the recruiting scandal that will prevent an opportunity at any sort of postseason action next month. From the jump, the Cardinals fed off of the energy from the home crowd, playing extremely hard from start to finish in their victorious 71-64 effort at the KFC Yum! Center.
Duke really, really missed junior wing Matt Jones in this one, as he was unable to play due to the ankle sprain that he suffered early in the game against the Tar Heels. Jones was trying like heck to be cleared to suit up and play, as he was out on the floor working out over two hours before their noon tip. Ultimately, the training staff decided to hold him out, and the Blue Devils missed his scoring punch for most of the afternoon. Grayson Allen continued his impressive scoring ways, totaling 29 points on 8-12 shooting, but nobody other than Allen was able to crack into double figures in the scoring category for Duke.
For Louisville, senior Damion Lee continued to play with pride and further elevate his draft stock, playing solid defense while contributing a team-high 24 points in 35 minutes of game action. Despite not being able to play in the NCAA Tournament, he has continued to put his offensive ability on display in hopes of earning a spot on an NBA roster this summer.
Boston College Drops to 0-14 in ACC Play After Blowout Loss to Wake Forest
Boston College basketball had 4 points against Wake Forest with less than 4 minutes left in the 1st half.
Your day isn’t as bad.
— Greg Brzozowski (@GregWJHG) February 22, 2016
Yeah, this pretty much sums it up. Boston College has undoubtedly cemented themselves with the honor of Worst Power Conference Basketball Team. It’s not like they were going out there against Duke or North Carolina. It was Wake Forest…that one team who was 1-13 in ACC play coming in, looking like a far cry from the bunch that rattled off a couple of impressive early season wins, including one against then-ranked #13 Indiana. The 74-48 defeat against Wake Forest showed just how far the Eagles roster is from even being somewhat competitive in the ACC, as the Demon Deacons began the game on a 37-4 run, and never looked back.
I understand that Boston College is young, as outside of senior guard Eli Carter, the majority of the roster is made up of freshmen. However, when you completely no-show against a team who has also struggled to compete in conference play, it really makes you question whether or not coach Jim Christian is fit to do his job in Chesnut Hill. A coaching change is likely after the season, as the Eagles have not passed the eye test all year long, even as a rebuilding team.
In a Battle of Bubble Teams, Pittsburgh Smokes ‘Cuse
All things considered, this may have been the most important ACC game of the weekend. Pittsburgh and Syracuse were both on the bubble, but in better position than most to make the field of 68 come Selection Sunday. When you’re battling to become a lock and engrave your place as a tournament team, games like these against other bubble teams become must-win match-ups, especially this late in the season.
Pittsburgh was able to solve the tenacious Syracuse match-up zone defense, as junior forward Jamel Artis finished with 21 points, while senior guard James Robinson scored 13 points and added 5 assists in 40 minutes, as the duo led the Panthers to a 66-52 victory at the Carrier Dome.
For Syracuse, Tyler Lydon came off the bench to score 21 points on 8-12 shooting from the field, but it wasn’t enough to keep Jamie Dixon’s Panthers from dancing in the locker room after the game, as the win puts Pittsburgh in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament as it currently stands.
Big road win! Pitt 66, Syracuse 52. Artis leads the way with 21 pts, 11 rebs, 4 asts. pic.twitter.com/7ILY0RfhzD
— Pitt Basketball (@HailToPittHoops) February 20, 2016
The Orange are not out of the Big Dance by any means, but they will need to avoid the upset bug down the stretch and in the conference tournament in order to solidify their shot of making the field of 68. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Pitt listed as an 11-seed in his latest projection of the field after their win, while Syracuse is slotted as a 10-seed despite the unimpressive home effort.
Georgia Tech Pulls Unlikely Home Upset Against Notre Dame
Oh no, Notre Dame.
The Irish were beginning to gain respectability as one of the best teams in the ACC, and one that could make a run in the conference tournament and be a dangerous bunch come March. Notre Dame is still a lock to make the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced in less than a month, but the doubters will have plenty of ammunition after the Irish were upset by Georgia Tech on Saturday night in Atlanta, courtesy of a late floater by senior wing Marcus Georges-Hunt.
Georges-Hunt finished with a game-high 19 points for the Yellow Jackets, as the team improved to 15-12 overall, and 5-9 in conference play with the upset of the #19 Irish. Notre Dame dropped to 18-8 overall, and 9-5 in conference play, joining Duke in falling two games behind North Carolina for the top spot in the ACC.
The loss snapped a three game winning streak for Notre Dame, who solidifed their NCAA Tournament hopes with wins against #2 Duke and #13 Louisville over the last couple of weeks, before falling victim to the upset bug in Atlanta, which has run rampant throughout college basketball for most of the season.