College Basketball Nation: 2011 ACC tournament

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- No other conference has two programs that have to be at the top to carry the league.

Kentucky has had company the past decade in the SEC from Florida, but Big Blue Nation is the only SEC fan base the league needs to have a sellout. Kansas carries that burden in the Big 12. The Pac-10 has never traveled well. The Big Ten is too deep and does not have one school that dominates. The Big East can have a number of choices to fill New York's Madison Square Garden.

But put Duke and North Carolina in the ACC tournament title game, especially in Greensboro, and you're guaranteed a tremendous atmosphere.

These two programs are clearly above the rest of the conference. It just seems right that the two will meet for the title Sunday at Greensboro Coliseum with a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament at stake for the winner.

[+] EnlargeKyle Singler
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireKyle Singler and the Blue Devils are looking forward to their rematch on Sunday against North Carolina.
Duke and Carolina are the last two national champs and stunningly haven't met in this title game since 2001 and will meet for only the 11th time in the title game overall. They are again primed to be contenders for the national championship, too.

"I was looking forward to it," said Duke senior forward Kyle Singler on the possibility of facing Carolina in the title game. "Anytime you take a loss, you want to get it back and now we've got that opportunity in front of us."

North Carolina did its part by escaping with a quarterfinal win over Miami on Friday after being down 19 points. Earlier Saturday, North Carolina was down 10 at halftime to Clemson, came back and tied the game at the end of regulation and then won in overtime by five. Carolina is the first team in ACC history to win multiple games after overcoming double-digit deficits at halftime.

Duke took care of Maryland in Friday's quarters behind Singler's 29 points. ACC player of the year Nolan Smith didn't play in the final six-plus minutes because of an injured second toe on his left foot. He received a shot to numb the toe Saturday and was out on the court for warm-ups.

Smith scored 27 points in the 77-63 win over Virginia Tech.

Smith knew he was going to play against the Hokies and he's certainly going to be on the court for the title game against the Tar Heels.

"It means a lot to play against that program," Smith said. "We just played them in a regular-season championship game and lost at their place and now we're playing them in Greensboro. It's going to be an amazing atmosphere between the two best teams in the ACC."

North Carolina beat Duke last Saturday in Chapel Hill to split the season series but more importantly win the ACC regular-season title. Smith scored 30 in that game. Guard Seth Curry scored 20 while Singler was held to eight. Mason Plumlee was ineffective, fouling out after not scoring in 18 minutes. Meanwhile, UNC bigs Tyler Zeller and John Henson combined for 24 points and 17 rebounds. Superstar freshman and ACC rookie of the year Harrison Barnes scored 18.

"I've got to stay on the floor and play smarter," said Plumlee of going against the Tar Heels. "This is going to be a great game. I'm looking forward to it. I know I was hoping for it and I know our coaching staff was hoping for it. This is the matchup we wanted and I know the fans do too."

Curry said the Blue Devils were beaten badly down low against the Tar Heels. To beat UNC on Sunday, they must have more balance, as the Tar Heels have at least four options offensively.

And it helps that there won't be any prep for this game with the images of playing Carolina so fresh in their minds.

"We know their tendencies," Curry said. "There won't be a long meeting at all."

The ACC did show its depth this weekend, with Clemson crushing Boston College and Virginia Tech-Florida State going down to the buzzer, to possibly put at least three of those four teams in the field on Selection Sunday.

But the two best teams throughout the season were clearly Duke and North Carolina. Upsets occur and Carolina was fortunate to make Sunday's final after Miami and Clemson were each within one stop of preventing this title matchup. But it didn't happen and the Tar Heels found ways to win. They had the tougher bracket than Duke, even as the No. 1 seed. But it doesn't matter now. Both made it to Sunday -- the way it should have been in this league, in this season. This gives the ACC the final it desperately needs to create a crazed atmosphere in Greensboro.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The more you’re around the ACC the more you realize how much Duke and North Carolina dominate this conference. You also realize how desperate the league is for these two programs to play the last game of the tournament.

Greensboro’s community certainly needs it to occur. A Clemson-Virginia Tech final would have brought crickets to Greensboro Coliseum.

So the ACC gets what it needs this season as Duke and Carolina will play for the ACC tournament title Sunday afternoon. The winner gets the nets, a trophy and a possible No. 1 seed while the loser probably only drops to a No. 2.

North Carolina did its part earlier in the day when the Tar Heels knocked off Clemson in overtime. Duke took care of business later in the afternoon by beating Virginia Tech 77-63.

