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Heading into the season, the ACC was supposed to be North Carolina’s conference to lose. Well, lose it the Tar Heels did. North Carolina completely fell off this season, going from national champions to a No. 10 seed in the ACC Tournament. In its place came Duke and Maryland, who split first-place at 13-3. Maryland’s victory over Duke in the next-to-last game of the season forged a tie. Florida State and Virginia Tech went 10-6, while Clemson and Wake Forest were tied for fifth at 9-7. It should be a great tournament in Greensboro.
Favorites: Despite the tie, it seems that Duke is the favorite heading into the conference tournament. The Blue Devils rank No. 1 at Kenpom.com and are one of the most efficient teams in the country at both ends of the floor. They stroke the three well and crash the offensive glass (mainly due to Brian Zoubek). Defensively, they guard the perimeter and contest shots. Jon Scheyer has been one of the best guards in the country, while Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler complete one of the better trios in America. Zoubek needs to be a steady contributor down low, though. Maryland went from being a bubble team to a top-four seed threat in a matter of weeks. The Terrapins have won 13 of their last 15 heading into the conference tournament. They are outstanding offensively, taking care of the ball and knocking down shots from inside and outside the arc. Defensively, they don’t foul and guard the rim very well. Greivis Vasquez has established himself as the ACC Player of the Year, while Eric Hayes provides production and senior leadership. Sean Mosley is an underrated wing, and Landon Milbourne is a match-up problem at forward. Jordan Williams has shown flashes down low.
Contenders: There are plenty of middling ACC teams that can put together a solid string of games and make a run. Florida State has excellent size and plays very good half-court defense. The Seminoles have won five of six after going through a rough stretch. Solomon Alabi is a defensive force down low, and Chris Singleton is a blossoming forward. The perimeter scorers need to step up, though. Clemson has been a very good defensive team this season, but its offense struggles at times in the half-court. Trevor Booker is one of the best big men in the country, while Demontez Stitt runs the show at the point. David Potter and Tanner Smith can shoot, and Andre Young has provided a spark. Wake Forest won its season finale after losing its previous four games. The Demon Deacons have the nation’s best effective field goal percentage defense, guarding opponents tightly. Al-Farouq Aminu is a 20-10 threat every night, and Ish Smith is extremely quick at the point. Virginia Tech is likely in the NCAA Tournament right now, but a win would solidify a bid for them. The Hokies are inconsistent offensively, but they have Malcolm Delaney leading the way. He can single-handedly carry Tech to several wins. Jeff Allen is the main man down low, while Dorenzo Hudson has stepped up in conference play. Georgia Tech absolutely needs a win in its first tournament game. The Yellow Jackets have multiple lottery picks, but have struggled in ACC play. Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors are a dominant tandem down low, and Iman Shumpert has the talent to be a top-notch point guard.
Sleeper: Virginia has collapsed, I’m not going near UNC, Miami is a disaster on the road and N.C. State is far too inconsistent. Therefore, Boston College could be the main sleeper. The Eagles also have one of the best offensive quartets in the conference, with forwards Joe Trapani and Corey Raji and guards Rakim Sanders and Reggie Jackson, an explosive highlight reel waiting to happen. If they are hitting on all cylinders, this is certainly a tough out on a neutral court.
Prediction: There is a lot at stake in Greensboro this week, but I’m not sure the conference tournament champion is going to come down to anyone other than Duke or Maryland. Clearly the two best teams in the league all season long, they split their two regular-season meetings and are looking forward to a rubber match. Duke received a dominant effort from Zoubek in the first meeting, while Maryland made adjustments and won the second one. In this one, Duke will emerge on top. The Blue Devils are playing in Greensboro and I think that Kyle Singler will be the difference.
No. 8 Boston College over No. 9 Virginia
No. 5 Wake Forest over No. 12 Miami (Fl.)
No. 7 Georgia Tech over No. 10 North Carolina
No. 6 Clemson over No. 11 North Carolina State
No. 1 Duke over No. 8 Boston College
No. 5 Wake Forest over No. 4 Virginia Tech
No. 2 Maryland over No. 7 Georgia Tech
No. 6 Clemson over No. 3 Florida State
No. 1 Duke over No. 5 Wake Forest
No. 2 Maryland over No. 6 Clemson
No. 1 Duke over No. 2 Maryland