It's nice to return to the ACC Championship Game for Duke - The Blue Devils have won 11 of the last 22 ACC Championship games in the Mike Krzyzewski era and they have a chance to make those historic numbers more gaudy with a win over Florida State tonight in Charlotte. The game tips off at 8:30 and the teams are meeting for the second time in the title game, Duke won that game in Atlanta vs the Seminoles.
What a game - Last nights thrilling win over North Carolina was one of the classic games in the rivalry. After losing the regular season games, Duke got the monkey off their back by playing tough defense while the world continues to fawn over the amazing play of Zion Williamson. I want to talk about the game, I do. But for now, Duke needs to put this one to bed and let the final emotion out at games end providing they defeat a tough Florida State team.
FSU is playing with a chip on its shoulder - Do not overlook Florida State for many have before you including Virginia. This reminds me of classic Leonard Hamilton teams. They are big, deep and athletic and they have stayed just in the shadows of the ACC's big three. And they are out to prove they not only belong but that they are the best team in this tournament.
Duke fans should make the journey - Last night the crowd was decidedly light blue but both Tar Heel and Cavalier fans left in droves. That means a lot of tickets will be available and for very good prices. You do not need to hit one of those ticket brokers. Instead, purchase the tickets outside the venue for there will be some and they will likely be cheaper. Turn Charlotte the right shade of blue.
The fatigue factor - Duke will need to play its bench again against the Seminoles and as I stated yesterday, it is vital all players produce some numbers on the stat sheet when out there. How about the play of Jordan Goldwire? Well, one thing to watch today is his legs for he is not accustomed to the minutes and he was dragging last evening after some sensational, soon to be legendary minutes in the Duke-Carolina series.
FSU will test Duke in the paint - With Marques Bolden out and limited depth, the Seminoles will try to exploit Duke inside with their size. And, oh, are they big. Duke will need to spread the court to loosen things up.
Speaking of the paint - I know I said minimal talk on the win over UNC, but the Blue Devils scored more points in the pain on their rival than any team in the last eight years. I just had to get that out.
Seeding - Most think Duke has earned the number one line in seeding with last nights win. But a win today cements that and could vault them to the top line depending on which of the way to many bracket projections types. BTW, if you haven't done so yet, enter the Blue Devil Nation Tournament Challenge through ESPN. The group name is, of course, Blue Devil Nation and here is the link - Click HERE.
All the negativity - Perhaps it is the fact that I have seen Duke Basketball up close and personal since 1980 when Coach Mike Krzyzewski stood on the side of Cameron being introduced as their new coach that gives me perspective. But it was amazing how negative some in the fanbase got after losing to UNC last week. All the rumors on Zion Williamson when in fact Duke has been up front the whole time on what is happening. If Duke wins the game today, people who were up in arms will realize what some wiser minds said, that being, see the big picture. It is clear Williamson is healthy and rested now and at the right time of the season.
What I think will happen - FSU lost to Duke on a three-point shot from Cam Reddish in Cameron earlier this season. Zion Williamson scored 11 in that game and was sidelined for part of it. The Noles nailed a lot of threes in that game and Duke must chase their shooters off the stripe. Everything points to this game being a grinder and the Noles are tolled to defend Williamson better than most. I look for a very physical game and one that will make both teams reach really deep. I think Duke wins another banner but it will not be easy on such short rest and missing Marques Bolden who is expected to return next week. This will be a major test for the young Blue Devils who win or lose will need to get back to Durham in one piece for selection Sunday.
The Duke Shadow Helps UNC -- Duke will play North Carolina for the third time since February 20th in the ACC Tournament semifinals just after 9:20 this evening. In each of the previous games, the Blue Devils have been the media darling. In fact, more people have been talking about when Zion Williamson will play than the two North Carolina wins and that kind of thing gets to you. This is especially true for a North Carolina team that is red-hot. No matter what they do, people have talked about Duke and that same thing will allow for a collective chip on their team's shoulder tonight. Trust me, the Tar Heels want their shot at Zion too if for no other reason than to remove that asterisk people have mentioned. Most teams would not trade places with Duke and the hype surrounding them, but it can at times work against you and I would make a case for that happening in this series to date.
I cannot help but notice or recall that -- Zion Williamson went out shortly into the McDonald's All American game when Tar Heel to be, Nassir Little aggressively jumped out to defend him resulting in Williamson going down which led to Williamson injury. That was uncharacteristic, if not over the top effort defensively for an all-star game atmosphere, In the game at Cameron, Luke Maye jumped out to defend him causing Williamson to start to make a move and we all know what happened with his shoe a second into the aforementioned move. The point is that the Tar Heels will make Williamson prove himself and could use the strategy of fouling him to limit his game. Williamson struggled from the free throw stripe last evening while dominating every other aspect of the game.
Duke does miss Bolden --Marquese Bolden clogged up the paint for Duke and with him being out, Duke is smaller even with Williamson back. The Tar Heel love to go inside and their backdoor cuts are relentless, so Duke will have to get a big game from Javin DeLaurier and Jack White on the boards.
Limit mistakes - Teams can find themselves down in a hurry to North Carolina just as they might Virginia. You have to value the ball against the Tar Heels in that they are so efficient on the offensive end. No team is playing together better than North Carolina at this time. Duke turned the ball over in a way last night that would bury them against better teams. It is critical that they cut down on mistakes against one of the ACC's best teams.
Don't get caught standing around -- If Duke stands around and watches RJ Barrett and Zion Williams it may not be enough. The Blue Devils must develop other scoring options and to win the tournament each member of the team has to show up.
Will someone in please ask RJ Barrett a question? -- Okay, yes, Zion Williamson had the game everyone is talking about, even those who do not follow hoops closely. But Barrett seemed lonely on the podium last evening with one question coming his way. Barrett is incredibly consistent and is the only college basketball player in all the land that has scored at least 13 points in every game he's played.
Yes, it looks like this game is for a #1 seed. -- While Duke is no lower than a #2 seed no matter what happens, they have to win tonight to regain a #1 seed.
Tre Jones must keep shooting. -- I get that he struggles at times with his three-point shot, but he must stay aggressive and take those open looks. Good things will happen in time if Jones continues to score and may he get to the line more as well where he was perfect last night. The bottom line is that Jones took a three is a much better option than some others doing so on this team and the shot will fall if he stays with it.
What needs to happen. -- I will not mention any names here but some Duke players on the roster have not shown up against North Carolina and in this game, the whole roster needs to contribute.
What I see happening tonight. -- It will be a heck of a game and one where things could get chippy. Williamson will have to earn his points but Duke will benefit from his presence which will loosen up others to score the ball. I feel that Duke could actually lose this game and still win it all, but I think they will find a way to come out on the winning end against North Carolina.