The games might be that close, too.
The tournament begins today in Greensboro, N.C., and it’s shaping up as a much tighter event than it seemed just a few weeks ago.
A top-seeded Duke team that once looked capable of cruising through Greensboro unchecked on its way to a top seed in the NCAA Tournament suddenly appears beatable following the loss of perhaps its most irreplaceable player.
The season-ending knee injury to point guard Chelsea Gray – the league leader in both assists and steals – can’t help but pull the Blue Devils back closer to the pack and make a four-day tournament with four Top 25 teams a more even affair.
“I’ve always felt like (at) the ACC Tournament,” Clemson coach Itoro Coleman said, “anything can happen.”
That was certainly true last year, when the two top seeds were knocked out in the quarterfinals, but it hasn’t always been the case.
Not since 1999 has a team other than Duke, Maryland or North Carolina won the tournament, and at least one of them has reached the title game every year since 1992.
Those three are once again the top three seeds – but for a change, other teams during the regular season showed they can beat them, too.
Fourth-seeded Florida State defeated both the Terrapins and Tar Heels, and fifth-seeded Miami last week beat the Blue Devils for the first time in program history.
The sixth-ranked Blue Devils (27-2) won a league-record 17 ACC games and are 3-1 without Gray.
ACC AWARDS: Duke center Elizabeth Williams is the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Williams leads the conference with 83 blocked shots and has at least one block in each of her 62 college games.
She was joined on the all-defense team by Duke teammate Gray, Georgia Tech guard Tyaunna Marshall, Miami forward Morgan Stroman and North Carolina center Walteia Rolle.
NO. 16 DELAWARE 86, GEORGIA STATE 58
In Newark, Del., Elena Delle Donne scored 24 points, and Delaware (26-3, 17-0 Colonial Athletic Association) scored the first 16 points to defeat Georgia State (13-16, 5-13).
NO. 25 TOLEDO 63, BALL STATE 39
In Toledo, Ohio, Yolanda Richardson and Naama Shafir scored 14 points each to lead Toledo (27-2, 15-1 Mid-American Conference) past Ball State (15-14, 12-4).
ALABAMA 63, MISSISSIPPI STATE 36
In Duluth, Ga., Meghan Perkins scored 17 points, Daisha Simmons added 13 and Alabama (13-17) beat Mississippi State (13-17) in the tournament’s play-in game.
The Crimson Tide won their first SEC Tournament game since 2005. Alabama, the lowest seed at No. 13, will face fifth-seeded South Carolina today.