Location: Greensboro Coliseum; Greensboro, N.C.
Championship Game: March 13, 1 p.m., ESPN
Outlook: You know what’s really funny about how the ACC regular season concluded? Technically, its second best team was Duke, but that was supposed to be the team everyone was chasing. Not so fast my friend. Too many pros on North Carolina circumvented the Blue Devils from grabbing the regular season title, something they appeared to have all but clinched a month ago. Maryland, Florida State, even Boston College, they all seem sooo out right now.
We always used to deem the ACC Tournament as tops in the game, but a top heavy collection of teams has given way to the Big East as the premier conference tournament in the country. And you can’t dispute that. This year the slightly watered down product makes us want to fast forward to the semi finals. Not only do we get an underachieving, bubble-bound Virginia Tech team for a third consecutive season, we get NC State – who refused to make moves this season- as a No. 11 seed, and a Florida State Seminole squad that could play sans their star, Chris Singleton.
So what do we have to look forward to? Well a Duke-UNC rubber match, of course. It’s finally time Blue Devils accept the fact that their stud, Kyrie Irving, isn’t walking through that door. They also have to understand that North Carolina’s addition by the subtraction of disjointed rapper Larry Drew III has given this team a real starting five, with a real point guard who can not only score, but share.
Still, this tournament could provide some real drama and excitement, but probably not until Sunday beginning at 1:00pm.
Players to Watch: Derwin Kitchen, Florida State; Kendall Marshall, North Carolina; Reggie Jackson, Boston College
If Singleton cannot give it a go for the Seminoles, a fan base turns its lonely eyes on the team’s second leading scorer in Kitchen. FSU isn’t known for its scoring (70 ppg), but a depleted front court will force them to do so if they wish to advance.
For Marshall and Jackson, these are two players ardent ACC basketball fans know and appreciate, but on a national stage neither has yet to really garner the admiration they deserve. Marshall has averaged more than eight assists a game since Drew skipped town, never turning the ball over more than five times in a contest. Being able to understand his role to help his team be most successful is laudable, and integral to the improvement that North Carolina has made as the winter waned.
Boston College is the best team playing in the opening round, and are more than capable of advancing to the semi-finals against the Tar Heels. If they do, it will likely be sparked by a pair of 20+ point performances by Jackson. Freakishly quick and fearless, Jackson is a ball to watch, so I suggest you make a point to tune in to the Eagles this week. Steve Donahue doesn’t handcuff his kids, something predecessor Al Skinner was often criticized for.
The Blue Devils have won the last two conference tournaments, with the Heels only winning two since 1999; it’s just not their thing I guess. I expect Coach K to recharge his team’s batteries after a dismal performance in Chapel Hill last Saturday, and force the selection committee to hand over that fourth No 1 tournament seed to the defending national champions.