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March Madness 2017 Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Atlantic 10 Player of the Year: T.J. Cline, Richmond

The 6-foot-9 senior forward was not only one of the most efficient players in the conference, he was the only player in the Atlantic 10 to rank top-5 in (18.6 PPG), rebounds (8.1 RPG) and assists (5.7 APG). He had a triple-double — 34 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists — against Duquesne and then recorded another one — 19 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — in his final game at Richmond.

Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year: Archie Miller, Dayton

Last year, Dayton was in a three-way tie for first place. This season, the Flyers won it outright with a 15-3 conference record. Miller had to balance early-season injuries to Kendall Pollard and transfer Josh Cunningham, which shortended his frontline. Following a loss to VCU, which finished in second place, the Flyers went on a nine-game winning streak, capped with a win at home against the Rams.

First-Team All-Atlantic 10

  • T.J. Cline, Richmond
  • Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure: The senior guard was second in the conference in scoring at 20.8 points, and led the A10 in assists and 6.6 dimes per game.
  • Charles Cooke, Dayton: Also an all-defense selection by the A10 coaches, Cooke led the Flyers in scoring at 16.5 points per game to go along with his 5.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists a night.
  • Jack Gibbs, Davidson: The conference’s leading scorer at 22.0 points per game. The repeat selection registered a handful of 30-point games.
  • Marquise Moore, George Mason: At 6-foot-2, the senior guard averaged a double-double — 17.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game — leading the A10 in rebounding at 6-foot-2. He was instrumental in an eight-win turnaround for the Patriots.

Second Team All-Atlantic 10:

  • Peyton Aldridge, Davidson,
  • Tyler Cavanaugh, George Washington
  • JeQuan Lewis, VCU
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
  • Scoochie Smith, Dayton

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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It’s been three years since the Atlantic 10 set a conference record by sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament. For the third straight year, the league is set to send half that amount, at best.

Rhode Island entered the season in the preseason top-25, but will likely remain on the bubble unless it makes it to Sunday’s tournament title game. Dayton won the league outright after overcoming early season injuries on the frontline. The Flyers are safe, as is VCU, who finished second to Dayton in the A10 standings this season.

The A10 wasn’t as strong as in previous seasons, but it could result in an eventful week in Pittsburgh. Will Dayton and VCU face off in a rubber match? Will Rhode Island secure its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999? Or is there a bid stealer ready to make a run?

The Bracket

When: March 8-13

Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh

Final: Sunday, March 13 12:30 p.m.

Favorite: Dayton

The Flyers topped the league for the second straight season; this time outright. After dealing with injuries early in the season, which played a role in a loss in a marquee home game against Saint Mary’s, followed by an upset loss to Nebraska, putting them on the wrong side of the Wooden Legacy bracket. However, Dayton enters Pittsburgh as winners of nine of its last 10. That span includes a win at Rhode Island and avenging a loss to VCU. Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke and Kendall Pollard lead an experienced team with the league’s best offense, matched with a solid defense.

And if they lose?: VCU

The Rams finished second in the A10 and owns a win over Dayton. Like the Flyers, VCU has an experienced group led by seniors JeQuan Lewis and Mo-Alie Cox. Both meetings were decided by single digits. In both games, the Rams frontline, anchored by Cox and Justin Tillman, gave Dayton’s front court fits.

Will Wade (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Rhode Island: The Rams enter this year as the conference favorite. They certainly have the talent, and perhaps a sense of urgency kicks in as the Rams are still one the bubble.
  • Richmond: Led by A10 Player of the Year T.J. Cline, the Spiders head to Pittsburgh as winners of four in a row. However, Richmond is 0-2 against VCU this season, a team it could potential face in the semifinals.

Sleeper: St. Bonaventure

With Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, the Bonnies have two guards who can really light it up. While they finished the regular season 6-4, they did give both VCU and Dayton a tough test during meetings last month.

The Bubble Dwellers: One

  • Rhode Island: The Rams followed up a marquee non-conference win against a ranked Cincinnati team by losing four of their next six. A 21-win season, and a recent win over VCU, could keep URI on the right side of the bubble. However, a one-an-done performance this week could mean a long night on Selection Sunday.

