Duke’s RJ Barrett, left, hugs Zion Williamson after Duke defeated Florida State in the NCAA championship game of the ACC tournament on March 16, 2019.
Duke’s RJ Barrett, left, hugs Zion Williamson after Duke defeated Florida State in the NCAA championship game of the ACC tournament on March 16, 2019.Nell Redmond | Associated Press

Eckel on ACC in the Tournament - time for the big boys to play

The nation’s best conference should get right

Thursday was not a stellar day for the ACC in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville and Syracuse both lost outright as slight favorites and Florida State barely won and failed to cover.

Friday the ACC’s big boys come to play, and the nation’s best conference should get right. At least I hope so, because I need to get right as well.

Here’s a quick look at all four games and the selections.

Gardner-Webb (+ 21.5) vs. Virginia, 3:10 p.m.
The Pick: Virginia (-21.5)

If there is any team in this tournament that needs to win and win impressively it’s Virginia.

The Cavs (29-3) don’t have to be reminded how they became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed just a year ago when they fell to UMBC. Poor Gardner-Webb (23-11) will pay the price.

This line actually opened at 25 and dropped, meaning the betting public doesn’t trust the Cavs. I do. This will be a rout from start to finish.

North Dakota State (+ 26.5) vs. Duke, 7:10 p.m.
The Pick: Duke (-26.5)

Is Carson Wentz playing for North Dakota State (19-15)? Then take Duke.

Nobody likes to blow out teams that don’t belong on the court with them as much as Coach K and the Blue Devils (29-5) and North Dakota State fits in that category.

Usually 26-and-half points is a lot to give, not in this case. North Dakota State went just 9-7 in the Summit Conference and only got to the dance because it upset Omaha in the conference tournament final. In the play-in game, ND State barely beat North Carolina Central, 78-74.

Duke will make amends for its in-state friends.

Iona (+22) vs. North Carolina, 9:20 p.m.
The Pick (North Carolina -22)

Iona (17-15) won what was the worst Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in years, maybe of all time. The MAAC, through the years, has been a decent mid-major conference, not this year. In non conference play this season MAAC teams were 40-91. Monmouth, who went to the MAAC championship game, was 0-12 to start the season.

The Gaels were just 2-9 against non-MAAC teams and those two wins came against Albany and Hartford. They lost to Ohio by 24; Ohio, not Ohio State. They lost by 29 to Virginia Commonwealth; VCU, not UVA. Now they’re playing North Carolina, not North Carolina Central.

The only reason Iona is in the field is because someone from that conference had to go.

The Tar Heels (27-6) are none too happy they were forced to leave the Carolinas for a first-round game and Iona will feel the wrath.

St. Louis (+10) vs. Virginia Tech, 9:57 p.m.
The Pick: Virginia Tech (-10)

The Hokies (24-8) welcome back their leading scorer and best player, Justin Robinson, Friday night. While he will likely be on a minutes count just his presence should provide a big lift to a team that its eyes set on the Sweet 16.

Va. Tech was 8-3 against the spread outside of the ACC this season, while St. Louis was 16-18 against the spread the season and is just 1-5-1 in its last seven games against ACC opponents.

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