The (Tobacco) Road To The Final Four: Notre Dame, Duke Clash For ACC Title

    On the eve of Selection Sunday, Notre Dame and Duke will battle for the ACC Tournament title to cap off a fantastic 2016-17 conference season.

    March 11, 2017

    On the eve of Selection Sunday, Notre Dame and Duke will battle for the ACC Tournament title to cap off a fantastic 2016-17 conference season.

    Notre Dame and Duke will battle on Saturday night for the right to become ACC Tournament champion.

    The third-seeded Fighting Irish (25-8) and fifth-seeded Blue Devils (26-8) will meet at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, making it the 29th all-time clash between the programs. Since joining the ACC, ND has won five of the seven games between the squads, and Mike Brey will coach for the league title for the second time in three years.

    In their only regular season matchup in 2016-17, Duke claimed an 84-74 win in South Bend. The Blue Devils received 21 points from junior guard Grayson Allen in the victory.

    Against Florida State on Friday night, Irish senior guard Steve Vasturia and junior forward Bonzie Colson each scored 18 points, and the team shot 48.1 percent from 3-point range. Additionally, the Irish forced 18 FSU turnovers, which helped make up for the 41-23 advantage that the ‘Noles had on the boards. The Irish were able to score 42 points in the first half and have a 16-point lead after 20 minutes. Hot shooting early is necessary again for ND to have a chance to beat Duke, which is starting to get comfortable coming back from deficits.

    Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils are trying to become the first ACC team to play four games in four days and win the league tournament. The Blue Devils beat Clemson in the first round before rallying past Louisville on Thursday and top-seeded North Carolina on Friday. Once again, big performances by freshman forward Jayson Tatum (24 points), sophomore forward Luke Kennard (20) and junior guard Allen (18) helped get Duke to the final. Coach K’s team entered the tourney having lost three of its last four regular season games, but Duke is showing a tremendous amount of grit at the most critical time of the year. This team has been through it all in ’16-17: a number of injuries, including one that shelved its head coach. Kennard’s play this year has been magnificent, while Tatum has gone for 20 points or more in each ACC tourney contest. One of the biggest differences, though, has been the steady play of freshman Frank Jackson since having his role expanded.

    Allen has found his shot over the past two games and has been a big part of Duke’s comebacks the last two contests, going 7-of-9 from 3-point range. His tenacity and aggressiveness are back, and that’s bad news for the Irish.

    Down 61-49 in the second half against the Cardinals, Duke went on a 32-16 run over the final 13 minutes. Trailing 61-48 in the second half against the Tar Heels, Duke went on a 45-22 run over the final 13:39. Allen’s play was integral to both comebacks. He scored all 10 of his second-half points in a six-minute stretch against the Cardinals, and he had four 3-pointers in the first half against UNC to even make a comeback possible.

    For Notre Dame, a loss would not be too detrimental to its NCAA seeding. The Irish could be primed to land on the four-seed line, possibly playing in Milwaukee, even with a setback against the Blue Devils. No matter what happens on Saturday night, though, it would be very surprising if the game didn’t come down to the wire.

    Brey learned under Krzyzewski for eight years. Can the protégé best the mentor once again?

    …Roy Williams and North Carolina fell to Duke on Friday night, but the Tar Heels may have done enough during the 2016-17 college basketball season to gain a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

    Even with the setback to the Blue Devils, is it possible for the Tar Heels to be deemed the top overall squad in the country when the NCAA’s selection committee unveils the 68-team bracket on Selection Sunday?

    According to ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, if Williams and Co. are awarded the overall No. 1 seed and given the chance to request its preferred NCAA Tournament locations, the Heels want to be slotted in Greenville, SC, for the first weekend and Memphis, TN, for the South Regional. This scenario would mean that potential fellow No. 1 seed Villanova could be the top seed in the East Regional, which is played at Madison Square Garden in New York, even if the committee ranks UNC higher.

    This season, the NCAA introduced a change to the seeding process, allowing the top overall team to choose where it would like to play its tournament games. Requests from teams had to be in by March 3. The committee in the past slotted teams by geography with the idea of keeping higher-seeded schools as close to their campuses as possible.

    There had been discussion centering around New York because UNC is closer to New York than Memphis by 300 miles, while MSG is roughly 100 miles from the ‘Nova campus. Of course, we’ll see if this is all moot when the bracket is revealed.

    …Justin Jackson needs to find his shooting groove again or else it won’t matter where the Tar Heels are seeded on Sunday. The junior forward struggled from the floor in the ACC Tournament, and he is now just 20 of his last 60 from the field, including just seven of his last 31 from 3-point range. Sure, he was almost a 46 percent shooter overall and 40 percent from downtown before the skid, but UNC will be ousted from the Big Dance if he cannot get going. He needs to play with the aggressiveness and confidence that UNC was used to seeing earlier in the year.

    MORE: Duke vs. North Carolina 2017 ACC Tournament Highlights


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