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ACC Quarterfinals Preview

March 13, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Quarterfinals Preview

Preview by Michael Protos

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 8 Virginia
No. 1 Duke is the favorite to win this year’s ACC tournament, which would be the Blue Devils’ sixth consecutive tournament victory. They have owned the tournament recently, beating NC State in each of the last two ACC championships. The Blue Devils have had a great season and will be playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even if Virginia upsets Duke, the Blue Devils will have a strong case for a No. 1 seed. But don’t expect that to happen. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will have his team ready to beat down the Cavaliers as the Blue Devils did in the regular season, winning both games by at least 18 points. It will be the first ACC tournament game for freshman forward Luol Deng, who is second on the team in scoring and rebounding, and he may be to Duke what Carmelo Anthony was to Syracuse last year – the superstar missing link for a national championship.

For No. 8 Virginia, the quarterfinal match up comes barely 14 hours after a tough overtime win against No. 9 Clemson The Cavaliers know they must win at least two more ACC games to have any hope for an NCAA at-large bid. Last night, freshman guard J.R. Reynolds was the hero with a career-high 18 points, including all the critical points at the end of regulation and overtime. Virginia will need to find a way to slow down Duke’s offense, which put more than 90 points in both regular season games. Let’s hope the Cavs slept well last night.

Prediction: Duke 80, Virginia 62

No. 2 NC State vs. No. 7 Florida State
For the Seminoles, their season is on the line in the ACC quarterfinals. A loss will likely doom the team to the NIT, unless the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s whims favor a seventh team from the ACC that has not won a single non-home game in conference play. Florida State must prove it can win away from Tallahassee, Fla., against tough ACC competition. And NC State qualifies as a worthy opponent, although the Seminoles lost both regular season games to NC State.

The Wolfpack surprised some ACC followers – not including me, who picked NC State near the top of the standings before the season started – by finishing in second and providing a slight challenge to Duke for the regular season crown. NC State will be playing for a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. If they win the championship, the Wolfpack could sneak as high as a No. 2 seed. Most likely, the Wolfpack will be a No. 3 seed.

These teams feature two of the ACC’s best players in the Wolfpack’s junior guard Julius Hodge and the Seminoles’ senior guard Tim Pickett. Hodge is second in the conference in scoring and is probably the ACC’s most complete contributor. Pickett is the heart and soul of Florida State and the team’s scoring leader. He has played injured lately, and the Seminoles will need him to be at full strength to make the necessary run to earn an NCAA bid.

Prediction: NC State 74, Florida State 72

No. 3 Wake Forest vs. No. 6 Maryland
The Demon Deacons earned the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament by virtue of a coin flip with Georgia Tech. Wake Forest must prove it deserved the seeding after ending the regular season with two consecutive losses. This team has suffered a couple of losing streaks this season, and now is a bad time to start another one. On the other hand, when the Demon Deacons are hot, they can go on prolonged winning streaks – streaks that could carry the team to an ACC championship or even an NCAA championship.

Maryland appeared in danger of slipping off the NCAA bubble a couple of weeks ago when Wake Forest beat the Terrapins in College Park, Md. The team responded by winning the final two games of the regular season at NC State and at home against Virginia. Maryland should be in the NCAA Tournament regardless of the results here, but a win against Wake Forest would cement their case and improve their seeding.

The Terrapins play great defense and are 13-1 when they hold teams under 70 points. But Maryland is only 3-10 when opponents force Maryland to play a faster pace. Wake Forest, on the other hand, loves to run and put up 93 and 91 points in the two games against the Terrapins. The Demon Deacons average nearly 84 points per game on the year. The key to this game could be the battle of two great point guards – Wake Forest’s freshman Chris Paul and Maryland’s sophomore John Gilchrist. Paul and Gilchrist must dictate the pace of the game, and whoever wins the battle will likely guide his team to victory.

Prediction: Wake Forest 82, Maryland 71

No. 4 Georgia Tech vs. No. 5 North Carolina
Georgia Tech finished tied with Wake Forest for third place in the conference but lost a coin toss and plays the more difficult road to the ACC championship. The Yellow Jackets must play the ranked Tar Heels in the first round and would play the winner of Duke and Virginia in the semifinals. Not an enviable task. But Georgia Tech is playing great at the right time of year. The Yellow Jackets ended Duke’s 41-game home winning streak with a 76-68 upset at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Georgia Tech split the season series with North Carolina as each team won at home.

The Tar Heels have a world of talent but have not played consistently this season. The Tar Heels have not won three straight since the season-opening six-game winning streak that included the likes of Old Dominion, Davidson, Cleveland State, George Mason and Akron. North Carolina needs to prove that this team is for real. Sophomore guard Rashad McCants is a bona fide superstar, capable of dropping 30 points on any team, any night. But these players must come together as a team.

This squad resembles the talented team from four years ago – Joseph Forte’s freshman year – when the Tar Heels limped through the regular season but coalesced in March to run to the Final Four. But they must play Georgia Tech and sophomore guard Jarrett Jack in the first round. Jack is also a legitimate superstar and can frustrate any opponents. He is a big point guard who can take the hits and still finish. Georgia Tech is much deeper than North Carolina and plays better defense, which in the end may wear down the Tar Heels.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 79, North Carolina 77

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