Winning memories spur up-tempo VCU against Duke

shakasmart_11-23.png

Winning memories spur up-tempo VCU against Duke

For many college basketball programs, previous encounters with Duke invoke painful or at least losing memories. Quite the opposite for Virginia Commonwealth - and now the program's current roster has its own opportunity to add a "we beat Duke" chapter to the school's history.

Following Friday's win over No. 19 Memphis, VCU (3-1) faces the fifth ranked Blue Devils (4-0) in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas. Giving Duke's ranking and prestige, this game has the illusion of David vs. Goliath to the uninitiated, but quite the opposite to those aware of previous events.

Over the last two seasons, the Shaka Smart-coached Rams have reached the NCAA Tournament's Final Four and the third round this past March. Since winning the National Championship in 2010, Duke bowed out in the round of 16 in 2011 and last year dropped its opening game against Lehigh.

Last season's loss was the Blue Devils earliest exit since 2007, the year VCU stunned Duke 79-77 for the program's first NCAA Tournament win in 22 seasons. Current Oklahoma City Thunder guard Eric Maynor scored 22 points that day five seasons ago in VCU's only meeting against Duke. His free throw line jumper with a second remaining propelled the Rams to what at the time was the biggest win in the program's history.

In the next battle with Duke, once again it will be VCU's backcourt leading the way. To call the Rams up-tempo would not accurately describe the rapid pace Smart choreographs for his squad, especially on defense. Spearheaded by guards Treveon Graham, Darius Theus, Briante Weber and Rob Brandenberg, VCU's relentless pressure forced 22 turnovers against Memphis, leading to 33 points.

Graham leads the Rams in scoring with 14.5 points, just ahead forward Juvonte Reddic (14.3), the team's top post option. Weber and Theus combine for 5.5 steals per game while the Rams average 9.75 3-pointers per game.

Even though Duke has perimeter threats of its own, including sharpshooter Seth Curry (18.3 ppg), VCU would be wise to keep the tempo moving considering the Blue Devils' interior power. 6-foot-10 Mason Plumlee is averaging 21.3 points while shooting a staggering 71.4 percent from the field. Mason Plumlee. The senior dominated with 20 points and 17 rebounds in Thursday's 89-71 win over Minnesota.

The challenge is not lost on Smart, who will battle coaching wits with Duke's famed leader Mike Krzyzewski for the first time.

"Playing Duke, what an incredible opportunity,'' Smart told the Associated Press "We'll be facing arguably the best program in the nation and with no argument the best coach in the modern era.

"But we won't fold up to the test.''

College Football Playoff projections: Let's not overthink this

usatsi_9281757.jpg

College Football Playoff projections: Let's not overthink this

Did Penn State play their way into the playoff? Michigan has to be in, right? Did Ohio State fall out of top four? Will Washington hang on?

Following all the action on Saturday, there was plenty of debate over who the top four teams should be. Most of the questions surround what to do with the three Big Ten teams contenders.

Ohio State and Michigan are clearly two of the best teams in the country, but neither of them won their division. That honor went to Penn State who also won the conference championship on Saturday, the same Penn State team who beat Ohio State but who also lost twice this season.

For the first time since the College Football Playoff started, there is a real, genuine debate over who the top four will be.

But not really.

SEE THE FINAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PROJECTION HERE

If you're just asking who the committee will put into the playoff, the committee actually tipped its hand last week with its rankings:

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Washington
  5. Michigan
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Penn State

For everyone saying Michigan should be in the top four, well, they weren't in the top four last week, they didn't play this week, none of the four teams ahead of them did anything to hurt their respective resumes, so what makes anyone out there think the Wolverines are suddenly going to vault into the top four? It's not going to happen.

If Penn State were to make the playoff, it wouldn't be over Washington or Clemson who were already ranked ahead of the Nittany Lions and also won their respective conferences on Saturday. Neither team did anything to hurt themselves, so Penn State won't vault over them. Could they jump Ohio State who they beat head-to-head? That seems doubtful considering the committee declared the Buckeyes the second-best team in the country on Tuesday. That tells me the committee sees them as "unequivocally" one the top teams.

So debate away. When it comes to college football, that's what makes it so fun. But really, there's not that much to debate about. The committee showed last week who they thought the four best teams were and there's no reason to think that will change based on what we saw Saturday.

Find out who will make this year's playoff here with the final College Football Playoff projections.

Hokies can't contain Deshaun Watson in ACC Championship game loss

usatsi_9721943.jpg
USA Today Sports

Hokies can't contain Deshaun Watson in ACC Championship game loss

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Deshaun Watson bolstered his Heisman Trophy candidacy by passing for three touchdowns and running for two more to lead third-ranked Clemson to a 42-35 victory over No. 19 Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night.

Winning consecutive league titles for the first time in 28 years likely will send the Tigers (12-1, No. 3 CFP) back to the four-team College Football Playoff for the second straight year, providing Watson with an opportunity to resolve unfinished business from last January, when his team lost to Alabama in the national championship game.

The Clemson star completed 23 of 34 passes for 288 yards, including TDs of 21 and 10 yards to Jordan Leggett and 15 yards to Hunter Renfrow for a 42-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter. He also rushed for 85 yards on 17 attempts for the Tigers. They've won back-to-back ACC titles for the first time since winning three straight from 1986-88.

Watson's Virginia Tech counterpart, Jerod Evans, was just as impressive. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound ran for two touchdowns and rallied the Hokies from a 21-point deficit to make it close at the end.

The Hokies (9-4, No. 23 CFP) scored on three straight possessions, trimming what was once a 35-14 deficit to seven points on Evans' 5-yard run early in the fourth quarter and Cam Phillips' 26-yard TD reception with just under 6 minutes remaining.

Virginia Tech got the ball back with a chance to force overtime. Evans drove his team to the Clemson 23, where the drive stalled when Tigers cornerback Cordrea Tankersley intercepted a pass on fourth-and-6.