Turning point: When Nolan Smith was running up and back during pregame warm-ups. His jammed left second toe was not a factor. He was supposed to be questionable for Saturday’s semifinal after injuring the toe against Maryland. Well, Smith scored 27 points and was flying up the court, scoring in a variety of ways, making 3-pointers, converting 9 of 13 free throws and making the easy plays look well, rather easy, including a reverse layup.

Key stat: The Hokies couldn’t shoot. Virginia Tech was 2-of 16 on 3s and shot 37 percent. To beat Duke, Virginia Tech had to shoot well.

Star player: See Smith. Kyle Singler scored 29 points in the win over Maryland. He was not as much of a factor but still had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He did what was needed for Duke to win.

What’s next: Duke versus North Carolina on Sunday. The game matches the ACC player of the year (Smith), freshman of the year (UNC’s Harrison Barnes) and six of the 15 players on the 2011 ACC teams. The game also features two Hall of Fame coaches in Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of North Carolina. Shockingly, this is only the 11th time the two teams have met in the ACC tournament title game with the last one being in 2001.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Harrison Barnes drew attention to himself a year ago when he held multiple schools off with his recruiting decision, ultimately performing a Skype interview with North Carolina’s Roy Williams to announce his choice.

The fanfare for Barnes picked back up when he was chosen as a first-team AP all-American, the first time a freshman was given the nod.

The adulation and hype turned to unnecessary disappointment because Barnes failed to dominate out of the gate. He followed a 19-point game against Hofstra in Puerto Rico with an 0-for-12 outing in a loss to Minnesota.

Barnes wasn’t special the first month of the season. But neither was North Carolina.

Both are now.

Barnes pulled off his most impressive performance yet with a 40-point outing in the Tar Heels’ 92-87 overtime win against Clemson on Saturday in the ACC tournament semifinals at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Tar Heels once again stumbled in the first half, getting down by 14 points to Clemson. But they clawed back just like they did from 19 down to beat Miami at the buzzer in the ACC quarterfinals Friday.

And while Tyler Zeller once again came up large with a key bucket that tied the game to send it into overtime (he won the Miami game with a layup) and point guard Kendall Marshall led the team once again with his playmaking skills, the difference was Barnes.

Carolina had him. Clemson didn’t have anyone close.

“He’s very analytical,’’ North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of Barnes. “He’s just bigger, faster and stronger. He never lost his focus in every practice. It just took a while to show up in his game.’’

Barnes’ arrival on the national scene occurred with a game-winning 3-pointer to beat Miami on Jan. 26. If he was forgotten prior to that shot, he was certainly no longer an afterthought once he made that bucket.

But his real emergence came two weeks ago when he took and made the 3-pointer to beat Florida State in Tallahassee. The Tar Heels didn’t have the go-to guy a year ago. They weren’t sure who would take the final shot even earlier this season. Barnes doesn’t have to take the shot, because Marshall can create for others like he did to feed Zeller against Miami and then for Zeller to tie Saturday’s game. But no one commands as much respect from Carolina’s roster now as Barnes.

Barnes remains a mellow postgame speaker, saying after the game he never lost his confidence earlier in the season. He’s not someone who flashes an infectious smile too often. He keeps everything very grounded. After the games here the past two days, Barnes has been swarmed by the media. He sits in what the ACC has provided, an enveloping, black leather chair, where he looks like he’s making the rounds of a movie tour.

He has that star quality, but has tempered any arrogance.

“He was waiting to do that,’’ UNC teammate John Henson said of Barnes’ breakout performance. “That’s what he does. It’s exciting to see what he’s going to do [next].’’

Barnes’ 40-point performance was the first in the ACC tournament since Randolph Childress put up 40 for Wake Forest in 1995. The last Tar Heel to score 40 in any game was Tyler Hansbrough five years ago. But something tells me this isn’t Barnes’ last breakout performance of the season.

The Tar Heels are a national-title contender now in a season that has been fluid at the top. They always had the personnel to make a run, even with the dismissal of Will Graves to start the season, the defection of Larry Drew II in the middle of the ACC and the injury to reserve Reggie Bullock.

Hey, if BYU was considered a title contender with Jimmer Fredette leading a relative unknown crew, then why wouldn’t the combination of Zeller, Henson, Marshall and a potential top-three NBA draft pick in Barnes be enough to challenge for the title?

Clemson should have been able to close out the Tar Heels, but Demontez Stitt couldn’t get off a quality shot at the end of regulation. Barnes hit a 3-pointer to cut a five-point Clemson lead to two with 1:22 left. Barnes then scored five of the first eight points in overtime to push the Tar Heels ahead for good.

“I tried to fill what the team needs,’’ Barnes said afterward. “[Saturday] we had a lack of production on the offensive end and I tried to make up for that.’’

