2009 ACC Tournament Preview and Predictions

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The 2009 ACC Tournament begins on Thursday, and it should be exciting, as
usual. It looks like the ACC can count on getting six teams into the Big Dance,
while Maryland, Virginia Tech and Miami will be battling hard to get themselves
back into the picture as well.

The thing that makes this event so special is that there are so many players
who are capable of taking over and leading their team deep into the tournament.
Besides all the stars at UNC, Duke and Wake, guys like Jack McClinton, Toney
Douglas, A.D. Vassallo, Malcolm Delaney and Tyrese Rice are all capable of
putting a team on their back and winning games.

The Hokies have won their quarterfinal game each of the last two years before
falling in the semifinals. This year they’ll have to win two games to have a
chance of making the NCAA tournament. Just like last year, they’ll have to go
through Miami first, and if they win that game they’ll get #1 UNC. It’s a great
challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity.

Opening Round, Thursday, March 12

#8 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Miami, Noon, Raycom

Both of these teams are still on the bubble, but they need to do a lot of
work in the ACC Tournament. It will likely take a minimum of two wins to make
the Big Dance. A win in the first round, and then a win in the quarterfinals
over North Carolina would make the Selection Committee take notice.

For Virginia Tech, the key to this game is stopping Jack McClinton. Tech is
2-1 in their last three games against Miami. In the lone Hokie loss, McClinton
scored 19 points. He was 6-of-13 from the field and 3-of-7 from three-point
range. The Hokies beat Miami in their last two games, and in those games he
averaged 18 points, but he combined go to just 10-of-38 from the field and
7-of-23 from the outside.

This game could easily come down to whether or not McClinton finds his
rhythm. Tech has also struggled with post defense this year, something that was
apparent when Dwayne Collins had 23 points against the Hokies back in January.
Despite that scoring output, and an unexpected 21 points from Brian Asbury, the
Hokies were able to walk away with an 88-83 overtime victory.

However, Tech was at their peak when they beat Miami earlier this year. Now
they are slumping, Malcolm Delaney is injured and not shooting well, and there
might be some confidence issues creeping up on the team. With Delaney hurt, I
can’t pick the Hokies to win.

Pick: Miami

#5 Clemson vs. #12 Georgia Tech, 2:30pm, Raycom

Neither of these teams is what you’d call hot coming into the ACC Tournament.
Georgia Tech only won two games all year in ACC play, while Clemson has lost
three of their last four games.

These teams met twice during the regular season, with Clemson winning both
games. The Tigers won 73-59 at home back in January, and then knocked off the
Yellow Jackets 81-73 in Atlanta on February 22. It’s tough to beat an ACC team
three times in a row, but this is Georgia Tech we’re talking about. They lost 14
conference games this year.

The Yellow Jackets have some good players, but nothing I saw from them this
year would make me pick them in this game.

Pick: Clemson

#7 Maryland vs. #10 NC State, 7pm, ESPN2

Like Virginia Tech and Miami, Maryland is another team that needs a couple of
victories to make the NCAA tournament. Their first opportunity will come against
NC State on Thursday night. If the Terps manage to knock off the Wolfpack,
they’ll face #2 Wake Forest on Friday night.

The Terps don’t have much size on the inside, and though they beat NC State
71-60 in the regular season, I’ve got to pick an upset somewhere in the first
round. I think this might be the one. Maryland rallied around Gary Williams and
won three of four games in mid-February, but they’ve come back down to earth
since then, losing three of their last four.

I’ve said all year that I don’t think Maryland is that good, so I’ll pick NC
State in the upset, even though there really is no such thing as an upset in the
ACC.

Pick: NC State

#6 Boston College vs. #11 Virginia, 9:30pm, Raycom

This is another game where it’s tempting to pick the upset. The Hoos have
been playing better recently, and they knocked off Maryland in their season
finale. However, they lost to Boston College at home 80-70 in the regular season
in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

I love the job Al Skinner has done at Boston College this year. In my
opinion, he’s done more with less. Tyrese Rice is a great player, and Rakim
Sanders and Joe Trapani are good. However, the Eagles don’t really have an ACC
caliber big man on the inside, and they are still a below average team
athletically. Yet they managed to find a way to beat Duke and UNC this year.

I’ll go with Boston College here. They are playing for NCAA tournament
seeding.

Pick: Boston College

Advancing to the Quarterfinals: Miami, Clemson, NC State, and Boston College

Quarterfinals, Friday, March 13

#1 North Carolina vs. #9 Miami, Noon, Raycom/ESPN2

North Carolina and Miami played twice during the regular season. UNC won
easily in Chapel Hill, 82-65, but Miami played the Heels tough at home, falling
69-65. With Dwayne Collins and Jimmy Graham playing on the inside, the ‘Canes
have the size and toughness to match UNC’s strength and intensity on the inside.

Brian Asbury has the length and athletic ability to defend Danny Green and
Wayne Ellington, and if Jack McClinton gets hot, Miami can beat anyone in the
ACC. Perhaps the biggest question is whether or not Ty Lawson plays for UNC.
Lawson is questionable with a bad toe injury.

