ACC Tournament Championship Game: Notre Dame Wins First Conference Tournament in School History

#11 Notre Dame 90, #19 North Carolina 82

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame used a late 24-2 run to defeat North Carolina and win the ACC Tournament championship game, winning their first conference tournament title in their rich basketball history.

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant scored 24 points with 10 assists, good for his fifth points-assists double-double of the season, and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.  He was 15-for-18 from the free throw line in the title game.

The 24-2 run took Notre Dame from a 64-56 deficit to an 80-66 advantage, and spanned from the 9:21 mark to the 2:55 mark of the second half, deflating both the Tar Heels and the predominantly pro-North Carolina crowd in Greensboro.  North Carolina went on a 12-4 run of their own, cutting the gap to 84-78, but the Heels’ hole had been dug too deep.

The Irish run came after the Tar Heels had opened the second half with a 30-17 advantage over the first 10:39 of the second half, turning a 39-34 halftime deficit into the 64-56 lead they would later give back.

The first half had an element of similarity to what would eventually happen in the second half, as North Carolina led 19-13 early, but a 12-0 run gave the Irish a 25-19 lead, before the rest of the half was played evenly, giving Notre Dame their five-point halftime lead.

In addition to Grant’s 24-point MVP performance, the rest of Notre Dame’s starters were also double-figure scorers.  Zach Auguste had a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and may have been a snub from All-Tournament honors.  Pat Connaughton, a pitching prospect for the Baltimore Orioles, and Steve Vasturia did earn first team All-Tournament honors, with Connaughton scoring 20, including a 7-for-9 mark from the floor and a 4-for-5 mark from three, and Vasturia scoring 14, including a 3-for-6 tally from distance.  Demetrius Jackson earned second team All-Tournament accolades, with 11 points in the title game.

North Carolina was led by Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, both of whom were honored as first team All-Tournament.  Paige had 24 points and five assists, making five triples, while Johnson scored 20.  Justin Jackson only had seven points, and was 0-for-7 from beyond the arc, but was still honored as second team All-Tournament for his body of work through the duration of the event.  J.P. Tokoto also had only seven, but added seven assists.

Notre Dame’s title was called the greatest accomplishment in the history of the program by coach Mike Brey, even though the program did go to the Final Four in 1978.  The Irish swept the ACC basketball championships, after the women’s team claimed the ACC Women’s Tournament title on Sunday, beating Florida State.

Brey was one of three coaches to have Duke ties to win a conference title on Saturday.  Brey was an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski from 1987-95, and joins Bobby Hurley, the coach at Buffalo who played at Duke from 1989-93, and Tommy Amaker, the coach at Harvard who played at Duke from 1983-87 and assisted Coach K from 1988-97.

The Irish now have 24 hours to celebrate before beginning their NCAA Tournament preparations when the brackets are revealed Sunday evening.  The Irish are projected to be a three seed, although many are making the case for them to move up to a two seed after their tournament title, and the Tar Heels are projected as a four or five seed.

Other ACC teams awaiting their tournament seeding are Virginia and Duke (both will likely be one seed, although some are making a case to bump Virginia to a two), Louisville (four or five), and NC State (nine or 10).  Miami also awaits their fate, as they sit on the bubble, and are projected as the third team out of the field by ESPN as of late Saturday night, and the fourth team out by Bracket Matrix (which combines multiple online projected brackets).

 

My All-Tournament first team ballot:  Jerian Grant (Notre Dame, tournament MVP), Pat Connaughton (Notre Dame), Brice Johnson (North Carolina), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Malcolm Brodgon (Virginia)

Official All-Tournament first team:  Grant, Connaughton, Johnson, Paige, Steve Vasturia (Notre Dame)
Second team:  Brodgon, Anthony Barber (NC State), Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame), Justin Jackson (North Carolina), Jahlil Okafor (Duke)

 

For what it’s worth…
My first round record: 1-1
My second round record: 3-1
My quarterfinals record: 2-2
My semifinals record: 0-2
My championship game record: 0-1
Overall: 6-7 (12-2 in last year’s tournament)

Advertisements

ACC Tournament Capsules: Semifinals Recap and Championship Game Preview

Semifinals Recap

#19 North Carolina 71, #3 Virginia 67

While the Tar Heels led wire-to-wire on the way to their fourth championship game appearance in five years, it wasn’t as simple a victory as the phrase “wire-to-wire” would imply.

North Carolina led by as many as 11 in the first half, and took a 30-23 lead to the locker room, before leading by double digits most of the second half, including a 51-38 lead with 8:33 remaining.  Malcolm Brodgon and London Perrantes led Virginia all the way back to within one on two different occasions in the final 2:52, but Marcus Paige’s six points in the final 4:01 helped the Tar Heels to the mild upset.

Freshman Justin Jackson led North Carolina with 22 points, while Paige had 14 points and five assists.  Brogdon led all scorers with 25 points, with 22 of them coming in the second half as he led Virginia’s comeback attempt.  Perrantes and Anthony Gill each had 12 for Virginia, although second team all-ACC honoree Justin Anderson was held scoreless in limited minutes for the second straight day in his return from injury.

North Carolina shot 54.8% from the floor, which is the highest percentage allowed by Virginia since November 22, 2010, early in the second season of Tony Bennett’s tenure.  The Tar Heels also shot 50% (7-for-14) from three-point range, while the Cavaliers shot 31.3% (5-for-16) from distance.  The Tar Heels ended Virginia’s streak of holding opponents under 60 points, which stretched back to February 14.

North Carolina’s win avenged a 75-64 loss to Virginia on February 2.  The thought of the Tar Heels, or any other team, beating Virginia with 18 turnovers was almost laughable before the game, but that’s exactly what North Carolina did in the victory.

While the Tar Heels are in familiar territory in the title game, they will still be trying to win their first tournament title since winning back-to-back tournaments in 2007-08.  Virginia will now await their NCAA Tournament draw, as they are projected by the consensus of pundits as a one seed in the big dance, even with the loss.

#11 Notre Dame 74, #2 Duke 64

The Fighting Irish dominated early, allowed Duke to get close again, then put the Blue Devils away late to reach the ACC Tournament title game.

Duke’s only lead in the game was 2-0, as the Irish then went on an 18-3 run to take an 18-5 lead, and led by at least nine for the rest of the first half on their way to a 41-26 lead at the break.  Duke methodically clawed their way back into the game throughout the second half, getting as close as 68-64 in the closing minutes, before Pat Connaughton hit a jumper at the end of the shot clock with 1:15 remaining to give the Irish a 70-64 advantage and end Duke’s momentum.  Duke never scored after a Tyus Jones triple at the 3:13 mark that Duke got within four.

Leading Notre Dame to their first ACC championship game was an unlikely hero, freshman forward Bonzie Colson, who had 17 points, including 14 in the first half, while going head-to-head with ACC Player of the Year, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.  While Okafor led all scorers with 28, Colson, who averages just 5.6 points per game off the bench, was a spark for the Irish on their way to the win.

Demetrius Jackson scored 15 and Jerian Grant scored 13 for the Irish.  In addition to Okafor’s 28 points, Justise Winslow had a double-double for the Devils, with 11 points and 11 rebounds.  The Blue Devils shot just 3-for-17 (17.6%) from three-point range, as Duke’s seniors become the first four-year players since 1998 to graduate without winning a conference title.

Notre Dame’s win came after losing 90-60 to Duke on February 7, although they had defeated Duke 77-73 on January 28.  Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is the only former Mike Krzyzewski assistant to defeat Coach K, and added another win in that series.

