#13 Georgia Tech vs #12 Boston College

-As expected, the ACC tournament opened with a long hype video. I have to say, I miss the shots of New York city in the old Big East videos. Isn’t there anything interesting to show in the city of Greensboro? Can’t they find a playground with some kids playing hoops?

-Georgia Tech’s best player Marcus Georges-Hunt is out with a foot injury, but he is sporting a great bow tie and pocket handkerchief.

-Boston College jumps out to a 7-0 lead. Shane Battier, on commentary, has the solution. “If you are Georgia Tech and you have a huge size and strength advantage in the paint, you might want to try to get some inside shots.” The Yellow Jackets respond and the game is close throughout.

-I love listening to a relatively new announcer, because you don’t know their tendencies yet. Battier, coming from the NBA, is used to a league where the big stars get all the close calls. He seems shocked that Olivier Hanlan isn’t getting the benefit of the doubt on 50/50 situations. “Where’s the star call?”

-Late in the second half, Sean McDonough reminds us that Georgia Tech has lost every single close game they’ve played in ACC play this year. “They’ve lost three times by 1 point, twice by 2 points, once by 3 point, once by 4 points, once by 5 points, once by 6 points, and three times by 7 points. Three of those losses were in OT.” What a great way to summarize Georgia Tech’s season. That was much better than the graphic that said 12 losses by a total of 46 points.

-“Georgia Tech’s Tadric Jackson was 14 of 85 from three this season, and he has two threes in the game. Georgia Tech by five.”

-“Georgia Tech is 13th in the ACC in free throw shooting.” Could that be why they don’t win any close games? Robert Sampson wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again. He tips the missed Georgia Tech free throw towards half-court. The ball looks like it is going to go out of bounds but Tech’s Tadric Jackson saves it at the corner. Then Jackson gets it back to Sampson who nails a three and the lead grows to 6 points. Is this real? Is Georgia Tech really making the kind of clutch hustle plays they need to win a close game?

-Wait, this is Georgia Tech. Somehow Boston College scores twice and then re-takes the lead on a steal after a Georgia Tech offensive rebound. But still, the Yellow Jackets are down only 1.

-Tadric Jackson in the lane, jumper is good, Georgia Tech leads! Olivier Hanlan drives, Hanlan pull-up jumper, it’s good! Boston College leads! Tech’s Corey Heyward drives into the lane, gets a shot on the rim, but it bounces off, and time expires! Wow, what an ending.

-They show a disgusted Charles Mitchell on the sideline. The Georgia Tech forward mouths the “F” word, as another close loss perfectly sums up Georgia Tech’s season. The announcers speculate about Brian Gregory’s future. Look, if this was a football team, Georgia Tech would fire the offensive coordinator and give Gregory one more year. But there isn’t such a thing as an offensive coordinator in college basketball. So what reason does the Georgia Tech AD have to think the Yellow Jackets offense will be any better next year? They should win some more close games, just by luck. But ultimately, the Georgia Tech offense is broken, and Gregory doesn’t seem to have the answer.

#14 Virginia Tech vs #11 Wake Forest

The flashbacks in this game were outstanding. Seeing highlights of Danny Manning playing high school basketball in North Carolina was priceless. And seeing highlights of Wake Forest’s 1995 ACC tournament title win over North Carolina was equally great. I miss Jerry Stackhouse and Randolph Childress.

This is usually a good conversation starter with casual basketball fans. “I’m a big Danny Manning fan because of what he did at Tulsa.” “Wait, what? Weren’t you a fan of his work in the NBA or at Kansas?”

Three years ago, Manning took over a Tulsa team that had not made the NCAA tournament for nine years. And yet Manning had a plan. In his first year, Manning gave over 60% of his minutes to freshmen. Manning invested heavily in the future and it paid off. Manning rode the sophomore leap as his Tulsa team went to the NCAA tournament in just his second year as head coach. This year, though Manning has moved on, his former juniors are back on the NCAA bubble.

At Wake, Manning hasn’t gone quite as young. He has only given 40% of his minutes to freshmen. But I have a lot of confidence that his four best freshmen will make the sophomore leap. After coaching alongside Bill Self, Manning knows how to develop quality players.

On the flip side, in the summer of 2013 I wrote about coaches who rarely played freshmen. And Buzz Williams fell solidly in that camp. At that time, Buzz Williams actually played freshmen less than any active major conference head coach.

But Buzz knows he can’t turn Virginia Tech into a winner over night. And Williams has re-invented himself this season. Williams has actually trotted out a younger lineup that Manning. Fully 52% of Virginia Tech’s minutes have been given to freshmen this year.

Virginia Tech’s freshmen Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs were Top 100 recruits and they’ve had their fair share of highlights this year. But one player has been somewhat overlooked. Freshman Jalen Hudson was only ranked as a 3 star recruit by Scout and Rivals. And even Buzz hasn’t always seen fit to play him. Hudson logged just one minute of game time against NC State a few weeks ago. Hudson also hasn’t been a great FT shooter. According to the announcers, he was shooting 59% from the charity stripe heading into Tuesday’s game, and yet he went 10 of 10 at the free throw line on Tuesday. And the freshmen Hudson made every play down the stretch. He scored 10 points between the 5 minute mark and the 1 minute mark. At this point he reached 30 points on the game. Hudson not only had a career high for points, he also had the Virginia Tech record for points in an ACC tournament game.

So of course, a freshman mistake bit him. With his team leading by 2 and 40 seconds left, Hudson got too aggressive. Hudson shoved away the defender, and was called for an offensive foul. And down on the other end of the floor Wake Forest freshman Konstantinos Mitoglou nailed a three to give Wake Forest the 80-79 lead.

Undeterred, Hudson wanted the ball one more time. He caught the ball on the wing, crossed-over, drove the lane, and calmly banked in the game-winner. And after three Wake Forest misses on the final possession on the other end, Virginia Tech had the win.

To me, Hudson is the perfect example of the kind of player you expect to make a big sophomore leap. He had three games with 18+ points in February and March. But he often scored in the low single digits. With freshmen, inconsistency is common. But you want to see flashes of brilliance. You want to have a reason to believe they can dominate. Hudson showed that Tuesday.

And you can be sure that both these teams will benefit from the sophomore leap this off-season.