ACC 2019-20 Tipoff

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 21st, 2019

We are now just over two weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next two weeks we will provide key question previews of all 15 ACC schools and we will also be sharing our preseason thoughts on Twitter. Follow us there – @rtcACC, Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald). But first, let’s put a bow on last season and take a quick peak ahead at the upcoming campaign.

2018-19 Recap

Redemption and miracle finishes were the themes in Virginia’s dramatic run to the 2019 National Championship. (USA TODAY Sports)

It was another highly successful year for the conference. The ACC became the first league in history to land the top three rankings in the final AP poll – Duke, Virginia and North Carolina – all of which earned #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Then, in one of the all-time best NCAA turnarounds, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers collected the program’s first National Championship just one year after suffering the agonizing distinction of becoming the first top seed in history to fall to a #16 seed. To add to the drama, Virginia faced extreme peril in each of its final three games in last season’s tourney. According to KenPom’s win probability model, the Cavaliers overcame the following situations:

  • Elite Eight vs Purdue – Trailed 70-67 with 16 seconds to play (Win Probability = 12.2%)
  • Final Four vs Auburn – Trailed 61-57 with 17 seconds to play (Win Probability = 5.5%)
  • Title Game vs Texas Tech – Trailed 68-65 with 22 seconds to play (Win Probability = 13.0%)
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2018-19 Rush the Court National Player of the Year: Zion Williamson

Posted by Walker Carey on April 5th, 2019

Recruiting rankings are always fun to review after the fact. You get to see which players lived up to their ranking, which players underwhelmed, and which players emerged from relative obscurity to turn into a star. The most prevalent question that will come up when reviewing the 2018 college basketball recruiting rankings will be how in the world was 2018-19 RTC National Player of the Year Zion Williamson considered the fifth-best prospect entering college basketball?

That question was apparent from Duke’s very first game of the season, when the Blue Devils eviscerated Kentucky by a preposterous 34 points. In the dominant opening night victory, Williamson announced his presence to the college basketball world by tallying 28 points on an efficient 11-of-13 shooting. From that game forward, the 6’7″ power forward (and so much more) became the story of the year in college hoops. It definitely seemed like every time you tuned into a Duke game, Williamson would do something spectacular. There was the awe-inspiring 360 dunk in the conference opening win over Clemson; there was the jaw-dropping block of a De’Andre Hunter three-point attempt in an impressive victory at Virginia; and there was Williamson leading the charge in fighting back from a 23-point second half deficit to notch an improbable win at Louisville.

Williamson’s season took an unexpectedly brutal turn in Duke’s February 20 loss to North Carolina, when he injured his knee less than a minute into the action. That injury resulted in him being sidelined for the rest of the regular season and allowed for many media outlets to question if Williamson should risk his NBA future to return to college. The freshman phenom decided to return for the ACC Tournament, where he turned in a performance for the ages — averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds per game in wins over Syracuse, North Carolina and Florida State — in leading Duke to the title. After the title game victory over the Seminoles, Williamson emphatically responded to a question about why he risked further injury by stating:

“Those six games I sat out, when you see your brothers going to war battling and there’s nothing you can do but sit on the sideline and cheer, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not that type of person. I want to be out there with them, and I made a commitment to them, and I would be a bad person if I went back on my commitment.”

While Duke came up just short in an epic Elite Eight battle with Michigan State last weekend, Williamson still left his mark on the NCAA Tournament by averaging 26 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Blue Devils’ four games. The loss to the Spartans marked the probable end to Williamson’s collegiate career, but his sensational performances and the manner in which they captivated the college basketball world in the Year of Zion will not soon be forgotten.

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2018-19 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 4th, 2019

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the regular season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relative unknowns who unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our unit of RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-American teams in November, nobody could have guessed that 10 of the 15 players chosen would live up to that lofty standing: Purdue’s Carsen Edwards; Duke’s R.J. Barrett; Duke’s Zion Williamson; Tennessee’s Grant Williams; Marquette’s Markus Howard; Virginia’s Kyle Guy; LSU’s Tremont Waters; Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter; Kansas’ Dedric Lawson, and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ.

