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2014 ACC Tournament Preview: Will a newcomer crash the party in Greensboro?

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This has been a season of change for the Atlantic Coast Conference, with the addition of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse meaning that this year’s conference tournament will last five days. With that change teams seeded from 10 to 15 will begin play on Wednesday, now needing to win five games in as many days to earn the ACC title. And even though the regular season did yield an outright winner, with Virginia sitting atop the standings for the first time since 1981, there are multiple teams capable of winning the tournament beginning with those Cavaliers.

RELATEDRead through NBCSports.com’s latest Bracketology

Tony Bennett’s team has taken advantage of an efficient, balanced offense led by guards Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris, and their pack-line defense has frustrated many opponents over the course of the season. Among their 16 conference wins was an impressive beating of Syracuse on March 1, but the Orange will arrive in Greensboro healthier than they were on that afternoon as Jerami Grant is back to full strength.

Duke and North Carolina earned the other double-byes, and with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood leading the way the Blue Devils should be considered one of the favorites to win the tournament. And in Marcus Paige the Tar Heels have a capable leader, but he’ll need consistent help from the big men. Even teams outside of the top four are capable of making a run, and this is an important weekend for Clemson and Florida State with regards to the NCAA tournament. Add in the fact that this is charter member Maryland’s final ACC tournament, and there will be no shortage of storylines in Greensboro.

MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews

The Bracket

When: March 12-16

Where: Greensboro, N.C. (Greensboro, N.C.)

Final: March 16, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Syracuse

The Orange certainly had their issues offensively during the latter stages of ACC play, shooting lower than 40% from the field in five of the six games played before their their regular season finale at Florida State. Jim Boeheim’s team shot 48% in that win over the Seminoles, and one reason why was the presence of a healthy Jerami Grant. Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair lead the way and have been very good, but the Orange need Grant as their third contributor. With Grant healthy some of the pressure is taken off of Trevor Cooney, but it should be noted that Syracuse still needs him to get going.

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Syracuse’s defense is why they were able to hang around in most of those games, and it’s been a strength all season long. Opponents are shooting 40.8% from the field against the Orange in ACC play, and they’re also second in the conference in defensive efficiency. The defense has largely been there for Syracuse, and the combination of that and an offense bolstered by the return of Grant may be enough to push the Orange to the ACC crown.

And if they lose?: Duke

The Blue Devils have been the ACC’s best offensive team from an efficiency standpoint, and in Hood and Parker they’ve got two talented options leading the way. And their solid backcourt does a good job of playing off of the two stars, which also helps make Duke a tough team to defend. Something to watch this week is the play of Quinn Cook, who struggled in the three games prior to his 11-point, six-assist night against North Carolina. He needs to be consistent when on the floor running the show for Mike Krzyzewski. Defense remains a concern, but Duke ranked fourth in the ACC in forced turnover percentage.

Other Contenders:

  • Virginia: Clearly the Cavaliers are contenders, with their balanced offense (led by guards Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris and London Perrantes) and stingy defense being two reasons why. But they’re going to need consistent play from Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey inside, with both coming off of subpar performances in a regular season-ending loss to Maryland.
  • North Carolina: Marcus Paige has been outstanding all season long for the Tar Heels, who have also benefitted from an improved J.P. Tokoto. But if they’re to make a run at winning this event, James Michael McAdoo and the rest of the front court needs to be consistent in the rebounding department.

Sleeper: Pittsburgh

Even with the rough stretch he experienced in the middle of conference play, senior wing Lamar Patterson was still a second team All-ACC selection. He averaged 17.6 points and 4.5 assists per game for the Panthers, who boasted the ACC’s third-most efficient offense in conference play. With Patterson and classmate Talib Zanna leading the way, Pitt has the potential to make a run provided the underclassmen (James Robinson especially) are heard from.

Deeper Sleeper: N.C. State

There’s one reason why the Wolfpack are the pick here: T.J. Warren. This is a group that has struggled with consistency in conference play, but Warren has been the notable exception. Having scored at least 40 points in each of his last two games, Warren’s got the talent and scoring ability to get hot and carry Mark Gottfried’s team on his back for four straight days.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • K.J. McDaniels, Clemson: McDaniels was a first team All-ACC selection and rightfully so, but the national pub is lacking for this athletic wing who gets it done on both ends of the floor.
  • Aaron Thomas, Florida State: One of the most improved players in the ACC, Thomas averaged 14.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game for a team looking to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
  • Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech: A third team All-ACC selection, Miller blocked a league-best 2.8 shots per game for the Yellow Jackets.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College: Hanlan (18.6 ppg) was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Eagles, and he dropped 41 on Georgia Tech in last year’s ACC tournament.

