Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Conference Tournament Preview: ACC

ACC Tournament - Charlotte - Thursday-Sunday

Storylines: You know there is really one story in this league, the North Carolina/Duke rivalry. The two heavyweights spilt there two regular season meetings with North Carolina winning the league and Duke finishing just one game behind them. Other than Clemson who finished third at 22-8 and 10-6, there may not be another team in this year's NCAA Tournament. There are bubble teams aplenty here: Virginia Tech (18-12), Miami (21-9), and Maryland (18-13), all could use a win or two to bolster their resumes, but this league was majorly down this year and reeked of parity. Five teams finished 8-8 or 7-9 in the league. But let's not fool ourselves, this weekend in Charlotte is all about a potential UNC/Duke III in the finals. More bad news - Dick Vitale is doing the ACC semi's and finals (big shocker).

Thursday afternoon's opener pits #8 Wake Forest and #9 Florida State. Wake is a young team that is capable of pulling off an upset, as they did against Duke earlier this year. They are led by the Freshman inside/outside duo of James Johnson (14.8 ppg) and Jeff Teague (13.8 ppg). Coach Dino Gaudio did an excellent job keeping the program together after the passing of coach Skip Prosser in the offseason. To go 17-12 with a rotation of Freshman and Sophomores and a new coach is impressive. Florida State was one of the five middle of the pack teams that did nothing special this season. They come in on a mini-hot streak, winners of four of five, including a W over Clemson. They are very guard-centric, with Toney Douglas, Jason Rich, and Ralph Mims. Their only real inside presence is Uche Echefu.

#1 North Carolina awaits the winner and frankly, should romp either team. Playing in Charlotte where there will be loads of Tar Heel fans in the crowd. Roy Williams' club is playing for the coveted Raleigh/Charlotte cake-walk into the Final Four where they would never have to leave the state and essentially play four home games. Winning the ACC Tournament, which we believe they will do, will lock them in. Now that PG Ty Lawson is back healthy, Carolina looks like the wrecking ball they were earlier this season. Talking about how great Tyler Hansbrough is is getting redundant, so we won't. The man to watch for UNC is Danny Green. When he is on coming off the bench, he gives the Heels an added dimension. Other than Duke, nobody in this draw will even push UNC.

The second first round game is an important one for #5 Miami. They face #12 N.C. State and at first glance you'd think Miami should have no problems here. While the Wolfpack finished 4-12 in conference play and come in on an eight game losing skid, they were picked to finish third preseason and have two excellent talents in the post in Brandon Costner and J.J. Hickson. Costner's game took a downturn this season because Hickson became such a huge part of the offense. Sidney Lowe also never got any sort of consistent play from the point position after Farnold Degand went down. Javier Gonzalez has given his best effort, but he looks lost most of the time. The Hurricanes can probably snag the fourth ACC bid unless they lose this one. Jack McClinton is an all-ACC performer as a scoring guard and James Dews plays well next to him. Dwayne Collins and Anthony King are bangers in the post and they have shown a propensity to play up or down to the level of their competition. Case in point, they beat Duke and lost to N.C. State.

#4 Virginia Tech gets either Miami and N.C. State in the quarters. At 18-12, 9-7, the Hokies may be the worst #4 seed in ACC Tournament history. Their resume lacks any sizzle. After losing three straight, they won four in a row before losing in the season finale at Clemson. They do nothing special, but are well coached by Seth Greenberg. The best dunker in college basketball, Deron Washington, is back for what seems like his 10th year. He is their energy guy and best defender. A.D. Vassallo is their leading scorer at over 16 a game, and shoots over 40% from deep. Freshman Jeff Allen, best known for bumping an official earlier in the year, is very underrated and is solid on the glass. It wouldn't shock anyone if they were one and done, but they are playing for an NCAA bid and winning a game or two would go a long way with the committee.

