The Duke Blue Devils were finally able to beat their Tobacco Road rivals when it mattered the most. Duke knocked off North Carolina 74-73 last night to get to the ACC Championship Game for just the second time in the last five years. Now, the Blue Devils have a No. 1 seed in their sights, but to lay claim to one of the top seeds, they need to beat the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday night.
There are no suspensions or injuries to report for the side of Florida State. However, there is one major injury of note for Duke. The Blue Devils have decided to rest center Marques Bolden for at least the entirety of the ACC Tournament and possibly the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament too. Bolden suffered an MCL sprain in their regular season finale against the Tar Heels, and that’s an injury that usually takes 2-3 weeks to recover from.
Duke is an 8.5-point favorite coming into tonight’s game with FSU. The Blue Devils were favored by 7 against the Seminoles in Tallahassee earlier this season, but FSU almost pulled off the upset, so it’s interesting that the oddsmakers haven’t given the Seminoles more of a chance this time around. The total has been set at 146 points.
What’s at Stake?
It’s not a national championship, but an ACC Tournament title is not a bad banner to hang from your rafters. Florida State has only won one ACC Tournament since joining the conference back in 1991, and the Seminoles would love to add a second title to their resume. Duke has more ACC Tournament titles than anyone with 20, but the Blue Devils have won just one in the last seven years.
There is also the important matter of seeding on the line here. A Duke victory would certainly give them a No. 1 seed over conference foes Virginia and North Carolina now that Zion Williamson is healthy. That’s huge considering the inherent advantage of being a No. 1 seed as 21 of the last 34 champions have been No. 1 seeds.
A victory for Florida State would probably put the Seminoles on the No. 3 line. We all know about 13s beating 4s and 12s beating 5s in the NCAA Tournament, but we haven’t seen a No. 14 seed beat a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2016.
The ACC Championship Game is held at a neutral site, but the crowd will be heavily partisan tonight. The game is being held in Charlotte, so expect the stadium to be filled with Duke fans cheering on the Blue Devils.
If tonight’s game is anything like the previous meeting between these two teams, we are in for a treat. FSU and Duke battled the entire game when they met in Tallahassee two months ago, and it was Cam Reddish that provided the decisive score after hitting a three with less than a second left to give Duke a 80-78 win.
All eyes will be on Zion Williamson tonight. Williamson sat out Duke’s last five regular season games after injuring his knee in the first minute of the Blue Devils’ clash with North Carolina on February 20, but he is back to his old form through two conference championship games. Williamson went 26-32 from the floor against Syracuse and North Carolina and logged minutes in Duke wins.
He only played one half against Florida State after getting poked in the eye, but he was on his way to a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds against the Seminoles. Williamson is an incredibly talented athlete, but if there’s any team that can challenge him, it’s Florida State.
The Seminoles have more size than almost any other team in college basketball, and their bigs are versatile. Leonard Hamilton knows how to get the most out of his front court on the defensive side of the floor, and Phil Cofer, Christ Koumadje, and Mfiondu Kabengele each have a different set of tools to stop Zion.
Everyone is back on the Zion hype train after his last two games, but FSU has the versatile big men and the depth to slow him down. He won’t be the unstoppable force of nature he was the last two games, and the Seminoles will keep this one very close.