Here are the 2018-19 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Zion Williamson, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (22.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 68% FG). He may only be one player, but make no mistake about it, this college basketball season belonged to Williamson. You could not go one day without hearing something new about the freshman phenom — and with good reason — he made every Duke game this winter appointment television with his numerous highlight reel dunks and spectacular defensive plays. When the freshman was not busy igniting the internet with viral videos of his jaw-dropping plays, he was calmly and confidently leading his young Duke team to the ACC Tournament title and the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Williamson was the most important cog in a Blue Devils squad that finished the season with a 32-6 record, and his importance was never more evident than when he was sidelined for six games late in the season and Duke went just 3-3 during that stretch. While it is certainly disappointing that Williamson will not participate in this weekend’s Final Four, he definitely used his time in college basketball wisely and cemented that the name Zion Williamson will live on in college basketball lore.
  • Carsen Edwards, Junior, Purdue (24.3 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG). Purdue was picked fifth in the preseason Big Ten poll, largely because — other than the returning Edwards — not much was known about a club facing the tall task of replacing four starters from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team. That challenge was tough at first, as Purdue sat at just 6-5 following a rough loss to Notre Dame on December 15. That loss ended up being a turning point for the Boilermakers, as they rode the heroics of Edwards and figured out their personnel en route to a 26-10 overall record and a share of the Big Ten regular season title. While Edwards certainly had a wonderful regular season, his place on the first team was guaranteed with an amazing effort throughout Purdue’s run to the Elite Eight. The junior point guard tallied 26 points in a First Round win over Old Dominion and it only got better from there, catching fire in a Second Round mauling of defending champion Villanova, and finishing with 42 points on a smoldering 9-of-16 performance from behind the three-point line. His exploits then reached another level in the South Regional, going for 29 points in leading Purdue to an upset overtime win over Tennessee in the Sweet Sixteen, before reaching an apex in an all-time performance of dropping 42 points (10-of-19 from three) in a heartbreaking overtime loss to top-seeded Virginia. While Purdue fell short of its ultimate goal of the Final Four, Edwards did his part in carrying the Boilermakers to a place the program had not been since 2000.
  • Ja Morant, Sophomore, Murray State (24.5 PPG, 10.0 APG, 5.7 RPG, 49.9% FG). Becoming a must-see attraction while playing in the Ohio Valley Conference is difficult to do, but Morant accomplished that feat this season with flying colors. The dynamic sophomore guard became the first player since the NCAA began tracking assists in 1983-84 to finish a season averaging 20+ points and 10+ assists per game. He also led Murray State through the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament gauntlet to propel the Racers to their second straight NCAA Tournament. Along the way Morant caught the eyes of NBA Draft connoisseurs, firmly establishing himself as a top prospect for this summer’s annual selection meeting. In the postseason, the explosive sophomore gave his program a final lasting memory, as he recorded the NCAA Tournament’s first triple-double since 2012 in the Racers’ First Round upset victory over Marquette. Morant’s collegiate career may have only lasted two seasons, but he certainly made his mark as one of the all-time greats to pass through the Ohio Valley Conference.
  • R.J. Barrett, Freshman, Duke (22.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 4.3 APG, 45.4% FG). Barrett may have been Duke’s “other freshman star” this year, but that did not keep him from establishing himself as one of the country’s best players in addition to Williamson. Known mostly for his scoring prowess, Barrett also showcased his passing and rebounding talents throughout the season. The freshman swingman twice tallied double-figure assists and grabbed 10+ boards nine times. Barrett’s premier performance came in Duke’s victory at Virginia when he turned in a game-high 26 points on a smoldering 6-of-10 performance from the perimeter. While Barrett put up big statistics throughout the regular season, his most noteworthy contribution during his freshman campaign came in Duke’s Second Round NCAA Tournament victory over UCF when he rebounded a missed free throw and converted a layup with 14.4 seconds to play to give the Blue Devils a 77-76 lead that they would not relinquish.
  • Grant Williams, Junior, Tennessee (18.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 56.5% FG). Williams followed up a terrific sophomore season with an even more outstanding junior campaign in Knoxville. Tennessee tied a program record with 31 wins this season and Williams’ contributions were the leading factor in the Volunteers accomplishing that feat. The big man tallied double-figure points in 19 of his 21 SEC games and his ability to hurt opponents both from the mid-range and finish through contact around the rim made him a nightmare match-up. Williams’ most noteworthy performance came in Tennessee’s overtime win over intrastate rival Vanderbilt when he saved the Volunteers by delivering a career-best 43 points while draining all 23 of his free throw attempts. The junior’s excellent season led to him earning AP First-Team All-America honors, becoming Tennessee’s first player to garner that honor since way back in 1983 (Dale Ellis).