The Irish, who are trying to win their first conference tournament title in school history, advance to their first-ever championship game in a conference tournament, where they will play North Carolina in primetime on Saturday.  The Irish had previously been 0-6 in conference tournament semifinals.  Duke will await their NCAA Tournament seeding, as they were considered to be a lock for a one seed regardless of their ACC Tournament result.

 

Championship Game Preview

#19 North Carolina vs. #11 Notre Dame
Tar Heels:  24-10, 11-7 ACC, 5 seed
Fighting Irish:  28-5, 14-4 ACC, 3 seed

After both teams pulled mild upsets to reach the ACC Tournament final, you’d be hard-pressed to find a true favorite between Notre Dame and North Carolina.  Both have had excellent seasons, and come in playing great basketball in the ACC Tournament, and both just knocked off an opponent ranked nationally among the top three.

Notre Dame scores 78.5 points per game, while North Carolina scores 77.8 per contest.  The Irish allow 65.2 per game, while the Tar Heels allow 67.8.  Notre Dame has won seven out of eight, and North Carolina has won five out of six.

This championship game will feature a matchup of two of the most dynamic guards in the ACC, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige.  Grant ranks fifth in the league with 16.7 points per game, while Paige is 15th, averaging 13.6 per contest.  Grant leads the conference with 6.7 assists per game, but Paige isn’t far behind, ranking 5th with 4.6 per game.  Grant was a first team all-ACC selection, and finished second behind Duke’s Jahlil Okafor in the Player of the Year balloting, and Paige was awarded third team all-ACC honors.

While most will focus on the backcourt matchup, a frontcourt matchup of a pair of third team all-ACC honorees will be just as strong.  Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton, a Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect who will continue his baseball career when his senior basketball season is over, averages 12.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.  North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, who is among the most improved players in the conference this season, averages 13 points and 7.9 boards per contest.

When these two teams met back on January 5 in Chapel Hill, the game was as even as advertised.  Notre Dame blew an 11-point lead in the second half, but a Zach Auguste putback with 1:07 left was the difference in a 71-70 Irish win.

However, there are definitely differences in the programs.  Notre Dame, even with their rich basketball history, is playing in their first championship game in any conference tournament, reaching the ACC final in their second year in the league, and is trying to win their first conference tournament title in school history, a feat that coach Mike Brey said would be the greatest accomplishment in the history of the program.

North Carolina has definitely been here before, as they are playing in their 33rd ACC Tournament title game, over half of the 62 that have been staged. The Tar Heels are 17-15 in previous finals, and this is the fourth time in five years the Heels have reached the final, but they are looking for their first championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2007-08.  North Carolina is 2-3 in championship games in the Roy Williams era (since 2003).

These teams are both playing at a very high level, and play a very similar brand of basketball, making this a very difficult pick.  Both teams even reached the title game in a similar manner, with North Carolina beating Virginia and Notre Dame beating Duke in the semifinals, with both teams taking a big lead, allowing the opponent to get back within reach, then playing well enough at the end to put away their highly ranked opponent.

While Notre Dame seems poised and due to make school history and win a conference championship, none of North Carolina’s players have won an ACC Tournament title in their careers either.  Carolina coach Roy Williams has, and knows what it will take for his team to win this game.  On the other hand, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is mentored by Mike Krzyzewski, who has won 13 ACC Tournament titles, two of which came while Brey was a Duke assistant under Coach K.

But Roy Williams really has his team peaking at the right time.  After losing to Duke in the regular season finale, the Tar Heels were dominant over Boston College and convincing over Louisville and Virginia, both top 15 opponents.  I wouldn’t have given this outcome too much thought a few weeks ago, when the Tar Heels were in the midst of a stretch of five losses in seven games, but times have changed, and the team has too, in a drastic way.

North Carolina 81, Notre Dame 79.

 

For what it’s worth…
My first round record: 1-1
My second round record: 3-1
My quarterfinals record: 2-2
My semifinals record: 0-2
Overall tournament record: 6-6

ACC Tournament Capsules: Quarterfinals Recap and Semifinals Preview

Quarterfinals Recap

#3 Virginia 58, Florida State 44

Top-seeded Virginia came out firing and started with a 16-2 run, held off a Florida State comeback, and closed strong for a 14-point win to advance to the semifinals.

Virginia turned the 16-2 run, which spanned nearly six minutes to start the game, into a 34-17 lead at halftime, with the Seminoles getting no closer than 20-10 for the remainder of the half.  Florida State then started the second half on a 17-5 run to close within a 39-34 margin, before Malcolm Brodgon took over.

The Virginia guard and first team all-ACC performer had been held scoreless over the game’s first 31 minutes, but he ended the Seminole run with a basket with 9:02 remaining, and scored 10 points the rest of the way, as the Cavaliers held a 19-10 advantage over the final stretch that began with Brodgon’s shot, leading to their 14-point victory.

Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey led Virginia with 11 points, while Justin Anderson was held scoreless with two rebounds in 12 minutes in his return from a broken finger and an appendectomy.  Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes led all scorers with 13.

One key stat for Florida State in defeat was a 2-for-17 mark (11.8%) on uncontested jump shots, something any team can’t afford to do against Virginia’s defense.  The Seminoles, an NIT bubble team, will now await their postseason fate, while Virginia advances to play North Carolina in the semifinals, after reaching 29-2 for the second time in school history, and the first since 1981-82.  This is the second straight year Virginia has defeated Florida State in the quarterfinals, winning by 13 a year ago.

#19 North Carolina 70, #14 Louisville 60

The Tar Heels used a 14-3 advantage over the final 6:44 to turn a 57-56 deficit into a 10-point victory over the Cardinals, and a berth in the ACC semifinals.

North Carolina junior forward Brice Johnson led all scorers with 22 points, including 14 in the second half, and 6 of the team’s 14 during the game-winning run.  Marcus Paige added 13 for the Tar Heels.

This wild game featured nine ties and 12 lead changes, with neither team leading by more than seven until Carolina’s late run.  Given that the two teams played a pair of thrillers in the regular season, this should come as no surprise.

Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell played an incredible game in the defeat, with 14 points and 12 rebounds.  Harrell had two incredible alley-oop throwdowns, both of which got the crowd incredibly energized.  Terry Rozier led the Cardinals with 20 points.

The Cardinals were 4-for-22 from distance (18.2%), while the Tar Heels were 5-from-11 (44.4%).  Carolina also held a wide advantage from the floor overall, shooting 42.4%, against 34.9% for Louisville.  North Carolina advances to the semifinals, and meets third-ranked and top-seeded Virginia, while Louisville will await their NCAA seeding, likely in the 4-5 range.

#2 Duke 77, N.C. State 53

Led by a balanced offensive attack, Duke led wire-to-wire in a domination of NC State, winning by 24 after leading a majority of the game by at least that much.

Duke opened with a 13-3 run, and stretched their lead through the rest of the first half.  The Blue Devils led 49-22 at the half, and once they took a 24-point lead with 4:03 remaining in the opening half, the Wolfpack never got any closer than that, eventually falling by that very margin.

Seven of the eight players with significant minutes for Duke scored at least seven points, and six scored in double figures, led by senior Quinn Cook, who is still trying to win his first ACC title, and scored 15 points.  On a night that Duke center and ACC Player of the Year Jahlil Okafor was held to 10 points and four rebounds, backup center Marshall Plumlee scored a career-high 12 points, all on dunks.  Duke freshman guard Tyus Jones had only seven points but added eight assists.

Ralston Turner led NC State with 16 points, but last night’s star, Anthony Barber, was held scoreless and left the game with concussion-like symptoms after a collision with Duke’s Amile Jefferson with 13:26 remaining.  The Wolfpack actually out-rebounded Duke (34-28), but shot just 35.7% from the floor.  Duke shot 56.6%, and had more field goals in the paint (23) than NC State had overall (20).

