Today, my friends, it begins. Two content notes:
1 - I will be in Greensboro today covering the tourney. That means that during the first two games (UVA-Miami at noon, BC-Wake at 2), I will be "live blogging." That means updating a post with various observations and witticisms and diatribes and pictures of myself wearing historical costumes (the last one might be tough). I'll be time-stamping each entry and putting it above the previous content, so if you're bored at work, just refresh the page to read the new stuff. Obviously I'll be yakking mostly about the ACC tourney, but other games around the country will get some love too.
2 - Gothic Madness, the internecine Duke March Madness site war, starts next week. Due to a clerical error, I just found out that Seth Curry Saves Duke!'s team is 23-strong, not 25. That means we have two slots available. If you'd like your bracket to help us take down the other Duke sites around the net, leave a comment or drop me an e-mail. First two to respond get in.
While searching for the ACC Tourney schedule yesterday, I couldn't find an actual bracket with seeds and game times, so I made one myself. Use it to seduce women if you want:
(The picture in the background is Mike Gminski cutting down the nets after Duke's ACC tournament win in 1978. You can see it in living color here. It's pretty sweet.)
For my preview, I'm going to take a quick look at what I consider interesting or exciting match-ups, starting in the early round. As we get into the later rounds, the match-ups will clearly become hypothetical. Let's roll.
1 - #8 UVA (7-9) vs. #9 Miami (6-10)
When I told my pal Nick that I was excited for this game, he looked at me like I had three heads. Not only because the teams aren't high-ranked, but because he didn't think the quality of play would be excellent. Which may all be true. But this is one of those classic match-ups of underachieving talent against overachieving mediocrity. The only time these teams met in the regular season, Miami won by two in OT. Which was an aberration, because usually Miami loses close games. Virginia, meanwhile, wins games they shouldn't (V. Tech twice, Clemson, Maryland), but is also capable of losing to Wake Forest. I like watching these kinds of games, because it pits intelligence against talent in a pressure cooker environment. The Big Dance is beyond either team, but it'll be interesting to see who's in Greensboro to play. If Miami wins, I can see them giving UNC a scare in round two. UVA, on the other hand, will get trounced.
2 - #7 Maryland (7-9) vs. #10 N.C. State (5-11)
Maryland has dropped three straight (UNC, Miami, UVA) and waltzed themselves right off the bubble. In classic recent-Maryland fashion, the life slowly seeped out of them after an okay start to the year. The Wolfpack have shown very slight signs of life in the past six games, taking down Clemson and Georgia Tech while giving UNC a very mild scare in Raleigh. You also have to wonder if they'll be playing a little extra hard for Sidney Lowe, whose job is very much in jeopardy. The conditions may be ripe for an upset. And either way, Duke has a walk of a first-round game against the winner.
3 - #6 Virginia Tech (9-7) vs. #11 Georgia Tech (5-11)
The battle of the Techs! The Virginia branch has been so bad that there's ever-so-slight upset potential here. The Jackets ended the year with wins over Wake and Miami, while the Hokies looked lifeless against Boston College (home) and Clemson (away). When the teams met in the regular season, V. Tech romped in Blacksburg, winning 102-77. They should win. In fact, they should make the semi-finals. But with a Seth Greenberg team fighting to get into the tournament, history has taught us to expect the worst.
1 - #8 Miami (7-9) vs. #1 UNC (14-2)
It's one of those you-never-know games. For whatever reason, Duke and UNC never seem to meet in the finals of an ACC tourney (9 times in 55 years, never since 2001), and it's usually because one team is losing a trap game like this. Who's going to foil the awesome Duke-UNC rubber game this year? It could well be the Hurricanes.
2 - #5 Boston College (9-7) vs. #4 Clemson (9-7)
Yes! Once BC trounces Wake, this is going to be awesome. If you'll let me boast for a second, I went to the practice sessions yesterday and got to speak with Brad Brownell and Steve Donahue in my capacity as a media person. The first-year coaches were both really nice guys, and you all have heard me rave about Donahue on this blog before. Having these guys in the ACC is amazing, because I have no doubt they're going to lift two teams who have been out of the mix for a long while. And if Duke and UNC don't meet in the finals, this will be the best game of the tournament. The winner is definitely in the Big Dance, while the loser has to hold their breath until Sunday night. Two great young coaches with very different teams. BC executes extremely well on offense and struggles on defense, while Clemson plays tough, in-your-face defense (12th in the country, efficiency-wise) and can have trouble scoring. The Tigers are clearly the more talented team, but BC has a way of staying with better teams (see the 48-46 loss at UNC), and they can score a blue streak on any given day. This is going to be great.
Also, for the record: sports reporters ask the dumbest fucking questions. Here's every question they threw at Donahue and Brownell:
"Coach, how are the guys feeling?"
"Coach, what does it mean for you to coach on a big stage like this?"
"Coach, what advice do you have for your guys as they take the court?"
Pointless, sloppy drivel. Seriously, the level of inquiry could not have been more shallow. It's like these guys don't even know or care about basketball. Seriously, this is why newspapers are dying, and why sports writing is so bad at a lot of mainstream outlets; you, the guy or gal reading this blog, probably know more about basketball than reporters. And I'm serious about that. You're certainly more curious. All these guys want is their one quote and then they go on their lazy way. You wonder why coaches are so hesitant to say anything interesting or open up around the media? This is why. They can sense that they're dealing with a bunch of slobs who couldn't give two shits about what they say unless it's controversial. Basketball strategy? Insights into their personality? Nothing could be further from their minds.
3 - #7 Maryland (7-9)) vs. #2 Duke (13-3)
One more beat-down for old time's sake.
4 - #6 Virginia Tech (9-7) vs. #3 FSU (11-5)
I feel pretty bad for Florida State. What looked like a team with the potential to make a great Elite 8 run on the strength of smothering defense has become a hamstrung unit just waiting to be put out of their misery in the NCAA tourney. That might be overstating it a bit, but the Singleton injury definitely downgraded the team. They still showed some heart at home, almost knocking off UNC, but on the road at Maryland (78-62) they showed the new colors. They weren't exactly an offensive juggernaut before, and unless they got bizarrely hot (unlikely on a neutral floor), they will have extreme difficulty scoring the rest of the season. Which sets up perfectly for Virginia Tech, who by virtue of falling down the standings slithered their way into the best possible seeding in this year's tournament. No Duke, no UNC, no Clemson for them. Can Greenberg finally take advantage of a good opportunity?
1 - #4 Clemson (9-7) vs. #1 UNC (14-2)
Twice the Tiger came close to knocking off UNC (75-65 in a game that was close until late in Carolina, and 64-62 at home). Could the third time be the charm? I think there's a great chance; pressure their perimeter guys into an off night shooting, and Clemson can hold their own and win a low-scoring battle. Still, they've shown an inability to get the big win this season, and coming through on a big stage like this might be asking a bit much; especially since if they reach the semis, they'll already have done the hard work of making the final 64.
2 - #6 Virginia Tech (9-7) vs. #2 Duke (13-3)
Revenge gon' be served COLD, baby! I want this to happen so bad. The only thing that infuriates me more than Duke losing on the road is when the team that beat us proves they didn't deserve the win. Virginia Tech is the kind of soulless group that will get up for the Duke game and then let their fans down to end the year. They deserve to be NIT-bound. Part of me would love for them to lose to G. Tech or FSU, but this would be the sweetest beat-down of all.
Duke-Carolina. Who else? It would be a beautiful, hard-fought game, and an excellent way to settle a debate engendered by two resounding home wins. It's what everybody wants before the tournament. Anything less would be a disappointment.
See you guys around noon today.