He certainly did that.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- This North Carolina team has a blueprint for how to win in the postseason -- tease the competition into thinking it can win and then come back and snatch the victory away from the upstart team just when it appears over.

North Carolina was down 19 to Miami during Friday’s quarterfinal game, then beat the Hurricanes on a last-second layup by Tyler Zeller.

Well, Clemson held control of the game for the first 20 minutes, leading the Tar Heels by 10 at the half. North Carolina took a brief lead midway through the second half, but Clemson held tough and led by five with two minutes remaining.

Once again, that was a big tease. Harrison Barnes buried a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two, then Zeller connected on a post-up move with 32 seconds left to tie the game. The Tar Heels did an outstanding job on Demontez Stitt to prevent him from getting off a shot to win the game.

UNC controlled the first part of the overtime, racing out to a nine-point lead as Barnes continued to be the untouchable. Clemson made a valiant attempt, but was never in a position to go for a win.

North Carolina won 92-87 in overtime and Clemson continues to be a team that suffers at the hands of the Tar Heels, unable to beat this team outside of Clemson, S.C.

Star of the game: North Carolina freshman Barnes. He was a preseason first-team AP All-American and was much-maligned early in the season. Well, he’s living up to the hype now. He was sensational in scoring 40 points and making every big shot when the game was in question. Barnes was able to separate the Tar Heels, whether it was in making a shot or converting at the free-throw line by making 10 of 11 shots.

Key stat: North Carolina gets to the free-throw line because of its length, and in this case because it protects the ball late in the game. The Tar Heels made 24 of 34 while Clemson was just 9 of 16.

Turning point: The last few possessions of regulation showed once again while Carolina will be a tough out. There are options, and plenty of them. Barnes made a 3. Kendall Marshall made a 3. Barnes scored off the offensive glass. John Henson can disrupt things. And then Zeller scores in the low post. Clemson got the game to overtime, but only because UNC ran out of time.

Up next: UNC is off to the ACC title game and a likely No. 2 seed. Clemson is safely in the field. Seeding to be determined.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Did you really think Virginia Tech would easily make the NCAA tournament?

Of course you didn’t.

If the Hokies were going to finally be in the Big Dance after a three-year drought littered with injuries and poor performances at the wrong times and a buzzer-beating loss three years ago to North Carolina in the ACC tourney, it had to occur in an epic fashion, right? Virginia Tech hardly does anything the easy way.

The Hokies could not have played worse in the first 20 minutes of their ACC quarterfinal game, shooting 17 percent overall, 18 percent on 3-pointers and 53 percent from the free throw line in a 19-point half.

If the selection committee was watching, they would’ve had good reason to kick the Hokies out of the field at halftime.

But Virginia Tech, despite playing its usual six players, clawed back into the game and took the lead on an Erick Green jumper with five seconds remaining. Following a timeout, Florida State’s Derwin Kitchen raced down the sideline and buried a corner jumper. The Seminoles raced out to mob Kitchen. The Hokies were devastated. Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg couldn’t watch.

[+] EnlargeErick Green and Derwin Kitchen
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDerwin Kitchen's last-second basket happened too late to beat Erick Green and the Hokies.
But the play was reviewable, and after a number of anxious moments official Bryan Kersey ruled the shot was not good after replays showed that it was barely on the tips of Kitchen’s fingers when the clock hit zero and the red light went on. The Hokies had beaten the Seminoles, 52-51.

“I was crying on national TV, but that’s alright,’’ Greenberg said. “But if the shot is counted, does that mean we’re out? It’s that thin?’’

Maybe. Maybe not.

The Hokies are just happy they don’t have to find out.

“For a team that has been so close, so many times, to finally have the basketball gods smile on them a little bit, it’s pretty cool,’’ Greenberg said.

The Hokies have had a bizarre season plagued with injuries. J.T. Thompson tore his ACL in the preseason. Allen Chaney was never cleared to play in the offseason. Cadarian Raines was not healthy and starting guard Dorenzo Hudson was available for only nine games because of a foot injury.

Yet Tech was able to get a signature win against Duke at home on Feb. 26. Before that, wins over Penn State, Oklahoma State and even Mississippi State were the only wins the team could boast about.

But the Hokies followed up that Duke upset by falling flat against Boston College at home, which meant it had been swept by the Eagles (also swept by Virginia) before losing to Clemson on the road.

Beating Georgia Tech in the first round Thursday was a must, and losing to Florida State on Friday would have given the selection committee an excuse to take a pass.

“People don’t realize how much it took for us to beat Duke,’’ senior guard Malcolm Delaney said. “We were done. We were drained. We didn’t lose our confidence, but we had some injuries that week.’’

