Thursday, March 8, 2007

ACC Tournament Preview

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The Atlantic Coast Conference was one of, if not the, best conference in the country this year. They featured a terrific conference race for the title, coming down to the final weekend with four teams involved. North Carolina knocked off Duke on Sunday to clinch a tie for the regular-season championship with Virginia, after the Cavaliers lost to Wake Forest the day before. Both teams finished 11-5, while Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Maryland all came in at 10-6.

Favorite: North Carolina is arguably the deepest and most talented team in the country. They love to get up and down the floor for transition baskets, but their defense has struggle towards the stretch run of the season. The Tar Heels are led on the inside by All-American Tyler Hansbrough, who works extremely hard and is relentless on the glass. Brandan Wright is an athletic and long freshman who blocks shots and finishes well. In the backcourt, freshmen Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington form a very good guard duo. Lawson can get into the lane as well as anyone and is extremely quick. Ellington has a beautiful stroke and can knock down shots. Reyshawn Terry needs to find his form from last year in order to make a big impact.

Contenders: Maryland is one of the hottest teams in college basketball, and has a legit shot to make a run in the conference tournament. They are experienced and athletic, and have the weapons at both ends of the floor to win games. D.J. Strawberry has developed into one of the best players in the ACC, and is a terrific defender. Mike Jones can hit jump-shots consistently, and freshman Greivis Vasquez is arguably Maryland’s most important player at the point guard spot. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are athletic big men in the paint. Both can run the floor and finish, as well as rebound and block shots. Virginia was a surprising co-champion of the conference, but some say it was as a result of the unbalanced schedule in the ACC. I say it was because their terrific backcourt of Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds gives them a chance to win every night out. Singletary can do a variety of things offensively, and is nearly unstoppable when he is hot from three-point range. Reynolds is an excellent shooter, both from behind the arc and in the mid-range. Mamadi Diane and Adrian Joseph are two more perimeter options—they need to become more consistent. Jason Cain provides rebounding and defense down low. Virginia Tech has been one of the most difficult teams in the country to figure out. They can beat anyone in the country, as shown by their two wins over UNC, but are also prone to mind-boggling losses. They are experienced and balanced, and are led by All-ACC guard Zabian Dowdell. He carried the Hokies for much of the latter part of the season. His backcourt partner, Jamon Gordon, is a good defender who is good at getting to the basket. A.D. Vassallo is a very good three-point shooter. Deron Washington is extremely athletic and is a good rebounder. Coleman Collins’ production has dropped considerably since last season. Boston College, despite getting the #4 seed, is struggling lately, and won’t be much of a threat. Jared Dudley leads the way for the Eagles.

Sleepers: Georgia Tech is one of the hotter teams in the ACC, and could be hitting their stride after back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Boston College. They are young but they are very talented. Javaris Crittenton has come on strong in ACC play, and is developing into a terrific point guard. Thaddeus Young is a match-up nightmare with his size and athleticism, as well as his ability to score inside and out. Anthony Morrow is a good shooter, and Mario West is a lock-down defender. Jeremis Smith is a very good rebounder, while Ra’Sean Dickey has good skill down low. Florida State needs a couple of wins for their NCAA Tournament, and they could play like they are on life support. Al Thornton is capable of carrying the Seminoles, and Toney Douglas is now back at the point guard spot. FSU has plenty of athletes on the wings, and they could pull an upset or two. And don’t forget Duke, who seems to win the Tournament every season.

Prediction: If the regular season is any indication, the ACC Tournament is going to be wide open. There are several teams with the pieces to win the automatic bid, but only a couple of teams are playing well enough right now to win the tournament. Unfortunately, the two best teams in the league, North Carolina and Maryland, will likely meet in the semi-finals. I think that North Carolina has the edge down low, and will get the W. On the other side, I think that Georgia Tech is going to make a run to the finals. I think that both Virginia and Virginia Tech are too inconsistent, and that the Yellow Jackets are rolling right now. In the end, North Carolina wins the ACC Tournament.

First Round
#9 Florida State 74, #8 Clemson 70
#5 Maryland 81, #12 Miami (Fl.) 66
#7 Duke 68, #10 North Carolina State 60
#6 Georgia Tech 73, #11 Wake Forest 61

#1 North Carolina 76, #9 Florida State 71
#5 Maryland 75, #4 Boston College 66
#6 Georgia Tech 71, #3 Virginia Tech 68
#2 Virginia 70, #7 Duke 67

#1 North Carolina 82, #5 Maryland 79
#6 Georgia Tech 75, #2 Virginia 70

#1 North Carolina 80, #6 Georgia Tech 74

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