2010 ACC Tournament Preview and Predictions

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11 games in four days will decide the 2010 ACC Tournament Championship. The
event is back in Greensboro this year, and with North Carolina having a down
year, this is basically Duke vs. the field. Can someone knock off the Blue
Devils, who have won the title eight times since 1999? We’ll know by Sunday
afternoon.

The ACC Tournament has been held every year since 1954. Only seven of the 12
current ACC schools have won the event, with South Carolina also winning it in
1971 (they later left for the SEC, and remain the only school to ever leave the
ACC).

Tournament
Championships by School
School Number Most
Recent

Duke
17 2009

UNC
17 2008

NC State
10 1987

Wake Forest
4 1996

Georgia Tech
3 1993

Maryland
3 2004

Virginia
1 1976

South Carolina
1 1971

Of 56 total ACC tournaments, 48 have been won by one of the North Carolina
schools, especially Duke and UNC. NC State used to be right there with them, but
the Wolfpack haven’t won one in over two decades. These days, the tournament is
dominated by the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.

That’s not the case this year. North Carolina is down, and they are an
unlikely threat to win the tournament. Duke is the only Carolina team that gets
a first round bye, so chances have never been better for a non-Tar Heel state
team to get over the hump.

Maryland won the event in 2004, and they are the only team from outside the
state of North Carolina to win it since 1993, when Georgia Tech did it. The
Terps have a solid shot to unseat the Blue Devils this year, but Florida State
and Virginia Tech want to get into that mix as well.

We’ll break down the ACC Tournament teams into four groups: major contenders,
contenders, outside shot, and no shot. The seeds might not necessarily be in
order … just because a team is seeded higher than another team doesn’t mean
they have a better shot. It could be about matchups, in one particular case
especially, as we’ll see later.

Major Contenders

#1: Duke Blue Devils

Duke comes into this tournament as the #1 seed after finishing 27-5 overall
and 13-3 in the ACC. The Blue Devils have only failed to win this tournament
three times since 1999. Maryland won it in 2004, while UNC captured the
championship in 2007 and 2008.

With UNC down this year, Duke is the clear favorite. Though they finished
tied with Maryland in the standings in the regular season, the tournament will
be held in Greensboro North Carolina, which is a definite homecourt advantage
for the Blue Devils.

Here’s a quick look at Duke’s vitals:

27-5 overall
13-3 in the ACC
Won 9 of 10
Strong contender for #1 seed in NCAA tournament

If Duke wins the ACC Tournament, there is a very strong chance they’ll be a
#1 seed in the NCAA tournament. There really aren’t many other viable candidates
right now, and ending the season such a hot streak would give the Blue Devils a
strong case.

The “Big Three” of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith is the
most effective trio of players in the ACC. Those three guys average a combined
53.7 points per game. The Blue Devils are very hard to beat when all three of
those guys are playing well, and they can get by against most teams when just
two of those players have a good game.

Coach K has been down this road more than any other coach in the ACC. He
knows how to win in the ACC tournament, as we can see when we look at Duke’s
recent success in the event.

The Blue Devils also don’t have that difficult a road to the championship
game. They should easily knock off either BC or UVA in the quarterfinals. Their
likely opponent in the semifinals is either Wake Forest or Virginia Tech. The
Demon Deacons have lost four of five and aren’t playing their best basketball,
while the Hokies are probably the most banged up team in the ACC.

Based on the fact that Duke has had so much recent success in the tournament
and UNC is having a down year, it’s difficult to not pick the Blue Devils to be
crowned ACC champs on Sunday.

#2: Maryland Terrapins

Maryland is the hottest team in the ACC, and they are the popular pick to
upset Duke and win the ACC Tournament. Part of that is because they beat Duke in
College Park just last week, and eventually tied the Blue Devils at the top of
the ACC standings.

The Terps feature the ACC Coach of the Year, Gary Williams, as well as the
ACC Player of the Year, Greivis Vasquez. That alone should be enough to make any
fan base feel confident. Maryland is very well coached, and they have a very
good, experienced group of players.

They really aren’t all that different from Duke, if you look at the numbers.

23-7 overall
13-3 in the ACC
Won 9 of 10
Defeated Georgia Tech, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Duke since February 20

Maryland has been on one serious roll lately. Since the Georgia Tech game on
February 20, Greivis Vasquez has averaged 23.7 points and 7.4 assists, including
a career-high 41 points in a big double overtime win at Virginia Tech.

In short, the Terps are playing with a lot of confidence and swagger right
now. Combine that with their experience and talent, and they will be a tough out
in Greensboro.

Contenders

#4: Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia Tech isn’t quite as hot as Duke or Maryland, but they are entering
the ACC tournament playing good basketball. The Hokies are also in a position
they are used to being in: playing with a first round bye in the ACC tournament.

Since conference expansion, only Duke and Carolina have a better average seed
than Virginia Tech, and only Duke and Carolina have had more top four finishes
in ACC play.

