Five Takeaways from the ACC Quarterfinals
We had a COVID-19 cancelation, and three barn-burner games in the ACC Quarterfinals on Thursday. As the conference tournament rolls forward, the quality of the games continues to increase.
If you missed any of the action on Thursday, make sure to check out Grant Mitchell's recap here.
Without further ado, let's get into my five takeaways from an exciting Thursday of ACC basketball.
1. Okay, so this was ACTUALLY the Buddy Boeheim Game
I wrote after Day Two that Buddy Boeheim was a big reason that Syracuse was in the ACC Quarterfinals. In Round Two, Boeheim scored 27 points to help bury NC State by 21.
Fast forward to Thursday, and Buddy Boeheim outdid himself, scoring a career-high 31 points in the loss to Virginia.
Boeheim was 10-for-17 from the floor, the rest of his teammates?
A combined 14-for-40.
Virginia won at the buzzer and it was a thrilling game to tip-off the day's action, but without Buddy Boeheim's strong performance, this game would not have been competitive. Syracuse now has to sweat out its ACC Tournament hopes, but Buddy Boeheim did all he could to try to help put his dad's program back in the tournament for the first time since 2018.
2. COVID-19 robbed us of a pretty good ACC Quarterfinal Game
Duke was getting hot at the right time behind the emergence of center Mark Williams. Florida State was readying itself to take the court for the first time since an embarrassing loss to Notre Dame to end the regular season. Florida State was fighting for a conference championship and tournament seeding, while Duke was fighting for its NCAA Tournament life. A great game was in the works if Duke played to its potential, and we all knew it.
That's why it's a bummer that we never got to watch the scheduled ACC Quarterfinal between the Blue Devils and Seminoles due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Duke program following their game against Louisville. Blue Devils athletic director Kevin White said that Duke's season is over, removing the program from NCAA Tournament consideration regardless of whether the committee would have put them in the Field of 68 or not.
Duke needed a victory against Florida State to have a legitimate chance of getting in the field, but even with that aside, I was excited to see Mark Williams take the floor again. He really came into his own towards the end of the season and through the first couple of rounds in the ACC Tournament, and he's a really exciting player when he's at his peak. Bummer.
Florida State now rides a rare triple bye into the ACC Semifinal on Friday, where they will take on North Carolina.
3. Virginia Tech looked better than I expected against North Carolina
Virginia Tech took the court on Thursday night, playing just their fourth game in 32 days against a red-hot North Carolina team that was coming off a blowout win over Notre Dame. North Carolina's size eventually wore down the Hokies in the second half, en route to a 81-73 win, but Tech held their own for a good portion of the game.
Despite only nine points on 4-for-13 shooting from Second-Team All-ACC forward Keve Aluma, the Hokies led at halftime and hung with the Tar Heels during a couple of different second half runs powered by a pro-powder blue crowd at Greensboro Coliseum. Justyn Mutts scored a team-high 24 points and eight rebounds on 10-for-16 shooting, while Tyrece Radford added 20 points and six rebounds on 8-for-13 shooting from the floor for the Hokies.
Lack of game conditioning was certainly a factor down the stretch, as tired legs became apparent on the offensive glass. North Carolina compiled 13 offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points in the second stanza, which proved to be a defining factor in the outcome of the game.
Carolina now faces Florida State in the ACC Semifinals, which should be a heavyweight fight and a fantastic match-up. The Hokies, meanwhile, are on to the NCAA Tournament, where fans should be much more optimistic about their chances given the fight they showed after their second COVID layoff on Thursday night.
4. North Carolina is my pick to win the ACC Championship
Let's talk a bit more about North Carolina. The Tar Heels had an up-and-down regular season, but much like Duke, the 'Heels have started to peak at the right time.
Led by veteran Armando Bacot, the play of the frontcourt has been the difference in North Carolina's first two games of the tournament. The 'Heels blew out Notre Dame due to their dominance on the offensive glass on Wednesday night, and wore down a tougher opponent in Virginia Tech by doing the exact same thing.
The question all year long with Carolina has been whether or not they have the horses in the backcourt, which is admittedly a bit weaker than in years past. However, the guard play has supplemented the frontcourt dominance through the first two games of the ACC Tournament, with the trio of Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, and Leaky Black scoring 67 points on 22-for-59 shooting (37%) through two games.
In addition to the complementary offense, the Tar Heels have continued to play elite defense. After the Virginia Tech victory, North Carolina moved into the top spot in defensive efficiency in the ACC, which is good for 16th nationally as well. They're playing their best ball at the right time of the year, and I've seen enough to make me believe that they'll win the ACC and be a force in the NCAA Tournament.
5. But if North Carolina doesn't win the conference, a Georgia Tech ACC Championship would be a great story
As a Virginia Tech alum, I have now adopted a second rooting interest this March in the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Most people give him a hard time, but I really like Josh Pastner and believe he deserves more credit for the job he's doing in Atlanta.
When Pastner arrived prior to the 2016 season, he told the administration that he'd get the program back to the NCAA Tournament, but that it would take five years. The athletic department has been patient with him, even if the fan base has not been, and it's now paying off in Year Five, as the Yellow Jackets will be in the bracket when it is released on Selection Sunday.
Georgia Tech has the ACC Player of the Year in Moses Wright, and veteran guard play led by Jose Alvarado, who has a chance to become a household name nationally when the NCAA Tournament tips off next week.
They're feisty, they play hard-nosed defense, and Pastner has done a tremendous job getting the most out of this group. They will not be an easy out for Virginia in the ACC Semifinal on Friday.
A bright future lies ahead for the Yellow Jackets thanks to the patience shown by the athletic department, and Pastner deserves more credit than he's getting for the turnaround at Georgia Tech.