The quarterfinals of the 2018 ACC Tournament have concluded and a heavyweight title fight between Duke and UVA in the championship game looms auspiciously in the offing.
While neither team is guaranteed a spot in the finals, both behemoths made statements against formidablecompetition on Thursday, giving their collision course an intractable feel. After watching the Cavs demolish Louisville in an afternoon contest, the Blue Devils made easy work of a tough Notre Dame team desperate for a win that might have vouchsafed their chances for an NCAA Tournament selection.
Duke has spent the past severalweeks ironing out the kinks from a squad whose overwhelming talent made them a popular preseason pick for the national championship. The mid-season switch to a 2–3 zone turned a defensive liability into a strength, and Coach K and his staff have worked hard to find the right rotation combinations to best suit their deep roster. First and foremost, the team has endeavored to get co-scoring machines Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley on a page together, a process that has proven frustrating for long stretches of the season.
That was not a problem on Thursday,and in many ways, the Blue Devils’ 88–70 triumph represents the full flowering of the nightmare matchup Duke has always threatened to become. The first half saw Allen in sharpshooter mode, knocking down five straight three-pointers to stake the team to an early lead. A gutty Irish squad, playing their third game in three days, showed moxie by closing to within four at halftime. But the second half was the Marvin Bagley show.
A no-brainer lottery pick in thisyear’s NBA draft, Bagley has frequently proven an unstoppable scorer in his freshman campaign—too big, too skilled, and too determined to be contained on the offensive side of the ball. On this night he was the best player in the country, pouring in thirty-three points, including twenty-three in a dominating second-half performance that only concluded when Coach K called off the dogs and brought him to the bench late in the contest.
Displaying a fluid inside game andthe ability to make defenses pay from beyond the arc, Bagley made former ACC player of the year Bonzie Colson look positively ordinary and overshadowed a sterling twenty-three-point outing from Allen as well as solid contributions from Gary Trent Jr. and a rapidly emerging Trevon Duval.
It speaks to a deeply unusualconfluence of circumstance that it has taken me this long to even mention the Blue Devils semifinal opponent. You know, the crosstown rivals in robin’s egg blue? What are they called again? Last night, UNC was impressive in overcoming a 14–0 early deficit and grinding out a no-drama victory against Miami. Could they spoil the Blue Devils’ designs on a conference championship and a big-ticket revenge match with Virginia?
Oh, most definitely.
But probably not.
As was demonstrated during the second halfof Duke’s emphatic comeback win against the Tar Heels last Saturday, the Blue Devils’ superior firepower gives them far more margin for error in terms of their ability to survive a bad half or a poor free-throw-shooting night. Carolina needs to play close to perfect to beat the Blue Devils, while Duke likely wins if they are merely good enough.
Look for that scenario to play out tomorrow night, with Roy Williams’s team hanging close but ultimately succumbing to Coach K’s lethal arsenal. A dream date with the No. 1 Cavs awaits.