The ACC tournament begins Thursday at noon. The 12 teams will play a total of 11 games over four days in Charlotte Bobcats Arena. The clear favorite in the tournament is UNC, who is playing better basketball than anyone in the conference right now. But as March Madness proves every year, being the clear favorite doesn't mean anything.
William & Mary pulled three upsets, including knocking off #1 seed VCU, to go to the finals of the CAA tournament. San Diego upset Gonzaga to win their conference. Elon made the finals of the Southern Conference Tournament. And so on, and so on. Nothing is guaranteed this time of year. Everyone is starting with a clean slate, and no one in the ACC can be overlooked.
Last year, all four lower seeds won on the first day of the ACC tournament. #9 FSU beat #8 Clemson, #10 NC State beat #7 Duke, #12 Miami beat #5 Maryland and #11 Wake Forest beat #6 Georgia Tech. This is a very balanced league, and anything can happen.
With that said, let's take a short look at each team in the ACC and see what they'll have to go through to reach the ACC Tournament Finals on Sunday afternoon.
#1 North Carolina (29-2, 14-2)
Recent Streak: Won 8 in a row
North Carolina is the favorite in this tournament, and for good reason. They have only lost twice this season, and they've won eight games in a row. Their most recent win came over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. One of their two losses came with point guard Ty Lawson out with an injury. With him healthy, they will be very tough to beat.
UNC will draw the winner of #8 Wake Forest and #9 Florida State in the quarterfinals on Friday. Assuming the Tar Heels get by that team, they will play either #4 Virginia Tech, #5 Miami or #12 NC State in the semifinals on Saturday.
It seems like it would be tough for any of those teams to beat UNC, but you never know in postseason basketball. The Tar Heels do have the deepest and most talented team in the ACC. They also have the best star power, with ACC Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough. They are a tough team to pick against.
#2 Duke (13-3, 26-4)
Recent Streak: Lost 3 of last 7
Duke is the second best team in the ACC, but they are only 4-3 over their last seven games, with losses to Wake, Miami and UNC. One of their four wins came over Big East bottom feeder St. John's, and they also had a narrow one-point win over last-place NC State, who is showing no signs of life.
So Duke hasn't been the invincible team that they once appeared to be earlier in the season. They are beatable. They will draw the winner of #7 Georgia Tech and # 10 Virginia in the quarterfinals on Saturday. If they reach the semis, they will play #3 Clemson, #6 Maryland or #11 Boston College.
Charlotte, the state of North Carolina and all of college basketball would love to see a Duke-North Carolina rematch for the ACC Championship. That has a good chance to happen, but be wary of picking the Blue Devils. Remember, they are 3-3 in their last six ACC games, and one play away from being 2-4.
#3 Clemson (22-8, 10-6)
Recent Streak: Won 3 of last 4
Clemson is a very good, very balanced basketball team. They score points because of a balanced inside-outside game, and because they force a lot of turnovers, creating extra possessions. They pride themselves on their defense, and they play it very well. They went 10-6 in the conference this year, and it could have been better than that. They lost in overtime to UNC twice, including a double-overtime game at the Dean Dome.
The Tigers will get #6 Maryland or #11 Boston College in the quarterfinals. Clemson beat both of those teams during the regular season. If they reach the semifinals, they'll face #2 Duke, #7 Georgia Tech or #10 Virginia.
Clemson has a pretty good draw. They could end up facing Maryland, whom they recently defeated, in the quarterfinals, and if they get past the Terps, they'll get to play Duke instead of UNC.
#4 Virginia Tech (18-12, 9-7)
Recent Streak: Won 4 of last 5
Virginia Tech has some work to do to be considered for an NCAA tournament selection. They probably need to win two games in the ACC tournament. Considering they are on the same side of the bracket as North Carolina, that isn't going to be easy.
The Hokies will face either #5 Miami or #12 NC State in the quarterfinals. They lost to each team during the regular season, and they've lost to NC State six times in a row. If they manage to get past whichever team they face in the quarterfinals, their likely opponent in the semifinals is UNC. The Tar Heels beat Tech by 39 earlier in the season.
That said, in the ACC there aren't really any great draws. You are going to be playing a good team, or at least a very talented team, no matter whom you are facing (except for maybe Maryland, who gets Boston College). The best the Hokies can hope for is to first win their quarterfinal game, and then hope either Wake Forest or Florida State can upset UNC. Then the stage would be set for the Hokies to reach the championship game.
#5 Miami (21-9, 8-8)
Recent Streak: Won 6 of 8
Miami was very close to earning a first round bye, but lost at Florida State 75-72 on Saturday. Instead, they'll draw NC State in the opening round, and if they win, they'll face #4 Virginia Tech on Friday. The 'Canes beat the Hokies 74-71 earlier in the season, handing VT one of their two home losses on the season.
For the purpose of this preview, we'll assume that Miami gets past NC State. (Everybody seems to be beating the Wolfpack these days, except for the Hokies.) A VT vs. Miami matchup will bring up the old rest vs. rust argument. The Hokies will have had Thursday off, while Miami will have played NC State.
Will Miami's legs give out? Will the Hokies be too rusty, while Miami is in a groove after playing well against NC State? This would be a matchup of two teams who appear to be very even. It could potentially be one of the better games of the tournament.
#6 Maryland (18-13, 8-8)
Recent Streak: Lost 4 of 5
Maryland finished in the top half of the ACC, but it was not a result of their finish. They closed with four losses in their last five games. Luckily for them, they draw a team that appears to be even more inept in the first round. Boston College has lost six in a row and 12 of their last 13.
