The ACC was weird this season.
Prior to the start of the season, it looked like the nation’s best conference, at least at the top. UNC was going to be a national title contender. Duke was, too. Virginia, Miami and Notre Dame were going to be contenders for the league title. Louisville was going to be … eligible.
And now here we are in March, and it feels like UNC sputtered to an outright league title, if that’s even possible, while Louisville got banned from the postseason and Duke lost the one guy that would give them depth and lineup versatility. Notre Dame doesn’t look quite as good as we thought, while Miami and Virginia both took five losses during league play.
That said, there may not be a tournament across the country with more individual talent than the ACC tournament. And that always makes for a fun week.
When: March 8-12
Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.
Final: March 12, 9:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
I think Virginia is the best team in the ACC. They’re by far the best defensive team in the ACC tournament and they have an offense that doesn’t score much but is ruthlessly efficient. Malcolm Brogdon is capable of going into star mode and carrying this group, and with the veterans they have up and down their lineup and the quality size they have on the interior, I think they can matchup with just about anyone. Remember, they share the league title with North Carolina if Grayson Allen’s game-winner in Cameron is called a travel.
And if they lose?: North Carolina
The outright ACC regular season title winner, we know how good UNC can be. I can’t trust them in March until Marcus Paige shakes off this shooting funk he’s currently mired in and they prove they can win big games and execute in clutch moments.
- Miami: It’s not a fluke that Miami finished second in the ACC regular season. They have great guard play, they have veteran bigs that know their role and they have talented and young perimeter players that can carry them when Angel Rodriguez and Shelden McClellan struggle.
- Duke: I know Duke doesn’t have depth — not getting that No. 4 seed and double-bye was a killer — but this is a team with the two-best one-on-one players in the conference. When Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard are cooking, this team is dangerous.
Sleeper: Virginia Tech
The Hokies put together one of the biggest turnarounds in college hoops this season. Remember, they lost to Alcorn State in their season opener. Now they’re the No. 6 seed in the ACC tournament after beating Miami in impressive fashion in the regular season finale. They’ve won five straight, and you have to go back to December to find a loss that wasn’t a true road game or against a top 12 team.
The Bubble Dwellers
- Pitt and Syracuse: The irony is that Panthers and the Orange square off in the 8-9 game of the ACC tournament this season. I think both will probably be safe regardless of what happens, but with a minimal difference between teams on the No. 9 and No. 10 seed line (where Pitt and Syracuse, respectively, are in our latest bracket) and teams on the cut line, every added win is huge.
ACC Player of the Year: Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Brogdon is the NBCSports.com pick because of the impact that he has on both ends of the floor. I’d argue that he is the best perimeter defender in the ACC, a guy that can lock down opposing perimeter players as well as anyone and a key reason that Virginia is once again a top ten defense. But he’s also the most efficient scorer in the conference, averaging 18.4 points on a team that plays the fewest possessions of anyone in college basketball.
ACC Coach of the Year: Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
This was one of the harder awards to pick simply because there are so many that are deserving of this award. Coach K, Jim Larrañaga, Rick Pitino, even Roy Williams. They all have a strong case. I went with Williams because he was able to get a Hokies team that won eight total ACC games the last three years and lost their season opener to Alcorn State to 18 wins and 10-8 in the ACC — the No. 6 seed in the tournament — while knocking off two top ten teams.
- Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (POY)
- Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson has been tremendous this season, and is probably deserving of being the ACC Player of the Year. I wouldn’t quibble with anyone that has him there. But Brogdon does it on both ends.
- Grayson Allen, Duke: What made Allen’s season so impressive is that he was able to do what he did despite playing on a team where he was more or less asked to do everything one-on-one.
- Cat Barber, N.C. State: Barber had a sensational season, and if he was putting up the numbers he’s putting up on an ACC contender, he’d be in the running for National Player of the Year.
- Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Folks outside the ACC may not know this name, which is a shame, because Blossomgame is one of the nation’s most underrated players.
Second Team All-ACC:
- Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
- Shelden McClellan, Miami
- Damion Lee, Louisville
- Brandon Ingram, Duke
- Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
Defining moment of the season: To me, there were two defining moments of this ACC season. The first was the injury to Duke’s Amile Jefferson, which has more or less eliminated an under-manned team from Final Four consideration. But the moment that everyone saw was UNC’s collapse at home against those very Blue Devils, a sign of just what ails a team that every thinks should be better than they are:
CBT Prediction: Virginia sneaks past Miami and then knocks off North Carolina in the ACC title game as Malcolm Brogdon pops off for 30.