Commentary

The ACC is no match for Duke

Originally Published: March 12, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- This Atlantic Coast Conference tournament has devolved into Duke and the 11 dwarves.

They might as well bring Mike Krzyzewski into Greensboro Coliseum for the semifinals and final on a palanquin, then wave palm fronds in front of him as he coaches the Blue Devils to a walkover title. Peel the man some grapes and get him a sideline manicure. Let him enjoy this waltz to the NCAA tournament.

In reality, maybe that's the way this league was all season. One very good team and a mishmash of mediocrity from Chestnut Hill to Coral Gables. That's certainly the way it appears now, as the bracket has broken down and allowed the Blue Devils a primrose path.

If Duke wins it, the opposition will have been as follows:

• Ninth-seeded Virginia, playing without its leading scorer, Sylven Landesberg.

• Twelfth-seeded Miami, playing without its leading scorer and rebounder, Dwayne Collins.

• Either seventh-seeded Georgia Tech, playing its fourth game in four days, or 11th-seeded North Carolina State, trying to do the same.

Combined ACC record of those four teams: 21-43. Duke seriously might have faced more competition if it had played in the Colonial Athletic Association tourney.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesThere's no need to worry Coach K. The rest of the league has laid down.

So if you came to this tournament hoping to get a true measure of the Blue Devils' worthiness of being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you're out of luck. As it stands, Duke will play someone in the NCAA second round that probably will be better than anyone it faces here.

Blame rival North Carolina, for being terrible. Blame regular-season co-champion Maryland as well, for spitting the bit Friday night against Georgia Tech. And blame teams seeded 3, 4, 5 and 6 in this tourney -- that's Florida State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson, NCAA tourney teams all, deserving or not. They all lost their first games here.

That's never happened before here, and they've been playing this tournament since 1954.

Teams seeded 11th and 12th also have never both made the ACC semis. In fact, if you go back to 1994, only one other league tournament in all of college basketball has sent its two lowest-seeded teams to the semis -- the Big East in 2001 (Seton Hall and Pittsburgh).

So what we have here is good theater if you love the underdog -- and, at this time of year, who doesn't? But we also have evidence that Duke really hasn't had the kind of competition the ACC usually provides.

The Maryland bandwagon was jumped on pretty hard the past few weeks, as the Terrapins won seven straight games coming into this tourney. But most of those victories were nip-and-tuck affairs against many of the average teams in an average ACC. And after Friday night, there will be some empty space on that bandwagon.

Give Tech credit for shooting the lights out against the Terps, especially in the first half. But Tech also committed a ghastly 25 turnovers and missed 14 of 27 free throws. If you can do that and control the game against the league's No. 2 seed, how good can the No. 2 seed really be?

Then, after Maryland was dismissed, Florida State took its turn being exposed.

The Seminoles lead the nation in field-goal percentage defense and can guard you 'til the last dog dies -- unless that dog is North Carolina State freshman Scott Wood. He laid the Wood to the Noles for the second time this season.

When the two teams played in January, Wood went off for 31 points, hitting 7 of 11 from 3-point range. Friday night he hit 6 of 10 3s and scored a game-high 18 points. For the season he is 13 of 21 from outside the arc against the Noles.

[+] EnlargeScott Wood
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesScott Wood has been a thorn in FSU's side twice this season.

"I think it's the chant, to be honest," Wood said. "It really gets me going."

Wood is a native of Marion, Ind., and has the requisite Hoosier buzz haircut. He's not a small-school kid -- Marion High is a big-time Indiana school, with a gym that seats 7,000 -- but Wood went straight Jimmy Chitwood on FSU.

He hit 3s in sprees -- include one second-half barrage that helped put the game in NC State's control for good.

"He can put nine points on the board as quick as anybody I've ever seen," said the NC State assistant who recruited him, former Wolfpack hero Monte Towe.

Towe is a Hoosier himself, from Oak Hill, Ind. -- in the same county as Marion. One night, while taking a red-eye flight from Las Vegas to Orlando during the July recruiting circuit, he and head coach Sidney Lowe sat next to Wood's uncle, who regaled the coaches with his nephew's shooting exploits.

Intrigued, they watched the kid play during that summer between his sophomore and junior years and fell in love with him. The feeling was mutual, given the shared Indiana experience of Towe and Wood and the fact that NC State was also recruiting Marion teammate Julius Mays.

"I got that bond established early," Wood said.

Everyone out there can enjoy the Scott Wood story, and the run by the Wolfpack to this point. So, too, can you appreciate the work by Miami, halfway to its own miracle run.

But when this many upsets are perpetrated, it's part romance and part farce. The ACC isn't very good this season, and it has collapsed completely at the feet of the Duke Blue Devils.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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