You can be forgiven if you don’t know much about Akil Mitchell other than the fact that he is a forward who plays for Virginia. In his first two years in the ACC, Mitchell was a role player backing up and complementing a veteran frontcourt stacked with the likes of Mike Scott and Assane Sene. He played 22 MPG last year and averaged 4.1 PPG and 4.4 RPG. Those are decent numbers and all improvements over an even smaller role in his freshman year. However, with the departure of star player Scott, Mitchell has stepped into the limelight and performed magnificently. In 28 MPG this season, the 6’8″ forward is averaging 13.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG with a pair of assists and a steal a game thrown in for good measure. This is a remarkable improvement and currently Mitchell sits at fourth in the ACC in rebounds per game while he is just outside of the top 10 in scoring average. What makes this achievement all the more impressive is the tempo at which Virginia plays.
Akil Mitchell Has Made a Huge Leap This Season
As in recent years, Virginia plays at a mind-numbingly slow pace. There are only four teams in Division I that play slower than the Cavaliers, and Tony Bennett‘s team is clearly the tortoise of the conference. So what? This means that Mitchell’s per game production actually underrates how good the forward has been for his team. He’s a top five player in the conference in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage as well as a top five player in offensive efficiency for players who use at least 24% of their team’s possessions. This isn’t an issue of a player who just needed more minutes or a more featured role: Mitchell took a big leap this year, improving in all of his tempo-free metrics even as he took on more responsibility for the offense.
Washington Post: The big question coming into the season for Virginia was how the Cavaliers could replace Mike Scott, especially on offense. When Tony Bennett said “by committee” during the preseason, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Replace arguably the best offensive player in the conference by a committee of whom exactly? But Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins have really stepped up and proven me wrong. Mitchell is playing very well offensively, averaging nearly 13 points and 10 rebounds a game. Together they’re making the transition as smooth as possible, though the team’s reliance on freshmen will still hurt at spots during the season.
Fox Sports Carolinas: Expect to see a lot more articles in this vein if Mason Plumlee‘s production keeps up. He’s absolutely having a first-team All-America season — maybe even a national player of the year season. He took plenty of criticism over his first three years, so it’s only fair he gets credit now. The thing that remains to be seen is how his brother joining Duke’s rotation (which will likely happen soon) will affect the team. It should quash some of the “Duke doesn’t have depth inside” talk and may also help with Duke’s rebounding struggles.
Virginia Tech Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech is renewing its long-standing rivalry with West Virginia this season, but James Johnson isn’t making a big deal about it. Part of his reasoning is because the rivalry has been dormant since his players were in middle school. Another part is likely West Virginia’s recent success since hiring Bob Huggins having eclipsed the Hokies on the national scene. Regardless, this is the kind of series that can’t hurt if the Hokies want to be in contention for an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.
Tallahassee Democrat: Well Florida State certainly didn’t impress the country’s top recruit Andrew Wiggins on the basketball floor Wednesday. But the school and its fans certainly let Wiggins know he’d be welcome. The Seminoles honored both of Wiggins’ parents at halftime with highlights from their Florida State careers. The fans stood for much of a blowout trying to emphasize their commitment to a sport that normally takes the backseat in Tallahassee. A coed’s tweet to Wiggins went viral. However, the game just emphasized the tough choice Wiggins has to make: Be a part of a Kentucky team that should be among the favorites to win it all, or help take his parents alma mater to a place it’s never been before. Wiggins gets compared — fairly or unfairly– to LeBron James and his decision is analogous to the decision LeBron faced in free agency. If he does choose Florida State, Leonard Hamilton’s team will instantly become a conference contender.
WRAL: Longtime producer and photographer Rick Armstrongremembered back to his early days in journalism three decades ago when NC State won its most recent national championship under Jim Valvano. Some stories read like they’ve been told over and over, at parties, over dinner and in the office. These are some of them. Armstrong still pines for the days when Jimmy V and the Cardiac Pack fought their way to an unlikely national title. Nostalgia makes for a great muse.
With all of the ACC previews behind us, it’s time to put everything together in our first ACC Power Rankings of the season.
1. Duke has all of the pieces to be a much better team than last year’s team. While the recruiting class is small, don’t forget redshirt freshmen Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee. Mason Plumlee may be the focal point of the Blue Devil offense. But the big question is how improved will Quinn Cook be?
