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Leonard: ACC quarterfinals provide plenty of intrigue
Packed Thursday of basketball should be fun to watch
0312NCState
Pittsburgh's Michael Young (2) has his shot blocked as he drives against North Carolina State's Beejay Anya (21) and Lennard Freeman (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday, March 11, 2015. - photo by Gerry Broome

ACC quarterfinals

Thursday’s schedule

Noon: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 9 Florida State

2:30 p.m.: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 North Carolina

7 p.m.: No. 2 Duke vs. No. 7 N.C. State

9:30 p.m.: No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Miami

All games on ESPN and MyATLtv

Some of the best sports days of the year are upon us. The Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament quarterfinals are today. Next week, the NCAA tournament begins.

Yes, I know football season is months away, and many of you are counting the days until football. But this is where true sports enthusiasm can be fed.

For North Carolina natives, like me, and many others who grew up on ACC basketball, the ACC quarterfinals in particular are a rite of passage. They marked one of the few times televisions entered the classroom for me.

Some of the most enduring sports memories from my school days were watching basketball during class on Fridays.

Back in 1997, I watched in wonder as No. 8 seed N.C. State, my team and eventually my alma mater, knocked off No. 1 seed Duke in the ACC quarterfinals.

Then, in 2002, I was in front of the TV as the Wolfpack rolled to a 92-72 quarterfinal triumph against Virginia to put an exclamation point on its first NCAA tournament berth since 1991. I was late to baseball practice that day. My coach, a fellow N.C. State fan, understood.

Such is life in ACC country. We had school five days a week for most of the year. Quarterfinal Friday at the ACC tournament came once a year. It was something to be celebrated.

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to this year’s ACC quarterfinals in a major way, even if they’re on Thursday for the first time in my life. And I’d love to give you some reasons my fellow basketball fans should especially enjoy today.

So, here they are, three reasons to check out today’s ACC quarterfinals:

1. Top-notch matchups: With the exception of Virginia’s matchup against Florida State in the noon game, this could be a jam-packed day of intrigue.

North Carolina and Louisville face off at 2:30 p.m. after each mounting substantial comebacks for home wins against each other in the regular season.

Duke takes on an N.C. State team that handed it an 87-75 loss in Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 11.

Then Notre Dame faces a Miami team that only lost 75-70 on Jan. 17 in South Bend, Ind.

2. Potential surprises: The ACC tournament has a history of producing mild or substantial quarterfinal upsets. N.C. State’s 1997 defeat of Duke and Maryland’s 1989 upset of N.C. State, both No. 8s defeating top seeds, come to mind.

But more recently, No. 2 seeds have fallen in each of the past two ACC quarterfinals, Syracuse against N.C. State in 2014 and Duke against Maryland in 2013.

Will someone pull a major shocker in these quarterfinals?

3. Virginia’s changing fortunes: The Virginia Cavaliers won their second straight ACC regular-season title this season, and they’ll look to make it back-to-back ACC tournament titles as well.

In winning the ACC tournament in Greensboro in 2014, Virginia put almost two decades of futility in the rearview mirror.

Prior to that run, the Cavaliers hadn’t reached the ACC semifinals since 1995. Now, a win against Florida State today would make it two straight semifinals appearances with much more on the line going forward.

Clark Leonard can be reached at cleonard@gainesvilletimes.com; 770-718-3418 or twitter.com/SportTimesClark.

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