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ACC Conference Tournament Preview

The most exciting time of the college basketball season has arrived, and conference tournaments are continuing to ramp up this week.

The ACC tournament will be played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the second consecutive year, and No. 2 seed Duke will look to defend its title. Arguably the strongest conference in the country, the ACC should see at least eight teams in the NCAA tournament, with two or three more clinging onto one last glimmer of hope.

Action will begin at noon EST on Tuesday, March 6 with Boston College facing off against Georgia Tech, with the championship game set for 8:30 PM on Saturday, March 10.

Here, Harris Yudin breaks down each team in the conference and analyzes their hopes for the postseason.

Editor's Note: Over the next few days, be sure to check out the rest of our NCAA tournament columns and advice. Tournament winners/picks, sleepers, busts and breakdowns of each region will be released shortly.


Top-Seed Locks

Virginia Cavaliers (28-2, 17-1 in ACC, No. 1 seed)

Virginia is not only the favorite in the ACC, but is also among the favorites to take home a national title. The No. 1 team in the country has seven quadrant 1 wins, with no bad losses and a 17-1 conference record. Tony Bennett’s group is by far the best defensive team in the nation, yielding just 52.8 points per game. While the roster lacks a go-to scorer, only five teams turned the ball over at a lower clip. The Cavaliers had a bit of a scare when Kyle Guy went down with a lower back injury this past week, but he appears to be okay. A healthy Virginia squad should compete well beyond the first weekend.

Duke Blue Devils (25-6, 13-5, No. 2 seed)

Duke has some impressive wins over Michigan State, Florida, Clemson and North Carolina, and has only lost one game by more than five points. The Blue Devils are in every game and are capable of knocking off any team in the country. They can beat you inside, with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, and outside, with Grayson Allen and Gary Trent, and led the nation in floor percentage. With four freshmen in the starting lineup, youth is the only thing that would hold this team back from its second national title in four years.

Clemson Tigers (26-5, 15-3, No. 4 seed)

Despite losing four of its last six games, Clemson backed its way into the coveted double bye. Led by a sharp-shooting backcourt of Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe, the Tigers are 1-3 against UNC, Duke and Virginia, and 20-5 against everybody else, which essentially pegs them as good-but-not-great. Their only quality wins away from home came against Ohio State and Florida prior to conference play, so a deep run in the ACC tournament could go a long way in holding down a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina Tar Heels (22-9, 11-7, No. 6 seed)

The Heels own the country’s toughest schedule, and have amassed a whopping 10 quadrant 1 wins-- the second most in the nation. UNC is led by senior point guard Joel Berry, who has more tournament experience than any other player, and junior forward Luke Maye, whose breakout began with a heroic game-winner against Kentucky in last year’s Elite Eight. North Carolina boasts its best three-point shooting team in five years, and led the country in rebounding. However, this team isn’t nearly as deep as Williams’ teams usually are, and a noticeable improvement from the two freshman bigs -- Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks -- could be the key for the Tar Heels to defend their title.


Safely in the Field

Miami Hurricanes (22-8, 11-7, No. 3 seed)

After losing sophomore guard Bruce Brown to a foot injury and enduring a three-game losing streak in mid-February, Miami sat square on the bubble. However, the Hurricanes closed out the regular season with four consecutive wins, including a huge résumé-building win at North Carolina. Miami has a balanced attack on offense, with no players averaging above 11.6 points but seven guys managing at least eight points per contest. Five quadrant 1 wins and a third-place finish in the ACC should be enough to earn Miami a five- or six-seed.

North Carolina State Wolfpack (24-7, 11-7, No. 5 seed)

NC State beat both in-state foes -- Duke and North Carolina -- for just the fourth time in the last 23 years, but managed to lose to Northern Iowa, UNC Greensboro and Georgia Tech. Five quadrant 1 wins, including the two aforementioned victories, should lock the Wolfpack into the tournament, but they’re not the most formidable team in the conference. Seven-foot sophomore Omer Yurtseven is the x-factor for this group-- in the three wins over Duke, UNC and Clemson, he averaged 20.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. Not many teams can counter the big man, and while NC State may not be a popular Cinderella choice, it can certainly compete with anybody in any given game as a result.

Virginia Tech Hokies (21-10, 10-8, No. 7 seed)

Virginia Tech made a serious late-season push, racking up five quadrant 1 wins in its last 12 games. It’s the only team that has beaten Virginia, Duke, North Carolina and Clemson this year, giving the Hokies as impressive a résumé as you will ever find from a 10-loss team. Buzz Williams’ squad led the conference in both three-pointers made and three-point percentage, with four guys who convert on more than 39 percent of their triples. Just like their in-state counterpart, VTech doesn’t necessarily have a go-to scorer, but with five guys averaging in double figures, it’s not lacking firepower on the offensive end. This team has proven it can play with anyone in the country, and has a real shot to make a run late in March.

