ACC Champs Coverage: Selection Sunday

Virginia may have crashed unceremoniously out of the ACC Tournament Friday, but we still have a media pass and a computer throughout the weekend. Join us for analysis and insight during the final rounds at the Greensboro Coliseum, as well as for constant discussion about #UVa’s NCAA Tournament hopes.

9:26 PM: Even by trying to honor Virginia’s accomplishments this season, the NIT may have simply exposed the Cavaliers to more danger.

Virginia earned a No. 1 seed in the NIT tournament and will host Norfolk State at John Paul Jones Arena Tuesday at 9 p.m. The Spartans, you may remember, shocked Missouri as a No. 15 seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament and finished 16-0 in MEAC play this year. In other words, the Cavaliers must overcome a dangerous first hurdle to the deep NIT run the young roster could use. Check out our full story on the NIT berth later on

That concludes our weekend basketball coverage. Thanks for following along with us all weekend.

7:48 PM: When people tell me they prefer college basketball to the professional game, they usually cite two aspects of the amateur game: a more team-oriented aura than the superstar-fueled NBA, and the frequency with which buzzer-beaters, upsets and other exhilarating phenomena occur.

This past weekend’s ACC Tournament, although replete with its fair share of balanced team play, revolved around individual excellence. There were no buzzer-beaters, and only one major upset—Maryland’s quarterfinal victory against a Duke team that looked more disinterested than a suburban dad at a Pitbull concert. But the four-day basketball extravaganza in Greensboro captured the essence of college basketball’s appeal, even as it disheartened and frustrated—yet again—Virginia and its fans.

The individual superlatives started early on Thursday, when Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan scored an ACC freshman-record 41 points with a jumper sweeter than the maple syrup from his native Canada. A day later, Scott Wood hit four straight 3-pointers in the second half to sledgehammer a hapless Virginia team in front of a delirious partisan N.C. State crowd. Dez Wells dropped 30 monumental points on the Blue Devils a few hours later, Durand Scott torched the Wolfpack for 32 points Saturday, and P.J. Hairston hit long bomb after long bomb all weekend long.

But even among such sublime individual efforts, Shane Larkin’s performance elevated the Miami point guard head and shoulders above the rest. There are usually two types of dominant point guards: the Steve Nash’s of the world who addle opposing coaches with their instincts, vision and quick hands, and the Russell Westbrook’s of the world who burn opponents with sheer athleticism and talent. In averaging 23.7 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds this weekend, Larkin showcased why he is both at the same time. Whenever Miami needed a steady hand on offense or a hot hand needed the ball—as Scott did Saturday—Larkin provided it. When the Hurricanes were struggling to contain an opponent on defense, Larkin came up with the crucial steal or locked down a hot shooter. And when adversity started to affect his teammates, Larkin, like all truly great point guards, rose to the occasion and bailed the Hurricanes out with a spectacular drive or clutch 3. In the end, the best compliment you can pay the Tournament MVP is that while other players impressed this weekend, only Larkin made you say, “That guy’s in a different stratosphere.”

With all the emphasis on the individual and a fair few lopsided games, the unenlightened might think this year’s ACC Tournament was a drab, spiritless affair. How wrong they would be. Anyone else lucky enough to witness the action this weekend experienced ultra-competitive and occasionally jaw-dropping basketball. In a sports culture which subjects athletes to constant exposure and scrutiny, I saw players—especially in the weekend’s final two, pulsating contests—dive for loose balls, take pressure-packed 3’s and brawl for rebounds with a fervor that transcended the mere desire to impress outside onlookers. In the frantic final between North Carolina and Miami, I saw two teams battle as if singularly obsessed with nothing more than beating each other. Tournament seeding, ESPN and all the other noise faded away.

If anything, my exposure to an enthralling ACC Tournament this weekend renders Virginia’s ineptitude in the event that much more infuriating. Cavalier fans deserve to enjoy the quality and intensity of basketball I was blessed to witness this weekend. Still, I will always treasure this weekend as a sportswriter for teaching me that college basketball succeeds not because of any abstract notions of team-play or “Madness,” but because it showcases human, flawed college basketball players exerting a superhuman effort on the court. We all need a reminder of what passion and determination can produce from time to time, even if we have to swallow the bitter pill of a home team’s loss in the process.

