Thursday, March 10, 2011

Previewing the Madness: The ACC

The unlikeliest conference finish of the season belongs to the ACC, where North Carolina, the team that everyone had left for dead heading into conference play, is champ.

Duke was the favorite coming into the season. Not the favorite to win just win the ACC, but to win everything. Hell, if was just three months ago that we were talking about the possibility of the Blue Devils going undefeated. Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

The rest of the ACC has been mired in mediocrity all season long, with teams like Florida State and Virginia Tech going from ranked in the top 25 to the bubble conversation. And while that mediocrity has made for, at times, some ugly basketball, it hasn't caused a like of excitement or intrigue heading into the league tournament.

With three teams -- Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Clemson -- sitting on the bubble's cut line and a fourth -- Maryland -- a run to the final away from a bid, there will be plenty decided over the next four days in Greensboro Coliseum.

Where: Greensboro, NC

When: March 10th-13th

Final: March 13th, 1:00 pm, ESPN

Favorite: Duke Blue Devils

I know, I know, I know. North Carolina just ran Duke off of the court in the regular season finale, locking up the regular season title in the process. And while North Carolina is currently the hottest team in the conference, if not the country, I am not yet ready to hand over the title of tournament favorite just yet. Duke is experienced. They've won titles before, including last year's national title. For my money, the national player of the year is on Duke's roster in the form of Nolan Smith. Seth Curry is turning into a dangerous complimentary scorer. And Kyle Singler? Well, if you remember, last year's Final Four most outstanding player had a relatively ho-hum regular season in 2009-2010 as well.

  • Other Contenders: Having said all that about the Dukies, if they are the favorite, then North Carolina is the favorite with an asterisk. Since Larry Drew was benched in favor on Kendall Marshall, the Tar Heels are one bad half away from winning out. Harrison Barnes is finally living up to the hype he had coming into the season. John Henson and Tyler Zeller are playing as well as they have in their entire careers. But winning under pressure is a learned skill. North Carolina has a young roster that hasn't experienced much success in their careers. I may end up looking foolish here, but I am not ready to hand over the title of tournament favorite just yet.
Sleeper: Virginia Tech Hokies

Ugh. I hate putting any kind of faith in Seth Greenberg's teams late in the season. But at some point, they have to come away with some big wins, right? Outside of Duke and UNC, the Hokies are probably the most talented team in the conference with Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen on their roster. They also knocked off Duke two weekends ago, which gives me some faith that this team can still wake up before the season is over.

  • Deeper Sleepers: Can I call Florida State a sleeper? Even if Chris Singleton comes back for the tournament? He's been participating in some non-contact drills, so may his foot heels up in time. Regardless, this team has been better on the offensive end of the floor without Singleton and they still have size inside and some good defenders on the perimeter. Boston College's Reggie Jackson could very well be the best player in the ACC not named Nolan Smith, and when he gets help in the form of Joe Trapani, Corey Raji, and Biko Paris, the Eagles are a tough out.
Players to Watch:
  • Jordan Williams, Maryland: Williams may very well be the best big man in the ACC. He's physical on the block, he can create position, and he is an excellent rebounder. When he is finishing inside and hitting his free throws, Williams is a legitimate 20-10 guy.
  • Reggie Jackson, Boston College: I'm not talking about Mr. October. Jackson is an excellent scorer with range that can create for his teammates as well. He is also a tremendous leaper that has his share of poster dunks in his career.

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