The ACC tournament begins on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where N.C. State and Wake Forest will play at noon, followed by a Florida State-Boston College game that will undoubtedly leave the nation’s capital in a state of frenzied delirium.
Jokes aside about tournament Tuesday, the 2016 ACC tournament just might be the best in years. Why? Because it’s impossible to know what might happen, and who might do what under the bright lights of the Verizon Center.
It’s always that way, to an extent. Look at last year, when the tournament championship game included neither Virginia, the regular-season champion, nor Duke, which wound up winning the national championship. Instead, Notre Dame beat UNC to win the league championship.
This year, though, seems a lot more unstable than last year. With that in mind, here are five questions to ponder at the beginning of the ACC tournament:
1. Can North Carolina get it done?
A better way to ask this: Can the Tar Heels put together consistently good performances against good teams? If it wins on Thursday against either Pittsburgh or Syracuse – no guarantees there, either – then UNC will likely face a bigger challenge on semifinal Friday.
The Tar Heels are coming off an emotional, intense victory against Duke but even so, their 2-4 record against the five teams behind them in the league standings can’t be discounted. UNC simply hasn’t had an abundance of success against the ACC’s other good teams.
It has a chance to change that in Washington and, if it does, it will likely be because the Tar Heels really did turn a corner in that victory at Duke on Saturday. Meaning: they found their toughness and developed some savvy to make winning plays in tense moments.
2. And if not UNC, then who?
Recent history – and logic – suggests the Tar Heels will have a good chance of reaching championship game, at least. Before last season, the tournament’s top seed had advanced to the championship game in five consecutive seasons.
UNC’s path to that point could include a rematch with Duke on Friday, or a rematch with Notre Dame, which rallied for a victory against the Tar Heels in South Bend in early February. Any of the top 11 teams seem capable of making a run to Saturday, though.
Virginia Tech, for instance, beat Miami and Virginia – the two teams that stand in the Hokies’ way in Washington. Georgia Tech ended the season strongly.
Florida State, where talent hasn’t been in question, awoke from the dead and won its final two regular season games. But if not UNC, the wise pick is Virginia, which enters the postseason playing as well as any team in the ACC.
3. Which off-the-radar team could come out of nowhere to make a run?
The answer here should always be a team that underachieved during the regular season but showed the potential for much more. Like, say, Georgia Tech. Or Florida State.
Let’s start with the Yellow Jackets. Once 3-9 in the ACC, they finished 8-10, winning five of their final six games. Along the way they beat Notre Dame, which will be in the NCAA tournament, and Pittsburgh, which hopes to be in the tournament, and lost by three at Lousiville.
Georgia Tech has a player in Marcus Georges-Hunt who can get hot and carry a team. The Yellow Jackets have a decent matchup on Wednesday against a Clemson team they just beat on Feb. 23. And, oh yes, Georgia Tech also beat Virginia, which would await the Yellow Jackets in the quarterfinals.
Florida State, meanwhile, has never lacked for talent. Chemistry maybe, but not talent. If freshmen Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon and sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes can come together, the Seminoles could easily find themselves in the quarterfinals with a winnable game against Miami.
4. Is there anyone who could go all Randolph Childress and take over the tournament?
Always, though maybe not at UNC, which is among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country. Even there, though, Brice Johnson is capable of taking over – and very well could if the Tar Heels can consistently get him the ball in position to score.
The memory of Childress, the Wake Forest guard, and his epic scoring spree in 1995, though, endures because of what he did on the perimeter. And there are several players whose shooting – hot or cold – will likely determine their team’s fate.
If you’re looking for one who could go pure Childress, Duke’s Grayson Allen might stand the best chance. He averages nearly six 3-point attempts per game and has made 42.3 percent of them. For pure volume, Georgia Tech’s Adam Smith is a candidate to go off. He made at least four 3s in three of Georgia Tech’s final four games.
5. What will the reception for the tournament be like in Washington, D.C.?
The tournament is back in D.C. for the second time, and first since 2005. Back then, the tournament site wasn’t too far from Maryland’s campus. But Maryland is now in the Big Ten and here the ACC is, throwing its biggest party of the year in the Terrapins’ backyard.
