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Four ACC teams eye tourney run

Committee honors Duke, North Carolina, Fl. State Clemson with NCAA bids

No. 1 seed Duke\nThe Blue Devils downed rival North Carolina last Sunday to earn the ACC title, and as they enter the NCAA Tournament, coach Mike Krzyzewski thinks his team looks better than ever. "I thought it was our best game of the season," Krzyzewski said of the championship. "We got better this week."

The top-seeded and reigning national champion Blue Devils (30-4, 13-3) consistently ranked as a top-five team throughout this season and will look to dominate during the tournament. Duke hopes to continue to rely on strong performances from senior guard Nolan Smith and senior forward Kyle Singler, who average 21.3 and 17.1 pointsper game, respectively.

"We've won 123 games together," Krzyzewski said of the seniors. "I've told these guys that I'd rather lose with them than win with others. The fact is, though, that I'm not going to lose very much with these guys and haven't lost very much with them."

Duke's big men recently have elevated their play as well, giving the team a fearsome post presence. Sophomore forward Mason Plumlee and junior forward Miles Plumlee dominated the boards last weekend, while sophomore forward Ryan Kelly averaged 9.7 points on 67 percent shooting.

"Our big guys have really done well, [and] I think [they] feel more involved now in the offense," Krzyzewski said.

An already deep Duke team could get even deeper during the NCAAs, as freshman guard Kyrie Irving likely will return to the team after recovering from a toe injury sustained in December.

Duke's highly-touted freshman averaged 17.4 points before being sidelined. The freshman could see time as early as Friday during Duke's matchup against No. 16 seed Hampton. Top competition in Duke's region include third-seeded Connecticut, which won five games in five days to secure the Big East Tournament title last week, and second-seeded San Diego State.

No. 2 seed North Carolina\nMidway through the season, North Carolina was unranked, and many proclaimed freshman forward Harrison Barnes overhyped. Now, the Tar Heels enter the NCAA tournament as the ACC regular season champions, and Barnes was named ACC Rookie of the Year.

"Early in the year [Barnes] took a lot of doubts and criticism from people that said he's not that good, and he just stayed focused on being Harrison Barnes," coach Roy Williams said.

Barnes is just one of North Carolina's many talented, but inexperienced underclassmen. The Tar Heels' youth showed during the ACC Tournament, as the team struggled with slow starts at the beginning of games. North Carolina ultimately fell 75-58 against Duke in the championship.

Williams knows that to make a run in the tournament, his team will need to eliminate those mistakes, starting with accepting accountability.

"The worst phrase I ever heard is 'my bad,' Williams said. "When a guy says my bad that releases all your responsibility? That's the biggest bunch of horse manure that there's ever been. We have to take more responsibility as the prize gets bigger."

The Tar Heels first match up against Long Island Friday evening, and would play either Georgia or Washington should they advance to the next round.

No. 10 seed Florida State\nAn ecstatic Florida State celebrated Friday night as senior guard Derwin Kitchen swished a buzzer-beating jumper to down Virginia Tech. Minutes later, however, the Seminoles left the court dejected.

After review, the referees ruled that Kitchen did not release the ball before time expired, giving Virginia Tech a 52-51 win.

"That's ACC basketball," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "Teams always seem to find a way to come back and put themselves in a position to make plays at the end. I thought we made the play at the end."

The Seminoles' (21-10, 11-5) early exit from the ACC Tournament may have cost them a higher seed in the tournament, as the conference's No. 3 team received a 10 seed.

Florida State has suffered offensively since losing its go-to scorer, junior forward Chris Singleton, posting only a 3-3 record in his absence. Singleton was leading the Seminoles with 13.8 points per game when he fractured his right foot Feb. 12 against Virginia.

Hamilton also realizes that without Singleton, his team's execution must be near-perfect. Although the Virginia Tech loss may have been heartbreaking, the coach hopes his team can draw from it this weekend.

"I think we have to learn that in a tournament ... every possession is important," Hamilton said. "It is a great lesson for our guys, [and] as we move on the NCAAs, we are going to do a much better job."

If Florida State defeats seven-seeded Texas A&M in the first round, it likely will face second-seeded Notre Dame in the round of 3

No. 12 Clemson\nAfter tearing through Boston College and losing a tight contest against North Carolina last weekend, coach Brad Brownell declared his Clemson squad ready for the NCAA Tournament. "We were playing a top-10 team today on a 'neutral' court, and we had a seven-point lead with three minutes to go," Brownell said. "If that doesn't make you good enough to play in the [NCAA] Tournament, then I'd be shocked."

The NCAA selection committee evidently was not as sure about the Tigers, and assigned them to play in one of the tournament's newly-implemented "first four" games as a No. 12 seed. Clemson (22-11, 9-7) started the season with a disappointing 5-4 record, but proved Tuesday night that it belonged in the field of 64.

"The tournament is now," Brownell said. "It's not back in November. Our team has continued to get better and improve. We know we're one of the best teams."

Clemson was clearly the better team Tuesday night, as it crushed Alabama-Birmingham 70-52. Senior forward Jerai Grant recorded a career-high 22 points to pace the Tigers, while junior guard Tanner Smith added 10 points and four steals. Clemson now faces a quick turnaround as it plays No. 5 seed West Virginia this afternoon.

ACC Snubs\nAfter four years at Virginia Tech, senior guard Malcolm Delaney hoped he would finally get his chance to make it to the "Big Dance."

"If people watch our team with ... everything we went through, they would know we [would be] of the top teams to get into the tournament," Delaney said last Saturday.

Unfortunately for Delaney, the NCAA selection committee never called Virginia Tech's name. The Hokies (21-11, 9-7) finished tied for fourth in the ACC, but missed the tournament for the fourth consecutive year. Two disappointing losses to Virginia may have ultimately prevented their selection.

Virginia Tech was not the only ACC team to barely lose out on a bid. Boston College (21-12, 9-7) also tied for fourth in the conference, but failed to capture a berth in the tournament.