Second Team All-America

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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Regional Recap

Posted by The ACC Team on April 3rd, 2019

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite team of Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chat about the ACC’s lone Final Four participant, as well as the losses suffered by ACC squads in the regionals.

Zion Williamson’s Collegiate Career Ended in Washington, DC, on Sunday (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Welcome to April, fellas! Although it’s a little disappointing that only one of the ACC’s trio of top seeds made it through regional play, we still have the league’s best team, Virginia, heading to Minneapolis. But before we look ahead, let’s recap the amazing regionals action we just saw. Before we look at the individual ACC squads that perished, what are your overall thoughts on what we witnessed? Was this the best Elite Eight ever?

Mick McDonald: The 2005 NCAA Tournament is the standard bearer for amazing Elite Eights, and I think this year’s crop rates right up there with it. All four games featured two excellent teams playing at high levels in close games. We got two overtime games, a heavyweight battle between two legendary coaches, and one of the best individual performances in the history of the tournament from Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. Top it off with the amazing buzzer-beating scramble by Virginia to lock in an all-time moment, and I think you can make a pretty good argument for it being the best.

Matt Auerbach: All things being equal, the one that could rival this Elite Eight was, as Mick referenced, the one back in 2005. But, given the epic nature of the finish between Virginia and Purdue — with a backdrop of the performance of Edwards and the redemption of the Cavaliers — to highlight a weekend where another game went to overtime, another was decided by a point and another — Texas Tech vs. Gonzaga — was perhaps the best played of them all. It was an exhilarating set of games, and undeniably one of the best set of Elite Eight games ever.

Brad Jenkins: I’ve been watching this tournament since… well, let’s just say for quite a while. I can’t recall a better four games to get to the Final Four. And the Virginia-Purdue classic is on the short list of the best college games I’ve ever watched. Now, let’s talk a little about the ACC teams that bowed out in the Sweet Sixteen, beginning with Florida State and Virginia Tech. Tough losses for both programs, but historic seasons nonetheless.

Matt Auerbach: Yeah, I think Florida State just kind of ran into an off night situation with Gonzaga. It felt as though the Zags kept them at a comfortable distance throughout the contest, and the Seminoles could never get a spark to surge into the lead. As for the Hokies, you can’t get any closer than that!

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What’s Trending: A Wild Weekend in the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 1st, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

After a relatively chaos-free opening two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the madness arrived in earnest over the weekend. Taking a look back at the memorable moments begins in the East Region where Virginia Tech and Duke found themselves in a battle to the very end.

While Zion Williamson marvels those that watch Duke play with his dunks, it is plays like this that truly show how unique he is. With Duke nursing a narrow three-point lead, Williamson gets crossed-up by Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson. Despite the blow-by, Williamson recovers like few others playing high-level basketball can…

Just days after surviving at the buzzer against UCF, Duke found itself in a similar situation again. The Blue Devils were up two points with just over one second to go when Virginia Tech drew up this perfect play to send the game to overtime… minus the finish.

The East Region Sweet Sixteen also featured Michigan State’s 80-63 win over LSU. In that game, the Spartans’ Aaron Henry scored a season-high 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists. This performance by Henry came on the heels of Tom Izzo’s outrage at the talented freshman in Michigan State’s opening round win. After the win against LSU, Izzo was quick to credit young Henry and his teammates…

The Elite Eight match-up between Duke and Michigan State was a game that many were looking forward to the second the bracket came out. With the lead going back and forth throughout much of the second half, Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid pushed the Spartans back in front with this layup that will not be forgotten…

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Eight Questions For The Elite Eight

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 30th, 2019

The Road to the Final Four has one final stop for the eight remaining teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. As the weekend advances, here are the eight questions I have for the match-ups ahead.

The Zags Push For Their Second Final Four Appearance in History (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

Gonzaga: Will Gonzaga’s offense solve a Texas Tech defense that dominated Michigan for 40 minutes? Mark Few’s Bulldogs rank first in the nation in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage. According to Hoop-Math, Gonzaga also owns the fifth-best shooting percentage on attempts at the rim, an area that could be tested by a Red Raiders defense that blocks a lot of shots inside.

