Saturday, March 12, 2011

5 things to watch in ACC tournament Saturday

GREENSBORO - It's going to be difficult for the ACC to top what happened Friday.

The fans who just about packed the Greensboro Coliseum (and yes, the crowds were strong) for Friday's ACC quarterfinals got their money's worth.

There was a buzzer beater in the opener (Tyler Zeller of North Carolina), a near buzzer beater in the finale (Derwin Kitchen's shot was ruled to have occurred after the buzzer for Florida State) and a dramatic turn of events for Duke with Nolan Smith's toe injury.

But there will be plenty worth watching in the ACC semifinals today:

1. Nolan Smith's toe. Duke fans thought they had it bad when they lost freshman point guard standout Kyrie Irving to a toe injury after games.

It could get much, much worse. ACC player of the year Nolan Smith injured the second toe on his left foot during Friday night's 87-71 defeat of Maryland. Whether Smith plays again this weekend isn't Duke's largest concern.

The NCAA tournament starts next week, and the Blue Devils can't afford to be without Smith for more than a round or two.

2. Clemson's defense. Clemson guards Demontez Stitt and Andre Young helped hold Boston College first-team All-ACC player Reggie Jackson to a modest 11 points on 5-for-13 from the field in the quarterfinals.

Opposing coaches throughout the ACC have been praising the way ACC coach of the year runner-up Brad Brownell has gotten the Tigers to play tough, physical defense. Stitt and Young are particularly formidable defensively in the backcourt and will test North Carolina standout freshman point guard Kendall Marshall one day after Marshall made a game-winning drive-and-dish to Tyler Zeller against Miami.

3. Who's your daddy now? After Smith's injury, sophomore guard Seth Curry ran Duke's offense nearly flawlessly as the Blue Devils blew out Maryland late in the quarterfinals.

He made a three-point play, two free throws and drove for an assist on a Miles Plumlee layup for seven straight points as Duke closed out the Terrapins. But Curry had a miserable performance in a 64-60 loss at Virginia Tech two weeks ago, fouling out without scoring a point.

Fans at Virginia Tech, the alma mater of his father (former Charlotte Hornets guard Dell /Curry) shouted at Curry: "Who's your daddy?"
You would think Curry is eager for payback.

4. UNC's bigs vs. Jerai Grant. Grant, a senior, scored 12 points on 5-for-9 from the field and blocked four shots against Boston College but was helpless against North Carolina's John Henson and Tyler Zeller in two games this season.

Grant was a combined 1-for-15 with two points in 40 minutes against the Tar Heels. Devin Booker, Clemson's other starting forward, missed all six of his field goal attempts against North Carolina at Clemson.

If Henson and Zeller dominate in the low post again, Clemson doesn't have a chance.

5. Hokie high. After Virginia Tech's players came back to the locker room following their dramatic win over Florida State late Friday night, the walls almost shook.

The cathartic screams of a team that had probably sewn up an NCAA tournament at-large bid could be heard through the thick concrete walls that separate the media room at the coliseum from the locker room.

The Hokies spent a lot of emotion and energy in the 52-51 defeat of Florida State and spent more afterward. The rush should carry them early against Duke, but the Hokies have only seven healthy scholarship players.
Can they sustain their energy for 40 minutes against Duke's pressure?

It will be fascinating to watch.

Ken Tysiac