The Terps are a strange team. They won at North Carolina this year, but they also lost at home to Boston College, American and Ohio. They are probably ACC basketball's version of Clemson's football team. They look good getting off the bus, but they are inconsistent in actual games.
Maryland does have the star power to make a run in this tournament. Greivis Vasquez is very good when he's on, and James Gist is one of the top inside players in the ACC. The Terps are good enough to reach the championship game, but they are bad enough to lose to Boston College. If they get by BC, they'll have to face #3 Clemson in the quarterfinals, and then probably #2 Duke. That's a tough road for a team that can't seem to play consistent basketball.
#7 Georgia Tech (14-16, 7-9)
Recent Streak: Won 3 of 4
Georgia Tech has won two in a row and three of their last four. They are a solid basketball team, but their overall record will keep them out of the postseason. That also makes them a very dangerous team in this ACC tournament. They are going to have to win the tournament to play in the postseason. They have nothing to lose at all.
The Yellow Jackets will face #10 Virginia on Thursday in the opening round. That will be an extremely entertaining game, because like Georgia Tech, Virginia doesn't have anything to lose, either. If they lose, they are sitting at home during the postseason.
If Georgia Tech gets past Virginia, they'll face #2 Duke in the quarterfinals. The Jackets faced Duke just once during the regular season, falling 71-58 in Durham. If they do the unlikely and pull two upsets, they could end up playing Clemson in the semifinals. Georgia Tech defeated Clemson 80-75 last week, so they would have some confidence heading into that game.
#8 Wake Forest (17-12, 7-9)
Recent Streak: Lost 4 of 5
Wake Forest looked like an NCAA tournament team after handily defeating Duke, but then they lost four games in a row, before finally winning their last regular season game against NC State. They are NIT bound, unless they can win the ACC tournament, or at least reach the finals.
The Wake Forest-Florida State game should be very entertaining. It will be the first game of the tournament, and it should set the tone for an exciting four days of basketball. Both teams are blessed with a lot of team speed, and they like to get up and down the court.
The Demon Deacons defeated FSU in both regular season meetings. If they do it again, they'll draw #1 UNC in the quarterfinals. That would be a tough one to win, but if they did get past the Heels, they'd face #4 Virginia Tech, #5 Miami or #12 NC State in the quarterfinals.
#9 Florida State (18-13, 7-9)
Recent Streak: Won 4 of 5
Florida State is quietly one of the hottest teams in the ACC. They have won four of their past five games, including victories over Miami and Clemson, both likely NCAA tournament teams. The 'Noles are a very hot basketball team, and they get very good guard play.
Florida State did lose to Wake Forest both times during the regular season, but the slate is wiped clean in the postseason. They are playing very good basketball right now. They can match Ishmael Smith and Jeff Teague with Jason Rich, Toney Douglas and Ralph Mims. If their inside players can be effective against James Johnson, who has been inconsistent, they can advance.
If the 'Noles beat Wake, they'll get #1 UNC in the quarterfinals. That would be a tall order, but they were very competitive with UNC during the regular season, losing in overtime to the Tar Heels at home, and by 13 on the road.
#10 Virginia (15-14, 5-11)
Recent Streak: Won 4 of 6
Virginia has turned into a pretty solid basketball team recently, winning four of their last six. One of their losses was a narrow 95-93 setback at Miami, who is probably headed to the Big Dance. Sean Singletary stepped up his game down the stretch, Laurynas Mikalauskas provided quite a spark once he came back from an injury, and the team is playing better overall.
The Hoos draw #7 Georgia Tech in the opening round. This has the potential to be an excellent game. Both teams have been playing well recently, and both teams know that if they don't win, they are done for the year. Georgia Tech won a tough overtime game in Charlottesville earlier in the year, and UVA returned the favor by knocking off the Yellow Jackets in a great game in Atlanta last week.
If UVA wins, they'll play #2 Duke in the quarterfinals. The Blue Devils easily won both meetings during the regular season. However, if there is a low seed in this year's tournament that is capable of making a run, it's UVA.
#11 Boston College (13-16, 4-12)
Recent Streak: Lost 6 in a row, 12 of last 13
Boston College has a few things going against them heading into the ACC tournament. First of all, they are young, with three freshman guards in the backcourt. Secondly, they have the least athletic frontcourt in the ACC. And finally, they are the coldest team in the conference, losing 12 of their last 13 games. Their confidence has to be shot.
Luckily for BC, they do have Tyrese Rice. When he gets hot, he is capable of keeping them in the game against any team in the conference. He is a First Team All-ACC player, and that award was well-deserved.
BC gets #6 Maryland in the opening round, and that game is winnable for the Eagles, because you just never know how Maryland is going to play. Are they good or bad? It's pretty much a coin flip. The Eagles did win at Maryland in the first ACC game of the season back in December, but Maryland returned the favor later in the year. Even if BC can get by Maryland, they aren't getting by Clemson in the quarterfinals.
#12 NC State (15-15, 4-12)
Recent Streak: Lost 8 in a row
This is a very talented, but bad, basketball team. NC State has High School All-Americans in Brandon Costner and J.J. Hickson. Ben McCauley is among the best post players in the ACC, and the best passing inside player in the conference. Gavin Grant and Courtney Fells are very athletic, very talented wings. This team has the potential and ability to beat anyone in the ACC.
The Wolfpack will get #5 Miami in the opening round. They beat Miami at home back in January, but both teams have gone in opposite directions since then. The Wolfpack have lost eight games in a row, and with the exception of their close game against Duke, they've looked inept.
However, NC State is looking at the brackets and seeing that they have a chance to play Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals. If they can get by Miami in the opening round, they've got to believe they have an excellent chance to reach the ACC tournament semifinals. They'll come ready to play. If they don't, their season is over.