The win marks the second time Duke has blown out an opponent after losing to them earlier in the season.  Duke had lost to NC State, 87-75, on January 11, their first of three losses this season.  On February 7, the Blue Devils beat Notre Dame, 90-60, just ten days after a 77-73 loss, and after the quarterfinal triumph, they advance to the semifinals to face the Irish a third time on Friday night.  NC State will await their NCAA Tournament seeding.

#11 Notre Dame 70, Miami 63

After the Irish looked invincible early, the Hurricanes stormed back into the game, before Notre Dame pulled away late for a seven-point win to advance to the semifinals.

Notre Dame started the game on a 10-2 run, and continued to increase their lead throughout the first half, leading 41-21 in the half’s late moments before taking a 43-25 halftime lead.  Miami started the second half on a 26-6 run spanning 13:30 to take a 51-49 lead, but an ensuing 12-4 run gave Notre Dame a 61-54 lead with 1:02 remaining, as Miami went 6:21 without a field goal.  Jerian Grant hit all six of his late free throw attempts to ice the win.

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia led all scorers with 16, including the three to put the Irish back ahead with 6:13 remaining.  Grant had 13 points and six assists (Miami only had five assists as a team), while Zach Auguste just missed a double-double with 11 points and nine boards, as all five Notre Dame starters scored in double figures.

Angel Rodriguez came off the bench to lead Miami with 15 points, and Tonye Jekiri got a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, after just missing one against Virginia Tech.  The Hurricanes only shot 36.4% for the game, while the Irish shot 48.8% for the game, but only 31.6% in the second half.

Notre Dame advances into a third meeting with Duke in the semifinals after their first ever ACC Tournament win.  Miami now awaits their NCAA Tournament fate, as they sit squarely on the bubble for the big dance.

 

 

Semifinals Preview

#19 North Carolina vs #3 Virginia, 7:00 p.m. ET
Tar Heels:  22-10, 11-7 ACC, 5 seed
Cavaliers:  29-2, 16-2 ACC, 1 seed

In the first semifinal, one of the ACC’s oldest rivalries will be renewed in a “border war” game between North Carolina and Virginia.  The Tar Heels are 11-3 all-time against the Cavaliers in the tournament, with the most recent meeting coming in a 79-67 quarterfinal win by Carolina in 2007.

Both teams are coming into this game off of impressive quarterfinal wins, with Virginia jumping out early then holding off Florida State, and North Carolina coming from behind to beat Louisville with a late run.

The two teams play very different styles.  Virginia has the nation’s top ranked defense, allowing just 50.1 points per game, and allowed 44 to Florida State in the quarterfinals.  They also haven’t allowed 60 in a game since February 14 against Wake Forest.  The Tar Heels offense averages 78.0 points per game, and scored 70 in the quarterfinals against a good Louisville defense.

North Carolina is 1-5 against top 10 teams on the season, including a 75-64 loss at home to Virginia on February 2.  The Heels are also seeking their fourth championship game appearance in five years, although they haven’t won the tournament since 2009.

Virginia has shown that, although it isn’t always the most exciting brand of basketball, they have one of the strongest teams in the nation, and are trying to defend their title in Greensboro.  North Carolina had to use a lot of energy to beat Louisville, and they are playing a team that is better than them to begin with.  The winner advances to Saturday night’s final.

Virginia 63, North Carolina 56.

#11 Notre Dame vs. #2 Duke, appr. 9:30 p.m. ET
Fighting Irish:  27-5, 14-4 ACC, 3 seed
Blue Devils:  29-3, 15-3 ACC, 2 seed

Two similar teams meet for the third time in Friday’s nightcap, although the two previous meetings were very different.  Notre Dame defeated Duke, 77-73, in a close game in South Bend on January 28, but on February 7, Duke shot the lights out in Cameron Indoor Stadium, winning 90-60 in an absolute domination of the Irish.

Duke scores 81.1 points per game, which leads the conference, but Notre Dame scores 78.6.  The Devils allow an average of 65.3 points per game, while the Irish allow 65.2 per contest.  Duke has won 12 in a row, and Notre Dame has won three straight, and six out of seven since the loss in Durham.

This game also features the only two players who were unanimous choices for first team all-ACC honors, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant.  Okafor, the first freshman winner of Player of the Year honors in the ACC’s long history, averages 17.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, although he was held to 10 points by NC State in Duke’s quarterfinal win.  Grant, a senior guard, averages 16.8 points and 6.7 assists per game, with the assists number leading the conference by an entire assist per game over Duke freshman Tyus Jones.

Duke’s seniors are trying not to become the first class since 1998 to graduate without a title, and they’ve only been to one title game, last year against Virginia.  Getting there again, with a much different roster from a year ago, would be a nice accomplishment for the program.  Notre Dame, who just won their first ever tournament game in the quarterfinals after joining the league last season, is obviously looking for their first finals appearance in the ACC, but is also looking for their first conference tournament title in any league.

In other words, this is a real barn-burner, with two very good and very even teams meeting for the right to advance to the championship game.  That being said, Duke is playing as good as anyone in the country, including undefeated Kentucky, and seems poised to return to the title game for the first time since 2011.

Duke 84, Notre Dame 79.

 

For what it’s worth…
My first round record: 1-1
My second round record: 3-1
My quarterfinals record: 2-2
Overall: 6-4 (not quite up to the standard set by last year’s 12-2 mark)

ACC Tournament Capsules: Second Round Recap and Quarterfinals Preview

Second Round Recap

Florida State 76, Clemson 73

Clemson’s furious comeback fell short, as Florida State, led by 30 points from freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes, advanced to the quarterfinals.

The Tigers trailed by a 73-61 score with 1:19 remaining, and a 71-58 score with 1:39 remaining, before their rally, fueled by four Seminole turnovers in the final 0:53.  Clemson had also trailed 57-37 with 9:09 left.

Rathan-Mayes performance was his third game of 30 or more points in his rookie campaign.  Montay Brandon added 17 points for the Seminoles.  Clemson senior Rod Hall paced the Tigers with 25 points in his final ACC Tournament game, while Dante Grantham scored only six points but added seven assists.

Clemson’s late comeback almost resulted in overtime, as Gabe DeVoe attempted a three with :03 remaining to tie the game, but it hit the rim.  Rod Hall had also attempted to tie the score, which was then 75-73 with :16 left, but his runner hovered on the rim before falling out.

The Seminoles reach the tournament quarterfinals for the ninth straight year, which is the longest active streak, and will meet Virginia, who they lost two in the quarterfinal round a year ago.  Clemson will now await their postseason fate, as a low-seeded bid to the NIT is a possibility.

#19 North Carolina 81, Boston College 63

The Tar Heels were led by twin 17-point performances from Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, and held the ACC’s leading scorer, Olivier Hanlan, in check, on their way to an 18-point win over Boston College to advance to the quarterfinals.

The junior duo of Paige and Johnson each just missed a double-double, with Paige tallying nine assists, and Johnson grabbing nine rebounds.

The Heels never trailed after taking a 13-11 lead, although the game was close for most of the first half, before a late 14-5 run gave them a 43-30 halftime lead.  The lead was double digits for most of the second half, with the Eagles never getting closer than 54-46, as the Heels were able to add a late 11-3 run to establish the 18-point margin.

While Boston College guard Olivier Hanlan still nearly reached his average of 19.6 points per game, scoring 18 on the afternoon, he only scored 7 points in the first 32 minutes, with many of his points coming late in the game as the Eagles attempted to grab some momentum they never attained.

