newssuddenly tight acc basketball race comes down to the final week of the regular season

Suddenly tight ACC Basketball race comes down to the final week of the regular season

acc basketballThe next-to-last Saturday in the ACC regular season didn’t go off as expected. Down year, or not, it was a hard-fought weekend in the conference as the schools continue to jockey for seeding heading in the upcoming ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

We thought a couple of games were easy to predict: Miami would crush Florida State, and NC State would stay hot and blow past Clemson. We were wrong on both.

Clemson got off to a hot start, led 54-29 at the break and never let up in pasting the Pack, 96-71.

In Miami, it looked as though FSU was merely going through the motions, trailing 54-31 at halftime, but they weren’t. If the Seminoles were just playing out the season, it was with reason. FSU came into the game 8-20 and Miami was 23-6 and ranked #13 nationally.

In the second half, the Seminoles incrementally sliced into the Hurricane lead, until finally completing the comeback and taking the lead 82-81, setting up an incredible finish in South Beach.

Miami’s Jordan Miller hit a three-point shot to put the Hurricanes backup 84-82 with 4.9 seconds left. Florida State’s Matthew Cleveland got the ball at center court, took a couple of dribbles toward the basket, and launched the shot, hitting nothing but net at the buzzer as FSU shocked Miami 85-84.

In Chapel Hill, Virginia came to town licking its wounds after a disappointing loss at Boston College Wednesday night. UNC needed a win, badly. The thought process was that the Cavaliers certainly could not play as poorly as they did Wednesday at BC and would give the Tar Heels fits.

Wrong. Well, at least for a half, Virginia couldn’t get out of its own way, trailing 42-26 at intermission. UVA turned things around a bit in the second half, but the hole they had dug proved to be too deep, falling to UNC, 71-63.

Over in Durham, Duke had no trouble dispatching Virginia Tech, 81-65. A 17-2 run in the first half put the Blue Devils up 19-5, and they never looked back.

Pitt and Wake Forest both took care of business. The Panthers defeated Syracuse 99-82, while the Demon Deacons got past Notre Dame 66-58.

The Panthers (21-8, 14-4 ACC) now stand alone atop the league.

NC State’s debacle against Clemson likely pushed Duke out of a top-four finish and the coveted two-round bye into the ACC tourney. Because of Clemson’s win over Duke earlier this season, the Blue Devils would have to win their final two games (home vs. NC State, at UNC), and the Tigers must lose to Virginia and Notre Dame.

Possible? Maybe. Likely? Not really.

The last week of the regular season may prove critical for three of the ACC’s bluebloods.

Virginia’s final two games are both in Charlottesville. Tuesday’s showdown with Clemson is probably the Cavaliers’ last opportunity to right the ship that has been taking on water since early February.

The Tigers (21-8, 13-5 ACC) are coming off an impressive win in Raleigh over the Wolfpack.

Virginia (21-6, 13-5 ACC) concludes the regular season with Louisville, and a win over the Cardinals would hardly serve as a springboard for UVA.

Duke (21-8, 12-6 ACC) is quietly creeping up the standings and has rivalry games to conclude the regular season. The Blue Devils’ final home game in Cameron against NC State (22-8, 12-7 ACC) provides Duke the opportunity to complete a perfect home season.

On Saturday, the Blue Devils travel about 11 miles to Chapel Hill to face the Tar Heels.

UNC (18-11, 10-8 ACC), clearly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, travels to FSU Monday and then prepares for the rematch with Duke.

North Carolina cannot afford a 1-1 week, regardless of who the win or loss is against.

The game of the day on Saturday may be Pitt facing Miami (23-6, 14-5 ACC) in Coral Gables.

Miami has the midweek off, while Pitt travels to Notre Dame on Wednesday.

Scott German

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.