Defining moment of the season: JeQuan Lewis takes a charge on in-bounds pass with 0.4 seconds remaining.

On Feb. 8, George Washington’s Yuta Watanabe hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in a game against VCU. In lieu of going the length of the court for the next-to-impossible buzzer-beater, JeQuan Lewis drew a charge on Tyler Cavanaugh, sunk two free throws and the Rams left D.C. with the heist of a 54-53 victory. The previous game, a premature court storm by the St. Bonaventure fans, gave VCU a free throw, which helped force overtime.

VCU would have been on the wrong side of the bubble had it not won both those games, especially with Lewis’ quick thinking against the Colonials. Instead, the Rams are all but assured a seventh consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament.

CBT Prediction: Dayton

American Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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American Player of the Year: Semi Ojeleye, SMU

Ojeleye was one of the most improved players in the country this season, churning out a season where the 6-foot-8 forward averaging 18.5 points and 6.5 boards while shooting 43.1 percent from beyond the arc. He was the biggest reason that Tim Jackovich and company were able to win the outright AAC regular season title.

American Coach of the Year: Tim Jankovich, SMU

While Johnny Dawkins at UCF deserves some credit for the season that the Knights had, it’s Jankovich that deserves the Coach of the Year award in the league. He took over in July for Larry Brown after his aburpt decision to resign and has taken a team that goes six-deep to the league’s regular season title over a very good Cincinnati team. That’s impressive.

First-Team All-AAC

  • Semi Ojeleye, SMU (POY)
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis: Lawson put up crazy numbers for Memphis this season, numbers that rivaled what Ben Simmons did a year ago for LSU.
  • Rob Gray, Houston: Gray was the leading scorer in the AAC for a Houston team that was a factor in the NCAA tournament picture until a late loss to Cincinnati.
  • Jalen Adams, UConn: After a slow start to the season, Adams came on strong down the stretch to keep UConn’s season from being a total disaster.
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati: Caupain didn’t have a great year as a senior, but he’s the steadying hand at the point that led this group to a 16-2 league record and a potential top five seed in the NCAA tournament.

Second Team All-AAC:

  • Damyean Dotson, Houston
  • B.J. Taylor, UCF
  • Kyle Washington, Cincinnati
  • Shake Milton, SMU
  • Sterling Brown, SMU

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Bracket

When: March 9-12

Where: Hartford, CT

Final: March 12th, 3:15 p.m.

Favorite: SMU Mustangs

It’s hard not to pick the AAC regular season champs to add to their trophy collection in Hartford this week. The biggest issue for this team is going to be their depth. They play six guys and will have to win games on three straight nights to cut down the nets. That won’t be easy to do.

And if they lose?: Cincinnati Bearcats

I’m not sure there is a tougher team in the conference that Mick Cronin’s club. If it wasn’t for a loss at UCF that was the result of a missed wide-open dunk with less than 10 seconds left, the Bearcats would have won a share of the league title, with their only loss coming on the road against SMU. This is a really good team.

Other Contenders:

  • Houston: Kelvin Sampson has done a good job with this group. The duo of Rob Gray and Damyean Dotson can put up points with the best of them.
  • UCF: B.J. Taylor is one of the most underrated players in the league, while 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall has developed into a force at center this season.

Sleeper: UConn Huskies

UConn has played better down the stretch of the season, and not only do they have one of the best players in the league in Jalen Adams, but they will be playing this tournament in UConn’s secondary home court, the XL Center in Hartford. As we’ve seen in the mid-major ranks this week, it’s not easy to win games in March on the road.

The Bubble Dwellers: None

Defining moment of the season: It may still be coming. The AAC plays their tournament final just hours before the Selection Show is scheduled to start. If SMU or Cincinnati fails to make it to the AAC title game, they’ll give the Selection Committee headaches as they try to put the finishing touches on the bracket with a possible autobid playing.