Texas Tech: Do the Red Raiders have enough size to compete against the large Gonzaga front line? Gonzaga’s bigs of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie will be up against a Texas Tech squad that will play just two players 6’8″ or taller in Tarriq Owens and Norense Odiase. Texas Tech’s ability to stay out of foul trouble on its front line will be imperative in attempting to slow the Bulldogs’ interior game.

Virginia vs. Purdue

Virginia: Can the Cavaliers snap out of their shooting woes? Over Virginia’s last four games, the Cavaliers are shooting a woeful 26.9 percent on 104 three-point attempts. In the five games prior to that stretch they converted 54.2 percent on 107 attempts. Kyle Guy has most notably found himself in a staggering slump, having made just five of his last 31 attempts after shooting 42.7 percent on the season.

Purdue: Will Purdue’s recent struggles at the free throw line keep it from reaching the Final Four? While the Boilermakers have shot 71.9 percent from the line on the season, they have made just 63.4 percent from the stripe in seven March games. Purdue survived in its win on Thursday night against Tennessee despite missing 17 of its 33 attempts. And remember, points always come at a premium against Virginia.

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What’s Trending: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 25th, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Looking back at the first two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament has to begin with the opening weekend’s most memorable game. In Sunday afternoon’s UCF vs. Duke game, there was much more to it than the average #1 vs. #9 match-up. How would the battle of Zion Williamson vs. Tacko Fall unfold? How would the pupil (Johnny Dawkins) fare against his teacher (Coach K)? Williamson definitely had to earn his 32 points — the superstar freshman shot just 9-of-17 on his two-point attempts, representing the first time he has been under 60 percent inside the arc since a 4-of-7 performance on January 12 against Florida State.

https://twitter.com/si_ncaabb/status/1109931709066285056

Despite falling behind by as many as eight points in the second half, UCF rallied to take a four-point lead with under two minutes to go. The Knights were racing upcourt with a chance to extend the lead, but a failed alley-oop followed by a Cam Reddish three-pointer cut the lead to a single point.

Push off? Verticality? Down three points in the dying seconds, Duke put the ball in Williamson’s hands and he made a play.

Zion went on to miss the game-tying free-throw, but the ball ultimately ended up in the hands of R.J. Barrett, who put in a bunny to give Duke a one-point lead. While many were arguing that Barrett pushed off to get the rebound, the bigger grievance with a missed call on this play came with this missed hook and hold. An emphasis was placed on this call all season long, yet it appears to have been blatantly missed here. This is a call that would have all but ensured the end of Duke’s season…

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What’s Trending: Conference Tournament Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 18th, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The second week of conference tournaments began with many questions, the biggest of which focused on a certain 6’7″, 285-pound freshman in Durham, North Carolina. For the past few weeks, questions about Zion Williamson and whether he would — or should — return to play for Duke have been thrown around by nearly everyone. It took the superstar forward all of two minutes of game time to show everyone that he is indeed back…

https://twitter.com/si_ncaabb/status/1106368814206324736

The storylines involving Zion continued in Duke’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal match-up against Syracuse. In the past, it was Duke — paging Grayson Allen — as the centerpiece of any tripping story. This time, however, it was Syracuse’s Frank Howard taking his turn to extend his leg a little further than necessary…

“I love playing with Duke, I love my teammates.”

The Zion experience carried into the ACC Tournament semifinal match-up against North Carolina. The Tar Heels had dominated the first two Zion-less games, but after scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds through the first 39 minutes, it was Zion’s final two points and rebound that made the biggest difference…

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1106760367533780992

Scoring, rebounds, steals… oh, Zion can pass the ball pretty well too…

In the non-Zion Williamson category of the ACC Tournament, the basketball world was gifted a dancing Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams

…a frantic possession and game-winning basket by Florida State’s Terance Mann…

…and everyone’s favorite, allegations of NCAA violations…

On the topic of NCAA violations, the SEC Tournament included LSU’s Will Wade releasing a statement where he made a plea to get back on the sideline. LSU General Counsel Tom Skinner fired back with, “as a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did not do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point. We have no choice, in terms of institutional control, to not suspend someone.”

On the court, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield began the Volunteers’ SEC Tournament action with a poster over Mississippi State…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1106755627366391809

LSU’s Skylar Mays came up with a dunk that had LSU fans jumping for joy…

…but it was ultimately Florida’s Andrew Nembhard who allowed Florida to move on and send LSU home.

Florida’s run through the SEC Tournament came to an end on Saturday, literally at the hands of Auburn….