2. NC Statehas the most complete team on paper. Add three top-shelf recruits to a talented returning group that includes two potential conference players of the year, and there’s bound to be plenty of hype. But will the Wolfpack be able to overcome their defensive woes (and the historical defensive woes of Mark Gottfried) and play like the end of last season, or will they play like the rest of the year?
3. North Carolina (tied) lost a lot from last year’s team with the four leading contributors with Reggie Bullock as the sole returning starter. But Roy Williams reloads instead of rebuilds. James Michael McAdoo may be the best player in the league, and Bullock looks ready to step up production. Freshman point Marcus Paige has big shoes (or at least a lot of shoes) to fill, but he’ll have help from backcourt veterans Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald.
3. Florida State (tied) may fall on its face, but Leonard Hamilton and Michael Snaer have earned the right to be taken seriously after knocking Duke and North Carolina off en route to the conference championship. Keep an eye on Okaro White and Terrance Shannon this season. You can trust Hamilton’s team to bring it defensively, but can they stop turning the ball over?
3. Miami (tied) looked rough in its exhibition loss, but there’s no denying the talent on this roster. The Hurricane frontcourt of Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji is the best in the league; Durand Scott and Shane Larkin make an exciting backcourt duo; and there’s no shortage of athletic wings to help fill out the lineup. But can Jim Larranaga realize his team’s talent?
6. Marylandalso has a lot of talent on its roster, but the Terrapins were abysmal offensively last season. To make matters worse (though potentially better in the long run), Terrell Stoglin is no longer with the team. Nick Faust and Alex Len need to make big improvements for Maryland to finish in the top half of the conference. Keep an eye on Maryland’s freshmen.
7. Virginiahas some interesting pieces, and Tony Bennett‘s system appears very effective. But the Cavaliers don’t have Mike Scott and his mid-range game to bail mediocre offensive possessions out anymore. This team will rely on its tenacious defense because it’s hard to see the offense being consistently effective.
8. Virginia Techhired James Johnson to replace Seth Greenberg, and Greenberg left Johnson with some real talent. The Hokies are a sleeper to finish in the top half of the conference if Erick Green, Jarell Eddie and Cadarian Raines mesh well. Depth will be an issue, but those three are very good players. Johnson also has established relationships with the players, which should make his transition smoother.
9. Wake Forestis really young. But a strong freshman class joining two of the best scorers in the league should make the team marginally more competitive than the last two years. Don’t sleep on Travis McKie. McKie is a match-up nightmare for every team, and shouldn’t surprise anyone when he averages close to 20 points a night.
10. Clemsonprobably should be ranked higher than this. Certainly based on roster talent and previous results, the Tigers look better than tenth in the league. That said, Milton Jennings and Devin Booker haven’t shown the consistency to take over primary roles. If Jennings lives up to his McDonald’s All-American billing and Booker gets more aggressive, this team could finish much closer to the middle of the pack.
11. Georgia Tech (tied) looks OK on paper, but didn’t add anything significant from last season’s 4-12 campaign. This points to another rough season in Atlanta, though Glen Rice Jr.’s sudden departure may prove more of a blessing than a curse.
11. Boston College (tied) will be a significantly more watchable team this season. The team is still young, and still low on ACC-caliber talent. But the sophomore trio of Ryan Anderson, Patrick Heckmann and Dennis Clifford are the real deal. They also all improved a lot just over the course of last season (except Heckmann, who went down with mono).
Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the Virginia Cavaliers.
The past season was excellent for the Virginia Cavaliers. Sure, the team only went 9-7 in the conference and exited the NCAA Tournament in a spectacular flame-out against Florida in its first game. Still, last season was a success for Tony Bennett. The team nearly ran the table in their non-conference slate except for a strange flukish loss to TCU. This impressive run included victories against Michigan, Drexel, Oregon, George Mason, and LSU. In conference play, Virginia was less consistent (though admittedly they played one of the tougher league schedules), with their two best wins coming against North Carolina State and Miami. Mike Scott‘s career year and Bennett’s pack line defensive scheme powered the Cavaliers to one of Virginia’s best seasons in the past few seasons. With Mike Scott now gone, can the Cavaliers match or better their high-water mark?
