FSU's surprising win, Snaer's a star, more ACC tourney thoughts
Florida State considered its ACC win over N. Carolina a coming out party of sorts
Michael Snaer averaged 18 points over the weekend and nabbed MVP honors
Attendance woes? Doesn't seem to be the case when N. Carolina takes the floor
ATLANTA -- Five things we learned from the ACC Tournament:
1. For people who think the shine of conference tournaments has dulled due to the growth of the NCAA tournament, don't mention that to Florida State. When the buzzer sounded after P.J. Hairston's long three-pointer bounced away and Florida State had secured an 85-82 win over No. 4 North Carolina, the Seminoles reacted as if they had won a high school state championship, rushing the floor and jumping around at midcourt. This was no ordinary tune-up for next week's big show. The Seminoles considered it a national coming out party.
"It means a lot to our program that we were able to crack the upper echelon of the ACC," said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton after his team became the first to beat both Duke and North Carolina in the semifinals and final of the ACC tournament since Georgia Tech did it in 1985. "They have set the standard. Nationally, we are going to get more recognition. We have been to the NCAA tournament and brought back good teams for several years, but no one has seemed to notice. Now that we won, maybe we'll be highlighted."
Florida State is the third-winningest team in the ACC over the last five years and this will be their fourth straight NCAA tournament. The 'Noles also reached the 2009 ACC tourney final after beating eventual national champion North Carolina in the semifinals, but lost to Duke.
Against Carolina on Sunday, Florida State built a 49-40 halftime lead thanks to a blistering 63 percent shooting clip. In the second half, a determined Carolina squad made several runs, but FSU managed to hold the Tar Heels off long enough to capture the title, with Michael Snaer leading the way with 18 points and Luke Loucks finishing with 10 points and 13 assists.
"We kept trying to pry the door open, and they kept closing the door," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
2. The nation will enjoy getting to know Michael Snaer next week. Florida State's fiery guard captured tournament MVP honors after averaging 18 points over the weekend. Snaer is also the 'Noles best defender and spent much of Sunday afternoon harassing UNC point guard Kendall Marshall.
"Michael is as competitive a youngster as I've ever coached and he sets the standard for the team," Hamilton said. "He came in as a freshman and wanted to make his mark on defense in practice. He was a leader before he was old enough to be a leader. Now, when the challenge gets bigger, he gets more focused and makes bigger plays."
Both Williams and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praised Snaer this weekend, and teammate Luke Loucks said he is thankful the junior is on his side.
"He hates losing more than he likes to win, whether it is a game, practice or a video game, he just competes his heart out," Loucks said.
Snaer, who discussed the UNC win at the podium with the net around his neck and his championship hat on backwards, has an infectious personality the national media will enjoy as the NCAA tournament progresses.
3. North Carolina should not be overly concerned with the loss. The Heels once again were without forward John Henson, who dressed but was only to be used "in an emergency situation," according to Williams. Henson should be back for the tournament, which will help the UNC defense. Florida State's post players shot 14-for-18 on Sunday, a mark that surely would have gone down with Henson's presence in the paint.
Carolina showed plenty of heart in the second half, corralling five offensive rebounds on one possession before finally earning a bucket. Questions were raised about UNC's toughness and character after a 33-point loss in Tallahassee in January, but on Sunday the Heels refused to let a hot-shooting FSU team get away. To lose by three points while getting outshot from the floor 59 percent to 39 percent shows the Heels can battle when necessary.
"The last 12 minutes it was the North Carolina team that I have seen recently and it is the North Carolina team that I like and we want to be," Williams said.
4. Duke needs its other 'K' next week. That would be Ryan Kelley, who missed the ACC tournament with a sprained foot. Mike Krzyzewski was optimistic on Saturday that Kelly would be back for the NCAA tournament. Kelly was wearing a regular shoe with a protective device in it as he tries to get healthy.
"He will make a big difference if he is completely healthy," Krzyzewski said. "We get a different look when he is in. It stretches the floor at the '4' and it opens driving lanes."
Duke looks poised for a No. 2 seed in Greensboro, which would mean its first game wouldn't be until Friday, giving Kelly an extra day to recoup.
"Even if he can't play a lot, if he can play at the end of games [that will help us]," Krzyzewski said. "He's been a key performer for us at the end of games."
Duke shot just 10-for-46 from the three in its two ACC tournament games without Kelly.
5. Carolina sells the tickets. Attendance has been a popular topic both nationally and for the ACC, which for the second consecutive season saw its average attendance dip below 10,000. Declining attendance was also the reason the ACC decided to hold this year's tournament at 19,500-seat Philips Arena rather than the 41,000-seat Georgia Dome, which is where the event was held in 2009.
And while the official box scores claimed sellouts on the first two days, only Friday's first session, which featured top-seeded Carolina, had a raucous atmosphere. Even then, there were chunks of the upper decks that were empty.
Saturday and Sunday the arena was alive with few empty seats, with the Carolina fans jumping on the FSU bandwagon vs. Duke and Tomahawk Chopping the Devils' fans in Saturday's second session. The bottom line at the ACC tournament is that as much success as Duke has had in the conference, if a session does not feature North Carolina, there will be seats to be had.