CBT Prediction: SMU and Cincinnati play a thriller in the final that the Bearcats win.

Big East Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big East Player of the Year: Josh Hart, Villanova

Josh Hart confirmed what was almost unanimously believed in November: he was the best player in the Big East. The senior wing averaged a conference-leading 18.7 points — shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three — to go along with his 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game for first-place Villanova. One of the best two-way players in the nation also had some of his best single-game performances outside of the conference slate.

Big East Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, Providence

Two days before Christmas, Providence closed out the non-conference slate with a loss at Boston College. The Friars followed by dropping the first two conference games. All three losses were by a dozen or more points. Yet, this team — without Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil — is in possession of another 20-win season, and tied the highest finish Providence has had since the conference’s relaunch. This is a competitive race, especially when you consider what Chris Holtmann and Steve Wojciechowski has done. And that doesn’t include Jay Wright’s continued dominance. But Cooley took a young roster with all the makings of a rebuild and turned it, in all likelihood, a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

First-Team All-Big East

  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Andrew Chrabascz, Butler: The statistics don’t jump off the page, but the senior forward impacts the game in so many different ways for a Butler team that was projected to finish sixth, but ended as the No. 2 seed.
  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Taking the full-time ball handling duties this season, the sophomore averaged 14.8 points per game, shooting 54 percent from the field. He also registered a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The nation’s leading rebounder (13.1 RPG) has recorded 24 double-doubles this season. He’s also improved his offense, posting 15.7 points per game.
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton: The transfer guard is second in the conference in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He’s taken on a bigger role since Watson’s season-ending injury.

Second Team All-Big East:

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
  • Kyron Cartwright, Providence
  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Justin Patton, Creighton

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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Villanova brought the Big East the national championship in 2016, ending critcism of the program’s shortcomings in March and providing the league with an added level of legitiamcy it yearned for since its relaunch in 2013.

So, what will the Big East do for an encore? The conference might send 70 percent of its members to the NCAA Tournament.

Like the previous three seasons, the league was dominated by Villanova, which won its fourth consecutive regular season championship. Butler finished second, and spent much of the year in the top-20. Creighton looked every part of a Final Four contender until Maurice Watson Jr. tore his ACL in mid-January. Xavier, which began the season ranked, has struggled since Edmond Sumner suffered the same season-ending injury. Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall have all made late pushes for at-large bids, resulting in a wild finish to the regular season. Four days in New York should be eventual, to say the least.

The Bracket

When: March 8-11

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City

Final: Saturday, March 11 5:30 p.m.

Favorite: Villanova

This should come as a surprise to no one. This reigning national champions enter the World’s Most Famous Arena as the top seed for the fourth straight season. Villanova has at its disposal the conference’s player of the year, another unanimous first-team selection, a national coach of the year candidate and the athleticism and versatility not many teams can brag about. Depth is a concern, with Phil Booth out for the season and Darryl Reynolds, the only true big man in the rotation, recently returning from injury. It’s also worth noting that two of three Big East losses came against the same opponent.

And if they lose?: Butler

The Bulldogs have twice defeated the Wildcats. They did so in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 4, handing Villanova its first loss of the season. Butler went for the sweep by knocking off the Cats on Feb. 22, the only time they lost at the Pavilion this season. In both contests, Butler made the key plays down the stretch for hard-fought victories. Butler has an improved defense from last season to compliment with its always-efficient offense. With a big like Andrew Chrabascz, the Bulldogs are more equipped to match up with Villanova. Also, Kelan Martin, since his move to a reserve role, has caught fire in the last five games of the regular season.

Kelan Martin (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Providence: The Friars have won six straight, with wins over Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock may not be Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they are anchoring a hot team that could give Providence its second postseason championship in four years.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles are the only Big East team team other than the Bulldogs to defeat Villanova. They have a nice balance with a deep roster. Five players average double-digits in points, and Andrew Rowsey, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, and Katin Reinhardt have been huge in the second unit.

