Friedlander: No bubbles were busted on Day 2 of the ACC Tournament
GREENSBORO, NC – Wake Forest became the 1st ACC team since the NCAA expanded its postseason field to 64 in 1985 to compile a conference winning percentage of .650 or better and not make the Tournament last year.
Those Deacons also became a cautionary tale for this year’s cluster of ACC teams flirting with the bubble.
Don’t leave anything to chance. And don’t leave your fate in the hands of the committee if you can at all avoid it.
It’s a warning Pittsburgh, NC State and North Carolina all heeded Wednesday on Day 2 of the ACC Tournament.
The 5th-seeded Panthers and the 6th-seeded Wolfpack both came to Greensboro on 2-game losing streaks that have put their projected NCAA bids into jeopardy, at least according to most of the popular bracket guesses.
The underachieving Tar Heels, meanwhile, have work to do just to get back into the conversation.
All three took care of their business, 2 of them with ease.
While their victories against lower-seeded opponents might not have done anything to strengthen their resumes, they didn’t hurt them, either.
At this time of year, that’s just as important.
Pitt struggled with No. 13 Georgia Tech before holding on for an 89-81 victory in the afternoon session before UNC kept its hopes alive by routing No. 10 Boston College 85-61 and State was even more dominant in dispatching 11th-seeded Virginia Tech 97-77 in the evening.
When it comes to statements, the Wolfpack’s was the 1 that echoed loudest.
Talk all you like about the metrics. And Lord knows there’s been a lot of that lately. Coach Kevin Keatts’ squad certainly looked like an NCAA team.
It shot 61.9% from the floor, a school record for an ACC Tournament game, made 11 of 24 3-pointers, outrebounded the Hokies 33-23 and got standout performances from its star backcourt of Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner in improving to 23-9.
“I feel like we’re a team that can go far in March into the NCAA Tournament,” said Joiner, who finished with 20 points and 10 assists while missing a triple-double by 3 rebounds. “But Coach told us to focus on the next game, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Joiner and his teammates had plenty of time to focus on this game.
The Wolfpack was the odd team out in the ACC’s 15-team schedule on the final weekend of the regular season. As such, they had a full week off to stew over their back-to-back losses to Clemson and Duke – their 1st 2-game losing streak of the year – and rest up for the start of tournament time.
And man, did they ever look fresh.
Smith, who has been in a shooting slump since mid-February, splashed a 3 in transition to start the game. And State was off and running from there.
Terquavion Smith dropped 30 on 'em! 🐺🏀@Spalding Shot of the Game – one of his FIVE three pointers he nailed tonight. 😤 pic.twitter.com/FUuyiU3XvR
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) March 9, 2023
“You don’t know until you play the game,” Keatts said of the extended preparation time. “So it looked like it worked in our favor. “It’s a concern because you go into these games and you wonder if the week off, you know if you’re sluggish, if you don’t play well. But I thought our first half was one of the best first halves we played offensively and then we did a good job defensively.”
The Wolfpack opened up a 53-26 lead after 20 minutes, a margin that allowed Keatts to substitute liberally heading into a quarterfinal showdown with 3rd-seeded Clemson.
UNC coach Hubert Davis had a similar luxury after his team rolled up as much as a 27-point advantage against BC. The big lead allowed him to lengthen his bench and save some valuable minutes from his starters moving forward.
The added depth could become even more important if 1st-team All-ACC big man Armando Bacot, who was limited to just 17 minutes because of an ankle injury, isn’t available or at full strength on Thursday against Virginia.
At 20-10 with only 1 Quad 1 victory to their credit, it’s uncertain how much work UNC will have to do in Greensboro. The only sure way to take the guesswork out of the equation is winning the whole thing and earning the ACC’s automatic NCAA bid.
“When you’re in a situation where you’re playing four games, possibly four games in four days, you need depth,” Davis said. “The guys off the bench were ready to go and they did a really good job tonight.”
Those reserves combined to score 23 points. The starters weren’t bad, either.
The backcourt tandem of Caleb Love and RJ Davis combined to ring up 40 points and go 7 of 14 from 3-point range.
An impressive performance from Davis and Love! 🐏@UNC_Basketball | #ACCMBB | 🏆🏆🏆pic.twitter.com/nmTytiCWvE
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) March 9, 2023
Love, in particular, was locked in.
Normally demonstrative on the court, especially when things are going well, he was all business on Wednesday.
“I was just trying to win the game,” he said. “All the other stuff, it wasn’t needed.”
Just win, baby.
The more you do it, the longer you get to play.
And the committee doesn’t – or at least shouldn’t – award points for style. In that regard, Pitt did exactly what it had to do in advancing to its quarterfinal matchup with No. 3 Duke.
The Panthers (22-10) came within a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer against Miami last Saturday of winning a share of the regular season conference title and the top seed in this week’s tournament. Instead, they ended up dropping to 5th, out of the double bye and at least close to the NCAA bubble.
While it took them longer than UNC or State to put away their opening opponent, their win against the Yellow Jackets produced the same result.
It kept that bubble from bursting.
At least for another day.