Previewing Friday’s Quarterfinals at the ACC TournamentPosted by Matt Patton & Brad Jenkins on March 14th, 2014
With Thursday essentially going chalk (other than ninth-seed Florida State topping eighth-seed Maryland), Friday is looking like a day of potentially awesome basketball.
#1 Virginia vs. #8 Florida State (12:00 ET)
While this looks like a game the Cavaliers should win, it may not come easy. Virginia is in the unusual position of being the hunted after earning its first top seed in the ACC Tournament in over 30 years. They beat Florida State by 12 in both meetings this year, but each of those was played back in January. The good news for Florida State is that they were able to match Virginia on the boards in both games, which few teams do. The bad news is that the Seminoles were dominated in turnover margin in each game, 16-to-6 in the first meeting and 18-to-9 in the second. To pull off the upset, Florida State cannot afford to give away so many possessions. As Seton Hall showed Thursday, it’s really tough to beat a team three times, and the Seminoles are looking for an invitation to the Big Dance.
Key player – Ian Miller, Florida State. The Seminoles need Miller to play like he has the last few weeks, not like he did in the two games with the Cavaliers. Against Virginia, he totaled 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting and committed 11 turnovers. However, in his last eight games, Miller has averaged 16.6 points and made an impressive 23-of-46 three pointers.
#4 North Carolina vs. #5 Pittsburgh (2:00 ET)
This game would’ve been a lot easier to call a few days ago. Then North Carolina was riding a 12-game winning streak and Pittsburgh was hobbling its way to a fifth-place conference finish. Now? Not so fast. Pittsburgh looked like the efficient machine that wooed computers early in the season, dominating Wake Forest by 29-points. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna looked healthy again. When the teams met during the regular season, the Tar Heels eked out the win thanks in large part to Zanna having a horrible game (2-11 from the field) while James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige had their way with the Panthers. The crowd will still heavily favor the Tar Heels (though I have no doubt NC State fans who come early will help out the Panther faithful), but this looks to be a tossup.
Key player – Talib Zanna, Pittsburgh. As mentioned above, Zanna was awful in Chapel Hill. That game he was still recovering from an ankle injury against Virginia. He needs to hold his own against the Tar Heel front line for Pittsburgh to have a chance. Over his last five games, Zanna is averaging over 15 points and nearly ten boards a game. That combined with better interior defense gives Pittsburgh a good shot at the upset.
#2 Syracuse vs. #7 NC State (7:00 ET)
The rubber match! NC State almost pulled off the stunner at the Carrier Dome. It’s only fair that they get another shot. Syracuse was reeling down the stretch without Jerami Grant, but he’s back in the fold. But the Wolfpack aren’t going to be scared, and they’ll likely have at least a moderate crowd advantage. Oh, and like Florida State, NC State is still somewhere near the bubble but needing a big win. Meanwhile the Orange are suddenly looking at a possible one-seed in the East if they can win the ACC Tournament. The keys for NC State are forcing turnovers and defensive rebounding–the latter of which nearly derailed the Wolfpack train against Miami. The difference maker against the Hurricanes was the turnover margin (and points off turnovers). Mark Gottfried’s group will be in great shape if they only commit five turnovers again. Meanwhile on the other side, Syracuse has to avoid one of its patented quests for 50.
Key player – TJ Warren, NC State. It should be obvious at this point, but NC State only gets as far as Warren can carry them. He’s been a monster in conference play, scoring at least 20 points in every game since January 11 (not counting the game he sat with an ankle sprain). Warren has to keep playing smart and finding teammates when the zone collapses on him.
#3 Duke vs. #6 Clemson (9:30 ET)
Duke comes into this year’s tournament in a similar situation to last year. In each case, Duke is coming into a Friday night quarter-final game off an impressive end-of-year victory over North Carolina and with hopes of earning a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. And just like last year Duke is facing an underdog that has the confidence to beat them because they have already proven it. Back in January the Tigers roared past Duke, 72-59 in Death Valley, closing with a 18-to-5 run in the last eight minutes. In that one, Clemson dominated the boards (48-to-30) and held Duke to just 34% shooting. Of course the odds are against Duke playing that poorly again in this one, but the gritty Tigers will surely not make things easy.
Key player – KJ McDaniels, Clemson. In the first meeting with Duke and its tandem of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, McDaniels was the best player on the floor, going for 24 and 10 and blocking 3 shots. He probably needs another monster game for the Tigers to get another win over the Blue Devils.