2016 ACC Tournament Preview
By Randy Dunson [Note: Please direct comments, suggestions, etc. to @RandyDunson.]
When: March 8-12
Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.
Final: March 12, 9:00 PM ET (ESPN)
For years, the Atlantic Coast Conference was largely top-heavy every season on the hardwood, dominated by the rivals of Tobacco Road, North Carolina and Duke. However, the arrival of powers from the original and now fizzled-out Big East combined with new faces making some noise has made the ACC has been one of the deepest and toughest conferences in college basketball.
The ACC was weird this season.
Prior to the start of the season, it looked like the nation’s best conference, at least at the top. UNC was going to be a national title contender. Duke was, too. Virginia, Miami, and Notre Dame were going to be contenders for the league title. Louisville was going to be…eligible.
Now here we are in March, and it feels like UNC sputtered to an outright league title, if that is even possible, while Louisville was banned from the postseason and Duke lost the one guy that would give them depth and lineup versatility. Notre Dame does not look quite as good as we thought, while Miami and Virginia both took five losses during league play.
That said, there might not be a tournament across the country with more individual talent than the ACC tournament. In addition, that always makes for a fun week.
Players to Watch
Malcolm Brogdon, UVA
Cavaliers senior Malcolm Brogdon is a legitimate ACC Player of the Year candidate. Brogdon leads his team in scoring at 18.5 points per game, which is good for fourth in the entire conference. He is knocking down better than 42 percent of his attempts from 3-point land and he has been on a tear as of late, averaging more than 22 points a game over the last five contests.
Brice Johnson, UNC
Tar Heels senior Brice Johnson has been North Carolina’s most consistent producer all season. In all but three games, he has been in double-figures scoring the basketball and has a double-double in 18 games this season. The 6-foot-9 Johnson is easily the Tar Heels’ first go-to option. He came up short as Brogdon took home ACC POY honors.
Grayson Allen, Duke
While Duke has struggled for production at times this season, one player who has stepped up all season long is Grayson Allen. Just a sophomore, Allen is second in the conference in scoring with 21.2 points per game. It is hard to imagine where the Blue Devils would be without Allen, who of course has been in the spotlight for other things that have happened mid-game.
When looking at a dark horse, you look for teams that are playing good basketball this late into the season. They are likely teams that did not do too well against the top tier squads throughout the season but have managed to compile a winning record and are under the mentality of ‘nothing to lose’.
That would be the Virginia Tech Hokies. They have had a wild roller coaster conference season, starting off 4-1, followed by seven losses in the next eight games, and closing out the season on a five-game winning streak, capped off with a huge win over No. 7 Miami.
Hokies head coach Buzz Williams has his team sitting at 17-13 in his second season, already six wins better than his first year. He took Marquette to the big dance in five of the previous six seasons before arriving in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech for years under former head coach Seth Greenberg was considered the poster child for the ‘bubble teams’ in college basketball, and they typically found themselves on the outside looking in.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
No team is unbeatable. That should be the mantra for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (+10,000) as they attempt fancy their (slim) chances of seizing the conference title.
The Bulldogs are likely bursting with confidence right now. They ended their campaign having won five of their final six games, including a much-needed 63-59 victory in their regular-season finale opposite Pittsburgh.
In that game, Adam Smith and Nick Jacobs combined for 42 points and rebounds. Both are averaging double-figures in points this season with 14.6 and 10.6 respectively. Ultimately, the Yellow Jackets’ offense will mainly be dictated by Marcus Georges-Hunt, who leads the team in scoring with 16.6 points per contest.
This would be the best time for Georges-Hunt and co. to find their groove. Moreover, if they do, do not be surprised to see Georgia Tech pull off some upsets.
NC State defeats Wake Forest
Florida State defeats Boston College
Pittsburgh defeats Syracuse
Duke defeats NC State
Georgia Tech defeats Clemson
Florida State defeats Virginia Tech.
In the first matchup, North Carolina takes on Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has the potential to upset UNC in Washington D.C., but Pittsburgh’s weakness is that they have been inconsistent throughout the season. I do not see the upset as I have UNC going to the semifinals.
In the second quarterfinal match, Norte Dame will face off against Duke. Duke looked to have found their groove after having a five-game win streak, which included winning in Chapel Hill, but they hit a slide and lost three out of their last five. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is a solid team, but I do not see them beating the Devils again.
In the third quarterfinal match, Virginia battles Georgia Tech. Let us remember that Georgia Tech did defeat UVA when ACC play started in January, and it was on the home-court. There is no way Georgia Tech pulls off the upset in Washington.
Lastly, we have a battle of Florida with Miami squaring off against Florida State. Both of these teams do not like each other, as this is a huge rivalry in the state of Florida, but Miami is the better program, and I have them advancing to the semifinals.
Speaking of rivalries, North Carolina, and Duke will headline the semifinals in my bracket. I mentioned in the quarterfinals portion of this article that Duke defeated UNC in North Carolina, but UNC got the revenge last weekend on Coach K’s Court. UNC’s experience and having the top seed gives them the advantage to go to the ACC Finals.
Meanwhile, Virginia will take on Miami. I do not expect to see a lot of points in this contest, as the defense will be the key here. UVA has the second best scoring defense in the NCAA, whereas the Hurricanes are 47th. The Hurricanes will pressure Malcolm Brogdon throughout the game, however he will rise to the occasion and thus having Virginia advance to the Finals.
The last time these two played was on February 27th, where UNC was defeated by Virginia 79-74 in Charlottesville. I see a repeat of this game in the finals, as Virginia will be motivated to play and thus win the 2016 ACC Championship..
Virginia is a fascinating basketball power because there is nothing about its style that fits in with the high-scoring offensive attacks employed by Duke and North Carolina.
Louisville is not exactly an offensive juggernaut, yet its average of 76.6 points per game looks like Loyola Marymount circa 1990 compared to the Cavaliers. Head coach Tony Bennett’s team is tied for 235th in points and 329th in rebounds per game this season.
Yet the Cavaliers never look overmatched because their defense is off-the-charts good. They are third in the nation in scoring defense, holding teams like West Virginia, Miami and Louisville under 60 points.
The Cavaliers also make their pace work, sitting 13th in offensive efficiency. They aren’t incapable of scoring points in bunches, dropping 86 points on Villanova and 79 against North Carolina, giving them multiple ways to win games.
Making Virginia’s rise this season more impressive is how it responded to adversity, highlighted by the rise of Devon Hall, as noted by Matthew Giles of the Washington Post on Feb. 29:
Last year, Virginia was undone by a broken hand to Justin Anderson that left the star guard rusty heading into tournament play. Anderson is in the NBA this year, but the Cavaliers are a healthy and complete team right now.
The presence of North Carolina, Miami, and Duke makes it easy to overlook Virginia, but the Cavaliers are the ACC’s most complete team and will secure their second conference tournament title in three years.