Duke won their 27th ACC Championship Saturday night, defeating Virginia 59-49 at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Blue Devils controlled the contest throughout, suffocating the Cavaliers with marvelous interior defense. Duke never trailed in the Championship game, building an 11-point first half lead and maintaining a margin near double digits for much of the final. When Virginia rallied late, Duke produced just enough offense, from ACC Tournament MVP Kyle Filipowski (20 points, 10 rebounds) and guard Jeremy Roach (23 points, 4 rebounds), to hold off any Virginia hopes for a comeback.

Dominant in both the final and their quarterfinal rout of Pitt, the Blue Devils were only pushed once in the ACC Tournament. That game was against Mami, who led the Blue Devils at times in the first half and played the bulk of a spectacular semifinal game within a single possession, despite the absence of All-ACC big man Norchad Omier, who was lost to an ankle injury in the first minute. Miami is the type of veteran, unbothered by pressure team Duke will play in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. That game, in other words, will serve this young Blue Devils group well as they begin the NCAA Tournament next week.

The pieces are there for a deep Duke run, and Saturday night, a second consecutive Final Four looked very possible. Duke’s Final Four ability is just one of the 10 things I’m absolutely overreacting to after a special few days in Greensboro at the ACC Tournament.

10. Jon Scheyer is the rare guy ready to follow a legend

Duke winning the ACC Tournament was no surprise. In our Saturday Road roundtable, both Brett Friedlander and I predicted Duke would cut down the nets on Saturday night. 

What was surprising?

Watching young Jon Scheyer cut down the nets at midcourt in Greensboro late Saturday night, it was hard not to think of his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski. “Be yourself,” Krzyzewski had urged Scheyer last March, as Duke readied for their final NCAA Tournament under the Hall-of-Famer and the imminent transition to the Scheyer era of Duke hoops. “You’ll get compared to me. Ignore it and be you.”

That’s the type of priceless but impossible advice you’d expect from a legend like Coach K, but Scheyer seemed up to the task of listening and implementing the advice all week.

Duke under Krzyzewski was always a program that would space you and push you to guard for 40 minutes. Under Scheyer, they aren’t magnificent offensively, but they have built a program identity of late on defense. The Blue Devils rank 21st in Defensive Efficiency this season, per Bart Torvik, but are ranked 9th in the country since conference play began in that metric and 13th in their last 10 games.

Duke overwhelms you with length, and the continued improvement in Dereck Lively II, a direct byproduct of the trust shown by Scheyer who played him through mistakes and growing pains early in the season, has only made an already tough interior Duke defense more menacing.

Duke and its 35 year old head coach took their lumps early in the year. They lost by 24 at NC State in January, and 22 at Miami early last month. But they kept fighting and figuring things out together, and now they enter March Madness winners of their last 9 games.

They believe in their young head coach and he believes in them. That’s a scary thing for the rest of college basketball.

9. Scheyer’s decision to move Jeremy Roach off the point guard spot saved Duke’s season

Scheyer’s biggest Krzyzewski caliber choice this season?

Moving star guard Jeremy Roach off his preseason point guard spot and to off guard in the middle of the season.

What immense trust it took from Scheyer to allow freshman Tyrese Proctor to run the point for the Blue Devils. What a response from Duke’s players, including Roach, who could have pouted about a position change, when the move was made.

Proctor has responded with 6 games with 5 assists or more since the switch in late January, and 2 of those came in the ACC Tournament, including a 10 assist maestro against Pitt in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Roach, meanwhile, has exploded. His 23 points Saturday night were a career-high, but he’s been one of college basketball’s most efficient guards for over a month since Scheyer moved him off the ball. Roach has accumulated 7 games with shooting percentages over 50% since January 23, and done so on high volume, putting up 10 shots or more 9 times in that stretch.

“Coach Scheyer just asked me to be myself,” Roach said after Friday night’s win over Miami, where he scored 13 points and played marvelous defense on ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong down the stretch. “Don’t worry about where you play, just be the leader and the player you can be. His belief in me meant everything and kept me from doubting myself,” Roach added.

Duke’s been a different team since Scheyer believed in Proctor and found Roach a role where the star guard could truly flourish. That’s gret coaching and it is why Duke is Final Four good.