Tony Bennett Appears to Have the Cavaliers on the Upswing
The Cavaliers are bringing in a small army to bolster their depleted ranks. Teven Jones, Justin Miller and Taylor Barnette represent the incoming guard rotation. All three initially figured to see only back-up and spot minutes with incumbent senior point guard Jontel Evans taking up most of the time at point guard. Unfortunately for Evans, a stress fracture in his foot has the feisty defender and playmaker sidelined for the beginning part of the season. Unless Bennett elects to hand the keys to his team to senior walk-on, Doug Browman, these three freshmen will likely undergo a sudden baptism by fire.
At the wing, the freshman class brings in some potential future starters. Justin Anderson and Evan Nolte both have a nice array of skills, athleticism, and size at the small forward slot, where Virginia had only Paul Jesperson and converted shooting guards before the arrival of these two. If these guys can play defense to the coaching staff’s satisfaction, it’s likely that they will see plenty of minutes, and indeed, potentially a spot in the starting rotation.
Over the next four weeks we’ll be taking a step back and looking at each team in the ACC to assess where each program — and the conference as a whole — stands before we totally turn our attention to the 2013-14 season later this fall. Today’s target: Virginia.
Where They Stand Now
Bennett Will Need to Find Some Replacements Next Season
Heading down the stretch, it looked like Virginia was poised to have a moment. Mike Scott was easily one of the two best players in the conference and there was an instant where it looked like the Cavaliers might have the juice to win the ACC. A team that played insanely tough defense just couldn’t find enough offense, though, losing two of its last three games, dropping one to North Carolina State in the first game of the ACC Tournament and getting totally obliterated by Florida in its NCAA Tournament opener. It was a crushingly disappointing end to one of the best seasons of Virginia basketball in years.
In terms of seniors, Virginia is losing its bedrock inScott, who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the early second round after a storied career in Charlottesville. Also hurting their frontcourt depth, seven-footer Assane Sene, was injured and then left the team at the very end of the season, though he would have otherwise presumably graduated and moved on anyway. Finally, the Cavaliers lose Sammy Zeglinski, a reliable veteran guard. During last season, the transfer plague that has dogged Virginia struck again, sending K.T. Harrell to Auburn and James Johnson to San Diego State.
This is a tough draw for Virginia. Florida is a very good team for a #7 seed, and that more than offsets the advantage Virginia could have theoretically gained as an unusually good #10 seed. In this match-up the NCAA did something that fans of contrasting styles love: pitting an elite offensive team against an elite defensive team. By Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rankings, Florida has the second best offense in the country after Missouri while Virginia has the 104th. On defense, Virginia ranks 5th in efficiency while Florida ranks 121st. Virginia’s star is an elite post player in Mike Scott, while Florida relies on it’s triumvirate of guards (Bradley Beal, Kenny Bonyton, and Erving Walker) to rain down threes from the perimeter. Polar opposites of each other in terms of focus, both teams share an affinity for slow pace and play their starters heavy minutes. So what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well, in this case, the news doesn’t look particularly good for Virginia.
How Will Donovan Contain Mike Scott?
Of all the teams in the country, few match the statistical profile of Virginia as well as Florida’s SEC brother, Alabama. Like Virginia, Alabama is a defensive-minded team that struggles to score efficiently with a post-centered attack. The Gators played Alabama twice this year, once in the regular season and once in the conference tournament and walked away with the victory both times. It’s tempting to attribute these victories, like many of Florida’s victories, to hot three-point shooting, but the Crimson Tide actually did a pretty good job against the Gators, holding them to only 28.6% and 33.3% from behind the arc. Yet Florida won, by making enough threes, getting enough offensive rebounds, and forcing enough turnovers to get the win. Does the same fate await Virginia?
On Friday, Florida and Alabama open their NCAA Tournament runs facing Virginia and Creighton, respectively. Here we preview the Friday/Sunday possibilities for the Gators and Crimson Tide.
