ACC tournament: Scouting the conference field

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2014 

No. 15 Virginia Tech

Record: 9-21 overall, 2-16 ACC

Opponent: No. 10 Miami, Wednesday, 3:30 p.m.

Best win: at Miami (61-60, Dec. 8)

Best player: Senior wing Jarell Eddie, from Charlotte, led the team in scoring (13.2 points per game), rebounding (5.5 per game) and 3-pointers (75).

Best shot in Greensboro: Short of an outbreak of diphtheria preventing every team but Miami from getting to Greensboro (the Hokies somehow swept the Hurricanes this season), Virginia Tech’s postseason will be short-lived.

Coach James Johnson’s first two teams have finished last and gone 6-30 in ACC play. An opening-round tournament loss to Miami would be the Hokies’ fifth in 10 years in the ACC.

No. 14 Boston College

Record: 8-23, 4-14

Opponent: No. 11 Georgia Tech, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Best win: at then-No. 1 Syracuse (62-59, Feb. 19)

Best player: Sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan averaged 18.6 points and was second in ACC games with 18.4 per game. Hanlan scored 41 against Georgia Tech in an ACC tournament win last season in Greensboro.

Best shot in Greensboro: So much more was expected of this team, but the Eagles flopped in December (0-5 vs. Division I teams) and their confidence never recovered.

Steve Donahue really can coach, just look at Cornell before and after he was there, but his recruiting, and an 8-23 record, might lead athletics director Brad Bates to give Bruce Pearl a call.

The Eagles can certainly beat Georgia Tech on Wednesday, but their season won’t last past Thursday’s date with Clemson.

No. 13 Notre Dame

Record: 15-16, 6-12

Opponent: No. 12 Wake Forest, Wednesday, 1 p.m.

Best win: vs. then-No. 7 Duke (79-77, Jan. 4)

Best player: Clearly, it was guard Jerian Grant (19.0 ppg, 6.2 apg), who was bounced from school for an academic violation three days before Christmas. Senior guard Eric Atkins tried to pick up the slack without Grant, but just couldn’t.

Best shot in Greensboro: Can they sneak Grant back onto the roster? Or trade Syracuse for his brother (Jerami)? No, OK then, the Fighting Irish have no chance. Mike Brey is a perfectly capable coach, with a wonderful understanding of the ACC (he’s a former Duke assistant), but the sooner this season ends, the better for Notre Dame, which has alligator wrestled with Boston College for the league’s most disappointing team.

No. 12 Wake Forest

Record: 16-15, 6-12

Opponent: No. 13 Notre Dame, Wednesday, 1 p.m.

Best win: vs. then-No. 4 Duke (82-72, March 5)

Best player: Sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntyre emerged as the top scoring threat (12.9 points per game) while still leading the team in assists (4.1 per game).

Best shot in Greensboro: Maybe the Coliseum is close enough to Winston-Salem for the Deacons to win their first tournament game since 2007. The Deacons, who went 5-4 at home but 1-8 on the road in ACC play, have gone one-and-done in the ACC tournament the past six years. If the home sweep of Duke and North Carolina (and N.C. State) didn’t save Jeff Bzdelik’s job, he might want to make his case here.

No. 11 Georgia Tech

Record: 15-16, 6-12

Opponent: No. 14 Boston College, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Best win: at then-No. 7 Syracuse (67-62, March 4)

Best player: Sophomore forward Robert Carter Jr. missed 10 games with a knee injury, and after shaking off the initial rust has averaged 16.7 points over the past four games.

Best shot in Greensboro: The Yellow Jackets enter the tournament on a two-game winning streak in ACC play, their longest of the season. They would need to win five straight to take their fourth league title and first since 1993. Just one win would represent progress for third-year coach Brian Gregory, who is 0-2 in tournament play.

No. 10 Miami

Record: 16-15, 7-11

Opponent: No. 15 Virginia Tech, Wednesday, 3:30 p.m.

Best win: at UNC (63-57, Jan. 8)

Best player: Senior guard Rion Brown went from a role player on Miami’s ACC title team last season to its leading scorer (15.4 points per game) and rebounder (5.9 per game).

Best shot in Greensboro: Your 2013 ACC champions are 7-2 the past two years in the state of North Carolina, including three wins against N.C. State. Maybe some of that mojo can carry over for a day, or two, but there’s no repeat in Miami’s immediate future, despite another excellent coaching job this season by Jim Larranaga.

No. 9 Florida State

Record: 18-12, 9-9

Opponent: No. 8 Maryland, Thursday, noon

Best win: at Pittsburgh (71-66, Feb. 23)

Best player: Charlotte’s Ian Miller doesn’t start, but the senior guard is second in scoring (13.7 points per game) and first in assists (3.0 per game).

Best shot in Greensboro: Other than UNC, Florida State actually has the best resume outside the league (with wins against then-No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth and Massachusetts, and a one-point loss at current No. 1 Florida), but the Seminoles struggled in league play, going 9-9 despite only playing UNC, Duke and Syracuse once each. Leonard Hamilton got his title in 2012; that should tide FSU over for the next 20 years.

No. 8 Maryland

Record: 17-14, 9-9

Opponent: No. 9 FSU, Thursday, noon

Best win: vs. then-No. 5 Virginia (75-69, March 9)

Best player: Raleigh’s Dez Wells can fill up a stat sheet (14.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.2 apg), and the junior guard is one of the most athletic players in the conference.

Best shot in Greensboro: This is it for the Terps, who will jump to the Big Ten in June. Their past two ACC titles (2004, 1984) came at the Coliseum, and they showed considerable fight in their “last stand” win over Virginia on Saturday. They would have to beat Virginia again Friday, and that type of effort will be difficult to sustain over four days.

