- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2016

Brice Johnson was pleased with North Carolina’s performance on Saturday night, when the Tar Heels defeated Duke, 76-72, to earn the ACC regular-season championship.

“After all we’ve been through the last four years, it feels great to be able to walk off this court and say we won the ACC,” Johnson told reporters after the game.

If Johnson was that thrilled with a conference title, imagine how he and his teammates will feel if they walk out of Verizon Center on Saturday with a tournament championship as well.

The ACC’s annual postseason extravaganza, back in Washington for the first time since 2005, begins with a pair of first-round games on Tuesday.

It’s a departure for the ACC, which has held the event in Greensboro, North Carolina on 28 occasions, including in seven of the last 10 years. It’s also the first time that the event will take place in the region without Maryland, which left for the Big Ten two years ago.

Eighth-ranked North Carolina (25-6, 14-4 ACC) will begin play on Thursday, earning a double-bye and a quarterfinal start along with No. 2 seed Miami, No. 3 seed Virginia and No. 4 seed Notre Dame.

Duke (22-9, 11-7 ACC), which uncharacteristically fell out of the polls in February but entered Saturday’s game ranked 17th, will be the No. 5 seed. It will be the lowest tournament seed for the Blue Devils since 2007, when they were seventh and lost a first-round game to N.C. State.

“If the team that showed up tonight shows up [in tournament play], then we’re going to get killed in the paint, killed on the boards, each and every night,” guard Grayson Allen told reporters after the loss. “If we play like this in the postseason, it’s not going to be good.”

Virginia Tech earned the No. 6 seed following a surprising victory over Miami, which could have claimed a share of the regular-season title by winning on Saturday. Clemson will be the No. 7 seed, Pittsburgh will be seeded No. 8, Syracuse will return after a self-imposed exile last year to be the No. 9 seed, and 10th-seeded Georgia Tech will also get a first-round bye.

Opening play with a pair of afternoon games on Tuesday will be Florida State, N.C. State, Wake Forest and Boston College, which did not win a conference game this season.

Five different teams have won the tournament over the last five years. Notre Dame defeated North Carolina in last year’s championship game.

“I think we’ve kind of found a rhythm here at a very key time,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, a Washington-area native, told reporters after the Fighting Irish beat N.C. State on Saturday. “We’re playing fast. Baby, here we go.”

Brogdon, Larranaga earn ACC awards

Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon is the ACC’s player of the year, the conference announced on Sunday.

Miami’s Jim Larranaga edged Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams for coach of the year honors, while Brandon Ingram won the freshman of the year award.

Brogdon and Johnson, the North Carolina forward, were the two unanimous selections to the all-ACC first team. They were joined by Allen, Anthony “Cat” Barber of N.C. State and Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame.

Brogdon averaged 18.4 points and leads a Virginia defense that allows an ACC-best 59.6 points per game and 41.6 percent shooting.

Ingram joined Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor as Duke players who won the award in the past three years. Blossomgame was picked as the league’s most improved player and North Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks was chosen as the sixth man of the year.

⦁ An Associated Press report was included in this story.

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