Thursday, March 13, 2008

ACC Tournament Preview

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The Atlantic Coast Conference had a very solid season – depending on who you ask. According to the RPI, the ACC was the No. 1-ranked league in the country, mainly because of the power at the top of Duke and North Carolina. On the other hand, some people say that the ACC is Duke, UNC and a whole lot of mediocrity. It really is hard to argue with either side; we’ll have to wait until the NCAA Tournament to see what happens. In the regular-season, the title came down to the final game of the season for Duke and UNC. The Tar Heels went into Durham and knocked off the Blue Devils, clinching the title by one game. Only one other team, Clemson, finished with double-figure wins in conference play. Six teams finished between 9-7 and 7-9.

Favorites: This one is pretty clear. While neither North Carolina or Duke has really shown that it is head-and-shoulders above the other, both are the definitive favorites for the conference tournament. North Carolina is playing some of the best basketball in the country, after struggling somewhat during the middle part of conference play. With Ty Lawson back and running the point, the Tar Heels have one of the best backcourts around in Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Tyler Hansbrough is arguably the best player in the country and a definite All-America. Throw in do-it-all types like Danny Green and lockdown defenders like Marcus Ginyard, and this team has it all. Is their defense good enough to win a championship? That remains to be seen. Duke jumped out to a two-game lead in the ACC standings by starting 10-0 in conference play, before losing three of its final seven games to fall to second-place. The Blue Devils are a perimeter-oriented team, as they have no go-to big man and plenty of shooters. DeMarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson are an athletic wing tandem, while Kyle Singler is one of the most difficult players to match-up with in the ACC. Greg Paulus is a very solid point guard who can shoot. Lance Thomas is the closest Duke comes to a post player. And that’s not a compliment.

Contenders: The league has been carried all season by Duke and North Carolina, and there is not much behind those two that will legitimately challenge for the title. Clemson is certainly a team that can make a run at the championship game, though. The Tigers lost to North Carolina in overtime twice, and hung tough with Duke on the road. They are 10-3 against the rest of the league. Trevor Booker and James Mays form a very good inside tandem, while K.C. Rivers is a shooter and scorer on the perimeter. Cliff Hammonds might be the most underrated player in the ACC; he can do everything well. Demontez Stitt is the key at point guard. Miami (Fl.) had a great non-conference campaign before struggling mightily to open ACC play. However, the Hurricanes have bounced back and are now primed to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Jack McClinton leads the way offensively; he is a tremendous scorer and shooter. James Dews is the team’s lone other double-figure scorer. Dwayne Collins came on strong towards the end of the season, while Anthony King is a very good rebounder and shot-blocker inside. Can the ‘Canes get consistent enough point guard play from Lance Hurdle? It’s imperative that they do.

Sleeper: Several teams in the ACC finished on hot streaks to jumble things up in the middle of the standings. The team that can do the most damage, though, is Florida State. The Seminoles won four of their last five and are playing very good basketball. The ‘Noles have an outstanding perimeter group, led by Toney Douglas and Jason Rich, and Uche Echefu is a solid scorer and rebounder on the inside. They force steals and play tough defense. Furthermore, the ‘Noles are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country, which will help in close games.

Prediction: Duke beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels returned the favor by beating the Blue Devils in Durham. Who will win the rubber match in Charlotte in the ACC title game? Sure, there are other competitive teams in the conference, but neither is going to beat UNC or Duke in the postseason. UNC has more weapons than Duke, but the Blue Devils have the personnel to create match-up problems and the defense to stifle the Tar Heels’ explosive offense. However, I’m going with the Tar Heels to win the title – with Ty Lawson back, this team is at an entire different level than they were during most of the ACC season.

First Round
#9 Florida State over #8 Wake Forest
#5 Miami (Fl.) over #12 North Carolina State
#6 Maryland over #11 Boston College
#7 Georgia Tech over #10 Virginia

#1 North Carolina over #9 Florida State
#5 Miami (Fl.) over #4 Virginia Tech
#3 Clemson over #6 Maryland
#2 Duke over #7 Georgia Tech

#1 North Carolina over #5 Miami (Fl.)
#2 Duke over #3 Clemson

#1 North Carolina over #2 Duke

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