After ending Boston College’s season, North Carolina will now face Louisville in the quarterfinals, after splitting two meetings with the Cardinals in the regular season.

N.C. State 81, Pittsburgh 70

The Wolfpack guard duo of Anthony “Cat” Barber and Trevor Lacey combined for 55 points, leading NC State to a comfortable win over Pittsburgh, advancing them to the quarterfinals, and virtually assuring them of an NCAA at-large berth.

Barber scored 34, including 21 in the first half, while Lacey, a second team all-ACC honoree, added 21.  Both of them also contributed five assists, with many of them to each other.

Barber’s 21 first half points nearly outscored the opposition, as the Wolfpack led Pittsburgh 37-23 at the break.  The Panthers never got closer than eight in the second half, and the Wolfpack won comfortably, as the game’s broadcasters wondered if this was the best NC State had played all year, leading wire-to-wire to advance.

Cameron Wright led Pittsburgh with 19 points, and was one of four double figure scorers for the Panthers, as was Chris Jones, who scored 13 off the bench.  But in the end, the Panthers couldn’t overcome their recent slump in this matchup against one of the conference’s hotter teams.

As mentioned, the Wolfpack virtually locked up an NCAA at-large bid with the win, as the national consensus is that the only way they could fall out of the field was a loss tonight, coupled with conference tournament runs by other bubble teams.  Pittsburgh, after reaching the bubble a couple of weeks ago, now awaits their NIT fate, likely falling somewhere in the middle tier of the 32-team field.  NC State advances to play Duke in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Miami 59, Virginia Tech 49

The Hurricanes defeated the Hokies for the third time this season, ending Virginia Tech’s season, and keeping alive their own hopes of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

The Canes took a 25-19 lead after a back-and-forth first half, and while Virginia Tech only led for 0:23 of the second half, when they took a 38-37 advantage with 8:47 remaining, they stayed within two possessions for the overwhelming majority of the game, and never trailed by double digits until the game’s final 30 seconds.

Miami junior guard Sheldon McClellan led all scorers with 16 points, while the Canes’ Davon Reed had 10.  Miami’s Tonye Jekiri, the conference’s leading rebounder, just missed a double-double, with nine points and eight boards.  Adam Smith and Ahmed Hill both scored 10 to lead the Hokies.

Virginia Tech, who scored 40% of their points via the three in conference play, went just 3-for-15 (20%) beyond the arc.  While Miami wasn’t shooting the lights out either, at 5-for-14 (35.7%), the difference still contributed to the final outcome.  Miami was also 14-for-18 (77.8%) at the free throw line, while Tech was just 4-for-8 (50%).

Miami advances into the quarterfinals, where they will play Notre Dame, a game which could really provide a boost for their NCAA resume with a win.

 

Quarterfinals Preview

Florida State vs. #3 Virginia, 12:00 p.m. ET
Seminoles:  17-15, 8-10 ACC, 9 seed
Cavaliers:  28-2, 16-2 ACC, 1 seed

In last year’s quarterfinals, the top-seeded Cavaliers defeated the Seminoles on their way to the tournament title, 64-51, in the two programs’ only tournament meeting in history.  This year, the schools meet again in practically an identical scenario.

Just like last year, the Seminoles won their second round matchup leading into their meeting with Virginia with a one-possession win over an NIT bubble team.  Just like last year, Virginia is coming in with a 16-2 ACC record after losing on the road in their final conference game, having already locked up the regular season crown.  And, just like last year, Virginia beat Florida State by double digits in the regular season.

That being said, when these two teams met in the regular season on February 22, Florida State gave the Cavaliers a good fight, and actually led 37-36 with 10:34 remaining.  The Noles stayed within two possessions until the last 1:17 of that game, which Virginia eventually won 51-41, but the Cavaliers defense held Florida State without a field goal over the final 10:34.

That closing stretch is just one example of Virginia’s staunch defense.  The Cavaliers allow just 50.3 points per game, which leads the nation, and has held four ACC opponents, including the Seminoles, to 42 points or less.  In their meeting with Florida State, the Cavaliers held Xavier Rathan-Mayes to just 13 points, matching his second-worst scoring performance since February 9.

Virginia is expected to have Justin Anderson, who has been out since the February 7 game against Louisville with a broken finger, and was held out further last week with an emergency appendectomy, to return to action, which will make them even better on both ends of the floor.  Anderson averages 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Considering Virginia’s win over Florida State in last year’s tournament was part of their run to the title, the Cavaliers certainly hope history repeats itself.  The winner will play the North Carolina/Louisville victor in the semifinals on Friday.

Virginia 57, Florida State 45.

#19 North Carolina vs #14 Louisville, appr. 2:30 p.m. ET
Tar Heels:  22-10, 11-7 ACC, 5 seed
Cardinals:  24-7, 12-6 ACC, 4 seed

Louisville’s first season as a member of the ACC culminates with a double bye in their first ACC Tournament, and what better way for them to make their tournament debut after waiting through the first two days than a third meeting with North Carolina?

The pair of top 20 teams will meet for the right to advance to the semifinals (and very possibly a matchup with top-seeded Virginia), after the teams played a pair of excellent games in the regular season.  A Marcus Paige layup in the closing seconds gave the Tar Heels a 72-71 win, after they had trailed by 13 late, on January 10 in Chapel Hill.  On January 31 in Louisville, it was the Cardinals who came from behind, turning a 43-25 deficit into a 76-66 overtime win.

Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino of Louisville is making his ACC Tournament debut, and does so against a fellow Hall of Famer in North Carolina’s Roy Williams.  Pitino has won a whopping 12 conference tournament titles, compared to six won by Williams.

On the court, there will be an excellent matchup of guards in this game, as Carolina’s Paige (13.5 points, 4.4 assists per game) and Louisville’s Terry Rozier (17.0 points, 5.4 rebounds per game), both all-conference selections, face off against each other in the backcourt.

This is a very hard game to pick, as the teams play a similar style, with both playing it pretty evenly well.  Louisville comes in with some momentum from their win over Virginia to finish the regular season, and while the Tar Heels also do after their win over Boston College, the Cardinals have just enough of an edge to win what should be a fantastic game.

Louisville 76, North Carolina 75.

N.C. State vs. #2 Duke, 7:00 p.m. ET
Wolfpack:  20-12, 10-8 ACC, 7 seed
Blue Devils:  28-3, 15-3 ACC, 2 seed

Duke traveled to Raleigh on January 11, and left with their first loss of the season, after NC State upset the Blue Devils, 87-75.  Now, with both teams coming in playing at a very high level, they will meet again for the right to advance to tournament’s semifinals.

This is the first matchup in this year’s tournament of two ACC charter members, meaning there is more tournament history between the teams, with Duke winning 15 of 24 all-time meetings in the tournament.  Duke beat State in back-to-back title games in 2002-03, and when the pair met last year in their only tournament meeting since a 2007 Wolfpack win, Duke won 75-67 in the semifinals.

The Wolfpack come in playing their best basketball of the season, having won six out of seven, including road wins against Louisville and North Carolina.  Their three guard set of Trevor Lacey, Anthony Barber, and Ralston Turner can be a troublesome combo for opponents, as shown in their second round win over Pittsburgh.

Duke also comes in playing exceptionally well, with 11 straight wins to show for it, and they have now climbed to become the second-ranked team in the country, behind only Kentucky.  They boast the ACC Player of the Year in freshman center Jahlil Okafor, although the team’s true leader is Quinn Cook, a senior and second team all-ACC honoree, who really seems to show up in big games.

