ACC Tournament Preview

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Dates: 3/10-3/13
Location: Greensboro Coliseum; Greensboro, N.C.
Championship Game: March 13, 1 p.m., ESPN

Outlook: You know what’s really funny about how the ACC regular season concluded? Technically, its second best team was Duke, but that was supposed to be the team everyone was chasing. Not so fast my friend. Too many pros on North Carolina circumvented the Blue Devils from grabbing the regular season title, something they appeared to have all but clinched a month ago. Maryland, Florida State, even Boston College, they all seem sooo out right now.

We always used to deem the ACC Tournament as tops in the game, but a top heavy collection of teams has given way to the Big East as the premier conference tournament in the country. And you can’t dispute that. This year the slightly watered down product makes us want to fast forward to the semi finals. Not only do we get an underachieving, bubble-bound Virginia Tech team for a third consecutive season, we get NC State – who refused to make moves this season- as a No. 11 seed, and a Florida State Seminole squad that could play sans their star, Chris Singleton.

So what do we have to look forward to? Well a Duke-UNC rubber match, of course. It’s finally time Blue Devils accept the fact that their stud, Kyrie Irving, isn’t walking through that door. They also have to understand that North Carolina’s addition by the subtraction of disjointed rapper Larry Drew III has given this team a real starting five, with a real point guard who can not only score, but share.

Still, this tournament could provide some real drama and excitement, but probably not until Sunday beginning at 1:00pm.

Players to Watch: Derwin Kitchen, Florida State; Kendall Marshall, North Carolina; Reggie Jackson, Boston College

If Singleton cannot give it a go for the Seminoles, a fan base turns its lonely eyes on the team’s second leading scorer in Kitchen. FSU isn’t known for its scoring (70 ppg), but a depleted front court will force them to do so if they wish to advance.

For Marshall and Jackson, these are two players ardent ACC basketball fans know and appreciate, but on a national stage neither has yet to really garner the admiration they deserve. Marshall has averaged more than eight assists a game since Drew skipped town, never turning the ball over more than five times in a contest. Being able to understand his role to help his team be most successful is laudable, and integral to the improvement that North Carolina has made as the winter waned.

Boston College is the best team playing in the opening round, and are more than capable of advancing to the semi-finals against the Tar Heels. If they do, it will likely be sparked by a pair of 20+ point performances by Jackson. Freakishly quick and fearless, Jackson is a ball to watch, so I suggest you make a point to tune in to the Eagles this week. Steve Donahue doesn’t handcuff his kids, something predecessor Al Skinner was often criticized for.

Champion: Duke

The Blue Devils have won the last two conference tournaments, with the Heels only winning two since 1999; it’s just not their thing I guess. I expect Coach K to recharge his team’s batteries after a dismal performance in Chapel Hill last Saturday, and force the selection committee to hand over that fourth No 1 tournament seed to the defending national champions.

Complete tournament bracket

Tournament standings, stats, more

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady ‘awake, alert’ after getting stretchered off court

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Wichita State big man Anton Grady was stretchered off of the floor in the second half of a loss to Alabama after a nasty collision with Dazon Ingram.

The video can be seen above. There was nothing malicious about the way that Grady was injured. When he turned to run up the floor after missing a shot in the lane, he went face first into Ingram’s shoulder. He neck bent in an awkward directions and, after stumbling a few steps, he laid motionless on the floor.

It took 10 minutes for the training staff to strap Grady to a backboard and wheel him out of the arena.

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A Wichita State spokesman told NBCSports.com that Grady was taken to a local trauma center for evaluation and that he is “awake, alert and is answering questions appropriately”.

We will have more updates as they come available.

From a basketball perspective, the No. 20 Shockers lost their second game in a row and are now 2-3 on the season.

While for some the Shockers’ résumé is up for questioning following losses to USC and Alabama, two teams projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues, the team’s health is the biggest concern.

Fred VanVleet has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the season began, and an ankle injury limited him in a loss at Tulsa earlier this month. He won’t play again until at least Dec. 5th. and who knows when he’ll be back to full strength. The same can be said for back up point guard and freshman Landry Shamet, who underwent surgery to address a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Their injuries have led to even more being asked of senior guard Ron Baker, and the loss of Grady for any significant amount of time certainly isn’t going to help matters..

These early-season losses won’t help Wichita State when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but it’s important to make note of the circumstances surrounding those defeats. To be shorthanded, with one of the absent players ranking among the nation’s best point guards, has an impact that has to be accounted for when evaluating Wichita State. The Shockers will add Conner Frankamp in mid-December, which will help them on the perimeter.

But with their rotation currently being in flux, it’s tough to make any definitive statements on what Wichita State will have to do in order to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. At this point Gregg Marshall and his staff will look for other contributors, one of whom being Markis McDuffie (14 points, seven rebounds vs. Alabama), to emerge and show themselves capable of picking up the slack.