The Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament begins on Tuesday afternoon with a pair of games featuring the conference’s bottom four teams and will crown its 2016 champion late Saturday night.
Who will that winner be?
We’ll get into that in a moment, but first here’s the schedule for the games at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (With Louisville’s self-imposed postseason ban, 14 teams will take part. All games will be telecast on ESPN, ESPN2, or ACC Network stations.):
Game 1-No. 12 N.C. State vs. No. 13 Wake Forest
Game 2-No. 11 Florida State vs. No. 14 Boston College
Game 3-No. 8 Pitt vs. No. 9 Syracuse
Game 4-No. 5 Duke vs. Game 1 winner
Game 5-No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech
Game 6-No. 6 Virginia Tech vs. Game 2 winner
Game 7-No. 1 North Carolina vs. Game 3 winner
Game 8-No. 4 Notre Dame vs. Game 4 winner
Game 9-No. 2 Virginia vs. Game 5 winner
Game 10-No. 3 Miami vs. Game 6 winner
Game 11-Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner
Game 12-Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner
Game 13-Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner
Now for a look at the teams in reverse order of their seeding with overall and conference records in parentheses:
No. 14 Boston College (7-24, 0-18)-Winless in conference play in the regular season, the Eagles managed to put together two of their better performances late in the season when they lost by five points at home to Georgia Tech and by one on a buzzer-beater at N.C. State after leading by 13 in the first half. They also put a scare into North Carolina before losing by three at home. But all of their other 13 defeats were by double digits, including a 72-62 loss to Florida State in their only meeting.
No. 13 Wake Forest (11-19, 2-16)-The Demon Deacons had a hard time finishing out games with seven of their league losses by single digits. Forward Devin Thomas is a double-double machine, getting his 13th of the season in an eight-point loss at Duke to end the regular season. The Deacons split two regular-season meetings with the Wolfpack with each holding serve at home.
No. 12 N.C. State (15-16, 5-13)-The Wolfpack have the league’s leading scorer in guard Cat Barber (23.4 ppg), who had a career-high 38 points in the 99-88 win over Wake Forest a month ago. The ’Pack also has a couple of double-digit wins over Pittsburgh and Miami to their credit and lost by only eight at Duke, who will be their opponent if they get by the Deacons.
No. 11 Florida State (18-12, 8-10)-Once considered a potential NCAA bubble team, the Seminoles likely will have to win the conference tourney to get into the NCAA field. That isn’t likely to happen, but a couple of wins wouldn’t be out of the question. They finished with a 21-point rout of Notre Dame and five-point win over Syracuse their last two games to snap a five-game losing streak that included a 10-point loss at their potential second-round opponent, Virginia Tech, in late February.
No. 10 Georgia Tech (18-13, 8-10)-The Yellow Jackets are another club that had difficulty closing out foes early in conference play but finished on a strong note, winning five of their last six games. The only loss in that stretch was by three points at Louisville and their victims included their opening foe in the tourney Clemson by two points, Notre Dame by one, and Pittsburgh by four. Leading scorer guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, however, needs to get back in form after going just 6-of-24 from the field and scoring just 19 points in the last two games combined.
No. 9 Syracuse (19-12, 9-9)-The Orange put their NCAA hopes somewhat in jeopardy by losing four of their last five games, including a couple of 14-point setbacks at Louisville and to Pittsburgh. They still are projected to make the 68-team field based on their play when coach Jim Boeheim returned from his suspension (eight wins in his first 10 games back), but an early flame-out in the ACC tourney could put the pressure back on the Orange.
No. 8 Pittsburgh (20-10, 9-9)-Pitt is another team that didn’t help itself any down the stretch, losing three of its last four games and six of its last nine. But the last three losses were by a total of 15 points and two came on the road. The most recent victory also was a 14-point pounding of Duke, which is the kind of thing that gets one’s attention. Pitt swept the season series its opening opponent, Syracuse, with a pair of double-digit wins.
No. 7 Clemson (17-13, 10-8)-The Tigers got a lot of attention and looked to be headed for an NCAA bid with a remarkable January stretch that produced four wins in five games against ranked teams (Louisville, Duke, Miami, Pitt with a loss at Virginia). But the Tigers have come back to earth since then and lost three of their last four outings. Their only wins in February were over Boston College (twice), Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech. The win over the Yellow Jackets gave them a season split of the two meetings with their opening tourney foe.
No. 6 Virginia Tech (18-13, 10-8)-Picked to finish 14th in the 15-team conference, the Hokies come into the tourney as the hottest team in the ACC. Their rout of Miami in the finale was their fifth consecutive win. Three of those were at home, however, and the two road wins were at Boston College and Wake Forest. Included in the streak was a 10-point decision over their likely opening foe, Florida State. It’s not likely that Hokies fans will be able to match the intensity that spurred the home win over Miami in a tournament setting, but the team should be playing with confidence.
No. 5 Duke (22-9, 11-7)-It seems odd not finding Duke with a double-bye to the tourney’s quarterfinals, but the loss to North Carolina last Saturday dropped the Blue Devils into a second-round game. The extra game could be critical to their title chances as these Blue Devils aren’t deep and have gone win-loss, win-loss, win-loss over their last six games, including a 14-point thumping at Pitt. They don’t figure to have much of a challenge from their opening foe, either N.C. State or Wake Forest, but Notre Dame awaits in the quarterfinals. The Irish beat the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium back in January.
No. 4 Notre Dame (20-10, 11-7)-After losing by 21 at Florida State and by 18 at home to Miami, the Irish managed to get their act together with a 14-point over N.C. State in their finale to earn a double-bye. The 89 points the Irish scored against the Wolfpack also represented an offensive revival after outputs of 56 and 50 their previous two games. For the Irish to mount a successful defense of the title they won a year ago, they are going to have to wade through a likely run against Duke, North Carolina, and either Virginia or Miami. Ouch!
No. 3 Miami (24-6, 13-5)-The Hurricanes are somewhat of an enigma. An experienced club that starts three seniors and a fourth-year junior, they have looked for the most part like a team capable of a deep run in March. But they also have thrown in some clunkers, with four of their five league losses by double digits, including a 16-point whipping at N.C. State, a 15-point beating at Virginia Tech, and an 11-point collapse at Clemson. They split the two meetings with their likely first-round foe, Virginia Tech, and beat Florida State, their other potential foe, twice in the regular season.
No. 2 Virginia (24-6, 13-5)-With ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon running the show, the Cavaliers have been one of the steadier teams over the last couple of months. Their only losses in their last 13 games were a one-pointer at Duke and a three-pointer at Miami. Their worst defeat all season was by seven at Florida State, and they own a five-point win over North Carolina. They won both meetings with Clemson but lost their only encounter with their other potential first-round foe Georgia Tech back in January. They were 2-2 against potential semifinal round opponents Miami and Virginia Tech, winning close games at home and losing close games on the road.
No. 1 North Carolina (25-6, 14-4)-As the No. 1 seed, it follows that the Tar Heels have to be considered the tourney favorite. They also have shown some vulnerability at times, however, losing at home to Duke and to Virginia on the road late last month after starting February with road losses to Louisville and Notre Dame and a three-point squeaker at Boston College. They handed each of their potential quarterfinal opponents, Pitt and Syracuse, double-digit defeats in the regular season. But they were only 2-4 against seeds 2-5 (Virginia, Miami, Notre Dame, and Duke). As illogical as it may seem, this may be a team with a better shot at a national championship than a conference title.
Our pick: Virginia, which looks to be playing its best basketball and seems to be the most consistent team in the conference. The Cavaliers also look to garner lots of fan support with the tourney in nearby D.C.