When the current ACC configuration came into being, there were lofty expectations. Indeed, the idea was that it would be out of this world. It would have a firing squad of elite programs – Duke and North Carolina joined by the likes of Louisville and Syracuse – along with many programs just a notch below them. The more recent Big East – the one that one year sent 11 of its 16 teams to the NCAA Tournament – would have nothing on this ACC.
But those expectations were slow to materialize. The conference’s first two years with this look has produced good, not great results. There have been unforgettable games, like both of the Duke-Syracuse games in the first year, and the talent has been undeniable. Still, the ACC hasn’t looked like the clear class of college basketball. The Big 12 and Big Ten have shined more brightly thus far.
That may be changing this year, though. The ACC is rolling in these non-conference tournaments, with Syracuse becoming the fifth member to win one thus far. The Orange might not have been among the favorites, but after a 74-67 win over Texas A&M on Friday, they will come back to the mainland as champions of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Michael Gbinje is really coming into his own, and he capped a tournament MVP performance with 20 points to lead the Orange in the final. More than that, though, the Orange looked like the more poised team, something that wasn’t often the case last year. It was a tight game pretty much throughout, but after the game was tied at 61, the Orange took control to win it. They look like a team that is growing up now that the core is more experienced. It’s how coaches and fans hope it will materialize, but it doesn’t always happen that way. There is often a divergence between theory and reality.
Syracuse joins Duke (2K Classic), Miami (Puerto Rico Tip-Off), North Carolina (CBE Classic) and Virginia (Charleston Classic) as tournament champions thus far in 2015-16.
The ACC took a slight hit on Friday when Northeastern knocked off previously undefeated Miami 78-77 on a buzzer-beater. But that’s not a bad loss for the Hurricanes since the Huskies should contend in the CAA, and in all it’s been a nice start for the ACC all the same. It might be ready to look more like the juggernaut it was expected to become.
Elsewhere in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Gonzaga took third place by holding off UConn 73-70, Michigan took fifth place with a nice 78-72 win over Texas by making all the big plays in the final minutes after Texas got within one, and Washington took seventh place by beating Charlotte 71-66 behind 30 points and 13 rebounds from Andrew Andrews.
Georgia Tech had a chance to add to the ACC’s run of championships, but Villanova took care of the Yellow Jackets 69-52 to win the NIT Season Tip-Off title. Villanova has won all six of its games thus far by at least 14 points. Stanford nipped Arkansas 69-66 in the consolation game.
The championship in the Wooden Legacy is set, and it will include feature two players who might win the big award if Player of the Year was given out right now. Michigan State held off Boise State 77-67 to advance behind another big game from Denzel Valentine (32 points, nine rebounds, six assists), while Providence knocked off Arizona 69-65 behind 19 points and eight assists from Kris Dunn in a game where he battled foul trouble. It’s a bigger win for Providence than one thinks, as this team is figuring out how the supporting cast for Dunn, who scored the last ten points for them, will round into form. That’s starting to take shape now with some wins to boot.
This year’s Wooden Legacy has one day left, but there was also news about next year’s tournament. The eight teams competing next year will be Cal State Northridge, Dayton, Nebraska, New Mexico, Portland, Texas A&M, UCLA and Virginia Tech. The tournament will once again be played at Titan Gym at Cal State Fullerton, and while it includes no past champions, Portland and Virginia Tech have reached the championship game in the past.
The matchup for the final in the Emerald Coast Classic is known, with Iowa State (99-77 winners over Virginia Tech) set to meet Illinois (72-58 winners over UAB with three players returning to the lineup) on Saturday in Niceville, Florida.
Down the road, the AdvoCare Invitational has its final set, and it will feature an old Atlantic 10 matchup as Xavier will take on Dayton. Xavier knocked off USC 87-77, while Dayton held off a Monmouth team seeking to continue a magical run by a 73-70 margin. They will meet on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista.
Also in the AdvoCare Invitational, Wichita State not only lost a game for the second straight day, this time a 64-60 decision to Alabama, but they may have lost a lot more. Anton Grady took a nasty incidental hit to the head and neck from Alabama’s Dazon Ingram, fell to the floor and was motionless for a while before being removed on a stretcher. On a guard-heavy team that is already missing Fred VanVleet due to a bad hamstring and ankle, this isn’t what the Shockers need, as the senior forward averages 10.6 points and six rebounds per game.
In the Las Vegas Invitational, West Virginia broke away from San Diego State in the second half en route to a 72-50 win in the championship game. In the consolation game, Richmond reminded us that they’re a very underrated team, as they got 34 points and 12 rebounds from Terry Allen to knock off a talented California team by a 94-90 score.
Cincinnati edged Nebraska 65-61 in the Barclays Center Classic, and will take on George Washington, who eked out a 73-70 win over Tennessee behind another nice game from Tyler Cavanaugh (18 points, nine rebounds).
The Great Alaska Shootout is also set for its championship game. Middle Tennessee nipped UNC Asheville 63-61, and they will face Toledo, who knocked off Loyola (Ill.) 82-74.
A few events have championship games on Saturday to lead the slate.
- In the Barclays Center Classic, undefeated teams George Washington and Cincinnati meet for the championship.
- The Emerald Coast Classic final features Iowa State taking on Illinois.
- The Great Alaska Shootout final will have Middle Tennessee battling Toledo.
- Notable games outside of tournaments include arch-rivals Old Dominion and VCU meeting in Richmond, Hofstra traveling to St. Bonaventure, Seton Hall hosting a Georgia team that has strangely played just three games thus far, and Brigham Young hosting Belmont.