The Blue Devils are a very balanced team all around, and while people will point to the Wolfpack’s guards as their strength, they also have a sneaky good frontcourt, including the ACC leader in blocks, BeeJay Anya.  While three of Duke’s four best players are freshman who will be experiencing their first ACC Tournament game, the Wolfpack are fraught with experience.  Five Devils are battling nagging injuries, all ankle-related, while the Wolfpack are very healthy.

Additionally, in Mark Gottfried’s tenure at NC State, his teams have always peaked in March, and have reached the ACC semifinals every year, despite never having a bye to the quarterfinal round, meaning each year the Pack have pulled an upset to advance.  State will try to extend that streak, as the winner of this game will play the Notre Dame/Miami winner in the semifinals.

N.C. State 82, Duke 78.

Miami vs. #11 Notre Dame, appr. 9:30 p.m. ET
Hurricanes:  21-11, 10-8 ACC, 6 seed
Fighting Irish:  26-5, 14-4 ACC, 3 seed

While the first game of Thursday’s evening session matches two ACC charter schools against each other, the nightcap of quarterfinal Thursday will feature two teams that have joined the league in the age of conference realignment, as Miami and Notre Dame meet in the tournament for the first time.

Notre Dame defeated Miami in South Bend, 75-70, on January 17, and comes in with an 0-1 all-time tournament record against all opponents, as they were ousted by Wake Forest in the first round in last year’s inaugural appearance.  But this Notre Dame team, led by senior guard Jerian Grant, is very different.

Grant, who averages 16.8 points and 6.7 assists per game, would have likely been the conference player of the year if it weren’t for Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.  Grant was not on the team a year ago due to academic issues, and has taken a team that went 6-12 in the ACC a year ago, and lost two key players to graduation, into the upper echelon of the league, and the top 15 in the nation.  The trio of Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, and Zach Auguste each average between 12 and 13 points per game, giving Notre Dame one of the nation’s best offensive attacks.

Miami may be playing a de facto NCAA Tournament play-in game in this ACC Quarterfinal.   As of late Wednesday night, the Hurricanes were listed as the first team out of the projected NCAA field by ESPN, meaning they likely need either a win in this game or some help to get in the field.  This game would be big regardless of the opponent, but the fact it would be a “resume win” should the Canes be able to pull it out means that a potential win could practically lock them into the field.  That being said, a loss doesn’t knock them out, considering it wouldn’t at all be a “bad loss”, but would mean they would have to await their fate on Selection Sunday.

Arguably Miami’s best player, Angel Rodriguez, returned from a wrist injury in Wednesday’s win over Virginia Tech, although he was limited to five points in ten minutes of play.  Were Rodriguez healthy, the Canes could play to their full potential.  With him still nursing his wound, and with Notre Dame’s superior guard play and balanced offensive attack, the Irish are the favorite to advance.  The winner will play the NC State/Duke winner in teh semifinals on Friday.

Notre Dame 77, Miami 68.

ACC Tournament Capsules: First Round Recap and Second Round Preview

First Round Recap

Boston College 66, Georgia Tech 65

This morning I said to expect Olivier Hanlan to be the difference in this game.  Sure enough, Hanlan’s jumper with 10.9 seconds remaining propelled Boston College into the second round, with a 66-65 win over Georgia Tech.

The junior all-conference guard scored 25 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 mark at the free throw line, on eight rebounds and five assists, helping lead the Eagles to their first postseason win since a 2013 ACC Tournament game, also against Georgia Tech, when Hanlan scored 41, an ACC Tournament freshman single-game record.

The win was sealed when, after Hanlan’s go-ahead jumper, Tech’s Corey Heyward missed a driving layup with :02 remaining that would have given the Yellow Jackets the lead, and likely the win.  Boston College senior guard Patrick Heckmann scored 19, while Georgia Tech’s Charles Mitchell had a double-double off the bench with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Hanlan had given the Eagles a 64-63 lead with 41.4 seconds left, but Tadric Jackson, who had 16 for Georgia Tech, answered with a basket to give the Jackets a 65-64 lead with 26.8 seconds left, before Hanlan’s heroics advanced Boston College into the second round, where they will meet North Carolina.  The three lead changes in the final minute were part of a game that saw 15 overall.

After 12 of Tech’s 15 conference losses were by seven points or less, this was their fourth one-point defeat to a conference opponent, with a similar two-point loss coming to Boston College on January 25.  Now, as a result of Georgia Tech’s struggles, coach Brian Gregory may be on the hot seat.

Virginia Tech 81, Wake Forest 80

Jalen Hudson picked a good time for a career high, as the freshman scored 32 points off the bench, including a jumper with 11.7 seconds to give Virginia Tech an 81-80 lead on their way to a win over Wake Forest, snapping a seven-game losing streak for their first ACC Tournament win since 2012.

Hudson scored the most points in an ACC Tournament game in Virginia Tech history, and scored the third most points off the bench in any Division I game this season, according to ESPN.  Hokies coach Buzz Williams noted that the key for Hudson was playing hard, something he hadn’t always done a great job of this season.

Wake Forest had their chance at the end.  After Codi Miller-McIntyre lost the ball on a drive to the basket with 6.1 seconds remaining, the Deacons were rewarded possession (although the call appeared incorrect).  Konstantinos Mitoglou’s baseline jumper wouldn’t fall, and neither would putback attempts by Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas, ending the Deacs’ season.

Besides Hudson, no one for the Hokies scored more than 12 points (Ahmed Hill), although a total of six players scored at least seven.  Miller-McIntyre had 23 points and 11 assists for Wake’s first points-assists double-double since Chris Paul in 2004.  Devin Thomas finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, nearly adding to his 12 double-doubles on the season.

The Hokies advance to play Miami on Wednesday, after a 21-point loss to Miami on Saturday.

 

Note: this was the first ACC Tournament round with multiple games decided by one point since the quarterfinals in 2004, although there were two overtime games in the first round in 2007.  It is also (already) the first tournament since 2004 with multiple one-point games, although the 2007 tournament featured three overtime games, and the 2011 tournament had two.

 

Second Round Preview

Florida State vs. Clemson, 12:00 p.m. ET
Seminoles:  16-15, 8-10 ACC, 9 seed
Tigers:  16-14, 8-10 ACC, 8 seed

Florida State will try to extend a streak of eight straight quarterfinal appearances, which is the best active streak in the conference, and has defeated Clemson in five straight tournament meetings, a streak that dates back to 2001.

The teams split the regular season meetings, with Florida State winning in the Upstate, 59-55, on January 19, and Clemson winning in Tallahassee, 62-56, on February 4.

Both teams come in with an 8-10 conference record, and just above the .500 mark for the season, and both struggled late in the season.  Clemson comes in having lost two straight games, as well as four of their last five, and six of their last eight.  The Seminoles beat Pittsburgh in their final regular season game, but had lost three straight prior to the mild upset.

A pair of underclassmen who conference insiders certainly are aware of can make this their breakout game for a national audience.  Xavier Rathan-Mayes, an honorable mention all-ACC guard and first team all-freshman honoree, scored 35 in a pair of games this season, including 30 in the final 4:39 against Miami.  He averages 14.4 points per game.

Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame averages 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, and is the Tigers’ only double figure scorer.  His eight double-doubles are tied for the sixth most in the conference.

These two teams always play close, hard-fought, and usually low-scoring games when they meet.  Leonard Hamilton has proven in his coaching career he knows how to win in the ACC Tournament, and that may be the difference in this game as the Seminoles try to return to the quarterfinals again.  The winner of this game will meet top-seeded Virginia in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Florida State 58, Clemson 56.

