Day One of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament was just about all you could hope for. There was one decent game, one snoozefest, and one furious finish with a buzzer beater that just might help Virginia Tech Thursday.
Miami beat Pitt 79-73 in the first game, which was good, but not great. It was like two fat men sumo wrestling in a vat of chocolate pudding in an empty arena. One would make a move, the other would slowly answer. That kept it close, so you kept watching, but this was not a tape that was going to replayed at coaching clinics.
Finally, one of the fat men got tired, didn’t get up out of the mud to answer, and Miami ended up winning. The Hurricanes will be facing a Clemson team today where the pudding should be thicker and the opponent a bit leaner and active.
The second game reminded me of the Tom Clancy novel “The Sum of All Fears,” as Duke put together a decent game, made a boat load of three pointers, and the pundits rejoiced for a team that was now one game over .500 this season. I turned on ESPN this morning, and the chyron on the bottom of the screen asks “can Duke run the gauntlet?”
Dear ESPN: Of course they can’t. They’d have to win 5 games in 5 days. The most they’ve won all season is 4 in a row over 9 days. What are you, drunk?
But this is what I warned we would all hear until someone puts this very average team out of its misery. There are so many in the media who desperately want to see the Blue Devils make the tournament, including the ACC Network. As I asked on Twitter at halftime, “now that Duke has won one half of basketball in the tournament, has Joe Lunardi penciled them in as a No. 12 seed yet?”
One announcer during the Duke game said he had heard that if Louisville (which is 13-6 and was among the league’s top 3 seeds until losing to top seed Virginia on the last day of the season) lost in the second round of the tournament, the Cardinals might not make the NCAA’s according to Lunardi.
This, of course, is remarkably similar to what an equine animal dumps in a field after a full meal, and is like passing on a rumor in a game of gossip. Louisville is in no danger to miss the big dance, but it plants the question of “if they don’t make it, who fills that spot from the ACC?”
Why, Duke, of course!
The final game saw how bad and how good a team can look in a 2-hour span. My old friend Jerry English, an outstanding high school coach in Roanoke, once noted that I understood the game of basketball and knew how to shoot, but that defense was a foreign term to me. Notre Dame looked like I was coaching their defense in the first half, as Wake Forest ran wild to the point I thought it would be the Demon Deacons against North Carolina later today.
But the Irish then started playing like Jerry was coaching their defense and made a game of it. The contest was still in Wake’s hands, but they made a tactical error the good people of Winston-Salem will be wondering about until summer.
Wake had the ball in the final seconds and the clock was off. First rule of that situation is you don’t shoot until you’re in a position to either win at the buzzer or it looks like you’re going to be fouled. Shoot too soon, and the other team has time to do unto you what you were trying to do to them.
For some reason, however, Wake’s Daivien Williamson started the offense a little too soon, driving the lane with about 6 seconds left. That shot was blocked by Notre Dame’s Cormac Ryan, there was enough time for there to be a mad scramble down the court, the ball was passed to Trey Wertz, and Wertz hit a long three-pointer at the buzzer for the game-winner.
I have found that the difference between a shot being long enough for you to actually launch a shot with your normal jump-shooting form versus having to make a two-hand heave (where the odds of you making it are miniscule) is about 10 feet. Or when running as fast as you can, about a half-second off the clock. If Williamson waits just half a second more to try the shot that was blocked in his face, odds are that shot becomes a heave that ends up bouncing over the backboard.
I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been just prolonging the inevitable, as Notre Dame finished the game on a 17-2 run. Wake had lost whatever magic it had, and the Irish had found their defensive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
This could have positive implications for Virginia Tech. The winner of Notre Dame-North Carolina today will face the Hokies Thursday. An easy game for the Tar Heels (which might have been the case against Wake) would have allowed them to come into Thursday's game confident and ready to go against a Hokie team that hasn’t played in 12 days.
Notre Dame, conversely, can play with UNC. Their last game was only decided by one point, and Tuesday’s game addressed the biggest flaw the Irish have had this season: sometimes they play like they care, sometimes they play like they don’t. Properly motivated, Notre Dame can be a tough out in the tournament, and after an emotional win last night, odds are they come out today with fire in their eyes.
Notre Dame wearing out a taller UNC team at a minimum would be helpful to the Hokies. An outright upset? It would be putting the Irish against a Hokie team that has beaten Notre Dame both times by double digits when they’ve played this season.
Networks want Duke for ratings just as they hope Yankees go to World Series yearly. But the way some of the announcers fawn over the Durham bunch is reminiscent of the SNL "Da Bears" skits.