Sleeper: Seton Hall

The Pirates played strong basketball down the stretch last season to win the Big East Tournament championship. Isaiah Whitehead is playing in a different borough now, but Seton Hall is rolling, winners of seven of nine. The defense isn’t as strong as it was during last year’s run, but Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are capable of a repeat performance.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Xavier: The Musketeers lost six of seven to close out the season. They have two wins in the past five weeks: both against DePaul. A loss to the Blue Demons on Wednesday night could burst Xavier’s bubble.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles should be safe at this point. Sure, they earned a come-from-behind win against Villanova, but that won’t stop critics from poking holes in their resume on Sunday, especially when four wins against Xavier and Creighton came after injuries to Edmond Sumner and Mo Watson.
  • Providence: A six-game winning streak and a third-place finish should mean the Friars are safe, but most bracket projections have them as one of the last at-large four bids.

Defining moment of the season: Marquette, down 17 points, comes back to stun No. 1 Villanova, starting a run for the NCAA Tournament.

CBT Prediction: Villanova

March Madness 2017: SEC Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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SEC Player of the Year: Malik Monk, Kentucky

Malik Monk is hardly a perfect basketball player. He doesn’t rebound well. He’s not a great passer. He’s not a great defender. He’s a streaky shooter. But he’s also the single-scariest scorer in college basketball this season because of his ability to erupt. He had 31 second half points to beat Georgia in overtime and 30 second half points to beat Florida, a win that gave Kentucky the SEC title.

SEC Coach of the Year: Mike White, Florida

The Gators finished the season at 24-7, and it might have been better had their starting center and the anchor of their front line, John Egbunu, not torn his ACL. Florida looks to be in line for a top four seed on Selection Sunday, but they are a top ten team according to KenPom, which was not something that was expected of this group prior to the season. White’s ability to turn this team into a defensive powerhouse has been impressive.

First-Team All-SEC:

  • Malik Monk, Kentucky (POY)
  • De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox might be the bet pro prospect on this list. That said, he hasn’t played his best basketball for a while as he’s dealt with knee, ankle and virus issues.
  • Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell finished the season averaging 21.2 points, and he’s arguably the best on-ball defender in the league.
  • J.J. Frazier, Georgia: I think you can make the argument that Frazier was the best point guard in the SEC this season. He’s been unreal since Maten went down with an injury.
  • Yante Maten, Georgia: Maten was playing sensational basketball before he went down with a knee injury a couple of weeks ago. The Bulldogs need him back.

Second Team All-SEC:

  • Kasey Hill, Florida
  • KeVaughn Allen, Florida
  • Dusty Hannahs, Arkansas
  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
  • Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Bracket 

When: March 8-12

Where: Nashville

Final: March 12th, 1:00 p.m.

Favorite: Kentucky Wildcats

Is anyone really surprised that the Wildcats are the pick to win the SEC tournament? Not only are the the most talented team in the SEC, they won the regular season title by two games. The key here, however, is going to end up being De’Aaron Fox, and not just for this tournament. Malik Monk’s ability to take over a game is the reason that Kentucky can make a Final Four, but unless Fox is back to being the guy he was at the start of SEC play, it’s hard to picture Kentucky winning four straight in March.

And if they lose?: Florida Gators

If you subscribe to the idea that KenPom is the best way to measure how good a team is, then Florida would actually be the favorite to win the SEC tournament. I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t think it was a fluke that the Gators beat Kentucky by 22 points in Gainesville. They are athletic and a nightmare defensively, but the loss of John Egbunu to a knee injury is a brutal blow to their ceiling.

Other Contenders:

  • South Carolina: For my money, the Gamecocks are the third-best team in the SEC, but the drop-off from the top two to them is dramatic. The problem? Frank Martin’s team just cannot score.

Sleeper: Vanderbilt

I actually think the Commodores are dangerous in this event. They’ve won six of their last eight and eight of their last 11 games to get into tournament contention, they swept Florida and they spread the floor and shoot a lot of threes. When those threes are going down, they’re not an easy team to put away.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Vanderbilt: The Commodores are an interesting test case. They’re going to have 15 losses in they don’t win the SEC autobid, but they have two elite wins (Florida sweep), five top 50 wins, ten top 100 wins and played the nation’s most difficult non-conference schedule. As the No. 7 seed, I think they need to win at least two games — Texas A&M and Florida — to get in.