3:17 PM: Virginia may own traditional football powerhouse Miami on the gridiron after three straight victories. After their best season on the court, however, the Hurricanes own everyone in the ACC in basketball.

Tournament Most Valuable Player Shane Larkin capped a remarkable ACC Tournament with his best performance yet, racking up 28 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in Miami’s 87-77 win against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament final. No team has finished first in the ACC regular-season standings, won the championship and not received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina and P.J. Hairston, infatuated as ever with the 3-point shot, put forth a valiant effort in defeat. Hairston finished with 28 points on 6-of-13 but faded, along with his teammates, down the stretch against Larkin and a physically preeminent Miami squad.

We’ll be back in a little bit for a more extended recap of the weekend’s action, as well as an update once we determine the Cavaliers’ postseason fate.

2:00 PM: While we all would have preferred to see Virginia grind and claw its way to the ACC Tournament final, the two teams that did reach the game are orchestrating quite the enthralling offensive show..

In a Greesnboro Coliseum doused in powder blue, Miami and North Carolina combined for 15 3-pointers and several eye-popping exhibitions of athleticism in a pulsating first half of action. The Hurricanes hold a 44-41 edge, with sublime point guard Shane Larkin twirling and twisting his way around the Tar Heels to the tune of 15 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and zero turnovers. He has become a legitimate college basketball superstar, a player for which the price of admission fails to capture the full value of watching.

Greesnboro-native P.J. Hairston has tallied an exhilarating 15 points for North Carolina, at one point hitting four straight 3-pointers near the end of the half. James Michael McAdoo has played his finest game of the tournament, as well, scoring six points and refusing to let the Miami “Monstar”-like front line bully him in the paint.

Meanwhile, Florida leads Ole Miss 38-24 at halftime.

Check back after the game!
12:45 PM: College baskeball’s version of Christmas morning has arrived. After ACC regular-season champion Miami battles an upstart North Carolina squad in the ACC Championships final at 1 p.m., the NCAA Selection Committee will finalize this year’s tournament field later this evening. I, for one, am hoping to triumph against my 10-tear old little sister this time around after a shocking upset loss in the bracket-picking competition last year.

Of course, how happy the Virginia men’s basketball team and fans are tonight will likely depend on whether the Cavaliers receive a tournament berth. Although an Ole Miss defeat to Florida in the SEC Tournament today would theoretically thrust the Rebels back in the bubble fray with teams such as Virginia, Boise State and Tennessee, Virginia’s tournament fate likely will remain relatively static as the day wears on. A Wisconsin victory against Ohio State would likely supply a small boost to their RPI, but that’s about it.

By now, Virginia fans understand why mystery still surrounds its team’s tournament profile: a high finish in an excellent conference and impressive wins against several tournament locks belie the RPI of 74, the out-of-conference SOS in the high 200’s and a 13-7 record against teams outside the RPI Top 100. Those seven losses include head-scratchers against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and—most notoriously—three losses against the mighty Colonial Athletic Association.

Ultimately, the Cavaliers’ putrid performance Friday against N.C. State probably submarined their fragile tournament hopes, but hope remains—simply put, the unprecedented makeup of Virginia’s resume prevents us from predicting any outcome with absolute certainty. But for those wallowing in resentment and self-pity at the notion of an NIT berth, allow me to express a sentiment echoed by many of the other Virginia media here in Greensboro: for a young Virginia team in desperate need of a late-season confidence boost, a lengthy NIT run featuring several home games holds more value than an embarrassing early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Bubble consternation aside, we have more basketball to watch here in Greensboro. The slight edge likely belongs to Miami, who have a staggering size advantage over a diminutive Tar Heel lineup and get the karma boost of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. Moreover, Durand Scott and Shane Larkin will probably be able to contain the perimeter shooting of Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and co. more effectively than Florida State or Maryland managed to.

Still, there’s a reason North Carolina terrifies me for bracket-picking time; while the Tar Heels can shoot themselves out of games, they could shoot themselves to the Final Four if they got going. Hence, an offensive outburst could propel North Carolina to a victory here. Barring that, however, this is the Hurricanes’ game to lose.

More discussion at halftime and on @CavDailySports.

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