The ACC Championship Game takes center stage on Saturday night as the no. 5 Duke Blue Devils face the no. 12 Florida State Seminoles. Duke is listed as an 8.5-point favorite.
Florida State pulled off the first big surprise of the ACC Tournament by upsetting Virginia in the semi-finals. The Seminoles also had to survive a close game with Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals, so they should be filled with confidence after how things have gone for them in Charlotte this week. With those two wins, FSU has now won 14 of their last 15 games, so they have quietly become one of the hottest teams in the country.
Meanwhile, Duke is likely playing for the chance to lock up a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils stumbled late in the regular season, going 3-3 in their final six games. But they survived a feisty Syracuse team in the quarterfinals and then avenged their two regular season losses to North Carolina in Friday’s semi-final game, giving them a chance to claim the ACC Tournament title and state their case for a no. 1 seed.
Guess Who’s Back
It’s no surprise that Duke has reached the finals now that Zion Williamson has returned from injury. The freshman sensation has shown no ill effects of his knee injury in his two games back. He’s played at least 35 minutes in both games while combining for 60 points and 25 rebounds in those two games. He is back to being a one-man wrecking crew who looks capable of carrying Duke throughout the remainder of March if he has to.
However, there are some concerns about the rest of the Duke team. The Blue Devils turned it over 18 times against Syracuse, showing a fair amount of sloppiness with the ball. They have also continued to struggle shooting from the perimeter. Perhaps more importantly, Cam Reddish has faded into the background with Williamson back, depriving the Blue Devils of a third consistent scorer behind Williamson and RJ Barrett.
Plus the Kitchen Sink
Florida State presents an interesting challenge for Duke in that they have an almost endless amount of lineup combinations to throw at the Blue Devils. The Seminoles have 11 players who average at least nine minutes per game. Leonard Hamilton is always going to his bench, mixing and matching lineups to find the best combination against a particular team, keeping opponents off balance.
Regardless of who’s on the court, Florida State is always an athletic team that can challenge opposing teams on the defensive end and can get after it on the boards. Friday’s semi-final was a perfect example of that, as the Seminoles out-rebounded Virginia by 15 and held a dynamic shooting team to just 21% from the perimeter. FSU also has the size, led by 7’4’’ senior Christ Koumadje, to perhaps match up with Williamson and contain Duke’s best player.
Keep It Competitive
When these teams met earlier this year, the Blue Devils needed a last-second shot to avoid the loss. Granted, Williamson sat out the second half of that game, but the Seminoles know they can play with Duke and they’ll still be bitter about letting that game slip away. Duke may win, but Florida State won’t make it easy on them. Bet on the Seminoles to beat the 8.5-point spread.