Thursday, March 9, 2006

ACC Tournament Preview

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The Atlantic Coast Conference is down from last season, when the league had several Final Four candidates and quality teams. This season, only four teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament, with only two more in consideration. Duke came into the season as the favorite and ran away with the conference from the get-go. However, they lost their final two games of the season, and only won the league by two games. North Carolina came in second at 12-4, with Boston College and North Carolina State one and two games back of the Tar Heels, respectively. Only one other team, Florida State, finished above .500 within the conference.


Duke was one of the best teams in the country throughout the season but slumped down the stretch. J.J. Redick was really struggling in the last four games, and has only shot 29% over that stretch. He needs to step it up. Shelden Williams is one of the best big men in the country, and has carried the Blue Devils on occasions this season. Greg Paulus is a decent point guard and is a good distributor; however, he tends to turn the ball over often. Sean Dockery is an excellent role player, while DeMarcus Nelson is a versatile wing who is very athletic. Josh McRoberts is a solid complement to Williams down low, while Lee Melchionni is a good inside-outside scorer.

North Carolina is one of the hottest teams in the nation. They have won seven in a row and 10 of their last 11. Moreover, they ended the season on a high note by going on the road and beating Duke. Tyler Hansbrough is the best freshman in the country, and can put the Tar Heels on his back. Reyshawn Terry is one of the more improved players in the nation. He has become a versatile offensive option, while David Noel is an athletic forward who is solid in many aspects of the game. On the perimeter, Bobby Frasor is a solid point guard who distributes the ball well. Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green are athletic wings that defend well and get baskets in transition. Wes Miller is an excellent shooter from deep.


Boston College bounced back from an 0-3 ACC start and have won 13 of their last 15 games, including road wins over North Carolina and North Carolina State. Craig Smith is one of the better players in the conference, and is nearly impossible to stop on the offensive end. Joining him at forward is the underrated Jared Dudley. He is versatile and is capable of dominating on offense and shutting people down on defense. Akida McLain, an athletic all-around player, John Oates, a hard-working big man, and Sean Williams, a terrific shot-blocker, also see plenty of minutes. Sean Marshall is a good scorer on the wing, while freshman Tyrese Rice is a very good scorer and distributor off the bench. Louis Hinnant is a quality point guard that does all the little things.

North Carolina State is mired in a slump heading into the conference tourney. They have lost three in a row, and four of their last six. The Wolfpack are very balanced and don't have a certain go-to-guy. Cedric Simmons has a lot of potential down low on both ends of the floor, while Ilian Evtimov is a very good inside-outside threat on offense. Andrew Brackman comes off the bench and can block shots and hit the mid-range jumper. Cameron Bennerman is an athletic player who can score in a variety of ways and also play very good defense. Engin Atsur is a solid all-around player, while Tony Bethel has been struggling at the point lately. Gavin Grant is a versatile player who can play multiple positions.

Teams that will be competitive:

Florida State is a hot team, having won six of their last eight, including a victory over Duke in the last week of the season. The Seminoles are athletic and deep. Al Thornton is a difficult matchup on the offensive end, given his versatility and talent. Alexander Johnson is always a threat to get a double-double. Jason Rich, Isaiah Swann, and Todd Galloway start on the perimter. They are all solid players who can score in a variety of ways. Jerel Allen and Ralph Mims are two more athletes coming off the bench on the perimeter. Andrew Wilson is a good shooter, while Diego Romero adds depth inside.

Maryland has been a disappointment so far this season, but could turn it around with a solid performance in the ACC Tournament. The Terrapins have lost 7 of their last 11 games. Nik Caner-Medley is a very good inside-outside scorer who needs to play well for this team to win. Mike Jones is a super scorer who could be a big-time offensive player with more minutes, while D.J. Strawberry is a versatile athlete who can play any perimeter position. Ekene Ibekwe is an athletic shot blocker on the interior who is also a solid scorer and rebounder. James Gist has loads of potential inside due to his athleticism, while Travis Garrison is a decent post player who can rebound and get some put-backs.


Yes, I am going to tout Georgia Tech--a team that was 4-12 in the ACC and has lost 12 of their last 14 games-- as a potential bubble burster in the conference tournament.. The Yellow Jackets have been playing much better lately. Their last five road losses before the season finale to Clemson had come by a combined 14 points. They nearly pulled off upsets against North Carolina, Florida State, Boston College, Virginia, and Maryland. The Jackets have the talent necessary to be competitive against the top teams in the country. Just a few weeks ago they defeated North Carolina State. Anthony Morrow is a very good shooter and, when hot, can keep Tech in the game. Ra'Sean Dickey is a solid option in the low post, while Jeremis Smith is an underrated rebounder. Zam Frederick is a decent point guard, and freshman Lewis Clinch is developing into a good scorer. Mario West is an athletic defender on the wing. Georgia Tech is young, but they have been steadily improving and have loads of talent. Look out for them in the ACC Tournament.

Prediction: As of two weeks ago, it would have been obvious as to who was going to win the conference tournament. However, after last week's results, Duke is no longer the clear-cut favorite to win it all. North Carolina might be playing the best of any ACC team currently. Moreover, a team like Boston College can get hot and make a run. When it coes down to it, though, Duke is the best team in the conference and should win the conference tournament. Redick and the Blue Devils are struggling right now and need to turn it around if they want to contend for a national title. I think they will start their turnaround with a ACC Tournament title. If Redick starts shooting well again, he will carry them over UNC in the championship.

Game-by-game predictions:
#8 Miami (Fl.) 72, #9 Clemson 67
#5 Florida State 78, #12 Wake Forest 64
#6 Maryland 75, #11 Georgia Tech 72
#10 Virginia Tech 68, #7 Virginia 65

#1 Duke 82, #8 Miami (Fl.) 69
#5 Florida State 69, #4 North Carolina State 66
#3 Boston College 73, #6 Maryland 60
#2 North Carolina 74, #10 Virginia Tech 61

#1 Duke 79, #5 Florida State 72
#2 North Carolina 71, Boston College 68

#1 Duke 76, #2 North Carolina 74

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