2008 ACC Basketball Tournament Preview

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The ACC tournament begins Thursday at noon. The 12 teams will play a total of
11 games over four days in Charlotte Bobcats Arena. The clear favorite in the
tournament is UNC, who is playing better basketball than anyone in the
conference right now. But as March Madness proves every year, being the clear
favorite doesn’t mean anything.

William & Mary pulled three upsets, including knocking off #1 seed VCU,
to go to the finals of the CAA tournament. San Diego upset Gonzaga to win their
conference. Elon made the finals of the Southern Conference Tournament. And so
on, and so on. Nothing is guaranteed this time of year. Everyone is starting
with a clean slate, and no one in the ACC can be overlooked.

Last year, all four lower seeds won on the first day of the ACC tournament.
#9 FSU beat #8 Clemson, #10 NC State beat #7 Duke, #12 Miami beat #5 Maryland
and #11 Wake Forest beat #6 Georgia Tech. This is a very balanced league, and
anything can happen.

With that said, let’s take a short look at each team in the ACC and see what
they’ll have to go through to reach the ACC Tournament Finals on Sunday
afternoon.


#1 North Carolina (29-2, 14-2)

Recent Streak: Won 8 in a row

North Carolina is the favorite in this tournament, and for good reason. They
have only lost twice this season, and they’ve won eight games in a row. Their
most recent win came over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. One of their two
losses came with point guard Ty Lawson out with an injury. With him healthy,
they will be very tough to beat.

UNC will draw the winner of #8 Wake Forest and #9 Florida State in the
quarterfinals on Friday. Assuming the Tar Heels get by that team, they will play
either #4 Virginia Tech, #5 Miami or #12 NC State in the semifinals on Saturday.

It seems like it would be tough for any of those teams to beat UNC, but you
never know in postseason basketball. The Tar Heels do have the deepest and most
talented team in the ACC. They also have the best star power, with ACC Player of
the Year Tyler Hansbrough. They are a tough team to pick against.


#2 Duke (13-3, 26-4)

Recent Streak: Lost 3 of last 7

Duke is the second best team in the ACC, but they are only 4-3 over their
last seven games, with losses to Wake, Miami and UNC. One of their four wins
came over Big East bottom feeder St. John’s, and they also had a narrow
one-point win over last-place NC State, who is showing no signs of life.

So Duke hasn’t been the invincible team that they once appeared to be earlier
in the season. They are beatable. They will draw the winner of #7 Georgia Tech
and # 10 Virginia in the quarterfinals on Saturday. If they reach the semis,
they will play #3 Clemson, #6 Maryland or #11 Boston College.

Charlotte, the state of North Carolina and all of college basketball would
love to see a Duke-North Carolina rematch for the ACC Championship. That has a
good chance to happen, but be wary of picking the Blue Devils. Remember, they
are 3-3 in their last six ACC games, and one play away from being 2-4.


#3 Clemson (22-8, 10-6)

Recent Streak: Won 3 of last 4

Clemson is a very good, very balanced basketball team. They score points
because of a balanced inside-outside game, and because they force a lot of
turnovers, creating extra possessions. They pride themselves on their defense,
and they play it very well. They went 10-6 in the conference this year, and it
could have been better than that. They lost in overtime to UNC twice, including
a double-overtime game at the Dean Dome.

The Tigers will get #6 Maryland or #11 Boston College in the quarterfinals.
Clemson beat both of those teams during the regular season. If they reach the
semifinals, they’ll face #2 Duke, #7 Georgia Tech or #10 Virginia.

Clemson has a pretty good draw. They could end up facing Maryland, whom they
recently defeated, in the quarterfinals, and if they get past the Terps, they’ll
get to play Duke instead of UNC.


#4 Virginia Tech (18-12, 9-7)

Recent Streak: Won 4 of last 5

Virginia Tech has some work to do to be considered for an NCAA tournament
selection. They probably need to win two games in the ACC tournament.
Considering they are on the same side of the bracket as North Carolina, that
isn’t going to be easy.