SEC NCAA Tournament Friday/Sunday Capsules
#7 Florida: Tournament appearances: 16; Record 32-14; Best Finish: National Champion – 2006, 2007; Final Four appearances: 4; How Qualified: At-Large, SEC; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, Regional Final
#10 Virginia: Tournament appearances: 16; Record 22-16; Best Finish: Final Four – 1981, 1984; Final Four appearances: 2; How Qualified: At-Large, ACC; Last Appearance: 2007 – L, Second Round
#2 Missouri: Tournament appearances: 24; Record 22-23; Best Finish: Elite Eight – 2009, 2002, 1994* (vacated by NCAA), 1976, 1944; Final Four appearances: 0; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Big 12; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, First Round
#15 Norfolk State: Tournament appearances: 0; Record 0-0; Best Finish: N/A; Final Four appearances: 0; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference; Last Appearance: N/A
Florida vs Virginia: Virginia leads 1-0; Last Meeting: March 30, 1992 (Virginia 62, Florida 56)
Florida vs Missouri: Never met
Florida vs Norfolk State: Never met
The Gators Have A Tough Road To Get To The Sweet Sixteen
A Starting 5 of the Top Players Florida Could Face
Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State, Sr. C: O’Quinn is the anchor for a Norfolk State team excited for its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. If the Spartans could somehow make it past Missouri, Florida’s Patric Young would battle O’Quinn in the post. The beast of the MEAC averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
Mike Scott, Virginia, Sr., F: The Gators will have their hands full with one of the ACC’s top talents. Scott finished the year averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game earning him first team All-ACC honors. The forward has been on a tear of late, finishing with a double-double in his last three outings. He scored 28 against Florida State, 35 against Maryland and wrapped up with 23 points in his final game against North Carolina State.
Kim English, Missouri, Sr. F/G: English lit it up from three-point land this season, shooting 47.3 percent from downtown. English’s overall shooting percentages improved from 36.6 percent a year ago to a cool 53 percent this season. The improvements he’s made in his offensive game have the Tigers thinking about their first ever Final Four.
Marcus Denmon, Missouri, Sr. G: Denmon has shown he can do a little bit of everything. The 6’3″ guard averages 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game to lead a balanced Tigers attack in scoring. Denmon has been consistent, shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc on the season.
Phil Pressey, Missouri, So. G: Pressey is just a sophomore, but he is the court general for the poised Missouri Tigers. Pressey is averaging 10 points, 6.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and over 2 steals per game. He doesn’t always score in bunches, but finds ways to get his teammates involved in the game as evidenced by his double-digit assists in seven games this season.
The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.
One thing the Big 12 is missing in the NCAA Tournament is a #1 seed. Coming into the Big 12 Tournament, Kansas and Missouri had their chances, but the Jayhawks dropped their semifinal to Baylor and despite winning the regular season crown, the selection committee frowned on the Tigers’ non-conference schedule in dropping them to a #2 seed.
Kentucky head coach JohnCalipari was irked by the omission of Drexel from the field of 68. While the Dragons certainly had an argument for inclusion, we’ll also point out that Calipari’s comments also serve as a defense of his former assistant, Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint.
Indiana sophomore swingman Victor Oladipo has done a little bit of everything for the resurgent Hoosiers. He’s a key cog in the Hoosier offense, averaging 10.9 points per game and helps out on the glass with 5.5 rebouns per contest.
NotreDame turned what was supposed to be a rebuilding year into an NCAA Tournament bid. The silver lining to losing Tim Abromaitis early in the season is that it gave the Irish plenty of time to adapt.
Wichita State has exceeded all expectations this season. Would you be surprised to see the Shockers advance further than either of their high-major in-state brethren, Kansas or Kansas State?
Notre Dame’s strong defense could pose a problem for Xavier. The Irish have made life miserable for a number of opponents this season (just ask Syracuse), and without a star player on offense, they’ll have to rely on their disciplined defense.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino looks to avoid an exit at the hands of a mid-major team for the second straight season when his Cardinals take on Davidson. The Wildcats enjoy an uptempo pace, which could play right into Louisville’s hands, but it could be curtains if the Cards’ offense continues to sputter.
A close bond ties Long Beach State seniors Larry Anderson, T.J. Robinson and Casper Ware together, as do their struggles with ailing relatives. The 49ers are a popular Cinderella pick due to their experience and a non-conference schedule that saw them travel to some of the game’s most intense venues.
Winning close games isn’t all about skill. Certainly the best team will come out on top more often than not. But when a game is decided in the final possession–or even the final minute–skill is trumped by chance. It certainly helps if a 90% foul shooter goes to the line to ice a game, but he still misses every one out of ten free throws. He’s not taking ten, he’s taking one. That’s why winning really close games is as much a matter of luck as it is skill.