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1106998122658582533

In the other semifinal, the SEC Tournament delivered a gem between Tennessee and Kentucky…

During Wednesday’s opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska’s Tim Miles had the spotlight on him after his Huskers toppled Rutgers…

…after beating Maryland on Thursday, Miles got his shot at redemption…

After the second win in as many days, Big Ten Twitter was quick to point out this fact that fans in Bloomington, Indiana, were not happy to read…

The Big East Tournament will be remembered for this sequence in Seton Hall’s semifinal win over Marquette

https://twitter.com/CBBonFOX/status/1106760477718138881

Meanwhile, at the end of the tournament it was once again Villanova that walked away as the champion… AGAIN.

Tournament week in Las Vegas began with the West Coast Conference Tournament where St. Mary’s earned an automatic bid by getting the best of Gonzaga.

…and it continued with the Pac-12 Tournament where all eyes were on Bill Walton doing Bill Walton things…

…and it ended with Oregon winning the Pac-12 Tournament to steal a bid from a team on the bubble.

As players play for an opportunity to keep their season going, these tournaments bring up stories that need to be shared. The emotion in the face of Old Dominion headcoach Jeff Jones makes the Monarchs an easy team to root for…

While there is so much to love and appreciate with college basketball, there was one thing that continues to outshine the product on the floor. Officiating throughout tournaments leaves fans wondering…

And as painful as questionable calls can be, the monitor review process will almost assuredly come up time and time again next week. Getting the correct call is important, but too often these reviews kill any flow to a game. Add in the fact that they act as de facto timeouts for teams that often do not have any to call and you have a situation that creates more problems than it solves.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 73, Florida State 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson celebrate after winning the program’s 15th ACC Championship of the Mike Krzyzewski era. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  1. Duke’s defense was the difference. With all the attention generated by Zion Williamson’s spectacular scoring plays, it is easy to forget what he means to Duke on the other end of the floor. With his return to the lineup this week in Charlotte, the Blue Devils seem to have regained their defensive mojo. In tonight’s title game, Florida State led for most of the first half and was tied with Duke at the break. But after intermission, the Blue Devils tightened up their defense, holding the Seminoles to 25.0 percent shooting from the floor. And this was a Florida State team that had just shot 56 percent against the mighty Virginia defense in Friday’s semifinals. The Duke running game got going as a result of getting those stops, leading to transition dunks for Williamson and RJ Barrett that gave the Blue Devils a working margin that they would never relinquish.
  2. Florida State is going to be a tough out in the Big Dance. The Seminoles may have surprised the college basketball world by beating top-seeded Virginia in this ACC Tournament, but it’s not like they came out of nowhere this season. Leonard Hamilton’s club closed regular season play by winning 12 of their last 13 games and have already set a school record with 27 wins. They’re athletic, experienced and deep. Their best player is probably Mfiondu Kabengele, who may be the best sixth man in the nation. Kabengele kept the Seminoles within striking distance tonight. finishing with 14 points and making 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Additionally, Florida State’s size and length will make the Seminoles one of the most unique defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament — one that nobody should look forward to facing in the coming weeks.
  3. Duke may have locked up the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s little doubt that Duke will be on the top line when the brackets are presented Sunday evening, but conference tournament losses by Virginia and Gonzaga have opened up the overall top spot for the Blue Devils. The Selection Committee is expected to judge Duke with Zion Williamson in the lineup, and that Duke team went 23-2 with a 4-1 record against the other six programs in contention for the #1 seed line. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is not without flaws — once again tonight they triumphed despite a cold shooting night from distance (2-14 3FG) — but they can overwhelm opponents in several other ways. Against the tall and imposing frontline of Florida State, the Blue Devils managed to post a decisive 42-18 edge in points in the paint, and had a solid advantage (+7) in fast break points. Point guard Tre Jones’ assertiveness (18 points) also gave the Blue Devils a boost tonight, and was reminiscent of the play of his older brother Tyus in leading Duke to the national title in 2015.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The college game’s brightest star completed a successful return from injury by scoring 81 points in three days and winning the ACC Tournament MVP award. Tonight he scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, grabbed five boards, and helped Duke’s defense hold Florida State to 31.7 percent shooting.

Quotable.

  • “He’s a world class athlete. He changes things.” – Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton on going against Zion Williamson.
  • “To start 1-and-4 in the league and end up in fourth place… it’s outstanding.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praising the coaching job of Leonard Hamilton this season.
  • “When he’s able to score, it definitely opens it up for the rest of it.” – Duke’s RJ Barrett on the aggressive play tonight from Tre Jones.