Boston College vs. #19 North Carolina, appr. 2:30 p.m. ET
Eagles:  13-18, 4-14 ACC, 12 seed
Tar Heels:  21-10, 11-7 ACC, 5 seed

These two teams split a pair of tournament semifinal meetings in 2006 and 2007, which was Boston College’s first two years in the conference, and they haven’t met in the tournament since.  North Carolina won their regular season meeting, 79-68, on February 7 in Boston.

North Carolina played in three consecutive tournament finals from 2011-13, and will try to return this time, attempting to win the tournament for the first time since 2007.  The first step is Wednesday, as they will take on Boston College, although the game may not be as easy as it looks on paper.

The Tar Heels have lost six of their last 10, although four of the six were to top 10 opponents, and were the odd team out among the league’s clear upper tier of five teams when it comes to getting double byes in the ACC Tournament.

Boston College has won four straight, and although three of those four were against three of the bottom four teams in the conference standings, they are playing easily their best basketball of the season, and the streak started with a domination of NC State, who has been hot otherwise in recent weeks.

In the prior meeting, North Carolina used their size to their advantage, with Isaiah Hicks and Brice Johnson scoring 21 and 20 points, respectively.  While Hicks hasn’t gotten as many minutes recently, his playing time should go up for this game, as the Heels will be without Kennedy Meeks for at least their tournament opener as he battles illness.  Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan had 30 in that meeting.

Boston College is 0-6 this season against ranked opponents, and has lost 26 of their last 28 such games.  However, these teams are, surprisingly, going in opposite directions to some extent, and with Hanlan’s leadership, the Eagles can pull off the stunner.  The winner will meet Louisville in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Boston College 76, North Carolina 73.

Pittsburgh vs. N.C. State, 7:00 p.m. ET
Panthers:  19-13, 8-10 ACC, 10 seed
Wolfpack:  19-12, 10-8 ACC, 7 seed

Pittsburgh enters their second ACC Tournament after reaching the semifinals in their inaugural appearance, and the Wolfpack have reached the semifinals in each of their three tournament under coach Mark Gottfried.  The Wolfpack dominated the Panthers on January 3 in Raleigh, winning 68-50.

A few weeks ago, a potential NC State-Pittsburgh matchup in the tournament looked like a potential NCAA Tournament play-in or elimination game for an at-large bid, but now NC State is pretty comfortably in the field and Pittsburgh is more than likely out of contention barring a wild set of circumstances.

The Wolfpack have won five out of six, including road wins over Louisville and North Carolina, to get themselves comfortably within the NCAA bubble.  As mentioned, NC State has appeared in the semifinals in three straight ACC Tournaments, winning two games to get there each time, a scenario that repeats itself in this year’s tournament.

Pittsburgh has fallen off the NCAA bubble with consecutive losses to Wake Forest, Miami, and Florida State, and likely needs to at least reach the semifinals, if not the finals, to have an at-large shot, and would likely also need help in the form of other bubble teams struggling.  Of course, the NCAA Tournament takes care of itself if the Panthers can win the ACC Tournament, but that may be a tall order.

The Wolfpack are led by three double figure scorers, all experienced guards, with Trevor Lacey scoring 16.1 points per game, and earning second team all-ACC honors, and Ralston Turner and Anthony Barber averaging 13.4 and 11.8 points per game, respectively.  Pittsburgh’s leading scorers are both in the frontcourt, with Jamel Artis and Michael Young both scoring over 13 points per game.

The battle between the Wolfpack backcourt and the Panthers frontcourt will be the key to this game.  These teams are trending in very different directions, and Mark Gottfried, as he usually does, has his team peaking at the right time.  The winner will play Duke on quarterfinal Thursday.

N.C. State 74, Pittsburgh 62.

Virginia Tech vs. Miami, appr. 9:30 p.m. ET
Hokies:  11-21, 2-16 ACC, 14 seed
Hurricanes:  20-11, 10-8 ACC, 6 seed

These teams, both of which joined the ACC in the 2004 expansion, have met four times in the tournament, with Virginia Tech taking the first two in 2008-09, and Miami winning the more recent two in 2010 and 2014.  These two teams met twice in the regular season, with Miami winning both meetings, by margins of 76-52 and 82-61, with the most recent meeting coming this past Saturday.

Miami comes in on the NCAA bubble, with most pundits thinking they are out of the projected tournament right now.  That being said, they can’t afford a loss to Virginia Tech, the tournament’s last seed, if they want their name called by Greg Gumbel on Sunday night.  Even with a win over the Hokies, they very likely need at least one more win to make the field, even having won five out of seven with the only losses to ranked opponents.

The Hurricanes are led by two double figure scorers in Sheldon McClellan (14.8 points per game) and Angel Rodriguez (12.3), both of whom are playing their first ACC Tournament after transferring in to Miami.  The conference’s leading rebounder also wears green and orange, with Tonye Jekiri averaging 10.2 boards per contest.

The Hokies had lost seven straight coming into the tournament, but Jalen Hudson’s 32-point performance against Wake Forest propelled the Hokies into the second round with their first win since February 9.  Coach Buzz Williams said the key was for Hudson to play hard, and he did.  Now the Hokies can play the role of spoiler for the Hurricanes’ NCAA hopes, but they are playing a team that they have really struggled against this year.

Miami has a lot more to play for than the Hokies, who came into the tournament simply wanting one win in the tournament, and Miami has, as mentioned, dominated Virginia Tech in both meetings, including just last Saturday.  The winner will play Notre Dame in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Miami 71, Virginia Tech 54.

For what it’s worth…
After last year’s 12-2 record in the tournament, my picks were 1-1 in the opening round (one of last year’s losses was in the opening round, and I didn’t pick wrong any of the games from the quarterfinals on).

 

ACC Tournament Capsules: Opening Round Preview

Georgia Tech vs. Boston College, 1:00 p.m. ET
Yellow Jackets:  12-18, 3-15 ACC, 13 seed
Eagles: 12-18, 4-14 ACC, 12 seed

For the third straight year, Georgia Tech and Boston College meet in the opening round of the tournament.  With the Eagles’ 20-point win in 2013, and the Yellow Jackets’ overtime win a year ago, this is a rubber match of sorts.

Boston College beat Georgia Tech, 64-62, on January 25, which was their only ACC win in their first 15 contests, before a three-game winning streak to end the regular season.

Out of Georgia Tech’s 15 ACC losses, 12 were by seven points or less, with three in overtime.  However, the Jackets come into the tournament on a low note, after an 81-49 home loss to North Carolina, but have had an entire week off.

The best player on the floor will be Boston College guard Olivier Hanlan, who leads the conference in scoring at 19.4 points per game, and has scored 28 or more in five of the Eagles’ last ten games, including a 39-point performance in a close loss to Pittsburgh.

Expect Georgia Tech to keep it close, as they always seem to do, but expect Hanlan, the first-team all-conference selection, to be the difference.  The winner will play North Carolina at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Boston College 67, Georgia Tech 63.

Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forest, appr. 3:30 p.m. ET
Hokies:  10-21, 2-16 ACC, 14 seed
Demon Deacons:  13-18, 5-13 ACC, 11 seed

Both teams come into the ACC Tournament playing poorly in recent games, although one of them will have to end their drought this afternoon.  The two teams only previous tournament meeting was won by the Hokies in 2007, but Wake won the prior meeting this season, 73-70, on January 31 in Winston-Salem.

Both teams were winless on the road in ACC play, but that number may figure Wake in this case, as the Greensboro Coliseum is only about 30 miles from campus, giving them a moderate crowd advantage.

Wake has lost three out of four games this year when playing opponents for the second time, and by an average of 31 points, and after a 3-1 stretch in early February has lost five out of six, although four were to top ten opponents.