Along with Jeff Allen inside, Delaney has had to carry the squad for most of the season. But the play of Green and fellow sophomore Manny Atkins has elevated the team during times of trouble. Delaney tried to make a winning play on the Hokies’ final possession on Friday. He drove into the lane but had to kick the ball back out to Green, who calmly buried the winning shot.

Greenberg said he told Green in the huddle at the under-four-minute timeout that he was going to hit a winning shot. Green said he had confidence in taking it, and Delaney had enough confidence to pass him the ball.

“I had a chance early in the season to win games and I took jump shots when I should have gone to the rim,’’ Delaney said. “[Green] was wide open, and I had confidence that he makes the shot.’’

Green was one of two Hokies at the other end with a hand in Kitchen’s face. When the shot went down, the swing of emotions strangled Virginia Tech.

“My heart froze when he hit that shot,’’ Delaney said. “I couldn’t watch the monitor. I just waited for the refs to signal. It was such a stress reliever. All I saw was Florida State reacting to the bucket being good. This is probably the biggest game I’ve been in, except the Duke game. We had to win this game with six people.’’

The Hokies have been burned too often on Selection Sunday to take anything for granted. A win on Saturday against Duke, however, would all but seal the deal. The Blue Devils might not have Nolan Smith for the semifinal because of a left toe injury suffered in Friday’s win over Maryland. Greenberg laughed at Duke playing a man down. He’s had to play with limited numbers all season.

Florida State, meanwhile, is expected to make the field with relative ease. Junior forward Chris Singleton, who missed the past five games with a broken right foot, ran around in warm-ups, but didn’t play.

“It was up to coach [Leonard Hamilton], but I understand it,’’ Singleton said. “I’m playing next week [in the NCAA tournament]. There’s no choice. I’m playing next week.’’

The selection committee has information on the Seminoles and will seed them accordingly. For Virginia Tech, though, the committee needed results, not news on an injured player.

Finally, the Hokies gave the committee a positive headline to discuss -- a last-second win that may have propelled them into the field.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Virginia Tech may have finally ended a three-year drought of going to the NCAA tournament by the tips of Derwin Kitchen's fingers.

Kitchen hit a game-winning corner jumper at the buzzer for Florida State that was originally called good by the officials.

But the officials conferred upon multiple replays and saw that the ball -- barely -- was still on Kitchen’s fingers. The three officials, as well as an alternate official and the head of officiating for the ACC were on the court as the two teams stood idle, anxiously waiting for the result. A policeman even stood guard behind the officials as they decided on the call.

Finally, official Bryan Kersey waved off the basket, signaling a Virginia Tech 52-51 victory over Florida State to advance to the semifinals Saturday against Duke.

The Hokies, who had lost to Boston College at home and at Clemson after beating Duke, started the week here in Greensboro probably needing to win two games to feel secure. They knocked off Georgia Tech Thursday and then won in thrilling fashion against Florida State.

Turning point: If it’s not the call then it’s Malcolm Delaney driving to the hoop and kicking the ball back out to Erick Green for a jumper with 4.7 seconds left to give the Hokies a 52-51 lead. Delaney had missed one free throw prior to that that prevented Tech from tying the game at 51 with 51.5 seconds left.

Key player: Delaney probably has to get the nod, even though he missed the free throw. He did set up the winning bucket and ended with 16 points, five assists and three 3-pointers in 39 minutes.

Key stat: The Seminoles dominated the Hokies on the boards 42-29 and that’s why FSU was able to stay in so many possessions. But ultimately the Noles weren’t able to convert.

What’s next: Virginia Tech plays Duke in the semifinals while Florida State will be in the NCAA tournament but will likely get a lower seed since Chris Singleton still hasn’t returned. Singleton looked strong in warm-ups, but never got onto the court. He hasn’t played in the past six games due to a broken foot.

Hope and anxiety fill Duke's night

March, 11, 2011

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Duke freshman Kyrie Irving started the evening by teasing the Duke fans inside Greensboro Coliseum when he went through some light shooting drills an hour before the game, testing out his injured right big toe.

But the night ended for Duke with the Blue Devils more concerned about another toe, one on the left foot of senior guard Nolan Smith, who jammed it on the sideline with six-plus minutes remaining in the game against Maryland.

Smith didn’t return, and his status remains in doubt for Saturday’s semifinal against Virginia Tech. Smith was to be evaluated into the night Friday by the Duke training staff. He was noticeably hobbling as he walked out to the team bus.

“I’m not sure of Nolan’s status,’’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We won’t know that probably until [Saturday morning]. He wasn’t able to come back into the ball game, so we’re concerned about that.’’

According to the staff, Smith wanted to come back into the game but it made no sense for the Blue Devils to let him do so. Duke started to pull away and ended up beating the offensively inept Terps for an 87-71 final.

