The regular season officially wrapped up this weekend, setting the stage for the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.
Four teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament, while three or four others need another big win to secure the place in the big dance.
Conference expansion has pushed the ACC to 15 teams, creating a new, longer, more exciting format for this year.
There will be three games on Wednesday for teams ranked 10th-15th in the conference standings (12 plays 13, 10-15, 11-14). Thursday will feature 8-9, plus 5 (Pitt), 7, and 6 facing the winners of Wednesday's games, respectively. Then on Friday, Virginia (1), UNC (4), Syracuse (2), and Duke (3) will face the winners of Thursday's games in your traditional quarterfinal setup.
(12) Wake Forest (16-15, 6-12) vs. (13) Notre Dame (15-16, 6-12) - 1 p.m., ESPNU
Wake pulled off what would've been the upset of the year against Duke last week if Syracuse hadn't lost to Boston College, but the Deacons' loss to Miami on Saturday really killed any momentum from that game. Codi Miller-McIntyre (12.9 ppg, 4.1 apg) has been Wake's best player all season, and needs to play like it if they want to have any success this postseason.
The Irish were a disappointment this season after losing star Jerian Grant (19 ppg, 6.2 apg) to an academic suspension early in the season. Senior guard Eric Atkins (13.9 ppg, 4.8 apg) has tried to carry the load, but hasn't gotten the consistent help around him that Notre Dame has needed. If he makes smart decisions with the ball for a full 40 minutes, the Irish are a much better team.
The only time these teams met this year was on January 25 in Winston-Salem, with Wake Forest pulling out the 65-58 victory thanks to their defense, which held Notre Dame to under 40% shooting from the field and only 2-16 from long range.
Notre Dame is terrible defensively and aren't athletic enough to guard anyone on the perimeter well, which has caused problems for them all season. Wake's problem has been their lack of focus and intensity in games played away from home. With it being the ACC Tournament, I don't expect that to be as big an issue for the Deacons who should be able to use their athleticism to advance.
(10) Miami (16-15, 7-11) vs. (15) Virginia Tech (9-21, 2-16) - 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
Miami has been playing a lot better of late than their record would indicate, winning four of their last six games with their only losses coming to Virginia and a close four-point loss at Clemson. Senior Rian Brown leads the 'Canes with 15.4 ppg and 5.9 rpg and has shown the ability to be a game-changer on both ends of the floor.
Virginia Tech has just been downright terrible this season, and has lost 16 of its last 17 games. The one win in that stretch did come against Miami though, so the Hokies do have some hope. Jarell Eddie (13.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) has been Tech's best player, but he shoots just over 35% on the season and can't carry this team.
Ironically enough, both of the Hokies' conference wins have come against Miami. The first was a 61-60 overtime win in Coral Gables on December 8, where Eddie's 24 points and eight rebounds led Tech to the win. Their latest matchup was a 52-45 game in Blacksburg on February 15. The game was ugly, but the Hokies held Miami to 25.9% shooting for the game to come out on top.
This is one of those odd occurrences where a bad team holds an advantage over a better one because of matchups being in their favor, but I don't see a team as bad as Virginia Tech being able to beat anybody three times in a season, especially with the way Miami's been playing down the stretch.
Georgia Tech is a very similar team to Wake Forest. They rely on their athleticism and quickness to beat you, but they’re not an overly athletic team. Senior PG Trae Golden (12.9 ppg, 3.1 apg) has been the Yellow Jackets’ best player in the games they’ve won, while he’s been limited in the games they lost. He has the talent to be one of the best players in the ACC, but he obviously hasn’t come close to living up to that potential. Tech will go as far as he takes them.
Boston College is the exact opposite of Georgia Tech. They are probably the least athletic team in the conference and rely on their shooting to beat you. Unfortunately, they really don’t do anything else well, as you can tell by their record. Guard Olivier Hanlan (18.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) is one of the best players in the ACC and one of country’s best kept secrets, but he doesn’t have any consistent help around him.
The two teams played twice this season (January 21 and February 13), and Georgia Tech came out on top in both games, even though both contests were close.
Georgia Tech is not a very good basketball team, but Boston College is downright terrible. The only way the Eagles win is if they get hot from three-point land like they did against Syracuse or if Hanlan scores over 30. If neither happens, which is the most likely outcome, the Yellow Jackets will advance.
(8) Florida State (18-12, 9-9) vs. (9) Maryland (17-14, 9-9) - noon, ESPNU
Florida State got off to a strong start to their season, but struggled from mid-January to mid-February and put themselves squarely on the bubble. One more big win and they're in, but a loss to Maryland would almost certainly keep them out. Sophomore Aaron Thomas (14.1 ppg) will be a player to watch for next year, but he's already making a impact for the Seminoles with his extremely strong defensive play.
Maryland is another team that hasn't quite lived up to their expectations, although they pulled a monster upset over Virginia this weekend that has kept their slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive. They also need probably two more wins to make the big dance, and beating FSU and then UVA again would do the trick. Point guard Seth Allen (12.8 ppg, 3.1 apg) has been the key that's made the Terrapins tick. The Terps were not a very good basketball team when Allen was out for a month and a half, and that's the reason they're out of the tournament. With Allen, Maryland is a much more formidable team.
The Seminoles won the first matchup 85-61 on January 12, but the Terrapins got revenge at home on February 8, winning 83-71. Because both games were blowouts in two different directions, it doesn't tell you much about who's better. But I would have to go with Florida State's defense and desperation as the difference in an extremely tight game.
