ACC tournament: NC State, Duke, UNC still have plenty at stake

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2013 

— The ACC tournament doesn’t mean what it used to.

You can try to explain that to Miami coach Jim Larranaga, and he understands the implications for the NCAA tournament aren’t the same, but that doesn’t change his opinion of it.

"It’s still the ACC tournament," said Larranaga, Miami’s second-year coach who spent seven seasons as an assistant at Virginia. "It is a great, great event, the grandfather of all conference tournaments."

The 60th ACC tournament will be the eighth and final one with a 12-team format. The addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will mean three more games and one more day for next year’s tournament.

The days of eight teams, all in the same building at the same time with one bid for the NCAA tournament on the line, ended long ago. But there’s still meaning to the ACC tournament.

It’s just a different meaning for different teams.

Larranaga’s Miami team, which went 15-3 and won the regular season, would like to keep the ACC title in the state of Florida. ESPN analyst, and former Virginia Tech coach, Seth Greenberg believes the Hurricanes have the ability to do just that.

"They are so invested in winning," Greenberg said. "They can guard, they can create matchup problems. They have experience and the strength to do it."

If it’s OK with the other 10 teams, Greenberg would like to fast-forward to a Duke-Miami final Sunday.

That would be all right with Duke, which has won the tournament 10 times since 1999. North Carolina likely will have something to say about that. The Tar Heels, who have been playing their best basketball of the season, would meet Duke on Saturday in the semifinals if the bracket goes chalk.

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have combined to win 14 of the previous 16 titles and have the best shot to bring the title back to this state.

N.C. State would like to win its first title since 1987 but it would have to win four games in four days, which hasn’t been done. The Wolfpack also doesn’t need to win the tournament for a second consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

Florida State, last year’s champion, would need to repeat to extend its NCAA tournament streak to five years.

Virginia, the ACC’s lone bubble team, doesn’t need to win the tournament to get in but it needs to help its NCAA cause.

Those storylines don’t change, no matter how much the tournament does. Even for a team like Duke, which is seeking a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the tournament still has value.

Last year, the Blue Devils limped into the postseason with a home loss to North Carolina and then went 1-1 in the ACC tournament, losing to FSU in the semifinals after a close win over Virginia Tech, before losing to Lehigh in their first NCAA tournament game.

The end of the season overshadowed what was otherwise a successful season for the Blue Devils, an ending senior Mason Plumlee hasn’t forgotten. And one he’s not eager to see the Blue Devils’ repeat it.

"Last year, we lost (the UNC) game, we lost the second game in the ACC tournament," Plumlee said. "We weren’t peaking. And now we’re hitting our stride."

That stride includes three consecutive wins, including 79-76 revenge game over Miami on March 2 and a 69-53 rout of UNC last Saturday.

Duke, which finished 14-4 in the ACC, hasn’t lost since senior forward Ryan Kelly returned to the lineup, after missing 13 games with a foot injury. The Blue Devils didn’t lose in the first 15 games with Kelly, either.

Which is why Plumlee said, as much as a matter of fact as warning, "We can still get better."

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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