“Coming in, everyone was talking about, we are so young, it’s Scheyer’s first year,” said Proctor, with small bits of net around his neck. “We just stuck together and didn’t give up.”

“They believed in me and I them,” Scheyer said following the game. “That’s how you can do what we did with Jeremy (Roach) and come out winning a championship on the other side.”

8. Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively II’s emergence might make Duke the most versatile team in the NCAA Tournament

I’m not saying Duke is going to win the NCAA Tournament. I haven’t seen the bracket yet and declaring a champion without considering matchups first is reckless.

I am saying, with little reservation, that Duke might be the NCAA Tournament’s most versatile team.

With Filipowski, who has four double-doubles in his past 5 games, the Blue Devils have a dominant inside-out player. In Dereck Lively II, whose emergence has largely come during the current 9 game win streak, the Blue Devils add another 7 footer and some of the best length in the country defensively. Lively II also helps Duke control the glass against smaller teams, which was the biggest difference in Duke’s semifinal win over Miami on Friday night. Ryan Young, the graduate transfer from Northwestern, isn’t just a depth piece, either. He’s a terrific passer and an underrated positional defender who can give you quality minutes if Filipowski is in foul trouble.

The backcourt of Proctor and Roach is steady, but it’s the options at wing, transformed by the improved health of Dariq Whitehead, the jewel of Scheyer’s first recruiting class, that alters Duke’s ceiling.

A strong, physical defender known more as an instant bucket driving the ball out of high school, Whitehead is shooting over 40% from three, and he’s at 45% in ACC play. His 16 points off the bench were decisive in Duke’s win over Miami Friday night, and while he had just 2 points in Saturday’s final, Tony Bennett was worried enough about Whitehead in his scout that Reece Beekman, Virginia’s best defender, commanded the task of guarding Whitehead for the bulk of the championship game.

Duke still doesn’t shoot the ball great, but the extended scoring droughts that doomed the team in early season losses are a thing of the past thanks in part to the added element of Whitehead driving or shooting and Lively II’s work on the offensive glass. Duke frustrates you defensively, they are hard to guard, and they might have the most versatile team in the NCAA Tournament.

7. It’s hard to see Virginia getting out of the first weekend

Virginia has moments, like the bulk of Friday night’s semifinal rout of Clemson, where they wow you the way they did back in November, as they rolled through their Feast Week event in Las Vegas with wins over Baylor and Illinois.

They also have moments, like when they score 11 points in 17 minutes to start the ACC Championship game, that you stand in awe of the fact Tony Bennett won a share of another ACC regular season crown with this limited a group.

At the ACC Tournament, Virginia really missed the extend the defense shooting of Ben Van der Plas, who was lost for the season with a hand injury in the home finale against Louisville on March 4. WIthout him, they shot just 33%, and 23% from deep, against Duke.

The other quiet little secret about this Virginia team? They don’t guard as well as Bennett’s best Virginia teams. They rank 25th in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, which is a 5 spot bump after a quality ACC Tournament. But that number is closer to the mid-30s number of Virginia’s last NCAA Tournament team, which was upset in the first round by Ohio, than it is to the top 5 national defense that won Virginia the national championship in 2019.

This is a vulnerable team and you should fill your bracket out accordingly.

6. The coaches got ACC Player of the Year wrong

I am a huge Isaiah Wong fan. Let’s get that out there.

But Wong isn’t even the best player on his team, let alone the ACC Player of the Year (I voted for Tyree Appleby, who did win the AP award).

Had I voted for a Miami player, my vote would have been for Jordan Miller. The ACC’s most efficient player in league play, Miller does everything: passes, scores, rebounds, plays lockdown defense. Miller averages 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.5 steals a contest and he was the largest reason that Miami, with Wong saddled with foul trouble, nearly beat Duke in the semifinal despite the loss of talented big man Norchad Omier in the game’s first minute.

Both Miller and Appleby, who became the first player in ACC history to lead the league in points per game and assists and almost willed Wake Forest into the ACC semifinals with a great performance against Miami in the quarterfinals, would have been better choices than Wong for ACC Player of the Year.

5. Norchad Omier’s ankle is a problem to lose sleep over

Speaking of Omier, my heart sank when I saw Omier grab his ankle after landing awkwardly on Mark Mitchell’s foot in the first minute of the Miami-Duke semifinal on Friday night.

