ACC tournament preview and postseason awards

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
2 Comments

POSTSEASON AWARDS

ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: De’Andre Hunter, Virginia

I know, I know, I know. I have Zion Williamson as the National Player of the Year and Hunter as the ACC Player of the Year. The reason why is simple: I think that the ACC Player of the Year award should be given to the guy that was the best during ACC play, and to be the best that requires actually being on the court. Williamson essentially missed a third of conference play, which is too much when you consider that Duke lost three of the six games he missed. He played more than 80 percent of the season as a whole.

Either way, the point isn’t to argue about this. The point is that Hunter has been absolutely phenomenal this season. I think there’s an argument to be made that he is the best defender in college basketball given the way he can switch from defending the best guards to the best bigs and back, often in the same game. He’s also the most talented player on Virginia and the guy that has been the one to takeover in games when Virginia is struggling.

His numbers aren’t eye-popping, which is a direct result of the pace Virginia plays and the fact that they have three stars, but he is easily the first ACC player not named Zion Williamson that I could pick if I was starting a college basketball team.

ACC COACH OF THE YEAR: Tony Bennett, Virginia

Coming off of a season in which the Wahoos not only lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament — the only time that has happened to a No. 1 seed, I don’t know if you heard about that — and then graduated their second-leading scorer and best frontcourt defender, Virginia entered the 2018-19 season picked to finish third in a conference that had more than half of their members in the preseason top 25. By the time the dust settled, Virginia finished the season sitting at 28-2 overall and with a share of the ACC regular season title for the fourth time in the last six seasons. Their only two losses this season came against Duke.

FIRST TEAM ALL-ACC

  • DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia (POY)
  • TY JEROME, Virginia
  • CAM JOHNSON, North Carolina
  • R.J. BARRETT, Duke
  • ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

SECOND TEAM ALL-ACC

  • COBY WHITE, North Carolina
  • MARCQUISE REED, Clemson
  • NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
  • MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State
  • KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Virginia Tech

ACC TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 12-16
WHERE: Charlotte
FINAL: March 16, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

(All odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.)

FAVORITE: Duke (+175)

Virginia (+150) is the odds-on favorite to win the ACC tournament, but I think that line has a lot to do with the fact that the Wahoos are the No. 1 seed, meaning they will avoid Duke and North Carolina until the title game. It’s hardly a bad bet — Virginia is the reigning ACC tournament champ, they have won two ACC tournaments in the last five years and this is one of the three best teams in college basketball — but I still think Duke is the best team in the conference. They have lost just once this season when they have been at full strength (against Gonzaga) and they swept Virginia despite playing without Tre Jones for a game.

The bigger news is that it appears that Zion Williamson will be back for the ACC tournament. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after Saturday’s loss at North Carolina that he expects the big fella to play. For what it’s worth, I like the value that comes with Virginia more than Duke or North Carolina (+200) simply because the Tobacco Road Rivals are on a crash course in the semifinals.

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

SLEEPER: Virginia Tech (+1700)

I think we have to look at the top of the bracket here to avoid a situation where we’re picking a team to be Duke, North Carolina and Virginia on three straight nights. Florida State is the No. 4 seed, meaning that they, too, get the double-bye into quarterfinals where they seemed like to end up playing a Virginia Tech team they beat in overtime in Tallahassee just six days ago. The Seminoles have also won 12 of their last 13 games since starting ACC play 1-4.

That said, there are some books that have the Hokies getting better odds than Florida State, and in that situation I think that they are worth a look as well. Virginia Tech actually matches up better with Virginia than Florida State does. Virginia does not turn the ball over, they do not get sped up and they are not going to give up points in the paint, either via penetration or second chance points. Florida State probably has more talent that VT with Justin Robinson expected to miss the tournament, but Virginia Tech can really, really shoot the ball and Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear work well ball-screen actions together.

