The ACC Tournament begins today with two first-round games and continues through Saturday in Greensboro, N.C. The conference enters the week with six surefire NCAA Tournament teams and just one (Miami) with a realistic shot to play its way into the dance. Pittsburgh is the only NIT certainty, with Clemson and Florida State squaring off Wednesday in what may be a de facto NIT play-in game. The Tigers aren't exactly in a prime viewing window from a fan perspective, with the potential for two straight days with noon tip-offs, but such is life for a No. 8 seed. Let's break down the tournament.
Best Team: Duke
Virginia is the No. 1 seed, but it's hard to argue against the Blue Devils as the favorite right now. They have won 11 in a row and are the most talented team in the conference. I keep thinking somebody will make Duke pay for its lack of depth (eight scholarship players) one of these days, and maybe the possibility of three games in three days could be where it finally costs them. But I won't believe it until I see it.
Best Player: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
The freshman has lived up to the hype and was recently named the conference player of the year. He is as dominant of a low-post scorer as the ACC has seen in some time. His weakness? Free throws. At just 52.4% from the stripe, he is a prime candidate for a hack-a-Shaq strategy. But even then he may just score through any foul attempt. It's not all about his scoring though, as just his presence on the court creates numerous looks for Duke's impressive collection of shooters.
Darkhorse: N.C. State
Could the Wolfpack lose its first game to Pittsburgh? Of course. But if you're looking for a lower-seeded team that could make a run, look no further than this talent-laden bunch, which has already knocked off possible second-round opponent Duke once this season. N.C. State has won five of its last six entering the tournament.
Upset Special: Wake Forest over Miami
Because I love upsets too much not to pick one, I'm putting my neck out on the line for a Demon Deacon team that has been pretty awful as of late. In a given tournament, there's always at least one result you don't see coming, so give me Danny Manning's crew to put Miami out of its bubble misery. Of course, they will lose to Virginia Tech in the first round now that I've offered up this prediction.
Tuesday, March 10:
(12) Boston College vs. (13) Georgia Tech
Boston College is playing well recently, and Georgia Tech is without leading scorer Marcus Georges-Hunt.
(11) Wake Forest vs. (14) Virginia Tech
The Hokies three-point capability is a concern, but shooting doesn't travel well. They also have no answer for Devin Thomas inside (if he decides to try).
Wednesday, March 11:
(8) Clemson vs. (9) Florida State
Probably a homer pick, but this is basically a toss-up.
(5) North Carolina vs. (12) Boston College
BC's run will be short-lived as North Carolina will abuse them in the post.
(7) N.C. State vs. (10) Pittsburgh
A puzzling N.C. State loss would never surprise, but I think the Pack has finally turned into a pretty good team.
(6) Miami vs. (11) Wake Forest
Miami has some talent, but I'm just not sold on them as a team. Prove me wrong, Canes.
Thursday, March 12:
(1) Virginia vs. (8) Clemson
Justin Anderson's status in unclear for the tournament, as an appendectomy has delayed his return from a broken finger. It won't matter, though, because the Cavs are too efficient for this inconsistent Clemson team.
(4) Louisville vs. (5) North Carolina
The Cardinals closed the season with a nice win over Virginia, but I just don't think this is the same caliber of team without Chris Jones running the point.
(2) Duke vs. (7) N.C. State
Should be an entertaining game, but Duke is the better team and will edge the Pack.
(3) Notre Dame vs. (11) Wake Forest
Notre Dame is far too good offensively for a Wake team that doesn't guard a soul to begin with.
Friday, March 13:
(1) Virginia vs. (5) North Carolina
I want to go with the Heels, but Virginia has developed a knack for proving me wrong.
(2) Duke vs. (3) Notre Dame
Two excellent offensive teams should make for quite the fireworks show, but give me Duke in a tight one.
Saturday, March 14:
(1) Virginia vs. (2) Duke
As stated previously, I think Duke is the best team in the conference at this juncture. The Blue Devils take home the crown.