(5) Pittsburgh (23-8, 11-7) vs. (Wake/ND) - 2:30 p.m., ESPNU
Pittsburgh might just be the most frustrating team in the ACC. On paper, they look good. They play great defense and have players who are legitimate offensive threats—or who you think should be offensive threats. Head coach Jaime Dixon’s squad has REALLY struggled to score points consistently this season, and it's that factor that has caused them to be sitting on the bubble
The Panthers still have not beaten a team thats ranked in the top-50 of the RPI, but also don’t have any bad losses to speak of. Forward Lamar Patterson is their best player (17.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg), but is asked to do a lot more than he’s capable of due to this teams offensive woes.
Pitt has already beaten both Wake and Notre Dame this season, and will be heavy favorites no matter who wins that opening game. If the Panthers can avoid losing in this matchup, they’ll be in the tournament, and I think they’ll have no problem beating either team.
You can't talk about NC State (24.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) without T.J. Warren being the first thing you talk about. He has been one of the most impressive players in the ACC, especially of late—scoring 41 in a win against Pitt and 42 in a victory over Boston College this week alone. He won't win ACC Player of the Year because of the Wolfpack's struggles, but he's a first team all conference performer.
However, the rest of his team hasn't backed up his play. State is very talented, but they're also extremely young and inconsistent. Warren has carried them this far, but they need one or two more big wins to put themselves in the NCAA Tournament.
The Pack had lost four of their last five games before winning both this week, so maybe they've turned the corner. They're a desperate team, and a desperate team is dangerous come March, especially with a player like Warren. Don't be surprised to see them pull an upset or two, but don't be surprised to see them lose Thursday night either.
(6) Clemson (19-11, 10-8) vs. (GT/BC) - 9:30 p.m., ESPNU
Clemson has far surpassed their preseason expectations, but they still have work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. They've fallen a little bit farther off the bubble than they were a few weeks ago, but a big win could put them pack in the mix.
They've won two of their last three games with their one loss coming in overtime to Pitt, and Clemson is playing as well as they have all year. They're a great defensive team, but struggle mightily on offense.
K.J. McDaniels (17.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.8 bpg) has been the man for the Tigers all year, leading the team in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and three-point percentage. He's a 1st-team All-ACC performer, but the rest of the team is not very good. Someone else is going to have to step up for Clemson to challenge anybody above them.
(1) Virginia (25-6, 16-2) vs. (FSU/MD) - noon, ESPN3
Virginia was shocked by Maryland to close out the regular season, but I don’t hold that against the Cavaliers too much because I don’t think they were all that focused. The game didn’t mean anything for them, with the exception of possible tournament seeding, while the Terps were playing with their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging on by the slimmest of threads.
This game will tell us if there should be any real concern about UVA, but I don’t think there will be. The Cavs still execute at an extremely high rate on offense and usually get the shots they want, and they’re also the best defensive team in the country. Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Joe Harris (11.3 ppg) are their go-to guys on the offensive end of the floor and are one of the most underrated duos in the country.
Virginia has to be the favorite given the way they've dominated the ACC this year, and I don't know if that's going to end. Like Florida State two years ago and Miami last year, winning the conference tournament means more to that school than anything other than making a Final Four, considering they haven't won since the early 1980s. They'll put everything they have into this, and I expect them to pull through.
Even though UNC lost to Duke over the weekend, the Tar Heels have won 12 of their last 13 and are playing as well as anyone in the conference. They are another team that plays defense at a very high level but can have a hard time on offense.
Marcus Paige (17.1 ppg, 4.5 apg) has been a stud this season and is a Player of the Year candidate, but the rest of the team struggles to support him offensively too often. However, the Heels do lead the country in offensive rebounding and are great in transition because of their elite athleticism, so they've been able to outscore opponents when they don't get stuck in the half-court.
The only problem with that is they'll likely face Virginia in the semi-finals, a team that loves to play at a slow pace and plays it well. The Heels may also struggle if they face Pitt in their first matchup, but they still look like a very tough out come tournament time.
(2)Syracuse (27-4, 14-4) vs. (NCSU/Miami/VT) - 7 p.m., ESPN2
Syracuse is a good team, but their struggles over the last month and a half of the season have brought them back down to Earth after their undefeated start. The Orange have now lost four of their last six games and are struggling at the wrong time.
Syracuse still has a top defense, but their offense has absolutely gone down the tube during this tough stretch. C.J. Fair (16.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is one of the teams best players, but he hasn't played at the same level he was earlier this year, and Cuse needs him—as well as everyone else—to get back to the way they were playing in December if they want to win this tournament.
(3) Duke (24-7, 13-5) vs. (Clem/GT/BC) - 9:30 p.m., ESPN2
Duke managed to turn things around following a frustrating loss to Wake Forest this past week with a convincing win over UNC, but the Blue Devils still have a lot to work on. The past few weeks have shown that Duke struggles against a zone defense, and they've been in a big shooting slump of late.
Freshman sensation Jabari Parker (19.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg) has been every bit as good as advertised and is the frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year, and Rodney Hood (16.5 ppg) has also been one of the conference's top players.
This team is one of the most talented in the country, and when they're playing to their potential, they can hang with anyone in the nation. They've just been really inconsistent in their play and approach, so don't be surprised if they lose their first matchup. But also don't be surprised if they win the tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA's.
Wake over ND
Miami over VT
GT over BC
FSU over MD
Pitt over Wake
NCSU over Miami
GT over Clem
UVA over FSU
UNC over Pitt
NCSU over Cuse
Duke over GT
UVA over UNC
Duke over NCSU
UVA over DukeBack to the NCAA Newsfeed