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Beyond the Arc: Gameday FSU III

THE CONTENTS: Oh, it's just a little game called the ACC Tournament Championship between No. 9 Duke and No. 22 Florida State at 1 p.m. at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. You can see the game locally on Raycom with Tim Brandt and Mike Gminski and nationally on ESPN with Mike Patrick and Dick Vitale. You can hear it on 620 AM.

brittonTHE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils (27-6) have survived two tepid offensive games in this tournament by returning to form defensively. They have held both Boston College and Maryland under 40 percent shooting and have given up an average of 63 points in their two postseason games.

The Seminoles (25-8) notched the biggest upset of the tournament yesterday by out-executing No. 1 North Carolina down the stretch in a 73-70 victory. FSU looked like a potential Sweet Sixteen and beyond team in that game, one day after looking nothing short of awful in a 64-62 survival of Georgia Tech.

Duke and Florida State have already met twice this season, with the Blue Devils winning ugly 66-58 in Tallahassee early in the year and 84-81 in the home finale. Duke is making its 10th appearance in the ACC Tournament final in the last 12 years; the Seminoles are making their first ever.

THE PROTAGONISTS: You've got to like the way the Blue Devils have been playing defense the last few days. They've disrupted the flex offenses of both Boston College and Maryland, forcing those teams to start their motion much further from the basket than they want to. Florida State isn't as good offensively as those teams: Even as the Seminoles have improved throughout the season, they're still essentially Toney Douglas and four other guys--one of whom tends to step up each game.Yesterday it was Chris Singleton, last time against Duke it was Uche Echefu. Both those forwards are tall, athletic and capable of hitting from the outside. But if the Blue Devils can prevent Douglas from creating, it becomes a lot more difficult for FSU to score.

Offensively, with Gerald Henderson never really hitting his stride in Atlanta yet, it's been back to the early-season (and next season?) Singler and Scheyer Show. Singler was terrific against Boston College and in the first half versus Maryland, showcasing a newfound aggressiveness and an unwillingness to settle for the three ball. Scheyer, meanwhile, has found his stroke toward the end of the season while playing the point. Nolan Smith has also provided a bit of a surprising lift, playing 30 minutes against the Terrapins.

Singler and Scheyer will find it tougher going against a taller, more athletic and better defensive team in the Seminoles today; as a result, Duke probably can't win if Henderson doesn't get back on track, driving to the lane instead of pulling up for fadeaways.

THE ANTAGONISTS: Florida State remains a team you can watch for 40 minutes and be totally unimpressed by (see: quarterfinal win over Georgia Tech) or for 40 minutes and think could knock off anybody in the next three weeks (see: semifinal win over UNC). Toney Douglas, the runner-up for ACC Player of the Year, is the maestro on both ends of the court, and he can score in multiple ways--even if his shot doesn't look very pretty.

The emergence of Derwin Kitchen at the point has taken some of the ballhandling pressure off of Douglas while adding another perimeter threat. Freshman Solomon Alabi has grown into a legitimate post presence, while the aforementioned Singleton and Echefu can have some big games.

The bottom line: the Seminoles aren't content just to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Florida State has locked up a protected seed (1-4) in the Big Dance, and may be able to move up to a 3-seed with a win this afternoon. Who would have thought that at any point this year?

THE CONFLICT: Can Duke's struggling offense find its rhythm against arguably the ACC's best defensive team?

IS DUKE PLAYING FOR A NO. 1 SEED?: I've heard a lot of talk regarding the Blue Devils' shot at a 1-seed, and to me, it seems really unlikely that, even with a win, Duke climbs to that top line.

Right now, the Blue Devils are probably sixth on the S-curve, behind (in my order) UNC, Pitt, Louisville, UConn and Memphis and ahead of Michigan State and Oklahoma. Who would Duke be able to hop? UNC has beaten the Blue Devils twice, Pitt and UConn have only four losses, Memphis hasn't lost in 2009 (regardless of the schedule) and Louisville won the Big East regular season and tournament outright. If Duke hadn't lost to either Michigan or Boston College, and were sitting today with the chance to move to 29-5, it would probably grab that last 1-seed. Instead, the Blue Devils should be content on the 2-line.

P.S. I can't imagine a loss dropping Duke to a three. The teams below it just haven't done enough to hop up to a two.

THE DENOUEMENT: It's going to be the closest game yet for the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament. It wouldn't surprise me if the Seminoles jumped off to a good start and Duke struggled offensively. The Blue Devils haven't exactly looked crisp on that side of the ball and Florida State is an excellent defensive team. I see Duke being down at the half, but rallying after the intermission behind a rejuvenated Gerald Henderson and some key shots from Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer. The Blue Devils will make someone other than Toney Douglas beat them, and while Echefu or Singleton may contribute earlier in the contest, they won't be enough late. Down the stretch of their third game in three days--and a low-scoring affair--Duke hits enough free throws to emerge with its first ACC title in three seasons.

THE VERDICT: Duke 69-64.


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