The ACC was weird this season.
Miami won the league. Think about that. Miami. That, alone, is enough to leave you scratching your head.
But there’s more to it. Duke was the best team in the country heading into conference play and looks like they are right back in that conversation now that Ryan Kelly is back on the floor, but they still managed to lose four games in ACC play and don’t have a ton of depth if Kelly or Seth Curry happen to aggravate their nagging injuries. North Carolina went from being a bubble team to being the hottest team in the conference to being a team that got drubbed by Duke at home. NC State has been nothing but a disappointment given the amount of talent on their roster.
And after that, there’s not much of anything. Virginia can beat anyone in the league and lose to anyone in the league. Maryland knocked off Duke and has been really bad is just about every other game. Florida State would be abysmal if it wasn’t for Michael Snaer’s four game-winners this year.
Not quite what we expected heading into the season.
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Where: Greensboro Coliseum (Greensboro)
When: March 14-17
Final: March 17th, 1:00 p.m. ET ESPN
With all due respect to ACC regular season champ Miami, Duke was the best team in the country before Ryan Kelly was injured. They haven’t lost since Kelly came back, proving that his foot was fine with a 36 point performance in a win over Miami in his first game. Throw in the fact that the Dukies will be playing in front of a favorable crowd in Greensboro, it’s not difficult to imagine them making a run through the conference.
If there is a concern about this Duke team, it’s that they are still a bit beat up. Seth Curry doesn’t practice because of a leg injury that he’s been dealing with all season long. Kelly’s foot issues aren’t going to get any better when they have to play three games in three days. Will those nagging injuries end up costing the Blue Devils?
And if they lose?: Miami
The Hurricanes were the most dominant team in the ACC until the final two weeks of the regular season, when their defense, which was one of the best in the country, all of a sudden lost the ability to get stops. The Hurricanes have a big, veteran front line and one of the ACC’s best guard duos in Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. There’s a reason they won the league’s regulars season title, but it will be interesting to see if they can get their season turned around.
Other contenders: North Carolina has been playing much better since Roy Williams made the decision to go with a smaller lineup and play James Michael McAdoo at the center spot. It’s created mismatches for guys like Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston, and with more room to operate, Marcus Paige has suddenly found his confidence. NC State is another team to keep an eye on simply because they are insanely talented, but until they prove they can win with that talent, they are going to be a question mark.
It’s difficult to trust the Cavaliers because of the number of bad teams that they’ve lost to this season. It’s also difficult to write them off because of the number of good teams that they’ve beaten this season. Joe Harris might be the nation’s best kept secret, and since UVA is playing with their tournament hopes on the line, there’s a good chance that a run can be made.
Deeper sleeper: Maryland?
Honestly, I don’t think there’s anyone outside the top five that can make a run in this event, but I’ll go with Maryland for a couple of reasons: 1) they have a lottery pick in the middle in Alex Len, and 2) they are the only team that still has bubble aspirations outside of the top five. Is that enough to make it happen?
– Erick Green, Virginia Tech: Green was the best player in the ACC this season, so it is a shame that he was stuck playing on a Virginia Tech team that no one paid attention to all season long. He can flat out score, and given the load that he has to carry for the Hokies to be competitive, his efficiency is off the charts.
– Shane Larkin, Miami: Larkin is probably the league’s Player of the Year for teams that actually mattered in this year’s race. Just an all-around great point guard.
– Joe Harris, Virginia: Harris is a lot of fun to watch. He’s terrific using screens, he’s an excellent shooter and Tony Bennett likes to have him move around quite a bit offensively.
CBT Prediction: I think Miami will end up winning the ACC tournament, knocking off Duke in a rematch in the final where Curry and Kelly see only limited minutes.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.