Put yourself in the shoes of Roy Williams. What is more important to you? An
ACC Championship or a National Championship? Ty Lawson needs to be as healthy as
possible for the Heels’ NCAA tournament run. Playing him in the ACC Tournament
won’t do him any good.

Lawson has been wearing a protective boot and walking with a crutch. His toe
has become more swollen since Sunday’s game against Duke. If I were Williams, I
wouldn’t play him. I would want to get to the NCAA tournament as healthy as
possible. The Tar Heels have assembled a team of great talent, but this is the
last year that talent will be together. They need to do everything they can do
to win the National Championship.

Pick: UNC

#4 Florida State vs. #5 Clemson, 2:30pm, Raycom/ESPN2

Florida State beat Clemson twice during the regular season. The ‘Noles won
65-61 at Clemson on February 7, and then beat the Tigers again 73-66 later in
the month. They will be playing this time for the right to go to the ACC
Tournament Semifinals.

As I said earlier, it is difficult to beat an ACC team three times in a row.
However, I do like some of FSU’s matchups here. Clemson forward/center Trevor
Booker, who is only 6-7, averaged just nine points per game against FSU in the
regular season. Booker has to matchup with the 7-1 Solomon Alabi. Overall, the
Seminole frontcourt is very tall and long, which makes things difficult on
Booker.

With such a big part of their offense taken out of the game, and playing a
team like FSU that doesn’t turn the ball over a lot, the Tigers could struggle
yet again.

Pick: Florida State

#2 Wake Forest vs. #10 NC State, 7pm, Raycom/ESPN2

These teams split their two meetings during the regular season. The Wolfpack
upset the Demon Deacons 82-76 in the first meeting, but Wake got revenge in the
second meeting by winning 85-78. Both games have been fairly high scoring, and
both teams have good players.

I see Wake Forest’s talent level taking over in this game. The Demon Deacons
have three possible future first round draft picks on their roster: James
Johnson, Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu. I don’t think the Wolfpack can pull
two upsets in a row, so I’m going with the Demon Deacons.

Pick: Wake Forest

#3 Duke vs. #6 Boston College, 9:30pm, Raycom/ESPN2

Boston College and Duke faced off once during the regular season, with the
Eagles winning 80-74 in Chestnut Hill. Tyrese Rice scored 21 points as BC was a
scorching 30-of-51 from the field.

Duke’s defense was slumping at that time, but the Blue Devils are playing
better now. Overall, they have more talent than Boston College. This should be a
very interesting contrast in styles, with BC’s physical tight flex offense going
up against Duke’s perimeter oriented game.

Duke is generally a very good ACC Tournament team, and I think they’ll beat
Boston College on Friday night.

Pick: Duke

Advancing to the Semifinals: UNC, Florida State, Wake Forest and Duke

Semifinals, Saturday, March 14

#1 North Carolina vs. #4 Florida State, 1:30pm, Raycom/ESPN

North Carolina and Florida State met once during the regular season, with UNC
winning 80-77 on a last second three-pointer by Ty Lawson. The Seminoles played
terrific defense in that game, holding Tyler Hansbrough to a season-low eight
points. It is very difficult to get any kind of offense going in the post
against Florida State.

Ty Lawson had 21 points and nine rebounds against FSU in the first meeting.
If he can’t go this time, or if he’s not 100%, that could tip things in the ‘Noles
favor. He would be a big loss for UNC. They wouldn’t be able to run and gun as
effectively without him in the lineup.

This is just a gut feeling, but I really like what I’ve seen out of Florida
State recently. They’ve got a star player in Toney Douglas who can score on
anyone, and they are the best defensive team in the ACC, in my opinion. I’m
picking them to beat Carolina.

Pick: Florida State

#2 Wake Forest vs. # 3 Duke, 3:30pm, Raycom/ESPN

Wake and Duke played two very exciting games during the regular season. Wake
won 70-68 on a last second shot in Winston-Salem, while Duke took a 101-91
victory in Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Both games were very
entertaining and they could have gone either way.

Wake Forest has a big advantage in athleticism and post play in this game.
James Johnson and Chas McFarland could have big games in the paint. However,
Wake isn’t a good three-point shooting team, and the Blue Devils will have a
large advantage from the perimeter.

This game is a coin flip, as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to pick Wake
Forest to knock Duke off and make it to the ACC Finals.

Finals, Sunday, March 15

#2 Wake Forest vs. #4 Florida State, 1pm, Raycom/ESPN

Wake Forest and Florida State will play for the ACC Championship on Sunday
afternoon. You won’t see Duke or Carolina in the title game this year. That’s my
bold prediction. The Seminoles and Deacons played just once in the regular
season, with Wake winning easily 86-63 back on February 14.

This is a tough matchup for Florida State. They only have one explosive
scorer, while Wake Forest has a high number of guys who are capable of scoring
in double figures on any given night.

This might be a good game for FSU to try a zone defense and use their length
on the inside to deny Wake the ball in the paint. The Demon Deacons’ weakness on
offense is outside shooting.

I’ll pick Wake to win this game and the ACC Tournament

Pick: Wake Forest

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