There’s likely to be some envy from Maryland fans who long wished the tournament came through the neighborhood more often. Virginia is the closest thing the ACC has to a “hometown” team in Washington, though Pittsburgh isn’t tremendously far away, and neither are the North Carolina schools.
Still, it’ll be interesting to see what the reception is like – especially if things get strange and the main draws (that’d be Virginia, UNC and Duke) are upset. The Verizon Center isn’t likely to be too festive on Tuesday, and the Wednesday games aren’t exactly mesmerizing, either, though Duke’s presence then should help attendance.
Depending on the matchup in the championship game on Saturday, good seats might be available at a decent price outside the Verizon Center.
Malcolm Brogdon, Sr., UVA (51 first-team votes, 255 points)
Brice Johnson, Sr., UNC (51, 255 points)
Cat Barber, Jr., N.C. State (48, 249 points)
Grayson Allen, So., Duke (47, 247 points)
Jaron Blossomgame, Jr., Clemson (32, 213 points)
Michael Gbinije, Sr., Syracuse (8, 155 points)
Sheldon McClellan, Sr., Miami (6, 136 points)
Demetrius Jackson, Jr., Notre Dame (3, 130 points)
Brandon Ingram, Fr., Duke (4, 129 points)
Damion Lee, Sr., Louisville (1, 90 points)
Marcus Georges-Hunt, Sr., Georgia Tech (76 points)
Anthony Gill, Sr., Virginia (70 points)
Zach Auguste, Sr., Notre Dame (45 points)
Michael Young, Jr., Pittsburgh (37 points)
Angel Rodriguez, Sr., Miami (3, 35 points)
All-ACC Freshman Team
Brandon Ingram, Duke (51 votes)
Dwayne Bacon, FSU (50 votes)
Malik Beasley, FSU (49 votes)
Malachi Richardson, Syracuse (34 votes)
Bryant Crawford, Wake Forest (28 votes)
All-ACC Defensive Team
Malcolm Brogdon, Sr., UVA (49 votes)
Tonye Jekiri, Sr., Miami (39 votes)
Michael Gbinije, Sr., Syracuse (36 votes)
Landry Nnoko, Sr., Clemson (30 votes)
Chinanu Onuaku, So., Louisville (27 votes)
Player of the Year
Malcolm Brogdon, Sr., UVA (38 votes)
Brice Johnson, Sr., UNC (9 votes)
Cat Barber, Jr., N.C. State (3 votes)
Grayson Allen, So., Duke (1 vote)
Freshman of the Year
Brandon Ingram, Duke (48 votes)
Dwayne Bacon, FSU (1 vote)
Malik Beasley, FSU (1 vote)
Malachi Richardson, Syracuse (1 vote)
Coach of the Year
Jim Larrañaga, Miami (24 votes)
Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech (22 votes)
Tony Bennett, UVA (2 votes)
Roy Williams, UNC (1 vote)
Brad Brownell, Clemson (1 vote)
Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech (1 vote)
Defensive Player of the Year
Malcolm Brogdon, Sr., UVA (39 votes)
Tonye Jekiri, Sr., Miami (9 votes)
Michael Gbinije, Sr., Syracuse (1 vote)
Marshall Plumlee, Sr., Duke (1 vote)
Chinanu Onuaku, So., Louisville (1 vote)
Jaron Blossomgame, Jr., Clemson (21 votes)
Grayson Allen, So., Duke (15 votes)
Cat Barber, Jr., N.C. State (4 votes)
Zach LeDay, Jr., Virginia Tech (4 votes)
Ja’Quan Newton, So., Miami (2 votes)
Joel Berry, So., UNC (2 votes)
Marcus Georges-Hunt, Sr., Georgia Tech (1 vote)
Dennis Clifford, Sr., Boston College (1 vote)
Chinanu Onuaku, So., Louisville (1 vote)
Isaiah Hicks, Jr., UNC (19 votes)
Ja’Quan Newton, So., Miami (12 votes)
Luke Kennard, Fr., Duke (7 votes)
Tyler Lydon, Fr., Syracuse (6 votes)
Devon Bookert, Sr., Florida State (6 votes)
Sheldon Jeter, Jr., Pittsburgh (1 vote)