The real ACC tournament begins today — with an asterisk or two.
The chalk has prevailed so far at the ACC tourney in Charlotte, with the top eight seeds playing in today’s quarterfinal games. Seems like the old days when there were only eight schools in the original ACC, not the current subway jam of 15.
But for the top four teams with double byes, today is dangerous — facing opponents that have one game under their collective belts is a risky proposition. While only one ACC title has been achieved with four victories – Duke in 2017 – having a warm-up win can be a real advantage, especially with some confidence built in.
Skipping right past the afternoon session because I really don’t give a hoot about Cavs and Wolfpack and ‘Noles and Hokies, the Duke-Carolina doubleheader tonight will be a ticket that makes scalpers and brokers a lot of money — and not just because it’s the Tar Heels and Blue Devils in a twin bill.
Duke and Syracuse and Carolina and Louisville will be playing rubber matches of home-and-home series where the visiting team won all four games. Duke suffered its first ACC loss at Cameron, when Cam Reddish sat out with an illness and Tre Jones left early with a shoulder injury. The Orange rallied to win in overtime. UNC, of course, played its worst game of the season back on January 12, when the Cardinals romped to a 20-point rout at the Dean Dome.
The Blue Devils and Tar Heels both won their return road dates, meaning tonight’s games should be hotly contested. Duke will supposedly have Zion Williamson back, and his re-integration could pose problems, especially if Syracuse shoots the ball from outside like it did in last night’s win over Pitt and gets recovering star Tyus Battle back in the lineup.
Carolina will be facing a Louisville team that looks to have rebounded from its monumental meltdown at home against Duke, losing a 23-point lead with under eight minutes to play. And the Cardinals have the size, speed and All-ACC star Jordan Nwora, who had 17 points and five 3-pointers in Chapel Hill, to give the Tar Heels more trouble.
If the chalk holds and the favorites win, we’ll have a third Duke-Carolina game Friday night that I will certainly talk about tomorrow. But with those asterisks looming, that’s a mighty big “if.”