No. 7 N.C. State

Record: 19-12, 9-9

Opponent: Miami-Virginia Tech winner, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Best win: at Pittsburgh (74-67, March 3)

Best player: Player of the year T.J. Warren led the ACC in scoring (24.8 points per game) and field-goal percentage (.532), had nine 30-plus-point games and enters the tournament with back-to-back 40-plus games.

Best shot in Greensboro: With just a little better end-game execution, and a little better luck with the officials, N.C. State would be 21-10 with wins against Syracuse, UNC and Pitt and safely in the NCAA field. Instead, the Wolfpack couldn’t close out the Orange or Tar Heels and needs to make a serious run here to give Mark Gottfried a third straight bid.

Warren has been spectacular, especially down the stretch, but with Syracuse and Duke in its half, he will need help for the Wolfpack to last through Saturday.

No. 6 Clemson

Record: 19-11, 10-8

Opponent: Georgia Tech-Boston College winner, Thursday, 9:30 p.m.

Best win: vs. then-No. 16 Duke (72-59, Jan. 11)

Best player: All-ACC forward K.J. McDaniels is the only player in the country to lead his team in scoring (17.2 ppg), rebounding (7.1), blocks (2.8), steals (1.2) and 3-pointers (36).

Best shot in Greensboro: Fourth-year coach Brad Brownell did a masterful job to coax 10 league wins out of this group. He should have been recognized as the league’s coach of the year for his efforts. What the Tigers lack in talent, they make up for with defensive intensity. Duke, which already lost once to the Tigers, is not looking forward to potential matchup on Friday.

No. 5 Pittsburgh

Record: 23-8, 11-7

Opponent: Wake Forest-Notre Dame winner, Thursday, 2:30 p.m.

Best win: at Clemson (83-78, March 8)

Best player: Senior Lamar Patterson did his best Oscar Robertson imitation this season with 17.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 4.5 apg, although he did his best work out of the league.

Best shot in Greensboro: The Panthers have some work to do to secure their at-large spot in the NCAA tournament. They went 0-5 against the four ACC teams in front of them. There’s no reason to think they’re suddenly going to run through the gauntlet in Greensboro, but they need to get in gear or Jamie Dixon’s group will miss the tournament for the second time in three years.

No. 4 North Carolina

Record: 23-8, 13-5

Opponent: Pittsburgh/Wake Forest-Notre Dame winner, Friday, 2 p.m.

Best win: vs. then-No. 5 Duke (74-66, Feb. 20)

Best player: Marcus Paige, the sophomore guard, has become the Tar Heels’ go-to player, and he filled the void left by P.J. Hairston. Paige, recently named first-team All-ACC and the conference’s most improved player, is averaging 17.1 points and 4.5 assists.

Best shot in Greensboro: UNC’s 12-game winning streak ended at Duke on Saturday, but the Tar Heels had won their previous three games before that without playing their best. Coach Roy Williams has spoken about urgency, and he’s searching for more of that entering the postseason. If UNC plays to its potential, then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Tar Heels reach the ACC tournament championship game for the third consecutive season.

No. 3 Duke

Record: 24-7, 13-5

Opponent: Clemson/Georgia Tech-Boston College winner, Friday, 9:30 p.m.

Best win: vs. Virginia (69-65, Jan. 13)

Best player: Freshman Jabari Parker is a first-team all-American, according to Sporting News and Sports Illustrated. He leads Duke in points (19.2), rebounds (9.0) and blocks (1.4).

Best shot in Greensboro: Duke is at the top of Ken Pomeroy’s ACC rankings, and he gives the Blue Devils the second-best chance to win in Greensboro (26.9 percent, behind Virginia at 33.1 percent). There’s no reason Duke can’t win – Syracuse has been in a tailspin of late, and a win against the Orange (or whichever team upsets the Orange) would lead to a likely final against Virginia or North Carolina.

No. 2 Syracuse

Record: 27-4, 14-4

Opponent: N.C. State/Miami-Virginia Tech winner, Friday, 7 p.m.

Best win: vs. then-No. 17 Duke (91-89, Feb. 1)

Best player: Tyler Ennis’ production has dropped off (12.4 ppg, 5.5 apg), but there’s a cool poise to the freshman point guard’s game that will serve the Orange well in March.

Best shot in Greensboro: The Orange started 25-0 but will limp into the tournament after losing four of their past six games, including the curious variety of home failures to Boston College and Georgia Tech. The health of forward Jerami Grant, who has been dealing with back issues, will determine how far Jim Boeheim’s team goes this week and in the NCAA tournament. If Ennis, Grant, forward C.J. Fair and guard Trevor Cooney can get back to their January form, the Orange can give Boeheim the last laugh in Greensboro. That’s a lot of “ifs.”

No. 1 Virginia

Record: 25-6, 16-2

Opponent: Maryland-FSU winner, Friday, noon

Best win: vs. then-No. 4 Syracuse (75-56, March 1)

Best player: Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) missed the 2013 season with a foot injury and Virginia missed the NCAA tournament. The sophomore’s emergence this season has given senior Joe Harris much-needed scoring help and bolstered the top of Virginia’s “Pack line” defense.

Best shot in Greensboro: The Cavaliers finished alone in first place for only the second time in ACC history and for the first time since 1981. So, it has been a great run for Tony Bennett’s fifth team.

Still, there are questions about the Cavaliers, who lost outside the league to Wisconsin-Green Bay and got pummeled by Tennessee (87-52) and, based on the RPI, played the weakest league schedule. Bennett hasn’t won an ACC tournament game since his first and is 1-4 overall. The time to prove their skeptics wrong is now.

Joe Giglio

 

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