BEST VALUE: Florida State (+2000)

If you can get 20:1 odds on Florida State it’s certainly a better bet because they have to win just three games instead of four, but otherwise I do like the Hokies more.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

CLEMSON (NET: 35, SOS: 32)
N.C. STATE (NET: 32, SOS: 211): Right off the bat, we get what probably will amount to a play-out game, as the 8-9 game in the ACC tournament will feature bubbly Clemson vs. bubbly N.C. State. As far as I’m concerned, but programs need to not only win on Wednesday but then go on to beat No. 1 seed Virginia on Thursday afternoon to deserve an at-large bid. We detailed why Clemson should not be considered to be on or near the bubble right now, while N.C. State played the worst non-conference schedule in all of Division I basketball this season.

SYRACUSE (NET: 46, SOS: 12): I think the Orange are probably safe regardless of what happens on Wednesday, but if they end getting blown out by No. 14 seed Pitt after losing their last two, four of their last five and seven of their last ten regular season games, then there is a chance that they could drop below the cut-line if college basketball’s Bid Thieves go bonkers this week.

I do not expect that to happen, and besides, the Selection Committee has proven in recent years that they have no interest in leaving Syracuse out of the tournament even when Syracuse actually should be left out of the tournament.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Virginia has more or less locked up a spot on the No. 1 seed line at this point, but there is still a possibility that, should they lose to the Clemson-N.C. State winner, they can be bumped off the top line or out of the East Region and Washington D.C. Duke and North Carolina, on the other hand, are still playing for a shot at the ACC’s second No. 1 seed. Should Duke beat Virginia in the ACC tournament title game, there’s a world where all three of Duke, UNC and UVA get No. 1 seeds.

On the job front, it seems like this will likely be the end of the forgettable Danny Manning era at Wake Forest. The other ACC job that could open this spring — beyond, you know, the obvious Buzz Williams to Texas A&M rumors — is Boston College, where Jim Christian missed on his chance to make the tournament with Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson last season. As the No. 11 seed this year, an automatic bid to this tournament this year seems exceedingly unlikely.

PREDICTION

Zion Williamson returns and Duke reminds everyone who the true king is in college basketball this season, beating Syracuse, North Carolina and Virginia en route to the ACC tournament title.

Duke edges North Carolina 63-57 behind Roach, Lively

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

DURHAM, N.C. — Jeremy Roach scored 20 points, Dereck Lively II had career highs of eight blocks and 14 rebounds and Duke defeated North Carolina 63-57 on Saturday night.

Kyle Filipowski added 14 points and Tyrese Proctor 11 for the Blue Devils (17-6, 8-4 ACC), who won their third straight and beat the Tar Heels (15-8, 7-5) for the first time in three meetings, including in last year’s Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 63rd career double-double, extending his own program record, Leaky Black had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Caleb Love added 12 points and RJ Davis 11.

Roach scored eight of Duke’s final 10 points, including the last four after Lively’s tiebreaking dunk with 1:35 to go. North Carolina missed its last five shots, including a trio of 3-point tries in the final minute.

The Blue Devils’ six-point winning margin matched their largest lead.

Neither team reached 40% shooting but Duke outscored North Carolina 20-2 off fast breaks and was 11 of 15 at the free-throw line to only 2 of 3 for the Tar Heels.

The stat sheet was fairly even at halftime when Duke led 33-32 except for one telling stat, a 16-0 advantage for the Blue Devils on fast-break points as they scored repeatedly off transition.

A 14-5 run erased a seven-point North Carolina lead — the Tar Heels’ largest — and put Duke in front 26-24 with just under four minutes left in the half. A Proctor 3-pointer broke the fourth tie before Bacot cut it to the one-point margin at the break. Bacot had 12 points in the first half. Roach had 10.

The game matched two men who played in this rivalry and are now leading the programs they played for: first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer and Hubert Davis, in his second year for North Carolina.

