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Duke, North Carolina have made ACC tournament a two-team party

Virginia Coach Tony Bennett and his team were ousted from the ACC tournament following a collapse in the final 42 seconds of regulation, and overtime.
Virginia Coach Tony Bennett and his team were ousted from the ACC tournament following a collapse in the final 42 seconds of regulation, and overtime. (The Washington Post)
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Friday, March 11, 2011; 12:26 AM

GREENSBORO, N.C.

It was about as stunning a collapse as anyone at Greensboro Coliseum had ever witnessed. Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said he couldn't remember being involved in anything like it at any level, as a player or coach.

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"Up 10 with 42 seconds to go or down 10 with 42 seconds to go, no, I've never been part of anything like that," he said in response to a question Thursday afternoon. "We just got tight, gave them a chance and they finished."

Eventually. Even though Miami scored 10 points in 29 stunning seconds in the final minute of regulation to turn a 53-43 Virginia lead into a 53-53 tie, the Hurricanes missed a free throw that would have given them the lead and turned over the ball while trying to set up a last shot.

Miami finally pulled away to win the first-round ACC tournament game, 69-62 in overtime, because Virginia was too emotionally drained by what it had kicked away - almost literally - in that last minute.

"I'm proud of our kids for never giving up," Miami Coach Frank Haith said. "Everyone we asked to get something done in that last minute did it. It's a great win."

Indeed it was. And it was a gruesome defeat.

Then again, what did it all mean? Probably this: Miami (19-13) will play in the tournament next week. Virginia, at 16-15, probably won't.

That's the National Invitation Tournament, which once upon a time was referred to mockingly by ACC people as the Not Invited Tournament. These days, a lot of ACC teams call it home.

The ACC has become a two-team league in recent years: Duke and North Carolina. Or North Carolina and Duke - take your pick.

Does that mean that Miami can't beat North Carolina on Friday afternoon? No. Does that mean Maryland can't beat Duke on Friday night? No. What it means is that those upsets would be blips. Neither would get the winner into the NCAA tournament. Miami and Maryland will have to win the ACC tournament to play in games that really matter next week.

Apart from the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, the choices are hardly exciting. Florida State is almost certain to be in the NCAA tournament for a third straight season, but does anyone remember the last time the Seminoles won an NCAA tournament game? Try 1998. Clemson? A year earlier. Virginia has won one NCAA tournament game since firing Jeff Jones in 1998. Virginia Tech won a first-round game in 2007 - that's it in this century so far.


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