ACC Tournament Preview
Happy Tournament! (Soon to replace Happy Birthday and New Year as the most popular Happy phrase)
Conference tournament time is here, and the ACC will stage its 49th annual bash starting Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Without further ado, here are Hoopville’s predictions as to who will win the games, the tournament and also which ACC teams will advance to this month’s Big Dance. Projections are indicated with an asterisk (*).
Play-in Game – Thursday, March 7
7 p.m. – #9 Clemson (13-16, 4-12) vs. #8 Florida State (11-16, 4-12)
Winner – Florida State 68-64
Why? – Each team won by single digits at home during the regular season, something that should make this game extremely competitive. Also, both teams have played horribly as of late, with Florida State losing nine of its last ten games and Clemson only winning two of its last thirteen contests. There are rumors flying around both places about the fate of the respective head coaches, but look for the Seminole players to extend Steve Robinson’s reign by one day, while Larry Shyatt may go out with an appropriate loss in the play-in game.
Quarterfinals – Friday, March 8
Noon – Florida State* vs. #1 Maryland (25-3, 15-1)
Winner – Maryland 93-67
Why? – The Terps are just too good for the Seminoles, who will be playing only 15 hours after defeating Clemson. Maryland probably will cruise into the finals, as its senior leaders – Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter – are trying to capture their first ACC tournament crown. The regular season champions may have already clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a good showing here may get the Terps top billing in the coveted East bracket.
2:30 p.m. – #5 Virginia (17-10, 7-9) vs. #4 NC State (20-9, 9-7)
Winner – NC State 84-72
Why? – Pete Gillen and his Virginia squad have by far the most to gain or lose this weekend in Charlotte. A few wins will clinch the Cavaliers an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to the Wolfpack will probably force the team to punch its ticket to the N.I.T. A loss would mean a 7-10 conference record, probably not strong enough to keep Virginia’s bubble intact. The win last Thursday against Duke kept the bubble from bursting for a few days, but this team just is not good enough to beat NC State and earn a trip to the NCAA’s. Expect the Wolfpack, who are guaranteed to make the Big Dance, to make it a trifecta and sweep the Cavaliers in 2002. The crying will continue in Charlottesville, as the early-season top five team will be mad in March, but for the wrong reason.
7 p.m. – #7 North Carolina (8-19, 4-12) vs. #2 Duke (26-3, 13-3)
Winner – Duke 90-69
Why? – The only reason the Tar Heels avoided the dreaded play-in game is because of winning a 3-way tiebreaker against the Tigers and the Seminoles (a rare win for UNC this season). Last Sunday, Duke closed out the regular season by pounding North Carolina for the second time this year. The third meeting between the Triangle rivals will not be any closer, as this game means more to Duke than either of the first two contests. Look for Duke center Carlos Boozer to have his way down low with UNC big man Kris Lang, which should create open looks for lethal Blue Devil 3-point specialists Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon.
9:30 p.m. – #6 Georgia Tech (15-15, 7-9) vs. #3 Wake Forest (19-11, 9-7)
Winner – Georgia Tech 82-80
Why? – Wake Forest has already locked up a spot and will be a sleeper in the NCAA Tournament, but in this event, the young Georgia Tech team is playing too well to lose after only of 40 minutes of action in Charlotte. GT has won its last 5 games, and is 8-2 in its last 10 contests, with the two losses coming against Duke and Maryland. Also, the game means a lot more to the Yellow Jackets, because all that the Demon Deacons are really playing for is a better seed in the field of 65. Paul Hewitt and his team from Atlanta are here to play for their lives, or at least extend their expiration date by a day or two.
Semifinals – Saturday, March 9
1:30 p.m. – Georgia Tech* vs. Maryland*
Winner – Maryland 93-74
Why? – At least Hewitt and his players will be able to say that they got to the final 4, albeit the one in Charlotte rather than the real one in their hometown of Atlanta. A Duke-Maryland, one vs. two, Gary Williams against Mike Krzyzewski matchup is destined to be played Sunday afternoon, and the Yellow Jackets will not be the ones to challenge fate and prevent the teams from facing off. Maryland will glide past the young, but talented Tech team.
4 p.m. – Duke* vs. NC State*
Winner – Duke 87-73
Why? – Four of the players from the All-ACC first team will be playing in this contest, but unfortunately for Herb Sendek, he only coaches one of them. While senior guard Anthony Grundy made the five-man imaginary team, Duke is represented with a remarkable three players: Boozer, Williams and Dunleavy. The Blue Devils easily handled the Wolfpack in the two regular season meetings, and a win here should give Coach K a well-deserved No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament.
Championship Game – Sunday, March 10
1 p.m. – Duke* vs. Maryland*
Winner – Duke 86-76
Why? – The rubber matches of all rubber matches. First team All-ACC guard Juan Dixon will try and tally a win to put Maryland up 2-1 in the season series, but Duke may be too talented to lose on a neutral court in North Carolina. Who knows, maybe Maryland will get the ultimate revenge and even the score in the biggest way possible, by beating Duke in the Final Four on its way to the national championship.