Smith, who was named ACC Player of the Year earlier this week, was 2-of-11 against the Terps, missing all four 3-pointers he took and committing five turnovers in 31 minutes.

If he can’t play on Saturday, that puts even more pressure on guard Seth Curry to handle the ball rather than play off it as a wing.

“It would probably be like last year when I was running the second team and I was playing the point,’’ said Curry of his redshirt season after transferring from Liberty. “Hopefully, I can get some rest and be able to do it.’’

The Blue Devils seemed to rally around Smith’s absence, especially defensively.

“We came together as a team and we were using each other down the stretch,’’ Duke’s Andre Dawkins said. “We did a better job of using the whole team instead of just watching Nolan.’’

Curry finished with 11 points, but it was Kyle Singler who shined, as he scored 29 in a sterling performance.

After the game, there didn’t seem to be any fear that Smith would be out long, but if there is a chance he needs to rest the toe, the Blue Devils will be more inclined to do that, rather than rush him onto the court and run the risk of not having him for next week’s NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, Irving was just a tease, simply working out to get a sweat. Irving was wearing game shorts, shoes and undershirt when he worked out prior to the game. But he returned in his casual attire for the tip. Irving hasn’t played since Dec. 4, when he injured his right big toe against Butler and frayed a ligament underneath his foot.

“He’s just going through the next phase of his rehabilitation,’’ Krzyzewski said of Irving. “He’s progressing very well. Because we’re in this tournament atmosphere, to get him on the court, do exercise, get some shooting in. There’s no timetable on him, though. He’s not going to magically appear [Saturday] or anything like that because he hasn’t done anything with the team. But it’s coming along great, so we just want to take advantage of the fact that we’re in a gym and crowd and whatever, and that keeps his spirits up, too.’’

Rapid Reaction: Duke 87, Maryland 71

March, 11, 2011
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Duke, traditionally strong in the ACC tournament, stayed in step for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a 87-71 victory over Maryland in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament Friday night.

The Blue Devils have the résumé to be on the top line, or at the very least the second. But losing in the first game of the conference tournament when all the other competitors for the spot were winning would have been a fatal blow to their No. 1 chances.

The main issue for Duke after this game will be the evaluation of Nolan Smith, the star senior guard and player of the year candidate who injured his left foot in the second half. Smith went to the locker room and returned, but never got into the game in the final six-plus minutes.

Star player: Duke senior forward Kyle Singler had a signature performance for the Blue Devils with 29 points, converting all nine of his free throws attempts. Maryland was no match for Singler as the Terps couldn’t handle his face-up game. Even though he missed all four of his 3-pointers, he was a tough matchup all night.

Turning point: It was actually when Smith went down. The Blue Devils were only up five at the time. But Smith’s absence didn’t hurt the Blue Devils one bit. Duke ran off a 22-11 run after the injury and the Devils seemed even more intense. Maryland had chances but couldn’t convert. The season-long problems for the Terps continued as they remain offensively challenged.

Key stat: Maryland couldn’t afford to give points away, but the Blue Devils created free throw opportunities and made more of the chances by converting 22-of-27, while the Terrapins were just 15-of-28.

What’s next: Duke moves onto the ACC semifinals Saturday afternoon against Virginia Tech or Florida State while Maryland could be headed to the CBI if the NIT delivers a snub.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Clemson had to beat Virginia Tech at home and then Boston College in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament to convince the NCAA tournament selection committee of its at-large candidacy.


Well, no one with the committee spelled that out to Clemson. That theory was just a populist model espoused by those of us in the media -- and then bought by the Tigers and their fans.

But if the theory rings true, then the Tigers have answered the challenge and should be an at-large team once the bids are announced Sunday. On Friday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum, Clemson trounced the Eagles 70-47.

“We’ve heard for two games that we had to win, to have a good showing at Duke [last Saturday],’’ Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “If you look at our play the last two months, I think we should be in the NCAA tournament.’’

The Tigers (21-10, 9-7 in the ACC) have only two questionable losses since Jan. 25, but even those could be a reach since they were on the road at Virginia and NC State. The Tigers have won eight of 12, including two wins over Boston College, Virginia Tech and a win over Florida State.

[+] EnlargeDemontez Stitt
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireDemontez Stitt had 20 points and 8 rebounds in Clemson's win over Boston College.
The most common denominator is that Clemson continues to hold teams in check offensively, giving up 70 points only once in that stretch (to Duke). Limiting BC to 47 points and the Eagles to 6-of-24 3-point shooting is yet another example of the Tigers’ new stingy defense under Brownell. Former coach Oliver Purnell created havoc with his pressure defense, which was much more effective at Littlejohn Coliseum, but had its limitations. It created plenty of open looks going the other way at times too. Brownell, who honed his craft at UNC Wilmington and then later at Wright State, has always been a defensive-minded coach.