Sights and Sounds. It was not nearly the same atmosphere in the Spectrum Center tonight as it was for the Duke-North Carolina semifinal clash, but it was a pretty full house tonight even if the energy level was merely good, not great.

What’s Next. Duke and Florida State have each improved their NCAA Tournament resumes this week in Charlotte and they will hear their paths to Minneapolis revealed on Sunday night.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 74, North Carolina 73

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 15th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Zion Williamson led Duke to an exciting ACC Tournament win over rival North Carolina. (The Sporting News)
  1. This game lived up to the hype. This was perhaps the most anticipated semifinal matchup in ACC Tournament history and the two teams delivered an instant classic. It was only fitting that the outcome wasn’t decided until the game’s final possession when North Carolina missed two shots in the last three seconds. For most of the first half it looked like a mismatch — North Carolina raced out to a commanding 13-point lead and the Blue Devils were dealing with foul trouble to their depleted front line (especially true with Marquise Bolden out). But Mike Krzyzewski got some surprising production from his bench and Duke roared back to tie the game at the half. After the break Duke took the lead and looked to be in control only to see the Tar Heels rally. It wasn’t the prettiest game — the teams combined to make just 9-of-47 shots from deep — but the intensity level and effort from both teams was top-notch. And who knows? We may get to see them go at it again in Minneapolis.
  2. Duke’s bench came through in surprising fashion. Zion Williamson was outstanding, but Duke would not have pulled this game out without the play of the much-maligned Blue Devils’ bench. Led by Cameron Johnson (16 first half points), North Carolina was rolling in the first half and beating the Blue Devils down the court for transition buckets. Additionally, Cam Reddish and Javin DeLaurier were in foul trouble. First, Krzyzewski inserted Jordan Goldwire into the game in place of Reddish and his defense helped turn the game around. Goldwire took on the assignment of slowing down Coby White, an absolute jet in the open court, while starting point guard Tre Jones moved over to harass Johnson. When DeLaurier picked up his third foul, seldom used Antonio Vrankovic got the call and held his own with the Tar Heels’ frontcourt for a total of 10 minutes. Goldwire earned postgame praise from both head coaches for the energy he brought to his team when they needed a boost.
  3. History repeats itself (barely). This makes the third year in a row that these two old rivals have met in the ACC Tournament semifinals. In each of those prior tourney matchups, the winner was the team that had lost the prior meeting between the two a week earlier. In fact, that has been the case in the last five ACC Tournament meetings between Duke and North Carolina (2003, 2011, 2017-19). For North Carolina, this tradition runs even deeper — over the last 46 years, whenever the Tar Heels face Duke in the ACC Tournament after defeating the Blue Devils in the regular season finale, their record in those games is 0-6. But recent rivalry history is not all bad news for Williams. During his 15 years at the helm in Chapel Hill, the winner of the last regular season Duke-UNC matchup of the year has gone on to perform better in the NCAA Tournament than its rival 13 times.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The freshman phenom finally got his chance to play in college basketball’s biggest rivalry and he made the most of it. Williamson finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds and ended up making the game-winner when he followed up his own miss with 31 seconds to go.

Quotable.

  • “The guy that’s been hurt [Zion Williamson] came back and put on his superman jersey again and was incredible. It’s such a blend of strength and power and quickness that we couldn’t stop him getting the basketball inside and going to the basket.” – North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ opening comments in the press conference.
  • “This was obviously a great game. I mean vintage ACC, Duke-North Carolina.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on the game.
  • “I mean it was tough watching the first two games. […] the rivalry lived up to what I expected it to be” – Duke’s Zion Williamson on finally getting to play against North Carolina.

Sights and Sounds. This was probably the most anticipated semifinal matchup in ACC Tournament history, so it was fitting that this battle between Tobacco Road rivals took place in the state of North Carolina. As expected, the Tar Heels had the support of about two-thirds of the Spectrum Center, but both sets of fans were extremely into the game throughout the contest.

What’s Next. Duke moves on to play Florida State for the ACC championship on Saturday night. It will be the second title meeting between the two schools — the Blue Devils beat the Seminoles in 2009. Duke and Florida State only played once in the regular season, with Duke winning a one-point buzzer-beating game in Tallahassee in early January.

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