The Hokies will face either #5 Miami or #12 NC State in the quarterfinals.
They lost to each team during the regular season, and they’ve lost to NC State
six times in a row. If they manage to get past whichever team they face in the
quarterfinals, their likely opponent in the semifinals is UNC. The Tar Heels
beat Tech by 39 earlier in the season.

That said, in the ACC there aren’t really any great draws. You are going to
be playing a good team, or at least a very talented team, no matter whom you are
facing (except for maybe Maryland, who gets Boston College). The best the Hokies
can hope for is to first win their quarterfinal game, and then hope either Wake
Forest or Florida State can upset UNC. Then the stage would be set for the
Hokies to reach the championship game.


#5 Miami (21-9, 8-8)

Recent Streak: Won 6 of 8

Miami was very close to earning a first round bye, but lost at Florida State
75-72 on Saturday. Instead, they’ll draw NC State in the opening round, and if
they win, they’ll face #4 Virginia Tech on Friday. The ‘Canes beat the Hokies
74-71 earlier in the season, handing VT one of their two home losses on the
season.

For the purpose of this preview, we’ll assume that Miami gets past NC State.
(Everybody seems to be beating the Wolfpack these days, except for the Hokies.)
A VT vs. Miami matchup will bring up the old rest vs. rust argument. The Hokies
will have had Thursday off, while Miami will have played NC State.

Will Miami’s legs give out? Will the Hokies be too rusty, while Miami is in a
groove after playing well against NC State? This would be a matchup of two teams
who appear to be very even. It could potentially be one of the better games of
the tournament.


#6 Maryland (18-13, 8-8)

Recent Streak: Lost 4 of 5

Maryland finished in the top half of the ACC, but it was not a result of
their finish. They closed with four losses in their last five games. Luckily for
them, they draw a team that appears to be even more inept in the first round.
Boston College has lost six in a row and 12 of their last 13.

The Terps are a strange team. They won at North Carolina this year, but they
also lost at home to Boston College, American and Ohio. They are probably ACC
basketball’s version of Clemson’s football team. They look good getting off the
bus, but they are inconsistent in actual games.

Maryland does have the star power to make a run in this tournament. Greivis
Vasquez is very good when he’s on, and James Gist is one of the top inside
players in the ACC. The Terps are good enough to reach the championship game,
but they are bad enough to lose to Boston College. If they get by BC, they’ll
have to face #3 Clemson in the quarterfinals, and then probably #2 Duke. That’s
a tough road for a team that can’t seem to play consistent basketball.


#7 Georgia Tech (14-16, 7-9)

Recent Streak: Won 3 of 4

Georgia Tech has won two in a row and three of their last four. They are a
solid basketball team, but their overall record will keep them out of the
postseason. That also makes them a very dangerous team in this ACC tournament.
They are going to have to win the tournament to play in the postseason. They
have nothing to lose at all.

The Yellow Jackets will face #10 Virginia on Thursday in the opening round.
That will be an extremely entertaining game, because like Georgia Tech, Virginia
doesn’t have anything to lose, either. If they lose, they are sitting at home
during the postseason.

If Georgia Tech gets past Virginia, they’ll face #2 Duke in the
quarterfinals. The Jackets faced Duke just once during the regular season,
falling 71-58 in Durham. If they do the unlikely and pull two upsets, they could
end up playing Clemson in the semifinals. Georgia Tech defeated Clemson 80-75
last week, so they would have some confidence heading into that game.


#8 Wake Forest (17-12, 7-9)

Recent Streak: Lost 4 of 5

Wake Forest looked like an NCAA tournament team after handily defeating Duke,
but then they lost four games in a row, before finally winning their last
regular season game against NC State. They are NIT bound, unless they can win
the ACC tournament, or at least reach the finals.

The Wake Forest-Florida State game should be very entertaining. It will be
the first game of the tournament, and it should set the tone for an exciting
four days of basketball. Both teams are blessed with a lot of team speed, and
they like to get up and down the court.