And it’s a reason the Tigers have hope in their matchup against Carolina in the semifinals Saturday. Clemson held North Carolina to 64 points in the last outing, a two-point loss at home on Feb. 12.

“We’re doing a good job of rotating and playing tough and grinding out games,’’ said Clemson’s Tanner Smith. “We haven’t been out of any games. Our defense is improving and really keeping us in games right now.’’

The Tigers were one possession away from having the bracket open up and playing Miami instead of Carolina for the right to play in the title game Sunday. The Tigers’ players were in the hallway of the Greensboro Coliseum when they heard the roar from the Carolina faithful after Tyler Zeller's last-second basket beat Miami.

“We’re excited because we’re playing really well right now,’’ Smith said. “Hopefully our defense will keep us in games. If our defense shows up [Saturday] then we can take care of things. We have to keep them out of transition.’’

Meanwhile, Boston College is left with a sour taste as it awaits word on Selection Sunday. The Eagles did beat Virginia Tech last week in Blacksburg and have two wins over last-place Wake Forest in the past week, but the 23-point loss to Clemson stings.

Jackson said he is hopeful that the Eagles proved earlier in the season that it can play with any team in the country, especially in beating Texas A&M in Orlando in November. But the Eagles were winless against the top four seeds in the ACC tournament this season -- UNC, Duke, Florida State and Clemson.

Boston College coach Steve Donahue made a case for the Eagles (20-12, 9-7 ACC) in the postgame, but then added that he doesn’t want to be a coach who politics for his team.

“I want people to respect us and what we did,’’ Donahue said. “If that is good enough, great. If it is not, then we are gonna wait.’’

As for Clemson, Smith said the only impression he wants to leave the selection committee with is an ACC tournament title.

“That would be the best impression for the committee,’’ he said. “Win here this weekend.’’

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Injured Duke point guard Kyrie Irving created quite a stir an hour before the Blue Devils were to play Maryland in the ACC quarterfinals. In game shorts and an undershirt, the freshman went through shooting and running drills on the Greensboro Coliseum court for the first public viewing of him practicing since he tore a ligament in his right toe on Dec. 4 against Butler.

With his teammates warming up around him, Irving did slide drills, jogged back and forth and took shots off passes from his trainer.

To view Katz’s complete story, click here.

Rapid Reaction: Clemson 70, BC 47

March, 11, 2011
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The NCAA tournament selection committee doesn’t always have the television on this week in Indianapolis but the results are clearly available.

It may be hard for the selection committee to ignore Clemson’s hammering of Boston College during Friday’s ACC quarterfinal matchup. The Tigers won their second straight game against a possible bubble team out of the ACC. The Tigers closed the season with a nine-point win over Virginia Tech last Saturday.

The 70-47 victory over Boston College left little doubt if there were a choice to be made between the two teams. Now, of course, the committee compares teams from all conferences, not just teams from the same conference. But Clemson is on an upward tick after winning its fourth game in five outings. The one loss was a spirited effort against Duke.

Meanwhile, BC has two wins in a week over Wake Forest. That’s not going to turn the heads of the committee. Beating Virginia Tech helped but the last two wins over Wake don’t do much for the Eagles’ profile.

Turning point: How about the opening tip? Clemson dominated the Eagles from the moment the ball was tossed up in the air. Clemson was off to a double-digit lead almost immediately.

Key player: Demontez Stitt. The veteran point guard led the Tigers with 20 points and dominated the position. The matchup with Boston College’s Reggie Jackson was a bit of a dud as Jackson could muster only one 3-pointer and just 11 points.

Key stat: The Eagles were 6-of-24 on 3s and were outrebounded by 14. BC simply can’t win if the Eagles only score 47 points.

Miscellaneous: The ACC isn’t supposed to cheer but it could have been disastrous for the attendance Saturday in one semifinal if Miami had beaten North Carolina. The second-half crowd between BC and Clemson was average and would have been even lighter had it been a Clemson-Miami semifinal.

What’s next: The Tigers move onto the ACC semifinals Saturday afternoon against North Carolina. It’s a good thing the game isn’t in Chapel Hill since the Tigers have never won a game at the Dean Dome. Clemson does have the guard play and the ability to defend well to deal with the Tar Heels.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Kendall Marshall's ability to make plays has transformed North Carolina into a Final Four contender.

If there was ever an example of how a playmaker can create an opportunity to win a game, Marshall conducted a clinic during the final seconds of UNC's ACC quarterfinal win over Miami Friday.