The teams will meet again in their regular-season finale at Chapel Hill on March 4. Duke plays at No. 23 Miami on Monday. North Carolina is at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

No. 13 Iowa State rolls past eighth-ranked Kansas 68-53

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes scored all 15 of his points in the second half as No. 13 Iowa State rolled past No. 8 Kansas 68-53 on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi added 13 for the Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12), who stayed within at least a game of front-running Texas in the conference standings. Tamin Lipsey added eight rebounds and 10 assists.

“Today, we came out and played desperate,” Holmes said.

Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4) with 26 points for his sixth straight game with at least 20. No other Kansas player had more than 8 points.

“It’s not a formula for success for us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We need balance from our starting five. If one guy feels like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense.”

The Cyclones led for all but 1:14 of the game, building a 34-16 scoring edge in the paint. Kansas struggled early, making just two of their first 10 shots and committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Iowa State shot 46% for the game.

“From the beginning, we gave them some easy buckets,” Wilson said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with (defensively) … the easiest way to get comfortable is easy buckets, layups, stuff like that.”

Iowa State was up 33-21 at the break.

Holmes missed all four shots in the first half, but after getting sick at halftime, he helped the Cyclones stretched the lead to 42-31 early in the second half with a 3-pointer and layup.

“I felt a little nauseous the whole day,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with some sickness over the past week and a half.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped to 3-4 during a stretch in which six of its seven opponents were ranked. The lone unranked foe was Kentucky. … Kansas committed a season-high 20 turnovers Saturday. … The loss to Iowa State was Self’s first in five meetings with second-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger.

Iowa State: Improved to 12-0 at home this season and 5-0 in the Big 12. It was also the Cyclones’ fifth win over a top-10 opponent in the past two seasons.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts No. 10 Texas on Monday.

Iowa State: Travels to West Virginia on Wednesday.

Bishop helps No. 10 Texas rally past No. 7 K-State, 69-66

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Christian Bishop was as frustrated as anyone in a Texas jersey in the first half Saturday. He’d been held without a point by Kansas State and, not surprisingly, the No. 10 Longhorns were facing a double-digit deficit on the road.

Maybe that’s why he punctuated every bucket in the second half with a fist pump.

Bishop poured in 14 points after the break to lead the Longhorns’ comeback, including the go-ahead lay-in with 37 seconds to go, and the new Big 12 leaders held on for a 69-66 victory over the No. 7 Wildcats on Saturday.

“Christian’s been working really hard over the last couple of games to get him back to the level he was playing four or five games ago,” interim Texas coach Rodney Terry said. “He really came out and rebounded and gave our team an incredible lift the way he played the second half.”

Red-hot guard Sir’Jabari Rice also had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Longhorns, and it was his two free throws with nine seconds left that forced the Wildcats into needing a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.

After a quick timeout, the Wildcats’ Ismael Massoud got an open look from the wing but came up well short of the basket, allowing the Longhorns to hold on for their fifth win over a Top 25 team this season.

Tyrese Hunter and Marcus Carr added 10 points apiece for Texas (19-4, 8-2), which took over sole possession of first place in the rough-and-tumble Big 12 by avenging its overtime loss to the Wildcats (18-5, 6-4) early last month.

“Our league, we don’t have any bad teams,” Terry said. “To come in on a home court against a top-10 team and have this kind of performance, I’ll stack it up with one of the best wins I’ve been part of in 30 years of coaching.”

Keyontae Johnson struggled through foul trouble but still had 16 points to lead the Wildcats, who have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season. Desi Sills scored 11 points and Markquis Nowell had 10, but he also had six turnovers, including one with less than a minute to go and Kansas State down by one.

“I don’t want to wash this one. I want to live with this one for 36 hours,” Wildcats coach Jerome Tang said. “Everybody in our arena did our job except the coaches and players on the floor.”

Kansas State and Texas played one of the most entertaining games of the season in Austin, when they went bucket-for-bucket through regulation and into overtime. The Wildcats eventually escaped with a 116-103 victory.

