March Madness has arrived and first up is the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Greensboro. I'll display my bias as a native North Carolinian up front by commenting the ACC Tournament always seems to be were it belongs when being hosted by a city in the Old North State. Not to slight Georgia, but “Atlanta” and “ACC Tournament” are not words which naturally flow together in a sentence describing this venerable event. The same can be said for St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C.
The tournament is about the haves and the have nots. The haves this year are: Duke (1), Maryland (2), Florida State (3), and Virginia Tech (4). The four teams who receive a 1st Round bye on Thursday have the best odds to win it all as they only have to win three straight games. Since the tournament expanded to include 11 teams in 2005 and then 12 teams in 2006, the #1 seed has won three times and the #3 seed has won twice. All five years the tournament was won by either Duke or North Carolina.
The have nots are: Miami (12), NC State (11), North Carolina (10), and Virginia (9). On the surface, these four teams have not a prayer of winning four straight games and earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to represent the ACC as conference champions. However, this is the ACCT and strange events have transpired in the past.
For instance, back in 1983, number four seed NC State defeated number five seed Wake Forest, 71-70; then beat number one seed North Carolina, with Michael Jordan, 91-84, followed by an 81-78 defeat of number two seed Virginia with Ralph Sampson. The ACC Tournament run fueled the “Cardiac Pack” to their run to the National Championship.
In 1976, sixth seed Virginia defeated number three seed NC State, 75-63; then beat number two seed Maryland, 73-65, followed by a 67-62 defeat of number one seed North Carolina. This tournament was in the years between the departure of South Carolina and the addition of Georgia Tech so there were only seven teams participating in the tournament.
In between the haves and have nots is the muddy middle, including: Wake Forest (5), Clemson (6), Georgia Tech (7), and Boston College (8). These teams have a better chance to achieve success than the have nots, due to their somewhat superior track record during the regular season, however, winning four consecutive games is a tall order especially considering the inconsistency associated with these muddy middle ball clubs.
Taking a look at the haves:
Duke (26-5, 13-3): the Blue Devils are playing some very good basketball headed into the post season having won nine of their last 10 games including going a perfect 8-0 in the month of February. Duke is paced by first team All-ACC performers Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, and second team All-ACC performer Nolan Smith. The Blue Devils fourth starter is Lance Thomas a member of the All-Defensive Team. Brian Zoubek completes the starting line-up. Zoubek has been a dominant inside player since being inserted into the starting line-up the past seven games averaging 11.3 rebounds and 7.3 points per game.
With three seniors and two juniors in the starting line-up, Duke is the most experienced team in the tournament. With four of the five named to one of the All-ACC teams, the Blue Devils have proven to be as skilled as they are experienced. Duke was 3-1 in games against the other bye teams.
Duke will face the winner of the Boston College (8)/Virginia (9) game. The Blue Devils were a combined 3-0 against these two teams during the regular season.
Maryland (24-7, 13-3): the Terrapins earned a share of the ACC regular season title with an exciting 79-72 victory over Duke on March 3rd. Greivis Vasquez is the heart and soul of this team. The ACC Player of the Year plays the game with a solid combination of fiery leadership and icy skill. Maryland will go as far as Mr. Fire and Ice Vasquez takes them and all the way to the championship is a distinct possibility for the Terrapins. ACC Coach of the Year Gary Williams has Maryland running like a fine oiled machine as the Terrapins have won seven games in a row since losing to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 13th.
Seniors Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne are solid players who bring experience and skill onto the court. Hayes, an outstanding shooter, averages 11 points per game, while shooting .456 on 3-point field goals. Hayes also has an A/TO ratio of 2.4, which is second in the ACC behind Scheyer. Milbourne averages 12.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Sophomore Sean Mosley averages 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. ACC All-Rookie Team performer Jordan Williams rounds out the starting five by averaging 9.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Williams provides the Terrapins with a strong inside presence. Maryland was 4-1 in games against the other bye teams.
Maryland will face the winner of the Georgia Tech (7)/North Carolina (10) game. The Terrapins were a combined 2-0 against these two teams during the regular season.
Florida State (22-8, 10-6): Defense is the Seminoles calling card. They lead the ACC in scoring defense giving up only 60.2 points per game. Sophomores Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton were named Third Team All-ACC performers and to the ACC All-Defensive Team. Michael Snaer was named to the ACC All-Rookie Team.
The Seminoles have won seven of their last ten games including four conference wins on the road at Boston College, Virginia, North Carolina, and Miami. Florida State was 1-3 against the other bye teams. They defeated Virginia Tech and lost to Duke once and Maryland twice.
Florida State will face the winner of the Clemson (6)/NC State (11) game. The Seminoles were a combined 0-3 against these two teams during the regular season. It could be a short tournament for Florida State.
Virginia Tech (23-7, 10-6): the Hokies definitely benefited from an easy conference schedule as they played each of the other bye teams only once each and lost all three games. Virginia Tech’s 10 conference wins include two wins over number 11 seed NC State, two wins over number nine seed Virginia, one win over number 12 seed Miami, and one win over number 10 seed North Carolina.
The Hokies have the league’s leading scorer in unanimous First Team All-ACC performer Malcolm Delaney. Dorenzo Hudson was named Third Team All-ACC.
Virginia Tech will face the winner of the Wake Forest (5)/Miami (12) game. The Hokies were a combined 2-1 against these two teams during the regular season.
Moving on to the muddy middle:
Wake Forest (5) and Clemson (6) are both teams with the potential to make some noise in the tournament. If they can win on Thursday, against Miami (12) and NC State (11) respectively, they will face teams in the Quarterfinals on Friday with which they match-up nicely.
Wake Forest versus Virginia Tech is an intriguing game. The Hokies defeated the Demon Deacons in Blacksburg, 87-83. The loss to Virginia Tech started a four game slide for Wake Forest. With the slide ended via a 70-65 win over Clemson, it isn’t hard to envision the Demon Deacons advancing to the Semi-Finals.
Clemson versus Florida State is a game where the lower seeded Tigers will be favored to win. Clemson defeated Florida State twice in the regular season. Beating a team three times in one season is often difficult to achieve but it is much better going into the so called “rubber match” as the 2-0 team rather than being the 0-2 team.
Georgia Tech (7) is desperately in need of a couple of wins to secure an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. If they lose to North Carolina (10) on Thursday, the only dancing the Yellow Jackets will be doing is in the NIT. With the Tar Heels reeling from their total beat-down at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils, the relevant question is whether or not North Carolina shows up ready to play. If the Tar Heels show up, it would not be surprising to see them knock off the Yellow Jackets and send Paul Hewitt job hunting.
Boston College (8) should handle Virginia (9) who is without leading scorer Sylvan Landesberg who was kicked off the team due to failing to meet academic responsibilities. However, the Cavaliers gave Maryland a battle in the last game of their regular season so nothing is guaranteed for the Eagles.
Discussing the muddy middle covered the have nots as well so let’s move on and discuss tournament expectations. First off, I expect there will be some upsets. The higher seeded teams will not win every game; however, a Duke (1) versus Maryland (2) Championship Game is a strong likelihood. In fact, I will go on record and state I expect Duke versus Maryland in the Championship Game.
Which higher seeded teams will lose? I expect Georgia Tech will lose to North Carolina; Florida State will lose to Clemson, and Virginia Tech will lose to Wake Forest.
Which team is going to win it all? Well, let’s not get carried away…I’ll make that prediction when the Semi-Finals are in the books.
Enough talk, let’s tip the ball and get on with the games….