ACC
Tournament Seeding Since Expansion
Team Average Top
4’s

UNC
2.67 5

Duke
2.83 5

Virginia Tech
5.5 4

Maryland
5.67 1

Boston College
6.4 2

FSU
6.67 2

Wake Forest
6.67 2

Clemson
6.67 1

Georgia Tech
8 0

UVA
8.33 1

Miami
8.67 0

NC State
9 1

Those are some impressive numbers by the Hokies, who have truly been one of the
league’s better teams since expansion. Tech’s numbers look like this:

23-7 overall
10-6 in the ACC
Won 7 of 10

Tech is led by their own version of the “Big Three” – Malcolm
Delaney, Dorenzo Hudson and Jeff Allen. Those players combine to average 47.4
points per game, and 51.5 points in conference games. Delaney appears to be
getting healthy right now, as his shooting has looked much better over the last
three games.

Unfortunately, Allen and Hudson have been banged up. Hudson had to miss the
Georgia Tech game with a foot injury, and Allen injured his shoulder in that
game as well. Allen will be fine for the ACC Tournament, but Hudson is an
unknown at this point.

The good news for Virginia Tech is that they will play either Miami or Wake
Forest on Friday. Tech is 3-0 against those two schools in the ACC Tournament,
and 0-5 against all other teams. Those three wins have come by an average of 17
points, with the closest being a 63-49 win over Miami.

Tech has also been good when they’ve gotten a first round bye in the ACC
Tournament. They blew out Wake Forest 71-52 in 2007, and they whipped Miami
63-49 in 2008. Those teams had played a game the previous day, and the Hokies
were the more rested team. Tech also got a bye in 2005, but their quarterfinal
opponent was Georgia Tech, who also got a bye that year as the #5 seed, because
there were only 11 ACC teams that season.

In short, here are the advantages Virginia Tech holds in their quarterfinal
game:

8-3 vs. Miami since ACC expansion
6-2 vs. Wake since ACC expansion
3-0 vs. Miami and Wake in ACC Tournament
2-0 in ACC Tourney with a rest advantage over their opponent
16.5 point margin of victory in ACC Tourney with a rest advantage over their
opponent

Its postseason basketball, where anything can happen, but those numbers seem
to indicate that Virginia Tech has a strong shot of making the conference
semifinals.

#6: Clemson Tigers

Despite not getting a first round bye, Clemson should still be considered a
contender in the ACC Tournament. They have made the tournament finals recently
(2008), where they nearly beat UNC, and Oliver Purnell is a good basketball
coach.

Clemson has had a good year, and are probably a better than that 6-seed
indicates:

21-9 overall
9-7 in the ACC
Won 5 of 7

Clemson is a much healthier basketball team right now than they were earlier
in the season. They lost three of four games in January when Demontez Stitt was
banged up, but they are playing much better since Stitt returned to the lineup
and got himself back to 100%.

The Tigers also have Trevor Booker on the inside, a first team All-ACC
player. Booker and Jerai Grant, who has improved steadily as the season has
progressed, form one of the ACC’s better frontcourt combos.

Clemson also has a good draw. They will face NC State in the opening round of
the tournament, and they shouldn’t have much trouble with the Wolfpack. In the
quarterfinals they would face Florida State, whom they defeated twice in the
regular season. If Clemson makes it to the semifinals, the most likely opponent
would be Maryland, whom the Tigers split with in the regular season.

That’s as good a draw as the #6 seed could hope for. Clemson went 4-1 against
their projected competition on their side of the bracket.

Outside Shot

#3: Florida State Seminoles

It feels odd to say the #3 seed in the ACC Tournament has an outside shot of
winning it, but FSU’s chances are lower than most #3 seeds in recent memory.
We’ll get to the negatives in a moment, but for now let’s look at FSU’s
positives.

22-8 overall
10-6 in the ACC
Won 5 of 7

Florida State is an excellent defensive team. They allow just 63.2 points per
game in ACC play, and opposing teams are shooting just 40.5% against the Noles.
FSU is very tall, with the 7-1 Solomon Alabi at center and the 6-9 Chris
Singleton at small forward. Singleton is taller than many of the ACC’s centers.
That height helps them be arguably the ACC’s best defensive team.

However, Florida State is not exactly an offensive juggernaut. Alabi leads
the team in scoring, averaging 11.6 points, while Singleton averages 10.4. There
are no major scoring threats on this team, and at some point in the ACC
tournament, FSU is going to have to score.

The Noles also have a tough draw on their side of the bracket. Their
projected opponents are Clemson in the quarterfinals and Maryland in the
semifinals. FSU went 0-4 against those two teams this year. They also lost to NC
State, whom they would face in the quarterfinals if the Wolfpack manage to upset
Clemson.

That’s a very unlucky draw for the Noles. If Clemson had defeated Wake Forest
in the last game of the regular season, then FSU would have dropped to the #5
seed. They probably would have been better off with that happening.

