It was a drab Thursday and Friday at the ACC tournament, but the drama of the weekend atoned in a big way. First, you had Carolina riding a wave of favorable calls to a close win over NC State, then a brutal FSU win against a game but under-talented Duke team, and finally the explosive championship, with the Noles holding off Carolina (sans John Henson) for a three-point win. The weekend games were good enough to make this the best Power 6 conference tournament of 2012.
But what stuck out to me, more than the results and more than the close finishes, was the excellent pressure play of three players — Austin Rivers, Kendall Marshall, and Michael Snaer.
There are two options here. One: I can talk about them and leave it at that. Two: I can start you off with two great referee stories from Saturday. Pick your poison.
Something disappointing and inevitable occurred at the conclusion of Saturday's Mid-American Conference title game. Akron trailed Ohio 64-61 with 6.2 seconds on the clock, 94 feet from the basket. Recognizing the situation, Ohio coach John Groce made what proved to be the right decision: The Bobcats intentionally fouled a Zip with 3.1 seconds remaining, forcing Alex Abreu to make the front end and then miss the second on purpose (which, to his chagrin, bounced in anyway). Ohio won by a point and advanced to the NCAA tournament, which it deserved. But this is a bad way for a basketball game to end. The very idea of a team with the lead intentionally fouling sometimes makes “winning sense,” but it’s vaguely unsporting and antithetical to how the game is played 99.9 percent of the time. It abuses a technicality.
As the ACC tournament kicks off in Atlanta, two teams are in a dog fight for their NCAA tournament lives. The committee is notoriously mum about bubble teams in the week leading up to Selection Sunday, and nobody quite knows where NC State and Miami stand at the moment, but the consensus is that there's work to be done for each. Without one or two wins this week, the pity and consolation of the NIT awaits.
And that's not all they have in common. Both teams finished tied for fourth in the ACC with a 9-7 conference record. Both teams have first-year coaches — Mark Gottfried at NC State, Jim Larranaga at Miami. And both are enduring NCAA tournament droughts — three years and counting for Miami, five years for a State team recovering from the painful Sidney Lowe era.