Now, after splitting a series of two coin flips with NC State, Virginia may be looking at a trip to the NIT. The Cavaliers won the first meeting in Raleigh by a point. The Wolfpack came back and won the rubber match in Atlanta by three. Virginia got outplayed in the second half. CJ Leslie continued his torrid stretch with the best performance of the ACC Tournament, going 9-11 from the field for 19 points to go with a game-leading 14 rebounds. Two monster threes to answer Cavalier runs from Lorenzo Brown (one with 16:44 left in the game after Virginia cut the lead to one and one seven minutes later after it cut the lead to three) complimented Leslie’s performance and propelled the Wolfpack to victory.
Mike Scott Deserves A Chance To Dance.
I’m going to make two cases: why you should pull for the Selection Committee to call Virginia’s name this weekend, and why I think they should.
Starting with the second argument, Virginia’s profile isn’t scintillating but it’s solid. The most glaring part of Virginia’s profile are the three RPI 100-2oo losses (to TCU, against Virginia Tech and at Clemson). They also own a 3-6 record against the RPI top-50 (updating NC State’s ranking), and a 4-0 record against teams ranked 51-100. That’s a relatively weak profile that has enough meat on it to be in the 11-12 conversation. Now factor in the eye test: the Cavaliers’ style isn’t pretty, but they played Duke to a one possession game on the road, North Carolina to a one possession game at home and Florida State twice to a one possession game. That’s four games (against the ACC’s top three teams) decided by one possession. Close wins shouldn’t count for much, but when we’re talking about a borderline team I think they should count for something.
First, here’s a quick preview of the ACC Tournament. You can find the rest of the power rankings after the jump.
The two Thursday games you should keep a close eye on are Clemson – Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest – Maryland. I trust Miami and NC State will have no trouble putting away their opponents, though Georgia Tech has played a couple of very good games this year.
While North Carolina is the prohibitive favorite, I think Florida State probably has the second best chance. Hear me out: Duke is playing without Ryan Kelly, which means the Plumlees and Hairston are it inside; factor in a history of ignoring the conference tournament for North Carolina combined with Kendall Marshall feeling “tired,” and I think you’ve got a recipe for a team not from North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament for the first time since Maryland in 2004.
I also expect strong runs from bubble teamers NC State and Miami, as both try to secure their at-large hopes with another marquee win.
North Carolina (27-4, 14-2) – It’s funny how the difference between a successful season can come down to one game. Had North Carolina lost to Duke at Cameron, people would’ve pointed to the Tar Heels’ lofty preseason expectations and how they came up short. Instead, Roy Williams’ squad finally showed the world just why it was ranked so high early in the season. Kendall Marshall hit shots, the defense clicked and the game felt over by the first media timeout. Now the Tar Heels have the inside track for a one-seed, owning the head-to-head victory with Michigan State that will definitely come in handy. There are still legitimate questions about North Carolina’s intensity, but if that intensity is in the ballpark of Saturday night opponents should be scared. Don’t pencil the Tar Heels into the Final Four before seeing the ACC Tournament. This team’s worst enemy until the final weekend will be itself. One person in particular to keep you eye on is Marshall. He was snubbed from first-team All-ACC (he missed by two votes), so I expect him to come out aggressively Friday. He’s also shows recent offensive improvement, coming up with two of his best performances of the year in rivalry games against NC State and Duke. When he’s taking and hitting open looks, the Tar Heels are impossible to guard. Read the rest of this entry »
theACC.com: You probably already knew this, but the ACC released its All-ACC teams yesterday headlined by Tyler Zeller (unanimous) and Mike Scott (nearly unanimous). Tomorrow the league will announce its individual awards and we’ll release our own conference awards. The biggest snubs were Kendall Marshall (Harrison Barnes edged him out by two points to make the first team) and Bernard James (who somehow lost to Mason Plumlee).
Streaking the Lawn: Well, he wasn’t snubbed but Mike Scott definitely wasn’t given his due by one or two voters. He finished two points (probably two second-team selections) from being a unanimous first-team selection. Props to Tim Mulholland for taking the only known offender, Caulton Tudor, to task for the omission. You’re welcome to choose Tyler Zeller as your Player of the Year. I waffled between him and Scott more times than I can count. But you can’t leave Scott off the first team. That’s just ridiculous. It’s almost as ridiculous as this headline: “Great Scott Sinks Terps in OT.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Tim Tucker sat down with John Swofford for a pretty interesting interview. For those keeping score at home, Swofford called college athletics a “business” twice during the conversation. He also reaffirmed his support for a four-team football playoff and keeping the NCAA tournament at 68 teams amidst discussion of the ACC’s new TV contract renegotiation and the recent NCAA violation issues. All in all, the interview gave a favorable impression of Swofford.