Defining moment of the season: Pick your favorite Malik Monk eruption. Personally, my favorite is the 30 second half points he scored to beat Florida without De’Aaron Fox on the floor:

CBT Prediction: I fully expect Kentucky to get the job done in Nashville.

March Madness 2017: Pac-12 Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Pac-12 Player of the Year: Lonzo Ball, UCLA

The Pac-12 Player of the Year award had a bit of controversy to it, as Dillon Brooks received the honor from the league despite the fact that he was injured and played poorly during the early part of the season. My best guess: He got the nod over Ball because he was much better during conference play than he was during the season at-large, and the Pac-12 almost never gives their award to a freshman.

Which is silly to be, because I didn’t think that there was any doubt that Ball was the best player in the league this season. He led the nation in assists, he jump-started the most dangerous offense in the country and he turned UCLA into a title contender. He unselfishness permeated the roster. Numbers don’t show you that.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Sean Miller, Arizona

Miller was actually my pick for National Coach of the Year. He took a team that lost Ray Smith, Terrence Ferguson and, for 19 games, Allonzo Trier to a Pac-12 regular season co-championship while relying on three freshmen, including two — Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins — who are consistently inconsistent.

First-Team All-Pac-12:

  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA (POY)
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks totally changes that Oregon team offensively, and he made three game-winners during the regular season.
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Markkanen was the steadying for on the Arizona roster that needed it through some trying times in December and January.
  • T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Leaf was an unexpected gift for the Bruins this season, providing them an elite stretch four on a team that thrives playing uptempo small-ball.
  • Markelle Fultz, Washington: I normally don’t like giving first-team all-league honors to a guy from a bad team, but Fultz was just so good this year.

Second Team All-Pac-12:

  • Derrick White, Colorado
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona
  • Ivan Rabb, Cal

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Bracket 

When: March 8-11

Where: Las Vegas

Final: March 11th, 8:00 p.m.

Favorite: Oregon Ducks

The Ducks caught a break getting the No. 1 seed — they held the tiebreaker over Arizona thanks to their win over the Wildcats — which means that they won’t have to play another one of the elite teams in the conference until the title game. If seeds hold, Arizona and UCLA will square off in the semifinals. Oregon also has the benefit of having Dillon Brooks on their roster. I don’t know if there’s anyone in the league I’d want taking a big shot more than him.

And if they lose?: UCLA Bruins

I actually think UCLA is the best team in the league. When they play their best basketball, I am not sure there is another team in the country that can beat them. Their best occurs when they actually are getting stops, and the Bruins have proven in recent games against Arizona and Oregon that they can get stops when they have to.

Dillon Brooks (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Arizona Wildcats: Sean Miller is the best coach in the league and he has as much talent on his roster as any team in the country. Allonzo Trier and Lauri Markkanen will carry the Wildcats, but they are going to be at their best when Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins show up. That’s never a guarantee.

Sleeper: USC Trojans

The Trojans have a little UCLA in them. They play fast, they shoot a lot of threes and they have terrific point guard play. The Trojans are also going to be playing for their tournament lives. No matter the bracket you look at, USC ends up someone on the list of last four in or last eight in.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • USC: The Trojans have to win at least one game in the dance, and if they want to avoid sweating out championship week, they are probably going to want to beat not only Washington in the first round but UCLA in the quarterfinals as well.
  • Cal: The Bears need quality wins. I think that the lack of depth in the league means Cal needs to get to the Pac-12 final to be able to make up the ground to get an at-large bid.

Defining moment of the season: Dillon Brooks’ game winner against UCLA in Eugene was the sign that Oregon is back:

CBT Prediction: UCLA cuts down the nets in Las Vegas, beating Arizona and Oregon to get there.