#7 Georgia Tech is a strange team. Talk about a team who plays to the level of their competition. Earlier in the season, they gave Indiana, Kansas, and North Carolina all they wanted. They also beat Clemson. But somehow they finished the season 14-16. They are the team nobody wants to play in this tournament. Jeremis Smith is solid in the post, Lewis Clinch is a sharp-shooting guard who can stroke it from anywhere, Anthony Morrow is another solid veteran on the perimeter. Freshman Gani Lawal is an energy guy off the bench. Paul Hewitt's in game coaching leaves a lot to be desired. The Yellow Jackets meet #10 Virginia. Another in the long line of disappointing ACC teams. Sean Singletary came back for his Senior year and didn't expect this. All year long, he received little help and saw a steady diet of double teams. He still managed to average 20 a game. Mamadi Diane and Adrian Joseph tried there best, but the Cavs were a porous 5-11 in a down ACC.

#2 Duke catches the winner of this tilt. While the experts say an ACC Tournament title should get them a #1 seed, we don't see it. Other than a win at UNC (when Ty Lawson was out), running through a bad ACC doesn't impress us. That said, they still went 13-3 in league and shoot it as well. They live and die by the deep ball, but when they are on, look out. Duke is always a well-coached team with Coach K. They are a balanced club with five guys averaging in double figures, led by Senior Demarcus Nelson. Freshman Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas must hit the glass hard as the Duke bugaboo is their post play. There isn't any reason they won't get to the finals to meet North Carolina.

The one team who could use the most help is #6 Maryland. At 18-13, the Terps are right there on the bubble and probably need a first round win over #11 Boston College. They are a maddening bunch. They went into North Carolina and beat the #1 Tar Heels before Ty Lawson was hurt. They won six of seven, then lost four of five to finish the season. Bambale Osby and James Gust can give other teams fits in the post, but other than PG Greivis Vasquez, they've got little on the perimeter. Beating BC and upsetting Duke could do wonders for them. Beating BC won be easy, as they do have talent, despite their 4-12 conference record. Tyrese Rice can score on anyone (46 against UNC), and Rakim Sanders is a nice complimentary piece.

The favorite in the quarterfinal finale will be #3 Clemson. Oliver Purnell's team is a lock for the tournament and is clearly the third best team in the ACC. They have one of the best shooters in the league in Terrance Oglesby, two legit big men in Trevor Booker and James Mays, and a great leader in the backcourt in K.C. Rivers. They are very up and down though. They had both Duke and North Carolina (twice) on the ropes and couldn't finish. You can be sure the Tar Heels are happy the Tigers are on the other side of the draw.

Best Potential Quarterfinal Matchup

#3 Clemson vs. #6 Maryland - Either team could win this game by a mile by either team, or it could very close. This is a must win for Maryland. They have the advantage in the post, but Clemson's Guards as a whole are far superior.

Juiciest Potential Matchup

#1 North Carolina vs. #2 Duke - Lets be honest, does anyone care about seeing any other game in this tournament than Duke/Carolina III? Dick Vitale is salivating. The third time around, we think North Carolina pounds Duke.

Players To Watch

Ty Lawson, North Carolina - Now that the talented PG is healthy, North Carolina has kicked it into high gear. He now has to stay healthy.

James Mays, Clemson - The oft-injured big man is gutting it out through a variety of ailments, but he is still the defensive presence most ACC teams do not possess.

Greg Paulus, Duke - The Devils PG must have his shot going for his team to get to the finals. When he is hot, Duke rarely loses.

Bambale Osby/James Gist, Maryland - If Maryland wants to beat BC and upset Clemson to get to a potential rematch with Duke, the talented big man duo must dominate in the post. If they aren't on their games, they could be one and done and headed for the NIT.

Brandon Costner, N.C. State - As a Freshman, Costner looked like a sure-fire NBA talent who was dropping 20 plus on everyone he faced. Whether it was a Sophomore slump or his inability to play next to J.J. Hickson, Costner's game completely fell off. If he can re-discover his game, The Wolfpack could make a run.


First Round

#8 Wake Forest 80 #9 Florida State 77

#12 N.C. State 75 #5 Miami 74

#7 Georgia Tech 68 #10 Virginia 62

#6 Maryland 70 #11 Boston College 61


#1 North Carolina 95 #8 Wake Forest 76

#12 N.C. State 68 #4 Virginia Tech 67

#2 Duke 85 #7 Georgia Tech 70

#3 Clemson 78 #6 Maryland 66


#1 North Carolina 98 #12 N.C. State 78

#2 Duke 90 #3 Clemson 77


#1 North Carolina 80 #2 Duke 68

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