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ACC First Round Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference First Round Preview

Preview by Michael Protos

Rarely does the opening round of the ACC tournament carry significance, as the bottom two teams in the conference typically have no hopes for an NCAA bid. But this year is a little bit different as No. 8 Virginia has blossomed late in the season.

The Cavaliers must beat No. 9 Clemson in the opening round and No. 1 Duke in the quarterfinals to even rejoin the NCAA at-large discussion. But Virginia has played its best basketball at the end of the regular season, winning four of the last six games, including three wins against ranked opponents. The Cavaliers will likely need to advance to the championship game to jump ahead of No. 7 Florida State for an improbable seventh bid from the ACC.

And speaking of Florida State, the Seminoles are the other ACC team that is on the outside of the NCAA at-large pool looking in. At first glance, the Seminoles have a much easier path to an at-large bid than the Cavaliers do. Florida State must beat No. 2 NC State in the quarterfinals and beat either No. 3 Wake Forest or No. 6 Maryland in the semifinals. If the Seminoles can just reach the ACC championship game and if most mid-major conferences only send a single team, Florida State should be packing late next week to travel to an NCAA first round game.

No. 8 Virginia vs. No. 9 Clemson
Virginia and Clemson are heading in different directions. The Cavaliers are streaking toward NCAA Tournament consideration as winners of four of their last five games. Clemson, on the other hand, is streaking toward the offseason. The Tigers have a losing record, which excludes the team from an NIT appearance. They have lost four straight games and seven of eight. Virginia won both meetings against Clemson.

The Tigers have the ACC’s least fearsome offense, scoring just over 65 points per game. Only junior forward Sharrod Ford and sophomore guard Shawan Robinson average in double figures. The Tigers also commit a ton of turnovers because of their lack of an experienced point guard. Virginia also lacks a great ball handler, but freshman guard T.J. Bannister has emerged lately as the best available option. He also frees senior guard Todd Billet to find space to receive the ball for an open shot. Billet will need to continue his regular season heroics, in which he hit game-winning three pointers in three of four games, if Virginia plans to make an ACC tournament run.

The winner of this opening round will get to play No. 1 Duke Friday at noon.

Prediction: Virginia 69, Clemson 62

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