Early on Saturday, Texas looked as if it would struggle to score half as much.

With the Wildcats clamping down on the perimeter, the Longhorns kept throwing the ball away, and at one point had seven turnovers against just five made shots. They also went a stretch of more than 7 minutes with just one field goal.

Kansas State took advantage of their offensive malaise.

Despite the sure-handed Nowell’s turnover trouble, and leading scorer Johnson picking up his third foul with 5 1/2 minutes left in the half, the Wildcats steadily built a lead. It reached as many as 14 before Texas made three free throws in the final second to get within 36-25 heading to the locker room.

It was the spark the Longhorns needed: They made their first six shots of the second half, and their run spanning the break eventually reached 17-4 while getting them within 40-39 with 15 minutes left in the game.

“There were points in the second half we did get rushed,” Nowell said, “and it led to turnovers and fast-break points.”

Rice’s 3-pointer a few minutes later gave Texas its first lead since the opening minutes. And when the Wildcats went on a nearly 5-minute scoring drought, Bishop began to assert control, the Creighton transfer scoring 11 points over a 6-minute stretch and punctuating each of them with a roar and a fist pump.

Just like their first meeting Jan. 3, though, the rematch Saturday was destined to go down to the wire.

“There’s no blowouts in our league,” Tang said.

BIG PICTURE

Texas could do nothing right in the first half and nothing wrong in the second, shooting 57% from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Most of the success came in the paint; the Longhorns were just 4 of 16 from the 3-point arc.

Kansas State couldn’t overcome 19 turnovers, including six by Nowell, who had 36 points, nine assists and eight rebounds when the teams met in Austin. He had just six rebounds and three assists on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Texas heads down Interstate 70 to face eighth-ranked Kansas on Monday night.

Kansas State wraps its homestand against No. 15 TCU on Tuesday night.

James leads No. 2 Tennessee over No. 25 Auburn, 46-43

Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Josiah-Jordan James scored 15 points and 14 rebounds to lead No. 2 Tennessee to a 46-43 victory over No. 25 Auburn on Saturday in a game in which every point was difficult and nothing flowed.

“Both teams played as hard as they could,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “Every possession was a grind.”

The Volunteers (19-4, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) shot just 27% from the field and 9.5% from the 3-point line. They were recovering from a Wednesday loss to Florida in which they shot 28%.

Tennessee had a 47-42 edge on the boards and 15-8 on the offensive glass.

“A game like this shows a lot of character,” said James. “I knew coming in (rebounding) was what I’d be called to do. I had to use the body God’s given me.”

“Both teams did a fantastic job,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “To hold Tennessee to 27% … It doesn’t get any better than that.”

“I don’t think there’s a more physical league in the country,” said Barnes.

The Tigers (17-6, 7-3) were led by Johni Broome with 11 points and nine rebounds and K.D. Johnson off the bench with 10 points. Auburn managed only 24% from the field and 11% from the 3-point line.

Jaylin Williams made two free throws with 2:47 to play cut Tennessee’s lead to 40-38. Santiago Vescovi hit his first 3-pointer of the game and got a four-point play out of it for a 44-38 lead. A 3-pointer by Wendell Green Jr. cut the advantage to 44-41 with 30 seconds left.

A turnover on the inbounds play gave Auburn the ball with 23 seconds to play. Broome got a tip-in to make it a one-point game, and Zakai Zeigler made two free throws.

Green’s last-second 3-point to tie clanked out.

“At the end, Wendell Green got the shot off and got fouled,” said Pearl. “Nothing got called.”

Auburn scored eight straight points to start the game. Tennessee followed with a six-point run and an eight-point spurt early in the second half. Those were the longest runs of the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee was in the No. 2 spot in the poll for two days before falling at Florida. Under Barnes, the Vols now have 25 wins over teams ranked in the Top 25. . Auburn had been clinging to the elite at No. 25 this week. The Tigers have been ranked as high as No. 11, coming in the fifth week of the season.