The Hokies have lost seven straight, and after hard-fought games against top five opponents Duke and Virginia, played very poorly in home losses to Boston College and Miami to close the regular season.

Both coaches are in their first ACC Tournament, although Tech’s Buzz Williams has been through the Big East Tournament experience (back when that was arguably the best conference), and Wake’s Danny Manning won the C-USA Tournament title last year at Tulsa. Both teams are heavy with freshman, giving them their first tournament experience as well, although Wake is led by two very experienced juniors, Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas.

Expect Miller-McIntyre to be a key in determining the outcome, as he has scored 22.0 points per game in the last two games, despite the Deacs’ struggles as a team.  The winner will play Miami at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Wake Forest 79, Virginia Tech 73.

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 3/9

It’s March.  And based on the last week of college basketball around the country, you can tell.  There have been upsets and amazing finishes, both as larger conferences like the ACC finish their regular season, and as some of the smaller leagues play their conference tournaments and send teams into the NCAA Tournament.

The drama that existed everywhere else found a home in the ACC as well, as rivalries were renewed, some upsets occurred (at least some mild ones), and teams fought for position in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.

The seedings for the ACC Tournament are now set, as the teams will head to Greensboro a day earlier this year, with the event beginning Tuesday and ending with the championship game on Saturday night.

1. Duke (28-3 overall, 15-3 ACC, Last Week: 1st (tie), AP Poll: 2nd)
Last Week:  Wake Forest (W, 94-51), at North Carolina (W, 84-77)
ACC Tournament:  2 seed, will play NC State/Pittsburgh in quarterfinals on Thursday at 7:00 pm ET
Duke moves out of their tie with Virginia due to the Cavaliers loss, but earned the top spot in their own right, obliterating Wake Forest from the start, leading that game 52-15 at half, before defeating rival North Carolina on the road to sweep the season series against the Tar Heels.  The Blue Devils get the benefit of a double bye in Greensboro, but in the quarterfinals may face NC State, a team that has already beaten them this year.  Freshman center Jahlil Okafor was named the conference’s player of the year on Monday, which (surprising to me) is the first time a freshman has ever won the award.

2. Virginia (28-2, 16-2, 1st (tie), AP: 3rd)
Last Week:  at Syracuse (W, 59-47), at Louisville (L, 59-57)
ACC Tournament:  1 seed, will play Clemson/Florida State in quarterfinals on Thursday at 12:00 pm ET
The Cavaliers’ nine-game winning streak since their January 31 loss to Duke was snapped on the road at Louisville, although they had previously won over Syracuse with a very impressive showing in the last 28 minutes, after scoring only two points in the first 12.  The Cavaliers will begin their title defense with a double bye, and will be heavily favored against either Florida State, who they defeated in the quarterfinals last year, or Clemson.

3. Notre Dame (26-5, 14-4, 5th, AP: 11th)
Last Week:  at Louisville (W, 71-59), Clemson (W, 81-67)
ACC Tournament:  3 seed, will play Miami/Wake Forest/Virginia Tech in quarterfinals on Thursday at appr. 9:30 pm ET
The Irish had a very impressive week, first winning at Louisville, a feat Virginia wasn’t able to accomplish, before dominating Clemson, a team who had nearly beaten them earlier in the season.  Jerian Grant is having a player of the year-type of season, although he fell short of the ultimate winner of the award, Jahlil Okafor.  The Irish are one of two teams in a moderately tough situation with their bye for the tournament, as they have three potential opponents to prepare for.  However, they must know that facing Miami on Thursday is the most likely scenario.

4. Louisville (24-7, 12-6, 3rd, AP: 14th)
Last Week:  Notre Dame (L, 71-59), Virginia (W, 59-57)
ACC Tournament:  4 seed, will play North Carolina/Boston College/Georgia Tech in quarterfinals on Thursday at appr. 2:30 pm ET
Following a home loss to Notre Dame in which the Cardinals did not play well down the stretch, they were able to defeat 2nd-ranked Virginia at home, closing out the game with Mankok Mathiang’s game-winner with 2.7 seconds remaining, which was just his second field goal since January.  Like the Irish, Louisville has three potential opponents to prepare for for their first-ever ACC Tournament game on Thursday, although a third meeting with North Carolina, who they split two thrilling games with in the regular season, is very possible.

5. North Carolina (21-10, 11-7, 4th, AP: 19th)
Last Week:  at Georgia Tech (W, 81-49), Duke (L, 84-77)
ACC Tournament:  5 seed, will play Boston College/Georgia Tech in second round on Wednesday at appr. 2:30 pm ET
The Tar Heels played even better in their second meeting with Georgia Tech than they had in the first, an 89-60 win on February 21, this time winning by 32, before playing well but ultimately falling short for the second time this year against Duke.  Whichever opponent the Heels get in their first ACC Tournament game, a second round matchup on Wednesday against either Boston College or Georgia Tech, Carolina will be heavily favored, and will be a win away from a very intriguing game with Louisville.

6. NC State (19-12, 10-8, 7th)
Last Week:  at Clemson (W, 66-61), Syracuse (W, 71-57)
ACC Tournament:  7 seed, will play Pittsburgh in the second round on Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET
With wins over Clemson, when the Wolfpack went on a second half run of 17-0, and Syracuse, where they had a similar 16-0 run, NC State is now, by all experts’ accounts, comfortably in the NCAA Tournament as a 9 or 10 seed, and should be even more comfortable if they defeat Pittsburgh in their tournament opener on Wednesday.  That would setup a rematch with Duke, the best team the Pack have beat, as they try to continue their streak of reaching the ACC Semifinals, which currently sits at three years, and matches the streak of NCAA berths they are very likely to also extend.

7. Miami (20-11, 10-8, 9th)
Last Week:  at Pittsburgh (W, 67-63), at Virginia Tech (W, 82-61)
ACC Tournament:  6 seed, will play Wake Forest/Virginia Tech in second round on Wednesday at appr. 9:30 pm ET
Miami is also on the NCAA bubble, but is not nearly as comfortable as NC State.  On bracketmatrix.com, which combines projected NCAA brackets from around the web, the Hurricanes are projected as the fifth team out of the field, even after their wins over Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.  They will have work to do in the ACC Tournament, with Notre Dame waiting as a potential quality win should the Canes get past the Wake Forest/Virginia Tech winner.

8. Florida State (16-15, 8-10, 11th)
Last Week:  Pittsburgh (W, 61-52)
ACC Tournament:  9 seed, will play Clemson in second round on Wednesday at 12:00 pm ET
Last week I said the Seminoles had hit a late-season slump, but could play the role of spoiler against bubble team Pittsburgh.  Sure enough, the slump ended, at least for one afternoon, and the Noles may have knocked Pitt completely out of at-large contention.  Florida State sits on a different kind of bubble, the one to make the NIT, and can help their case on Wednesday against Clemson in their ACC Tournament opener.  Should they advance, they will get a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal against Virginia, a game that could really help their postseason chances.

9. Syracuse (18-13, 9-9, 6th)
Last Week:  Virginia (L, 59-47), at NC State (L, 71-57)
Will not participate in any postseason play due to self-imposed postseason ban
It wasn’t a good week on the court for Syracuse, with a home loss to Virginia and a practical blowout on the road at NC State to end their season after their self-imposed postseason ban.  But it was an even worse week off the court, as the NCAA punished Syracuse for multiple academic violations, eliminating three scholarships per year for the next four years, and suspending coach Jim Boeheim for the first nine ACC games of next season (which he will appeal).  With a black eye now on the program, as well as the limit of scholarships, this will hurt Syracuse basketball for years to come.