The Demon Deacons defeated FSU in both regular season meetings. If they do it
again, they’ll draw #1 UNC in the quarterfinals. That would be a tough one to
win, but if they did get past the Heels, they’d face #4 Virginia Tech, #5 Miami
or #12 NC State in the quarterfinals.


#9 Florida State (18-13, 7-9)

Recent Streak: Won 4 of 5

Florida State is quietly one of the hottest teams in the ACC. They have won
four of their past five games, including victories over Miami and Clemson, both
likely NCAA tournament teams. The ‘Noles are a very hot basketball team, and
they get very good guard play.

Florida State did lose to Wake Forest both times during the regular season,
but the slate is wiped clean in the postseason. They are playing very good
basketball right now. They can match Ishmael Smith and Jeff Teague with Jason
Rich, Toney Douglas and Ralph Mims. If their inside players can be effective
against James Johnson, who has been inconsistent, they can advance.

If the ‘Noles beat Wake, they’ll get #1 UNC in the quarterfinals. That would
be a tall order, but they were very competitive with UNC during the regular
season, losing in overtime to the Tar Heels at home, and by 13 on the road.


#10 Virginia (15-14, 5-11)

Recent Streak: Won 4 of 6

Virginia has turned into a pretty solid basketball team recently, winning
four of their last six. One of their losses was a narrow 95-93 setback at Miami,
who is probably headed to the Big Dance. Sean Singletary stepped up his game
down the stretch, Laurynas Mikalauskas provided quite a spark once he came back
from an injury, and the team is playing better overall.

The Hoos draw #7 Georgia Tech in the opening round. This has the potential to
be an excellent game. Both teams have been playing well recently, and both teams
know that if they don’t win, they are done for the year. Georgia Tech won a
tough overtime game in Charlottesville earlier in the year, and UVA returned the
favor by knocking off the Yellow Jackets in a great game in Atlanta last week.

If UVA wins, they’ll play #2 Duke in the quarterfinals. The Blue Devils
easily won both meetings during the regular season. However, if there is a low
seed in this year’s tournament that is capable of making a run, it’s UVA.


#11 Boston College (13-16, 4-12)

Recent Streak: Lost 6 in a row, 12 of last 13

Boston College has a few things going against them heading into the ACC
tournament. First of all, they are young, with three freshman guards in the
backcourt. Secondly, they have the least athletic frontcourt in the ACC. And
finally, they are the coldest team in the conference, losing 12 of their last 13
games. Their confidence has to be shot.

Luckily for BC, they do have Tyrese Rice. When he gets hot, he is capable of
keeping them in the game against any team in the conference. He is a First Team
All-ACC player, and that award was well-deserved.

BC gets #6 Maryland in the opening round, and that game is winnable for the
Eagles, because you just never know how Maryland is going to play. Are they good
or bad? It’s pretty much a coin flip. The Eagles did win at Maryland in the
first ACC game of the season back in December, but Maryland returned the favor
later in the year. Even if BC can get by Maryland, they aren’t getting by
Clemson in the quarterfinals.


#12 NC State (15-15, 4-12)

Recent Streak: Lost 8 in a row

This is a very talented, but bad, basketball team. NC State has High School
All-Americans in Brandon Costner and J.J. Hickson. Ben McCauley is among the
best post players in the ACC, and the best passing inside player in the
conference. Gavin Grant and Courtney Fells are very athletic, very talented
wings. This team has the potential and ability to beat anyone in the ACC.

The Wolfpack will get #5 Miami in the opening round. They beat Miami at home
back in January, but both teams have gone in opposite directions since then. The
Wolfpack have lost eight games in a row, and with the exception of their close
game against Duke, they’ve looked inept.

However, NC State is looking at the brackets and seeing that they have a
chance to play Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals. If they can get by Miami in
the opening round, they’ve got to believe they have an excellent chance to reach
the ACC tournament semifinals. They’ll come ready to play. If they don’t, their
season is over.

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