Marshall didn't pull up for a game-winning 3-pointer or try to shake back for a midrange jumper. Marshall knows what he should do in these situations. He has to get to the rim.

[+] EnlargeJohn Henson and Kendall Marshall
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNorth Carolina's John Henson (31) and Kendall Marshall (5) celebrate after the Tar Heels' 61-59 win.
Marshall drove inside, drew a defender off Tyler Zeller and dumped a pass to his big man for a layup at the buzzer to give the surging Tar Heels a thrilling 61-59 victory over the Hurricanes after the Tar Heels had trailed by 19 in the second half.

"My goal is to get to the basket," Marshall said. "I knew then I could just figure it out. I'm at my best when I'm making plays and get to the rim. I knew John [Henson] and Z could clean it up. It just so happened that Z's man helped out."

The Tar Heels have won two games this season with Harrison Barnes making the game-winning 3-pointer. He did it to win at Miami and then to beat Florida State in Tallahassee. Marshall admitted that the original play was to get the ball to Barnes. Miami had already tried to shorten Marshall's decision time after it had committed a turnover by fouling him twice in the final 18 seconds because the Hurricanes weren't in the bonus yet.

"It's one of those things that people always make fun of me for not dunking, but it paid off on that possession," Zeller said. "I had to shoot it as fast as possible. I knew as soon as I let it go that I had gotten it off in time just because I knew the buzzer had gone off after it left my hand."

North Carolina coach Roy Williams made the switch to the freshman Marshall from junior Larry Drew II after the Tar Heels lost by 20 points at Georgia Tech on Jan. 16. North Carolina has lost one game since the switch -- at Duke on Feb. 9.

Marshall finished with 10 assists Friday.

"There's no question that Kendall continues to be the point guard we need him to be," Barnes said. "He's done a great job."

The Tar Heels' comeback was something. Barnes and Marshall hit two 3s each in the second half, and the Tar Heels made seven 3s in the final 20 minutes. Miami continued to hold on for its life in the second half, but the Tar Heels continued to peck away at the lead. The Hurricanes' final offensive possession ended in a turnover without a shot, as Adrian Thomas mishandled a pass around the perimeter.

The loss left the Hurricanes devastated in the locker room. Miami's players were all lined up in their chairs with their white sweat suits on and no words being spoken until they were approached.

It was just 24 hours earlier that Miami came back from 10 points down with under a minute left against Virginia in the first round of the ACC tournament. Miami won in overtime.

"We were high yesterday, and today we're at a low," Miami center Reggie Johnson said. "For them to come back like they did says a lot about their program. It hurts. It hurts. We definitely felt that if we kept playing we could win this tournament."

Miami's Durand Scott said the Tar Heels made 3s and "didn't run any plays, it was just their key guys making shots," in the comeback. He said the Canes' comeback against Virginia was spurred by the defense. But this was a late offensive display from the Tar Heels, followed by some missed free throws and poor offensive execution by Miami.

Miami coach Frank Haith was stunned after the game but credited Carolina.

"We were focused on Harrison Barnes [on the last play], and I thought they would try to get him the ball and let him try to create a situation," Haith said. "It just seemed like they made some big shots. They just made plays."

North Carolina dug itself an immense hole that it was able to climb out of and as a result is still alive for a No. 1 seed when the bracket is announced Sunday.

"We want to win the ACC tournament, and I said at halftime that we didn't want a bad taste in our mouth going into the NCAA tournament," Marshall said.

No need to worry about that anymore. The Tar Heels now have the momentum needed, their confidence buoyed and the continued maturation of a pair of freshmen in Marshall and Barnes that could carry this team to Houston by the end of the month.

Video: UNC's Tyler Zeller

March, 11, 2011

Andy Katz talks with UNC’s Tyler Zeller about his game-winning shot against Miami.
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Kendall Marshall has changed North Carolina into a national contender with his play at the point over the last month.

Friday, he gave Roy Williams and the Tar Heel Nation another reason to believe that Marshall can lead the Tar Heels to a Final Four.

Marshall drove to the hoop in the final seconds, dishing off to Tyler Zeller for a layup at the buzzer to beat Miami 61-59 in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

North Carolina was down 19 points in the second half before mounting an impressive comeback led by the shooting and playmaking of Marshall and the 3-point shooting of Harrison Barnes.

The win over the Hurricanes keeps the Tar Heels in contention for a possible No. 1 seed.