10. Pittsburgh (19-13, 8-10, 8th)
Last Week:  Miami (L, 67-63), at Florida State (L, 61-52)
ACC Tournament:  10 seed, will play NC State in second round on Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET
About ten days ago the Panthers had crawled into the heat of the NCAA bubble conversation, but with three straight losses, including losses this past week to Miami and Florida State following a “bad loss” to Wake Forest, Pitt is no longer feeling bubble pressure, as they will not be an NCAA at-large team.  Their mission is now to win the ACC Tournament, which won’t be easy with their placement in the bracket, as they will play NC State in the first round, and with a win would play Duke in the quarterfinals.  And remember, the tournament is in the state of North Carolina.

11. Clemson (16-14, 8-10, 10th)
Last Week:  NC State (L, 66-61), at Notre Dame (L, 81-67)
ACC Tournament:  8 seed, will play Florida State in second round on Wednesday at 12:00 pm ET
The Tigers bid farewell to the pre-renovation version of Littlejohn Coliseum with a loss to NC State after a back-and-forth contest got out of hand with a lengthy scoring drought, before losing their regular season finale in South Bend.  After splitting their regular season meetings with Florida State, the two teams will meet on Wednesday in the second round of the ACC Tournament, with the winner meeting top-seeded Virginia in the quarterfinals.

12. Boston College (12-18, 4-14, 13th)
Last Week:  at Virginia Tech (W, 66-59), Wake Forest (W, 79-61)
ACC Tournament:  12 seed, will play Georgia Tech in first round on Tuesday at 1:00 pm ET
The Eagles head into the ACC Tournament in an interesting situation.  They have won three straight games, after starting conference play 1-14, and have the conference’s second longest active winning streak, behind only Duke.  While two of the wins are against other bottom tier teams, the first win of the streak was over NC State, and all three have been convincing.  The Eagles will play Georgia Tech in the opening round on Tuesday in coach Jim Christian’s first ACC Tournament experience, and with a win could spoil North Carolina’s weekend plans on Wednesday.

13. Wake Forest (13-18, 5-13, 12th)
Last Week:  at Duke (L, 94-51), at Boston College (L, 79-61)
ACC Tournament:  11 seed, will play Virginia Tech in first round on Tuesday at appr. 3:30 pm ET
Over the last two weeks, with the exception of playing just well enough to win against Pittsburgh, the Deacons have not played well at all.  And while two of their three losses were to Virginia and Duke, the Deacs haven’t just lost, but have been embarrassed in the games, with the three losses by an average of 32.3 points per game.  The late-season slump is not indicative of Danny Manning’s first year at the helm, as the team has played very well at times, but often lost close games.  Manning’s first ACC Tournament as coach will begin Tuesday against Virginia Tech, with the winner playing the potential spoiler against Miami.

14. Virginia Tech (10-21, 2-16, 14th)
Last Week:  Boston College (L, 66-59), Miami (L, 82-61)
ACC Tournament:  14 seed, will play Wake Forest in first round on Tuesday at appr. 3:30 pm ET
In the two games since playing Duke and Virginia very hard, and taking Duke to overtime, the Hokies haven’t played nearly as well, losing at home to Boston College and Miami.  While they have struggled in the very strong ACC all season, the team had been playing better up until the two-game stretch to end the regular season.  Tech’s similarity to the aforementioned late-season slump by Wake Forest is ironic, as the two teams will meet in the ACC Tournament’s first round on Tuesday, in coach Buzz Williams’ first ACC Tournament.  Even if both teams continue their recent poor play, one of them has to win, and advance to play Miami.  The Hokies are projected by kenpom.com to have a 1-in-99,894 shot at winning the title, and were called the “biggest longshot of any conference tournament participant” by the site.

15. Georgia Tech (12-18, 3-15, 15th)
Last Week:  North Carolina (L, 81-49)
ACC Tournament:  13 seed, will play Boston College in first round on Tuesday at 1:00 pm ET
This season has been very rough on Georgia Tech.  Out of 15 conference losses, 12 have been by seven points or less, with three in overtime and six by one-possession margins.  However, their regular season finale was not one of those games, as they were completely outmatched by North Carolina for the second time in for the second time in 11 days, losing by 32.  Now the Yellow Jackets head to the ACC Tournament, where they meet Boston College in the first round.  The Eagles only ACC win before their recent three-game winning streak was against Georgia Tech on January 25.  When Tech’s ACC Tournament ends, it could potentially be the end of coach Brian Gregory’s tenure in Atlanta.

My All-ACC Ballot (if I had one)

(note: each all-conference team is listed in alphabetical order)

Player of the Year: Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke, Fr.)

First Team All-ACC: Malcolm Brogdon (G, Virginia, Sr.), Rakeem Christmas (F, Syracuse, Sr.), Olivier Hanlan (G, Boston College, Jr.), Jerian Grant (G, Notre Dame, Sr.), Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke, Fr.)

Second Team All-ACC: Quinn Cook (G, Duke, Sr.), Montrezl Harrell (F, Louisville, Jr.), Trevor Lacey (G, NC State, Jr.), Marcus Paige (G, North Carolina, Jr.), Terry Rozier (G, Louisville, So.)

Third Team All-ACC: Justin Anderson (G, Virginia, Jr.), Codi Miller-McIntyre (G, Wake Forest, Jr.), London Perrantes (G, Virginia, So.), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (G, Florida State, Fr.), Angel Rodriguez (G, Miami, Jr.)

Honorable Mention (who I also considered): Jamel Artis (F, Pittsburgh, So.), Jaron Blossomgame (F, Clemson, So.), Aaron Brown (F, Boston College, Sr.), Michael Gbinije (G, Syracuse, Jr.), Devin Thomas (F, Wake Forest, Jr.)

Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke)

All-Freshman Team:  Tyus Jones (G, Duke), Konstantinos Mitoglou (G, Wake Forest), Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (G, Florida State), Justise Winslow (F, Duke)

Defensive Player of the Year: Rakeem Christmas (F, Syracuse, Sr.)

All-Defensive Team:  BeeJay Anya (F, NC State, So.), Rakeem Christmas (F, Syracuse, Sr.), Montrezl Harrell (F, Louisville, Jr.), Tonye Jekiri (C, Miami, Jr.), Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke, Fr.)

Coach of the Year:  Tony Bennett (Virginia)

Looking Back at My Predictions

Back in November, I predicted how the ACC standings would look in March.  Here’s how it turned out, with the teams listed in their projected order and their actual finish in parentheses:

1. Duke (2)
2. Louisville (4)
3. North Carolina (5)
4. Virginia (1)
5. Syracuse (8)
6. Florida State (10)
7. NC State (7)
8. Pittsburgh (11)
9. Notre Dame (3)
10. Miami (6)
11. Wake Forest (12)
12. Boston College (13)
13. Clemson (9)
14. Georgia Tech (14)
15. Virginia Tech (15)

Not to brag, but while Athlon Sports’ preseason college basketball annual missed the actual finishing positions by a sum of 36 spots, mine only missed by 34.

My preseason First Team All-ACC consisted of Malcolm Brogdon, Jerian Grant, Olivier Hanlan, Montrezl Harrell, and Marcus Paige, with three of those five finishing the season on my first team listed above, and the other two making the second team.

Looking Forward to the ACC Tournament

Here are my predictions for the ACC Tournament going in, although these picks could change as I do round-by-round picks throughout the week, even if the matchup is the same (I did change one pick last year, and did so correctly).

First Round winners: Boston College, Wake Forest
Second Round winners: Clemson, Boston College, NC State, Miami
Quarterfinal winners: Virginia, Louisville, Duke, Notre Dame
Semifinal winners: Virginia, Duke
Champion: Duke