STAT SNACKS

Since statistics started being kept in 1999-2000, Tennessee is on pace to be the all-time leader in field-goal percentage defense (.348; Stanford, 1999-2000, is second .352) and 3-point defense (.225; Norfolk State, 2004-05, is second .253). . Through 22 games, the similarities between last year’s Vols point guard Kennedy Chandler (now with the Memphis Grizzlies) and this year’s Ziegler are striking (points per game: Chandler 13.5, Ziegler 11.4; rebounds: 3.0, 3.0; assists: 4.95, 5.05).

UP NEXT

Auburn: The Tigers will host Texas A&M on Tuesday night.

Tennessee: The Vols will tackle in-state rival Vanderbilt in Nashville on Wednesday.

Pedulla’s 22 points lift Virginia Tech past No. 6 Virginia

Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Sean Pedulla scored 22 points and Virginia Tech beat No. 6 Virginia 74-68 on Saturday, snapping the Cavaliers’ seven-game winning streak.

Pedulla made 6 of 13 from the floor as the Hokies (14-10, 4-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) posted their biggest win of the season. He added 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. Justin Mutts added 17 points.

Virginia Tech never trailed and shot 50% from the floor for the fourth straight game.

“There was no pouting (after the Miami loss). Just back to practice the next day,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said of his team, which lost 92-83 to No. 23 Miami on Tuesday. “Yeah, we’ve got Virginia coming in. Yes, in-state and all of that stuff. We’ve got another opportunity to play another really good opponent. We’ve got a chance to play Virginia Tech basketball and fight and compete and adhere to the things that are important to us – and we did that by and large on both ends of the floor.”

Jayden Gardner’s 20 points led Virginia (17-4, 9-3), which saw its usually stingy defense struggle. Kihei Clark finished with 17 points for the Cavaliers, while Reece Beekman had 15. Armaan Franklin, who had scored in double figures in 10 straight games, had six.

The Cavaliers tied the game at 38 on Gardner’s basket with 15:09 remaining, but the Hokies outscored Virginia 17-7 over the next seven minutes and never looked back.

Mutts hit 7 of 11 from the floor and added eight assists and four rebounds. Grant Basile had 14 points and Hunter Cattoor scored all 10 of his points in the second half for the Hokies.

“The heart was there, but to win in this setting against a team that’s playing good basketball, and Tech is, and they’ve got the players, you’ve got to be hard and smart,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You can’t just be all hard. We were (hard and smart) for stretches, and they made us make some adjustments that helped a little bit, but they made the big shots.”

TIP-INS

Virginia: The Cavaliers suffered a rare poor outing on the defensive end, and it cost them. They led the ACC in scoring defense (60.2 ppg) going in, but allowed the Hokies to score 74 points and shoot 50.9% (27 of 53) from the floor. The Hokies became just the third team this season to shoot better than 50% against Virginia and scored 40 points in the paint.

“They run a lot of action, whether it’s dribble handoffs, fakes, they keep you on your toes, and it takes an incredible, and I think disciplined (effort) to keep them in front and keep them out of the paint,” Bennett said.

Virginia Tech: After losing eight of their previous 10 games, the Hokies needed a big win to help their thin NCAA Tournament resume. Registering 19 assists and turning the ball over just eight times were keys.

“Obviously, we keep up with stuff throughout the year, like `Oh, this would be a huge win on our resume,”‘ Pedulla said. “We do think about (the NCAA Tournament), and we obviously want to get there again. We know our team’s capable of it. We’re focused on it and we’re just trying to stack those wins on top of each other. I think this win definitely helps us.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Cavaliers were one-point underdogs going into the game, so they shouldn’t drop more than a few spots in Monday’s poll.

UP NEXT

Virginia: Hosts N.C. State on Tuesday.

Virginia Tech: Takes on Boston College in Blacksburg on Wednesday.