CBT Prediction: With Grant back and healthy, look for Syracuse to withstand challenges from Duke and Virginia to win the ACC in its Greensboro debut.

Best ACC Tournament Memory:

POSTERIZED: Kentucky’s Derek Willis drops a hammer on Florida

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It’s worth noting here that Derek Willis is not left-handed, yet he dunks this with his left hand.

UNC clinches share of ACC title in one of the top coaching jobs of Williams’ career

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after his 800th career victory with a 85-68 win over the Syracuse Orange at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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No. 8 North Carolina knocked off Pitt on the road on Saturday afternoon, picking up an 85-67 win that clinched at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the Tar Heels this season.

It’s the second straight season and the eighth time in the 14 years that Roy Williams has been the head coach of the Tar Heels that they can make such a claim. For comparison’s sake, Mike Krzyzewski and Duke have won just three ACC regular season titles in those 14 years and they haven’t won one since 2010.

So this is a pretty good run that Roy Williams is on, and that’s before you consider the two national titles — plus a third national title game — that he’s won during that stretch.

And this year may be as impressive as any job that he’s done during his career.

This UNC team is different than past UNC teams in the sense that it’s the first time that one of his great teams doesn’t have a front line anchored by a future first round pick that is a killer on the block and a stallion running the floor in transition. There’s no Brice Johnson or Tyler Zeller or Tyler Hansbrough or Sean May. Joel Berry II is a really good college guard, but he’s not Kendall Marshall or Ray Felton or Ty Lawson, and his inconsistency is one of UNC’s bigger question marks heading into the tournament. Justin Jackson has turned into a killer this season, which is not something we would have said about Justin Jackson in any other year.

Put another way, this team is not a team that you can look at and know will be a title contender.

But they are.

They hold a two-game lead over an ACC that might get 10 teams into the NCAA tournament with two games left. If they win at Virginia next week, they will be playing for pride and for seeding when they take on Duke in the season finale.

I’d go as far as to say that the Tar Heels are as good, or better, than anyone in college basketball this season. They’ll probably end up as the No. 1 seed in the south and could very well make another run to the Final Four this season.

Considering just how good Williams has been throughout his career, and particularly during his tenure in Chapel Hill, you can understand what it means to say that this may very well be the best coaching job of his career.

Grayson Allen out for Duke against Miami

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Florida Gators in the first half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Duke will be without star junior guard Grayson Allen on Saturday.

According to a report from Greg Gumbel of CBS Sports, Allen will miss the Blue Devils’ road game at Miami with an ankle injury.

The 6-foot-5 Allen is averaging 15.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season as he’s battled a few different injuries as well as getting suspended for another tripping incident. Duke is used to playing without Allen and the Blue Devils should still have enough to stay in this one against Miami but it is going to be a tough game to win on the road.

Duke is coming off of a road loss to Syracuse earlier this week as the No. 10 Blue Devils are trying to finish out a tough regular-season schedule these next three games.

VIDEO: Parents fly from Denmark to surprise Drake’s Jacob Enevold on Senior Day

DES MOINES, IA - DECEMBER 19: Center Jacob Enevold #11 of the Drake Bulldogs grabs a rebound in the first half away from forward Dom Uhl #25 of the Iowa Hawkeyes on December 19, 2015 during the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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Drake senior center Jacob Enevold received a special surprise on Saturday afternoon as his parents flew all the way from Denmark to surprise him for Senior Day.

The 7-foot-1 Enevold appeared perfectly content to take part in the Senior Day celebrations when his parents appeared on the floor and he ran to greet them.

De’Aaron Fox out for Kentucky against Florida

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 21:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on December 21, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Starting freshman guard De’Aaron Fox will be out for Kentucky on Saturday as the Wildcats host Florida in an important SEC showdown.

The 6-foot-3 Fox has a knee contusion, and without him, the Wildcats will start senior Mychael Mulder. Fox is averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game as he’s been one of the country’s best two-way freshmen this season.

Kentucky and Florida both enter Saturday’s game at 13-2 in SEC play but the Gators took the first matchup by 22 points between these two teams in Gainesville on Feb. 4.