March Madness 2017: ACC Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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ACC Player of the Year: Justin Jackson, North Carolina

This is the hardest league Player of the Year pick to make. There are three legitimate candidates for the award, and one of them — Luke Kennard of Duke — made the NBC Sports all-american first team over Jackson. But to me, Jackson was the best player during ACC play, the most consistent player during league play on the best team in the league, the one that won the ACC regular season title by multiple games.

ACC Coach of the Year: Mike Brey, Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish lost Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste after last season. That came a year after they lost Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. That is a lot of talent to lose for a program that doesn’t traffic in one-and-dones to overcome, and yet, in a year where the ACC is as tough at the top as it has ever been, Mike Brey steered a team led by Matt Farrell, a 6-foot-nothing point guard from the Jersey Shore, and Bonzie Colson, a 6-foot-5 power forward, to a second-place finish in the league. Give the man his due.

First-Team All-ACC:

  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina (POY)
  • Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard has been phenomenal all season long, and his second half performance against Wake Forest, when he scored 30 points and went 10-for-10 from the floor, was the best half of basketball any individual played this season.
  • Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Mitchell’s ascent to dominant scorer early in ACC play turned Louisville from a really good team into a national title contender.
  • John Collins, Wake Forest: You may not know the name, but you should. At one point in league play, he scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games.
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson averaged a double-double and was the leading scorer for Notre Dame as a 6-foot-5 power forward.

Second Team All-ACC:

  • Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State
  • Matt Farrell, Notre Dame
  • Joel Berry II, North Carolina
  • Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
  • Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Bracket 

When: March 7-11

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

Final: March 11th, 9:00 p.m.

Favorite: North Carolina

The Tar Heels are not only the best team in the ACC, they may be the best team in the country. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II make up one of the best 1-2 punches in all of college basketball, and when Isaiah Hicks is healthy — and out of foul trouble — they pound the glass better than anyone in college hoops. As long as their defense is good enough, which it has been of late, they are a dangerous team.

And if they lose?: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame got a bit lucky with the way that the ACC tournament bracket shook out. They won’t have to play North Carolina, Duke or Louisville — for my money, the three best teams in the league — until the finals. When their threes are going down, they are as tough to beat as anyone in the conference.

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 19: Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after a play against the Tennessee State Tigers during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 19, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Florida State: The Seminoles have to love how the ACC bracket shook out. They’re on the other side of the field from the top three teams in the league and will likely get Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals.
  • Louisville: The Cardinals got a tough draw with the way the bracket shook out, likely getting Duke and North Carolina in their first two games in the ACC tournament, but they are elite defensively and have one of the league’s best in Donovan Mitchell.
  • Duke: The Blue Devils, in just about every game they play, are going to have three of the four best players on the floor with Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen. But they’re going to have to win three games — and beat Louisville and North Carolina — just to get to the finals.

Sleeper: Virginia Cavaliers

UVA is the best defensive team in the country once again. Their issue has been their ability to score, and it looks like the reintroduction of Kyle Guy into their rotation has solved those problems for the time being. They shook off a rough February to win their final three games, including a win over North Carolina last week.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Syracuse: The Orange are probably on the right side of the bubble as of today, but given the number of losses they have on their résumé and just how many games they’ve won at home this season, I’d recommend beating Miami in the opener to feel comfortable.
  • Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are right there on the cut-line. They get Boston College in the first round and would square off with Virginia Tech in the second round should they win. I think they need to get to the quarters.
  • Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner’s done a terrific job with this team, but I think they need to beat both Pitt and Virginia to have a real chance at getting an at-large bid.
  • Clemson: Clemson is still in the mix, but they need to win at least two, and maybe three, games to really have a chance. If they get to the semifinals, they will have beaten N.C. State, Duke and Louisville. That might be enough.

Defining moment of the season: Duke. Everything about them. They’ve been the most intriguing team in the country for so many reasons, whether it’s the drama surrounding Grayson Allen and his tripping habit to the all-world freshmen that can’t crack the rotation to Coach K’s back surgery, there’s a reason this team has dominated the headlines all year long.

CBT Prediction: Duke over Notre Dame in the finals.