Charlotte Observer: Luke DeCock looks at coaches’ “motivating moments.” Every coach has his own style: Mike Krzyzewski berates his team with a fire (and tongue) you’d never expect from his interview demeanor (or maybe it’s Krzyzewski interviews with a mild manner you’d never expect from his on-court persona); Roy Williams keeps things under control most of the time, but he loses his temper with the best of them. As NC State’s CJ Williams pointed out, “All coaches are pretty much the same […] when it comes to yelling.”
Fayetteville Observer: Harrison Barnes keeps a list. It’s a list of his goals shaped like an inverted pyramid with “National Championship” sitting at the top. This sort of story is the reason I never doubt that Barnes will have a long, successful professional career. I’m still not sure whether he’s a go-to guy or “just” a 10-year starter in the League, but someone who works this hard to reach his goals will reach many of them.
EXTRA: In semi-ACC-related news, Syracuse is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. Charles Robinson and Pat Forde caught wind that the Orange have been playing team members who failed drug tests. There were at least 10 former players involved, and the NCAA is aware of the problem. I’m not sure what exactly could become of this, but certainly, it’s never good to associate your brand with drugs. Still, many of the infractions are beyond the NCAA’s statute of limitations.
This Weekend’s Lede – What makes the official start of March Madness? Saturday, March 3, which included 105 total games, three conference tournament championships, and 15 ranked teams playing their regular season finales definitely felt like the appropriate start date. Sunday saw eight more ranked teams play and one more conference tournament decided. It was a wonderful start to Championship Week that included both the usual (Murray State won the OVC) and the unexpected (Wichita State, Iona, and Middle Tennessee all lost before the title game) that makes our sport so much fun to watch. All regular season games but one Ivy contest are now completed, so the power leagues start up their own conference tournaments in the next couple of days. Over the course of the next week we will find out 27 more automatic bid winners and the 37 at-large teams to fill out the NCAA Tournament bracket. Let’s start by rehashing what took place over the weekend, and who looks good to go dancing. We start in the Big Ten…
Your Watercooler Moment. Buckeyes Victory Means a Three-Way Tie for Big Ten Supremacy
Who said that Ohio State blew its chance at a Big Ten title last week with its loss to Wisconsin? Well, we were actually guilty of thinking the same, as Michigan State had built a two-game lead with two games to play in the conference season. But after losing at Indiana, the Spartans needed to defend their home court and defeat Ohio State in Sunday’s regular season finale if they wanted the outright Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes had other ideas, as they came back from down double-digits in the second half to eventually win on a game-winner with one second remaining. William Buford’s jumper not only evened Ohio State with Michigan State at 13-5 in the conference, but it also means that Michigan’s 13-5 record holds up as a third team atop the Big Ten. These three teams all slipped up at home late in the season, but none was more costly than this Michigan State loss with the outright title and a likely NCAA Tournament #1 seed on the line. The Big Ten Tournament will be as great to watch as ever before, with so many teams jockeying for postseason inclusion or seeding position, and three teams all as co-favorites. In the tiebreaker scenarios, Michigan State comes out victorious as the regular-season champion and #1 seed, but all three split their season series and can stake a legitimate claim as league champ.
Top Storyline – North Carolina Exacts Revenge on Duke. If it weren’t for Austin Rivers’ buzzer-beating three on February 8, then North Carolina would currently be on a 13-game winning streak in ACC play with a +13.6 average scoring margin in those games. The Tar Heels got revenge on Duke for that shot and made sure everyone remembers how great this team is as UNC throttled Duke from the outset of Saturday night’s regular season finale. The Tar Heels jumped out to an 18-5 lead in under four minutes, wound it all the way up to a 24-point advantage at halftime, and finished it off with an 88-70 blowout victory going away. Duke has struggled in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season, but nothing like this, in which the road team was superior in every facet of the game. The Tar Heels’ entire starting lineup finished with at least 12 points, Kendall Marshall dished out his usual 10 assists, and John Henson and Tyler Zeller each had 10 rebounds. Carolina is the ACC champion and peaking at the right time of year.