The question we all had about the ACC in the preseason had to do with fourth place.
We knew Duke and UNC would be fighting for the regular season title, which they did. And we know that Florida State had the horses to make some noise in the league, which they did. What we didn’t know was who, out of the rest of the conference, would get their act together enough to be considered the fourth best team in the league.
And while Virginia staked their claim early on in the season, by the end of the year they seemed much closer to the pack than they did the leaders. What’s more is that the Cavs needed an overtime victory over Maryland in the last game of the regular season just to ensure that they wouldn’t be sitting on the bubble heading into the conference tournament.
The question that we need to ask here is whether or not this is a league capable of getting more than four teams into the tournament. And the way things seem now, that’s probably not all that likely of an occurrence.
Obviously, anyone can get hot and make a run to the tournament title. The more likely scenario is that either NC State or Miami wins a pair of games and makes their case to receive an at-large bid strong enough that they move past the likes of Texas and Northwestern and Seton Hall. That might take a trip to the semis and a strong showing once they get there.
When: March 8th-March 11th
Final: March 11th, 1 p.m. ESPN
Favorite: North Carolina
Thanks to a 33 point whooping that UNC took at Florida State back in January, the Tar Heels have fallen a bit off of the national radar. While it seems weird to say that UNC isn’t getting the attention that they deserve, it seems like North Carolina gets left out when we discuss legitimate national title contenders more than they should. The fact of the matter is that North Carolina has as much talent on their roster as anyone in the country, and that includes Kentucky, and as they showed against Duke in Durham on the last day of the regular season, when they are clicking, they are going to be a scary, scary team to go up against.
And if they lose?: Duke
The Blue Devils are a flawed basketball team. We know this. But they are also one that can be dangerous. They have size inside in the Plumlees, they have a number of players on their perimeter that are knockdown three point shooters and they have a star in Austin Rivers that has proven himself capable of taking a game over. They struggle to defend on the perimeter and they don’t have a point guard capable of creating off of the dribble, but when their threes are going down and Austin Rivers is playing well, the Blue Devils are a good basketball team.
Other contenders?: I really think that Florida State has a shot of winning the ACC Tournament. If chalk holds, they’ll be getting matched up with a Duke team they beat in Cameron this season. Once they get to the title game, anything can happen. They’ve already beaten UNC once. Why can’t they do it again?
The Hurricanes are a confounding team. They have a trio of talented players in their back court, they have a hoss on the block in Reggie Johnson and they have one of the country’s most improved players in power forward Kenny Kadji. The problem? Everything has come together for the ‘Canes just once this season, when they won at Duke.
Deeper sleepers: I don’t think UVA has enough pieces to win this tournament, especially with Assane Sene dismissed from the team. And I don’t think that NC State is going to be able to make a run to the title. But Mike Scott is legit, as is the CJ Leslie-Lorenzo Brown duo for the Wolfpack.
– Kendall Marshall, UNC: Marshall might be the most irreplaceable player in the country.
– Mike Scott, UVA: Basketball purists will love Scott’s game. He lives on his fadeaway jumper and he’s one of the most efficient scorers in the conference.
– Michael Snaer, Florida State: Snaer is finally starting to show signs of being the player that was a McDonald’s all-american coming out of high school.
– Austin Rivers, Duke: You know about him by now. He makes some bad decisions with the ball, but he’s a fearless penetrator with the stones to take and make a big shot.