Florida State Seminoles (20-10, 9-9, No. 8 seed)

Florida State enjoyed a strong start to the season, with just one out-of-conference loss, but struggled to the tune of a 9-9 record in ACC play. The Seminoles did manage six quadrant 1 wins, however, and appear to be in good position heading into the conference tournament. They don’t shoot a ton of threes, but they can beat you inside, as Terance Mann and Phil Cofer both averaged over 13 and 5 with close to or better than a 50 percent field goal percentage. FSU could certainly make an impact in the postseason, but it shouldn’t be expected to make a deep tourney run.


On the Bubble

Louisville Cardinals (19-12, 9-9, No. 9 seed)

Louisville let an enormous opportunity slip through its fingers in the last week of the season, as it held a four-point lead over Virginia with under a second to play and somehow managed to lose. A victory would’ve put the Cardinals in good position for an at-large tournament bid, but now, with just three quadrant 1 wins and seven losses in their last 10 games, a spot in the field of 68 seems unlikely. Upperclassmen Deng Adel and Quentin Snider have done a decent job leading a program that saw Donovan Mitchell jump to the pros and top recruit Brian Bowen slip away following a corruption scandal. The entire university has had a rough year, which looks to end without a tournament bid.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (18-13, 8-10, No. 10 seed)

Notre Dame will be the most interesting team in the conference over the next week. Bonzie Colson returned from injury last week against Pittsburgh, playing just 21 minutes but pouring in 12 points with nine rebounds. In the season finale against Virginia, the senior forward displayed his dominance with 24 and 15 boards as the Irish gave the Cavaliers all they could handle. Notre Dame is 12-4 on the year with Colson healthy and 6-9 without him. Combine Colson with sharpshooters Matt Ferrell and TJ Gibbs, and you get a team capable of competing with anybody. A few impressive ACC tournament wins could convince the committee to judge Notre Dame in its current form rather than on the entire body of work.

Syracuse Orange (19-12, 8-10, No. 11 seed)

Syracuse picked up just its third quadrant 1 win in its regular season finale against Clemson, but its overall résumé remains underwhelming. The Orange have four losses to teams with a BPI outside the top 100 (the top four teams in the ACC combined for two such losses), and head into the ACC tournament having lost four of their last six games. Sophomore guard Tyus Battle has had a strong year, averaging 20 points per game, but Jim Boeheim’s team is without efficient secondary scoring options. Syracuse appears to be on the outside looking in, and would, at the very least, require a signature win over North Carolina in the second round (it has to get through Wake Forest first) in order to have a real shot at the big dance.


Looking to Play Spoiler

Boston College Eagles (17-14, 7-11, No. 12 seed)

BC has two guys in its backcourt -- Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson -- who can absolutely light it up. The team displayed its upset potential with an early-season defeat of Duke, in which Bowman and Robinson combined for 54 points on 20-of-35 shooting with eight triples. Bowman also finished that game one assist shy of a triple-double. Don’t expect the Eagles to make a deep run, but they can certainly play spoiler on a given night.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (13-18, 6-12, No. 13 seed)

Georgia Tech finished the year on a high note, with back-to-back home wins against NC State and Wake Forest. However, there wasn’t much to get excited about over the team’s first 29 games, with just one quadrant 1 win on the year (home against Miami). Leading scorer Josh Okogie can score in bunches, but the Yellow Jackets don’t have enough weapons to keep pace with any of the big dogs.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (11-19, 4-14, No. 14 seed)

Wake Forest snapped a six-year tournament drought last season, but fell back towards the bottom of the ACC after forward John Collins departed for the NBA. Junior guard Bryant Crawford has stepped up as the team’s leading scorer, but hasn’t been the most efficient No. 1 option, shooting just 40.9 percent from the floor with just a 1.46 assist-to-turnover ratio. Wake’s best win came at home against Syracuse back in January, so it’s tough to see the Demon Deacons causing too much trouble for any of the top seeds in the conference tournament.

Pittsburgh Panthers (8-23, 0-18, No. 15 seed)

Kevin Stallings’ team has had a rough go of it this season. The Panthers are winless in the conference, with no quadrant 1 or quadrant 2 wins on the year. Given the talent atop this conference, Pitt winning the ACC tournament and sneaking into the big dance would be one of the most unlikely occurrences in college basketball history.


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