X-rays on Omier’s ankle were negative, but if it is a high ankle sprain, as reports from Coral Gables suggest, then Omier may not be able to play the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

The Hurricanes have the balance last year’s Elite 8 team lacked with Omier on the floor. The Hurricanes big averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, and thanks to his athleticism, he plays bigger than his 6’7 frame. The Hurricanes are a legitimate Final Four contender with Omier, as we saw when they routed Duke behind Omier’s 17 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, and block last month. WIthout Omier, they are upset prone early, especially if Wong and backcourt mate Nijel Pack go cold.

4. Here’s to the brilliant Tyree Appleby

Wake Forest’s first-team All-ACC selection and the AP ACC Player of the Year (media) became the first player in ACC history to lead the league in points per game and assists in a single season. That alone merited my ACC Player of the Year vote. He also went for 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in the ACC quarterfinals, nearly willing the Demon Deacons to the semifinals.

His endorsement of Steve Forbes after the game tells you what the Wake Forest head coach is building. While Appleby’s career won’t end in the NCAA Tournament, it will likely end in a NIT berth, which at least means one more chance to watch the fearless 6 foot guard do things like this:

3. Georgia Tech is a great job and it’s time they hire a great coach

Josh Pastner is one of the best humans in the sport and I am sure he’ll land on his feet next season.

That said, Georgia Tech made the right choice in moving on from Pastner, who made just 1 NCAA Tournament in 7 seasons in Atlanta.

Georgia Tech is a great job. Not a good job. A great one.

Located downtown in the richest recruiting base in the southeast, Tech is a top 10 public university that should lean into its rich basketball tradition. They aren’t going to catch Kirby Smart and Georgia in football, so why not spend money and invest in reclaiming the basketball program’s excellence?

A big time hire needs to recruit first, but if they can get elite talent on campus, mostly by getting 2 of Atlanta’s best 10 kids every year to stay home, the path to becoming a top tier ACC program isn’t especially narrow.

Early smoke around Ron Hunter, who succeeded with less at Georgia State, makes sense. Dusty May would also be an elite hire– and sources told Saturday Road May wasn’t interested in the Ole Miss job primarily because he felt better landing spots existed in other leagues. Tech fits that bill.

2. Jerry Stackhouse was in Nashville this week but in my mind, he’s gone to Carolina

Can’t you see the sunshine?

Can’t you just feel the moonshine?

Ain’t it just like a friend of mine, to hit me from behind…

Sweet baby James may as well have been croonin’ about Stackhouse, who is the obvious upgrade over Hubert Davis in Chapel Hill.

Watching Stackhouse confound Kentucky with modern offense without a single player who would start at Kentucky on Friday night was art.

In 2 years at UNC, Hubert Davis hasn’t confounded anyone.

Hubert will get a long leash, but Stackhouse, whose overachieving Vanderbilt team has a better chance of having its name called on Selection Sunday than preseason number 1 North Carolina, can’t get back to his alma mater soon enough.

1. A 5-bid ACC is warranted, but Pitt may be left out in the cold

Duke, Miami, and Virginia are safe. The only question with all 3 is where they are going.

After that, the outlook is murky for the ACC. Did NC State do enough to avoid the First Four? According to BracketMatrix, they did not, and should expect to go to Dayton early this week. That’s what happens when you lose 3 of your last 4 before Selection Sunday.

Will Clemson join NC State at the First Four? It’s possible, but the Tigers strength of schedule is outside the top 100 and the non-conference slate is in the 300s, a truly difficult thing to do for a Power 6 program. The Tigers are a solid 7-6 in Quad 1 and 2 games, but how many bubble teams from a Power 6 league played only 13 such games? Not many. Then again, NC State has just 1 Quad 1 win. Clemson has 4. How will the committee justify including the Wolfpack and not including NC State?

Finally, what does the committee do about Pitt? The Panthers have done what the committee says it wants. They scheduled well and challenged themselves, especially away from home. They have 7 road wins, 4 Quad 1 wins, and played more than half of their games in Quad 1 or 2. Recency bias is a thing, but does the Selection Committee really keep Pittsburgh out of the field for dropping 3 of their final 4 games? If so, that’s especially cruel.

Our guess? Clemson is the one left home, but the ACC gets 5 teams in, to the surprise of more than a few bracketologists out there.