Turning point: There were plenty during North Carolina’s comeback, but the final decisive play came when the Hurricanes lost the ball out of bounds with 18.6 seconds left and the game tied at 59. Miami was showing good patience working the ball around, but Adrian Thomas couldn’t handle a pass and the ball went off his hands. That gave North Carolina a chance to end the game on its own terms. Miami was still not in the penalty and had to foul Marshall twice to get into the bonus and managed to take some time off the clock. But then the Hurricanes didn’t want to foul Marshall on his final drive to the hoop.

Key player: Marshall, who finished with 10 assists. He also hit a pair of 3s during the Tar Heels’ comeback. Barnes led the Tar Heels with 18 points, but it was his four 3s that were the difference. Zeller had a couple of key buckets in the low post in the second half and the most important one, of course, was the last one.

Key stat: The Tar Heels dominated the backboard, beating the Canes 38-25 and keeping plenty of possessions alive. North Carolina gave itself plenty of chances within possessions and it showed.

Miscellaneous: North Carolina has always dominated the crowd whenever the ACC tournament is in Greensboro, N.C., and Friday was no exception. Make no mistake: Miami was playing a road game. It may not count as one, but it was hardly a neutral site.

What’s next: North Carolina moves on to the semifinals. Miami is a postseason team; the question is in which tournament. If I’m on the NIT selection committee, I take a strong look at the Canes.

In appreciation of Miami's historic rally

March, 10, 2011
Early this afternoon, college hoops fans were too distracted with an upset alert in the Big 12 and Kemba Walker's nasty crossover at the Garden to give proper reverence to the history that was made in Greensboro at the same time.

In the opening game of the ACC tournament, Virginia's Mustapha Farrakhan missed the second of two free throws with 42 seconds left, but who really cared at that point? The Cavaliers were still up 10 over Miami. The game was over.

Or not.

Thanks to four turnovers and two missed free throws by Virginia from that point forward, the Hurricanes pieced together 10 unanswered points in those 42 seconds to force overtime. With all the momentum in the world, Miami cruised to a 69-62 win in the OT, setting up a shot at North Carolina on Friday. If you don’t believe, check out the trainwreck of a play-by-play from the box score.

One of the many questions coming out of this game, besides how did this happen, is where does this rank in the annals of college hoops history?

Many fans will recall in 1994 that Kentucky trailed LSU 68-37 with 16 minutes remaining, only to see UK go on a 62-27 run to end the game and win 99-95. But that comeback was at a snail’s pace compared to the time that Miami had to work with for its rally. That would be an apples-to-oranges comparison.

How rare was a comeback like Miami’s? The NCAA record book officially lists only two previous instances when a team trailing by double-digits with under a minute remaining came back to win.

On Feb. 12, 2005, UNLV won at San Diego State in OT after trailing by 11 with 59 seconds left. The Aztecs actually led by 18 with 12:28 left in regulation. But at the end of the day, this was a regular-season game between two Mountain West teams with losing records.

The other occurrence was on Jan. 24, 2009, when Arizona defeated Houston in OT after trailing by 10 with 48 seconds left.

Noticeably absent from that short list is “The Miracle Minute.” That’s when No. 2 Duke went into Cole Field House versus a ranked, up-and-coming Maryland team on Jan. 27, 2001, and proceeded to pull off maybe the most well-known known game in the career of now-ESPN analyst Jay Williams. After a Maryland free throw with 1:01 left in the game, the Terrapins led by 10. Williams scored eight of the 10 points in the final frantic comeback, which allowed the Blue Devils to win in overtime.

But all of these comebacks pale in comparison to another famous game from Tobacco Road. On March 2, 1974, North Carolina was trailing rival Duke by eight with 17 seconds left. A last-gasp flurry by the Heels -- in the days before the 3-point shot mind you -- gave the UNC-Duke rivalry one of its first signature moments. Walter Davis banked in a 30-foot shot at the horn to force overtime and the Tar Heels emerged victorious.

So where does Thursday’s comeback in Greensboro rank? It’s hard to say, especially considering it took place between two teams with losing records in ACC play this season. But it’s safe to say it’s worthy of being included in this company.

Other notable comebacks in sports history:

Oct. 21, 2006: After taking a 3-0 lead, Michigan State allowed Northwestern to score 38 straight points to take a commanding lead. But the Spartans scored the next 38 , including the game-winning field goal with 13 seconds left.

Aug. 5, 2001: The Cleveland Indians trailed the Seattle Mariners 12-0 in the 4th inning and 14-2 in the 6th inning, but came back to win 15-14. The Indians scored three in the 7th, four in the 8th and five in the 9th to tie it before winning in the 11th inning.

Jan. 3, 1993: The Buffalo Bills trailed the Houston Oilers 35-3 just two minutes into the third quarter and had backup quarterback Frank Reich on the field. But they went on a 38-3 run to close out the game, completing the improbable playoff victory.