#5: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Overall, Wake Forest had a good year. The Demon Deacons were a virtual lock
for the NCAA tournament for just about the entire season, and they stayed in the
top half of the ACC standings all season. Despite the loss of first round draft
picks Jeff Teague and James Johnson, Wake Forest managed to put together a
successful season. Overall, it was probably Dino Gaudio’s best coaching job of
his career.

Here are the numbers for Wake heading into the tournament:

19-9 overall
9-7 in the ACC
Lost 4 of 5

That last line is key. The Demon Deacons are playing their worst basketball
of the season right now. It all began in their second half collapse at Virginia
Tech on February 16, and it didn’t stop until they finally picked up a tight
home win in the season finale against Clemson. During that losing streak, they
managed to get blown out by a bad NC State team, and to lose at home to a bad
North Carolina team.

Wake Forest is also 0-2 in the ACC Tournament under the guidance of Dino
Gaudio. As the #2 seed last year, they were smacked by #7 seed Maryland 75-64 in
last year’s quarterfinals. The year before, as the #8 seed, they lost to #9 seed
Florida State 80-60.

Playing #12 seed Miami in the opening round is good for Wake, but that game
isn’t a definite win. The Deacs beat Miami in Winston-Salem by nine, but lost to
the Canes in Coral Gables.

If Wake does manage to get past Miami, they’ll face a Virginia Tech team whom
they have lost to in six of their last seven meetings, and who will be coming
off the first round bye. The odds aren’t great for the Deacs of making it past
the quarterfinals.

#7: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech has talent. Post players Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors will be
first round selections by the NBA whenever they decide to enter the draft, and
point guard Iman Shumpert could also be a first round pick after another year of
seasoning. This is one of the best teams in the ACC from a talent standpoint.

However, as usual, Georgia Tech’s numbers don’t match their talent level.

19-11 overall
7-9 in the ACC
Lost 5 of 7

Georgia Tech is also playing their worst basketball of the season right now,
as you can see by their recent losing streak. They also have a bad habit of not
getting it done when they need to. They needed to beat Virginia Tech at home
this past Saturday to lock up their spot in the NCAA tournament, but they
failed.

The Jackets also don’t play well in ACC games away from Alexander Memorial
Coliseum. They went 1-7 in ACC road games this year, with a buzzer-beating win
at the Dean Dome representing their only victory.

No Shot

#8 Boston College, #9 Virginia, #10 North Carolina, #11 NC State, #12 Miami

These teams don’t even get longshot status. They combined to go 25-55 in ACC
play this season. It would be a complete shock if any of these teams was able to
win four games in a row to capture the ACC Tournament Championship.

Things to Remember

  • No team lower than a #3 seed has won the ACC Tournament since ACC
    expansion. On both occasions, Duke was the #3 seed. The #1 seed won the
    tournament on the other three occasions.
  • No team lower than a #6 seed has ever won the ACC tournament. By those
    standards, Georgia Tech, Boston College, UVA, UNC, NC State and Miami have
    no shot this year.
  • The #12 seed has upset the #5 seed three of the last four years.

Predictions

Last year my upset special was #4 seed Florida State advancing to the
championship game with a win over UNC. That’s exactly what happened, with the
Noles going on to lose to Duke in the finals. I probably won’t be so fortunate
this year, but I’ll give it a shot anyway just for fun.

My opening round selections are: #9 Virginia over #8 Boston College, #5 Wake
Forest over #12 Miami, #7 Georgia Tech over #10 UNC, and #6 Clemson over #11 NC
State.

In the two games Virginia has played recently without Sylven Landesberg, they
actually played better. They were very competitive defensively against Duke and
Maryland. Without Landesberg, I think they’ll pull the opening round upset to
avoid their 10th straight ACC loss. Seriously, who can lose 10 straight ACC
games anyway? I’m not calling any other upsets for the opening round.

My quarterfinal selections are: #1 Duke over #9 Virginia, #4 Virginia Tech
over #5 Wake Forest, #2 Maryland over #7 Georgia Tech, and #6 Clemson over #3
Florida state.

This year I’m going in the opposite direction with Florida State. With their
scoring deficiencies, I see them getting bounced early. Clemson will beat them
for the third straight time this year. I think the Virginia Tech/Wake Forest
game will be one of the most competitive of the entire tournament.

My semifinal selections are: #1 Duke over #4 Virginia Tech, and #2 Maryland
over #6 Clemson.

Duke will be too much for the Hokies in the state of North Carolina, and
Clemson will finally run out of gas in the semifinals. That will set up a rubber
game between Duke and Maryland, with the two teams splitting the regular season
series.

Duke will beat Maryland on Sunday to win the ACC Tournament and lock up a #1
seed in the NCAA tournament. I know, way to go out on a limb, right?

Whatever happens, it should be a fun four days of basketball, as usual.

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