RTC is pleased to announce that we’ll be covering all of the major conference tournaments this year — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — in addition to the strongest two high-middies, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. Each day for the rest of this week, we’re asking our correspondents to provide us with a Daily Diary of the sights and sounds from the arena at each site. Equal parts game analysis and opinion, the hope is that this will go beyond the tiresome game recaps you can find elsewhere and give you an insightful look into Championship Week. Yesterday’s coverage: ACC, Atlantic 10, Big Ten & SEC.
ACC Tournament – by Kellen Carpenter
- Early in the game, during a media timeout, one of the North Carolina cheerleaders lost her balance and fell down on the male cheerleader who was trying to hold her up. She ended up busting either his nose or lip and proceeded to bleed all over himself, the fallen cheerleader and the court. It took some extended minutes for the glove-wearing bio-hazard team to find and clean up all the blood. It was that kind of day for the North Carolina team and fans.
- There was buzz more than an hour before tip-off and it grew steadily from there. The crowd was full of North Carolina partisans, but Duke has had the second most fans here all week. The stands were filled and the crowd cheered frequently and often. While the crowd was excitable and loud, the game lacked the rancor of the two previous Duke games. My favorite part about the crowd, however, were the proud representatives of the teams who had already fallen. Clemson sweatshirts and Virginia Tech hats abounded amongst the faction of spectators who often refused to cheer for either team.
- Nolan Smith may not have had the gaudy offensive performances of Kemba Walker or Jimmer Fredette this week, but his performance on the offensive end has been spectacular and his performance on the defensive end has won the Blue Devils games. Just as Smith disrupted Virginia Tech’s offense by neutralizing Malcolm Delaney, Smith made the Tar Heel offense grind to a halt with his aggressive defense on Kendall Marshall.
- In the past two games, Marshall was slowed down and rendered ineffective as teams have discovered the key to stopping him. Marshall is slow and needs space to make passes or drives. Aggressive, close defense on Marshall prevented him from scoring and making plays. Smith came out on Marshall as soon as he got across the half court line and challenged Marshall to try to get past him or pass with heavy pressure. It worked. Marshall had five turnovers to only five assists. He went 3 of 10 from the field. Marshall’s ability to make plays has been the driving force behind this Tar Heel team. Stopping Marshall is the key to stopping North Carolina, and unfortunately for the Heels, it’s now painfully clear how this can be accomplished.
- The Comeback Kids couldn’t find one more miracle. After the game, Roy Williams said he didn’t understand why UNC had continually fell behind early in their tournament games. I’m not sure either, but I have some guesses. Roy’s insistence on getting early touches for the big men makes UNC’s offense incredibly predictable at the beginning of games. By refusing to shoot threes early in the game, Roy has made it easy to clog the paint and focus in on UNC’s focus.
- Ryan Kelly, despite looking like a very tall version of Neville Longbottom, has actually settled into a nice impersonation of Manu Ginobili as a big man, or maybe Andrei Kirilenko when he came off the bench. In the sixth man role, Kelly played the fourth most minutes for Duke tonight and had a very impressive all-around game. In addition to nine points and three rebounds, he contributed three blocks and three steals on defense and served as a more reliable scoring threat than either of the Plumlees. This new role suits Kelly, and Coach K said he believes that Kelly has played the best basketball of his life in these past three days. In any case, it’s one more nasty surprise Duke has in store for it’s opponents in the NCAA Tournament.
- Watching Duke play it was almost inconceivable to me that a Duke team that so effortlessly ran the table in the conference tournament and only had four losses, none of them bad over the course of the season, might not be a number one seed. They are playing some of the best basketball in the nation this past week, as they have all season. I understand that many teams have a better collection of “best wins,” but Duke is a seriously dangerous team that has gotten better over the course of the season.
- The last thing that really stood out throughout the course of the tournament was how much Greensboro, as a city, seemed genuinely excited to host. The way that every single business I saw had some sign or deal for ACC fans, the fact that the ACC Hall of Champions stands right next to the Greensboro Coliseum, and just the general excitement about town paints a picture of a place that really, really cares about hosting conference tournaments. It seemed like these were most important days of the year for Greensboro, and that’s a real credit to an otherwise small and sleepy city in North Carolina.