Greensboro, N.C. — Duke lost at Georgia Tech in January. The Jackets were routed in Durham last month. So who wins Round 3 Sunday?
I know. I’m getting ahead of events. I’m also getting a feeling. (I know. Dangerous territory for me.) But the team that nearly played its way out of two tournaments last night — the ACC and the NCAA — will play better tonight. And if Tech plays well, it will beat Maryland.
Do I guarantee this? Absolutely not. With Tech, there are no guarantees. But the Jackets were unlucky to have lost in College Park on Feb. 20 — Cliff Tucker hit over Glen Rice Jr. at the horn — and I’m not sure how much the Terrapins want to be here.
They tied Duke for first place in the ACC’s regular season, and they’re safely in the NCAA field. And for all Gary Williams’ fretting, his team often arrives at the conference tournament and lays a big fat turtle egg.
The Terps have won the ACC once in 20 seasons under Williams, that in 2004. Since its title, it has reached the semifinals once. It has lost three times in its first game. None of those teams were as good as this, but it’s worth recalling that Williams’ two best teams — the 2000-2001 crew, which crashed the Final Four, and the 2001-2002 NCAA champs — didn’t reach the ACC title game.
A ton of lip service is paid to the concept of fatigue in a postseason tournament, but momentum is more important. Tech played last night, but Tech should have settled into this event — granted, it took 20 minutes — in a way Maryland could not. We saw this afternoon how much settling-in means: A Virginia team playing without its best player trailed Duke by two points with six minutes left, and Miami, playing without its best player, beat Virginia Tech.
The Cavs and the ‘Canes played yesterday. So, at least in the second half, did Georgia Tech. I see the Jackets hitting the Terps hard early and withstanding a wrath-of-Williams run. I see Tech playing Saturday and maybe even Sunday. (And surely the opposition in the title game would be Duke. Can’t envision Miami overcoming the minions of Mike K.)
Then again, I didn’t imagine Tech would trail the tepid Tar Heels by 13 points in the first half and by 10 at halftime. But I think the Jackets will relax and play tonight. They’re OK, NCAA-wise. (Know who wouldn’t be OK if it hadn’t won in Atlanta seven days ago without its second-leading scorer? Virginia Tech.) We’re going to see Georgia Tech play its best game of the season tonight. This I believe. But this in no way do I guarantee.
And with that, I’ll be happy to entertain your questions, your comments and the usual “Bradley, you’re a moron” proclamations. (And I must say, many among you were rather gloomy when the Jackets were in arrears against North Carolina. How in the wide world of sports did I become Mr. Optimist?) I look forward to our usual live chat tonight, and I fully expect — but will not guarantee — we’ll being doing it again Saturday.